Teaching America

Dennis Florig

Hanyang University Graduate School of International Studies


I. Introduction


This paper takes a broad approach to this conference’s theme of curriculum.  Today you have heard a lot about many aspects of American Studies.  My approach is not so much about subject matter and disciplines as it is about teaching and the overall subject we are teaching.  Hence my title, “teaching America.”  In my experience a list of subjects on paper, while clearly important, is less significant than the actual teaching that goes on in the classroom.  This is particularly true in Korea, where what is written down on paper often bears little resemblance to actual practice.  I would compare this difference to the distinction between hardware and software.  Hardware sets the basic parameters of what you can do, but software really defines what you actually do.  In the same way, a formal curriculum sets the parameters of a program, but what goes on in the classroom is really the heart of the program.


I want to begin today by asking you to do a little mind experiment.  Imagine that you have been given a very attractive offer to go to the United States to teach for one semester.  Your assignment is to train a group of young American political, business, and cultural leaders who will be making crucial decisions and policy toward Korea, to introduce them to all aspects of Korean life.  You have no other coworkers or colleagues—it is your job alone to impart to these young leaders everything they will need to know to become enlightened decision-makers in all the aspects of U.S.-Korean relations.


What would you do?  Would you keep your instruction to the strict limits of your academic discipline?  Would you rely solely on one or two standard texts on Korean culture, society, or history?  If so, what could they possibly be?  What would you need to prepare your students for the awesome responsibilities they would face?


This mind experiment is not far from the situation I face as an American teaching American Studies at a Korean GSIS.  As you probably know, during the Kim Young Sam administration, 9 new Graduate Schools of International Studies were set up to prepare future Korean leaders to operate more effectively in a globalizing world.  Regional studies were encouraged, and Hanyang University chose to build its program around studies of the 4 great powers that influence KoreaChina, Japan, Russia, and the U.S.  At the Hanyang GSIS each country “major” is supposed to be taught entirely in the local language, thus American Studies is taught in English.


I entered the Hanyang GSIS a year after a program had been designed on paper.  American Studies had been divided up into traditional academic disciplines—American Economy, American Business, American Politics, American History, American Society, etc.  Several subfields of International Relations were also taught, IR Theory, International Trade, International Organizations, International Law, International Negotiations, etc.  Korean lecturers had been assigned to cover some of these topics.  One other American colleague and I would have to cover the rest.  Over time, we faced rapid government budget cuts.   Some of these cuts were anticipated as government “seed” money was reduced as planned, and others were due to the IMF crisis.  Outside lecturers were pared, and my one American colleague and I had to cover more and more of the waterfront.  We still have outside lecturers to handle what is beyond our ken, but my colleague and I are basically in the situation I described in the mind experiment.  We largely decided what “American Studies” is at the Hanyang University GSIS.


Let me also give you a little more background before I launch into the heart of my talk—my personal background, which of course shapes how I approach my task.  I was trained as a political scientist in the US and taught traditional American Politics courses for many years there.  Then mid-career I jumped out of that box and went to Japan to teach English for a private company.  I worked mainly with young salarymen who had been chosen by their companies to study for an MBA in the US.  Although I was still a teacher, now my job was placing students at elite universities, which meant helping them raise their TOEFL and GMAT scores, choose appropriate schools, and write their application essays.  After a few years in Japan, I decided I wanted to stay in East Asia but get back into academia.  By sheer chance I ended up in Korea, teaching mostly English to university students for a few years until the Hanyang GSIS job opened up.


This diverse experience was at times quite disorienting, but it did give me a deeper perspective on what education is and made me a much better teacher.  In a sense, it has forced me to go full circle, back to my original goals in becoming a teacher in the first place.  Like many, I became a teacher with the idealistic goal of educating the whole person, not just stuffing narrow information into students who often can’t see the point.  Like many, however, the realities of academic politics, disciplinary research, and careerist students gradually wore me down until eventually I was becoming more and more like the pedantic classroom dictators I disliked and less and less like my idealistic vision of a teacher.  Having to teach totally different things in totally different environments renewed me as an educator.  In each new situation I had to reevaluate just what I was supposed to be doing as a teacher.  Each time I moved on, the previous experience better prepared me for the new role I was taking on.


