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Conference Report

From Isolationism to World Power: the Changing Nature of US Foreign Policy in the Twentieth Century

In October of this year, the American Studies Resource Centre delivered its annual AS/A2 level schools conference at the Liverpool Maritime Museum. The conference topic, 'From Isolationism to World Power: The Changing Nature of US Foreign Policy in the Twentieth Century', attracted a respectable number of history and politics students and their teachers from the North West region.

Posted 06-Mar-2014

Isolationism, 1920's and 30's
Dr Jenel Virden

Tet! The Turning Point of the Vietnam War
Dr Donna Jackson

The Cold War The Cold War: An Overview
Dr Martin Folly

The End of the Cold War
Professor John Dumbrell

Sponsored by

Liverpool John Moores University

National Museums Liverpool




The Panel: From Left to right: Professor John Dumbrell, Dr Donna Jackson, Dr Jenel Virden, Dr Martin Folly

Isolationism, 1920s and 30s

Dr Jenel Virden delivered the first of the day's four lectures. Dr Virden is Head of Humanities at the University of Hull, UK. Her research and teaching interests include modern American history in general, with specific focus on the effects of war and conflict in American society. Her most recent book Americans and the Wars of the Twentieth Century (Palgrave, 2008) received the Choice magazine award for outstanding academic titles in 2008.

Dr Virden delivered an informative and entertaining lecture on 'Isolationism in 1920s and 1930s.' She began by tracing the history of American isolationism, along with explaining this concept in an accessible way. She was also kind enough to share her PowerPoint slides with us:

Tet! The Turning Point of the Vietnam War

Dr Donna Jackson, a senior lecturer in American History at the University of Chester, UK, delivered the second of the day's lectures, which was entitled 'Tet! The Turning Point of the Vietnam War.'  In addition to teaching this particular moment in American history, Dr Jackson teaches and researches the Cold War in general. She also researches American foreign policy towards Africa, with her most recent book, Jimmy Carter, the Cold War and the Horn of Africa(McFarland and Company Inc, 2007), focusing on this topic. 

Through powerful filmic and photographic images, as well as a PowerPoint presentation , Dr Jackson enthusiastically explained the significance of the Tet Offensive to the Vietnam War, along with providing detailed commentary as to why Americans altered their perceptions of the Vietnam War after Tet.

The Cold War

The focus of the afternoon's lectures was the Cold War, with two more prestigious academics sharing their knowledge about this period in American history in ways that again proved highly engaging. Dr Martin Folly and Professor Dumbrell generously shared their PowerPoint slides and handouts with us.

The Cold War: An Overview

Dr Martin Folly is a senior lecturer in American and International history at Brunel University, UK. He lectures in US history, the history of US foreign policy, African American history, American communities and the international history of the Second World War and the early Cold War. His most recent publications include a The Palgrave Concise Historical Atlas of the Second World War (2004) and The United States and World War II: The Awakening Giant (Edinburgh University Press, 2002)

In his lecture, Dr Folly gave an excellent 'Overview of the Cold War', with specific attention to the three main periods in Cold War history. Here is Dr Folly's PowerPoint presentation.

The End of the Cold War

Professor John Dumbrell is Head of the School of Government and International Affairs at Durham University, UK. His research interests include contemporary American foreign relations, including US-UK relations following the end of the Cold War. Professor Dumbrell has authored A Special Relationship: Anglo-American Relations from the Cold War to Iraq Palgrave Macmillan, 2006), and this year he also published Clinton's Foreign Policy: Between the Bushes, 1992-2000 with Routledge.

In his lecture, ' Professor Dumbrell discussed the Presidencies of Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton, detailing their impact on Cold War and Post-Cold War policies. In addition to clarifying that the Cold War was about ideological conflict and geopolitical rivalry not only between East and West but also North and South, Professor Dumbrell offered competing explanations for the end of the Cold War.

The conference finished with a Plenary and the audience were given the opportunity to field their questions about the conference topics, also seeking the speakers' advice about applying for American Studies degree programmes. The speakers agreed that a well-presented application form was vital to the selection process, also adding that the personal statement should convey the applicant's curiosity about American culture. When asked about the career options for American Studies graduates, the speakers identified the creative and cultural industries as a destination, along with teaching, the civil service, and, indeed, the same careers that are available to any Humanities graduate.

The ASRC is especially grateful to Drs Virden, Jackson and Folly and Professor Dumbrell for delivering outstanding lectures on American foreign policy. The ASRC would also like to thank the American Embassy in London and the British Association of American Studies for generously supporting the conference. Special thanks also go to the Liverpool Maritime Museum for hosting the conference and providing a very good lunch. Finally, I would like to thank the students from American Studies and Screen Studies, Liverpool John Moores University for their respective contributions to the conference. A film of the A level schools conference will be available on the ASRC's website early spring – just in time for revision!  


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