Perhaps the most important lesson I took from these diverse experiences was to try to go back to my original goals to educate the whole person.


II. Teaching




The title of this talk begins with the verb “teaching,” and I will devote much of this presentation to the act of teaching, not just to the content I teach.  I want to discuss 4 interrelated ways of thinking I seek cultivate in my students: 1. an active approach to issues, 2. critical thinking, 3. global citizenship, and 4. life-time skills that will endure after formal education.  (see Figure 1)

Figure 1





Social Science








Developing your own ideas


Critical Thinking


Analytical Ability





Thinking in English



Collecting Data


Discussing Other

 People’s Ideas

Presenting Ideas









Absorbing Information


Memorizing Facts






Of course, all of us strive for these goals.  But too often we lose sight of them in the day-to-day grind of meeting our classes, grading our exams and papers, conducting our research, attending our conferences, prevailing in university politics, etc.  So after I briefly justify these goals I will talk concretely about how I seek to attain them in my classroom.


In my work I try to remediate some of the well known deficiencies of the Korean educational system by bringing some of the better techniques of American-style education to my students.  We all know the weaknesses of the Korean educational system—emphasis on rote memorization, passive absorption of information, authoritarian methods in the classroom, the primacy of the teacher’s point of view, etc.  In my classroom I seek to overcome these tendencies and encourage active skills and critical thinking.


I also strive to impart a sense of global citizenship.  I myself become very wary when I hear educators talking about teaching citizenship.  On the one hand, formal education is crucial to the development of the skills needed for democratic participation in complex modern society.  True citizens are not born, they are made.  But too often what advocates of education for citizenship seek is the instilling of mindless, pavlovian patriotism and blind submission to national leaders.  A real citizen is an active, critical participant in public life, the complete opposite of a blind, mindless nationalist. 


That is why I think the global dimension is essential in contemporary citizenship.  In the 21st century, true citizenship requires not only voting in a national election or passively following pubic issues, also but being able to see the perspective of others—not just Korean, but also American, not just Christian but also Islamic, not just South Korean but also North Korean, etc.  Global citizenship in the information age requires a critical and active use of the media, since almost all we learn about the world beyond our borders is “mediated” by the people who control our TVs, newspapers, Internet, etc. 


Education for citizenship begins in the classroom.  You cannot simultaneously teach students to stand up for principles yet sit down and shut up when the teacher comes in the room.  When pressed I often tell my students a classroom is not a democracy, but it need not be an absolute dictatorship either.  Critical thinking and active participation begins in school, with criticism of the points of view of class materials and the teacher.


I also seek to impart life-time skills that will serve my students long after they leave formal education.  The reading, writing, and reasoning skills we develop in our students will endure long after they have forgotten the things they needed to know to pass the test.  In my case, I suspect the English acquired through struggling with the GSIS coursework is the most enduring legacy for most of my students.  Beneath the surface I am engaged in a massive exercise in content based language learning.  The new wrinkles I try to bring to education for life-time skills are knowledge of internet design and internet research and more generally, media savvy.

The Socratic Method


Idealistic goals are fine, but they mean little unless there are concrete means to attain them.  Today I will present 3 ways I to try to achieve my goals:  1. Socratic dialogue in class, 2. involving my students in developing an Electronic Textbook posted on the internet, and 3. using educational, news, and entertainment video as course materials.


According to tradition, the great teacher Socrates did not directly lecture to his classes.  Rather, he began by asking his students questions, and then through follow-up questions drove his students to examine their fundamental assumptions.  Through dialogue he brought his students to deeper understanding of the issues.  I rarely lecture to my class.  Instead, with each reading assignment I give students prepared questions and ask them come to class prepared to answer these questions (See Figures 2 and 3).


Figure 2


Excerpt from my first year, first semester required course syllabus




This course will follow a seminar format, using the Socratic method.  Like in any university course, you will be given a reading list.  You will also be given a series of comprehension and discussion questions to go with each week's reading.  Then each week we will discuss the comprehension and discussion questions in class.  I will not often lecture.  Instead, I will ask questions, and you will be expected to demonstrate your understanding of the reading material.


The format I have selected for this class is based on my experience from ten years of teaching Korean students.  You all know the strengths and weaknesses of Korean higher education.  This class is designed to begin to overcome the weaknesses of the Korean educational system.  There is rarely any interactive exchange of ideas in a Korean classroom--Korean students are rarely expected to present material or to do independent research.  However, you are graduate students in an international studies program, and I am a stubborn foreign professor.  I will insist that you take an active part in your own intellectual development and communicate your knowledge.




This seminar format is a challenging method of learning.  It can be interesting and even exciting, but it will also be difficult.  To do well in this class you must both do the homework and perform in class.  You will do well if you follow three simple rules:





Figure 3


Example of Comprehension and Discussion Questions for Media Class


Comprehension Questions


1. What do the authors mean by “critical citizenship?”


2. What do the authors think the purpose of education is?  What do they think about learning “facts?”


3. Do the authors think there is one and only one correct reading of the meaning of a text?  How do they think texts should be interpreted?


4. Why is the study of popular culture controversial in the US?


5. What do the authors think about conflict over school curricula and cultural values?


6. What do the authors mean by a "language of resistance" or a "language of empowerment?"


7. What do the authors mean when they write, “Education needs to be recognized as producing not only knowledge and discourse but also political subjects.”?


8. What do the authors think about the media coverage of the Gulf War?


Discussion Questions


1. What do you think of the authors of Media Knowledge’s basic philosophy of education? What do you think the purpose of education is? 


2. Do you think encouraging “critical citizenship” is an important educational goal?  Is it a valid purpose of education to create “political subjects?”  Does the concept of “critical citizenship” imply a “language of resistance” or a “language of empowerment?”


3. Does the study of popular culture have an important role to play in the educational process?  Why or why not?
I begin with comprehension questions that require them to show they have understood the main ideas and specific points of the readings.  Then, after I am satisfied they have absorbed the basic themes, I move on to discussion questions that probe more deeply the subtext of the material, the relationship between this reading and basic course themes, and the fundamental reasons we are tackling this material.  The comprehension questions help the students develop their English skills and their basic analytical ability.  The discussion questions require critical analysis and the ability to integrate ideas.  I would like to breeze over the comprehension questions and spend most class time on the discussion questions.  But in truth, most of my students need work on their basic comprehension, so these questions usually take more than half of class time.


Using the Socratic method is difficult, but the benefits far outweigh the costs.  Most of my students are well prepared each week.  They do not blow off their reading assignments until the night before exams, nor do they just skim over the reading.  They grapple hard with the main ideas.  Some actually come to class with written notes sketching an answer to each of the discussion questions.  Most of my students are alert and active in class.  I sometimes see eyes wandering around the room and the vacant stares, but not nearly as often as I used to in the U.S. when I lectured to my classes.


Certainly my students get plenty of work on their “live” English skills.  They not only work on their presentation ability, they have to be able to interact with me as I further question and probe their initial answers.  If I suspect a student is presenting a “canned” memorized answer or repeating phrases she may not really comprehend, I press her to explain more deeply.  Often student responses are germane, but only partially answer the question, so I press the class to go deeper.  Unlike in many English classes, all students are listening carefully when another is speaking.  They know they could be called on to supplement or correct the current speaker’s answer.


At the center of the Socratic method is the attempt to get down to first principles, to reach the basic issues.  Dialogue about the content of a reading often leads to questions about why we are reading this particular piece, what the deeper point is, what the subtext reveals.  Both students and I often discover things we would never have thought of if I simply lectured at them. 



The reciprocal effect of Socratic questions to students is that they begin to actively interrogate me.   In large part this is a defense mechanism.  The students quickly learn that when I am answering their questions, they do not have to answer my questions.  But that is fine with me.  It keeps me more engaged.  It sharpens not only their conversational skills but also their analytic ability.  But most important, by fielding student questions I learn how they view the issues.  It is probably the single most effective way I have of bridging the cultural divide and seeing how my students correctly and incorrectly perceive the U.S., how well they grasp the fundamental issues, and how their Korean cultural screen is impeding their understanding of the U.S.


Using the Potential of the Internet


I also use the internet to try to impart lifetime skills.  I think we are all learning how to guide students in using the internet for their own research and study, although in many cases they are already much more adept than us old fogeys.  I hope more and more of us are using the internet to find course content, both by searching through traditional journals and books more effectively, and by finding new internet content that supplements our traditional course materials. 


I hope many of you are also experimenting with your own teaching websites.  Let me just show you what I have been doing in what I call my Electronic Textbook. (see Figure 4)  Let me assure you that this is just supplemental material—I still use traditional texts and articles for most of my course content.  But over time, I am putting more and more of my class content onto the web.


Figure 4



The Electronic Textbook on American Politics and American Studies

I began the Electronic Textbook as a collection of schematics, tables, handouts, graphics, and short writings I use in my teaching.  With the transition from the Clinton to the Bush presidency, I added sections on current developments in the Bush administration and historical analysis of the Clinton years.  Then I hit on probably my best idea yet, having my students upload the contents of their term projects.

Click here to go to the Table of Contents of the Student Pages of the Electronic Textbook

Bush Watch: a review of selected Bush administration's policies and decisions, with links.

Links to Key Bush Speeches and Critical Commentary
My Academic Papers on Bush Policies
My Academic Papers on Bush Policies translated into Korean
Myths and Realities about the "New" Terrorism
The War of Terrorisms: What is the Axis of Evil?
Photoessay of the World Trade Center and Pentagon Bombings
The Nuclear Impasse on the Korean Peninsula: The More Things Change, The More They Stay the Same
The 2002 American Midterm: The Bush Victory in Historical Perspective
The Bush Missile Defense Plan
The Bush Team
Satires of Dubya

The Clinton Administration in Historical Perspective

Cartoons of "Slick Willie" Clinton
American Geography

      Basic Data on American Population and Ethnic Groups
         Population maps from the Census Bureau.  This page is slow to load because of the large graphics files.

      A Short Lesson in American Political Geography

American Parties and Elections

      Indecision 2000, links to media coverage of the 2000 election and the post-election battle.

      The Electoral College and the 2000 Election

      Data and Analysis of the American Party System

Articles on the American Presidency

        Where do Presidents Come From?

        The Success Rate of Vice Presidents Running for President

        The Clinton Scandal and the American Political Character

        Running, Reigning, and Ruling: The Presidential Campaign of 1992
        (a dated, but still interesting commentary on the 1992 election)

Outlines and Data on American History and Global Hegemony

     Eras of American History

     Ideologies of American History

        Manifest Destiny vs. Liberal Internationalism

        Five Dimensions of the Concept of Hegemony

Click here to go to the Table of Contents of the Student Pages of the Electronic Textbook

BACK TO Professor Florig's HOMEPAGE

But the most important part of my Electronic Textbook are the student pages (see Figures 5 and 6).   I began the student pages simply by having many of my classes upload their term papers to the web, embellished with graphic images.  This had several advantages over a traditional class paper.  Students had to learn basic web skills such as how to upload files, how to insert graphics, how to format a web page, etc.  When students later went looking for a job, they could impress a prospective employer by showing the real internet content they had produced.  The entire class got involved in a group project, something like a traditional student newspaper.  The website itself now serves as a good advertisement for the program.  Prospective students who visit the Hanyang GSIS website can see not only passport photos of professors, vaguely high-minded mission statements, and course outlines, but they can get directly engaged in what our students’ are actually doing.


Now after a couple of years of uploading student papers, I am seeing new ways to use the website.  More and more, when a new student comes to me with a perennial research topic, I am assigning the new student to study previous students’ papers.  A kind of cumulative learning is going on, with the new students benefiting directly from the research the older students did.  I have also begun to assign new students to summarize and draw together the papers of several previous students.  I am giving my better students assignments much like that of an editor of a collection of articles—write an introduction that summarizes and integrates the themes of a set of interrelated papers.  These students are learning higher order analytical, critical, and synthetic skills.  And I am getting a product that is beginning to resemble more a real textbook, an integrated work that covers many dimensions of key issues.  We are still far from that lofty goal, but this is one case where the journey is more important than the final destination.

Figure 5





Figure 6






Using Video


There is an old Chinese saying, “A picture is worth a thousand words.”  So how much are moving pictures accompanied by words worth?  Compared to the sexy new technology of the internet, taped video seems almost stodgy.  But videotapes of news programs can bring an immediacy to analysis of issues that is difficult to match in a traditional textbook.  I know of no better way to illustrate the smugness of American foreign policy than to show 60 Minutes news magazine reporter Mike Wallace haughtily waving his finger at former Chinese leader Jiang Zemin while lecturing him on human rights.


Prepared documentary video series can link the power of moving images with the depth and analysis of a traditional textbook. There are many excellent videotape classes available through a collaboration between the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the Annenberg Foundation (a catalog can be found at http://www.learner.org/). These are programs that originally air on the Public Broadcasting System (PBS) and then are sold as videotapes.  In my history class I use, A Biography of America, 26 half hour programs that go from Columbus up to the 1970s and in my American foreign policy course I use The Pacific Century, ten hours on the emerging Pacific world. 


The history series does a good job of chronicling the untold stories of African-Americans, non-Anglo immigrant groups, women, workers, etc.  But tellingly, even this multiculturally sensitive series sells 20th century American hegemonism in a most politically incorrect way, a limitation that speaks volumes as I repeatedly stress to my students.  “The Pacific Century” is also seemingly progressive in that it illuminates the diversity of cultures and perspectives in East Asia.  It even gives a balanced view of the rise of communism in China and East Asia, showing the anti-colonial and nationalist successes as well as the crimes of communist regimes and guerilla movements.  Even more surprisingly, it is deeply critical of what it calls the “sentimental imperialism” of historic American policy toward the region.  But even so, at a deeper level, it cannot escape a distinctly American perspective in interpreting recent history and the potential future courses of East Asia.


The Hanyang GSIS is a social science based program with no offerings in traditional humanities like English literature.  But I often use entertainment videos in my teaching.  Entertainment videos are particularly useful in showing alternative perspectives to the dominant culture or the official metanarratives of American history and politics.  Those of you who teach humanities know that stories and other forms of art can evoke the depth and complexity of social life in a way that often eludes the pseudo-scientific jargon of the social sciences. 



III. Courses and Themes


Media Studies


When I began at the Hanyang GSIS, there were outside lecturers to fill most of the courses listed in the original curriculum, so I had the freedom to design a couple of courses not on the original class list.  The first subject I chose was Media Studies.  The first page of the syllabus I still hand out to students tells why. (see Figure 7)




My colleague teaches our course on American Culture from a classic work from the 1960s that presents the then predominant view of a common, accepted, unitary American culture.  Soon I may be picking up that course, and I would do it much differently.  I would build the course on a foundation of multiculturalism.  There are at least 3 reasons  why one should teach America from a multicultural perspective.


Figure 7


American Media Syllabus (First Page)


There are many subjects I might have taught this semester.  Why did I choose to teach on the media?


1. No one can deny the pervasiveness of the electronic media in American and global society.  The very world you experience is increasingly “mediated” for you through electronic devices—TV, radio, electronic music, the Internet, etc. Your images of the world, even your images of yourself as a man or woman, Korean or American, or student or company man, are increasingly shaped not primarily by what you learn from your families, your communities, or your schools, but mostly by what you see and hear in the media (or what your family members, neighbors, and teachers see and hear in the media).  This is the reality of the information age here in Korea, and even more so in the US.  Certainly, most of what you as Koreans know about the United States and the West comes from the media.  The media opens up the world to us and opens our eyes to so much beyond our immediate senses.  Yet the media also trivializes the external world, closes off our senses, and deadens our minds.  To be a true citizen in the information age you must know how the media shape your understanding of yourself and your world.


2. Some of you will become professional scholars when you finish this program and will study the written word as your life’s work.  But most of you will soon leave formal schooling.  Education does not stop when you stop attending school.  You will continue learning and growing as a person.  And your most important teacher once you leave school will be the media.  Most of you will read only a few books or academic journals once you leave school.  But all of you will watch TV, read newspapers and magazines, listen to the radio, go to the movies, and surf the Net.  After you leave school, most of what you learn about the U.S. will come from the media.  Even most of what you learn about Korea will most likely come from the media.  You have been socialized to be a passive receptor of media messages, just as you have been socialized to be a passive student in the classroom.  But you can develop a critical intellect that can see behind the manipulations of the media.  I hope to provide you with some intellectual tools to help you resist media manipulation.


3. Most Koreans, like most Americans, value democracy.  In the information age, being an effective citizen largely means being an effective and active user of the media.  Being a good citizen requires more than keeping informed by passively consuming the media.  It even requires more than being critical of media manipulation.  You must actively seek out alternative media that will give you a more truthful perspective on your world and your life.  You must learn how to search through all the “data smog” of useless information that only deadens your mind to find the rare precious connection that can enlighten you about yourself and your world.




First, America is multicultural.  I tell my students than anyone who does not understand the racial politics of the United States does not understand the United States.  Africa-Americans have been around since the beginning, and not just their history, but also their ways of life are significantly different than those of whites.  This is even more true for Native Americans.  Similarly, non-Anglo immigrants have been around from the beginning.  The cultural history of the United States in the 19th century is largely about the conflicts between the new immigrants and the older immigrants.  And it is not just history.  Latinos are now the largest minority group in the U.S., and the Asian-American population is growing even more rapidly than the Latino population.  Demographers project that by the middle of the 21st century a majority of Americans will be non-white.  A recent story on the race for California governor reported that 85% of the Latinos in California either were born outside the U.S., or their parents were.


Second, multiculturalism is even more important in understanding the U.S. role in the world, in the project we are all engaged in of setting the U.S. in a global context.  No one can understand U.S. foreign policy, and particularly American approaches to East Asia, without understanding the desire to export what Americans see as universal values.  No one can understand the process of globalization or the regionalization of East Asia without understanding the conflict between American/western universalism and traditional Asian values.


Third, multiculturalism is particularly important in helping Koreans understand the U.S., in getting beyond a simplistic, stereotypical American culture vs. Korean culture dichotomy.  Multiculturalism is particularly difficult for Koreans to grasp, since Korea is one the most monocultural societies in the world.   One of the most important conceptual screens that distorts Koreans’ understanding of the U.S. is their lack of experience dealing with peoples of different races, creeds, and cultures in their daily life.  Korean monoculture makes it harder for Koreans to see the true America than for other non-western peoples who come from their own multicultural societies, for examples, people from India, Southeast Asia, most of Africa, etc.


As I said, I don’t teach our American culture course.  But I bring the issue of multiculturalism into all my courses.  Media studies are especially important in this regard because multicultural theory is so deeply embedded in this discipline.  And on a concrete level, media gives a great opportunity to dramatize perspectives different than the dominant cultural code.  In my media class we study not only the movies of the black director Spike Lee, but also the works of other minorities, women, and working class people.  Similarly in my history class we investigate not only the dominant narrative of American triumphalism but also the often untold stories of Native Americans, Africa-Americans, immigrants, trade unionists, colonized peoples, and the peace movement.


Manifest Destiny


There are crucial continuities in how Anglo-Americans treated the non-Anglos on the North American content in the 19th century and how contemporary Americans treat non-westerners in their role as global hegemon in the 20th and 21st centuries.  When I was first asked to teach the American history course in our program, I pondered how to make pre-20th century American history relevant to Korean students.  I also thought deeply about how I could go beyond existing history texts, even multiculturally sensitive ones, to show the development of the uniquely American way of thinking about the world.  I realized that I wanted to teach my students the continuity between the expansion of the U.S. across the North American continent in the 19th century and the grandiose role the U.S. has chosen to play in the 20th and early 21st century. 


I realized one of the best ways to achieve all these goals was to introduce my students to the concept of Manifest Destiny and show how it evolved into the American desire to “save” the world.  The first time I taught the course I adopted as a supplemental text Anders Stephanson’s excellent and relatively short book.  But the language was just too difficult for my students.  So I developed schematics (see Figure 8).  In my U.S. foreign policy course I also review this material.  I think it is an essential element of any American Studies curriculum that is often only briefly treated in American history books and then as relevant only to the mid-19th century.


Figure 8


Parallels between American Ideologies of
Manifest Destiny and Liberal Internationalism

Manifest Destiny

(19th Century)

Liberal Internationalism

(20th-21st Century)

Christianity is a universal value system

Capitalism and Democracy are universal value systems

The U.S. is special because it is the perfect Christian nation

The U.S. is special because it is the perfect capitalist economy and democratic polity

The U.S. has a special mission to Christianize North America

The U.S. has a special mission to make the world capitalist and democratic

Manifest Destiny: Its Religious, Racial, and Liberal Origins


The Jews

The Americans
(Religious version of Manifest Destiny)

The Americans (Racial version of Manifest Destiny)

The Americans (Liberal version of 
Manifest Destiny)

A Special People

Chosen by God

Chosen by God

The white race is biologically superior (especially Anglo-Saxons)

The American People
(chosen by history)

A Special Hardship

Slavery in Egypt
the Exodus

Settling and Developing North America

Settling and Developing North America

Developing the first democracy and truly free market

A Special Land

The Promised Land of Canaan

The Promised Land of the North America

North America as a chance for purification of the white race

The first real democracy and truly free market

A Special Contract

Covenant with God

Covenant with God

To separate the races + put the white man on top

The social contract of democracy + the economic contract of the free market

A Special Mission

To Remain God's People

To Christianize North America

To advance the white race + to develop the ideal racial hierarchy

To bring the benefits of democracy and free markets to the world

In the 18th and 19th centuries, the religious and racial versions of Manifest Destiny are most important, although the liberal version is present. In the 20th and 21st centuries, the liberal version becomes most important, although the  religious and racial versions are present.


When we talk about locating the U.S. or American Studies in the world system, we need the concept of hegemony. (see Figure 9)  No other concept does justice to the U.S. role around the globe.  The notion of hegemony captures the unique combination of “hard” power such as military and economic resources and “soft” power such as ideological, institutional, and cultural domination.  The term American politicians like to use, “American leadership” whitewashes the element of coercion.   “Leadership” ignores the fact that many elites around the world follow America largely because of the costs of standing against American wrath.  On the other hand, the term “imperialism” stresses too much the raw, hard elements of American power, and not the cooptation of international elites into Americanized ways of thinking.


In trying to characterize the strategy of the hard-liners in the Bush administration I point out they are largely abandoning the historical U.S. role of hegemon for a more naked imperialism.  Of course, that statement doesn’t make sense to students unless they understand the dual nature of hegemony.   The idea of hegemony also helps us to understand the historical development of American foreign policy and make comparisons across historical periods.  I often tell my students that America in the late 19th century was in a similar position vis-à-vis the reigning hegemon, Britain, that Japan was in the late 20th century vis-à-vis the U.S.  I also talk about China as a potential 21st century counter-hegemon.  Again, students need to grasp the notion of hegemony in order to understand not only the American role in the world, but also the position of other powers like Japan, China, and even Korea itself.


I hope soon to further develop my basic characterization of American hegemony.  The web edition of my book on the American presidency, available at  http://www.geocities.com/florigkr/, treats some advanced issues, but I hope to expand the simple handout into a better introduction to the concept.


Figure 9


Hegemony, Counter-hegemony, and Stability

Five Dimensions of the Concept of Hegemony

There are at least five basic dimensions to the concept of global hegemony, ranging from gross and obvious to more subtle. Hegemony is much more than simple domination because of its more subtle dimensions found later on this list.

1. Military

The hegemon has the strongest military in the world, significantly stronger than any of its rivals. Its military alliance system is significantly stronger than any rival military blocs.

2. Economic

The hegemon has the largest and most technologically advanced economy in the world. It is a major trading partner of most of the nations of the world, including most of the major powers.

3. Political

The hegemon has a wide range of political allies, and friendly relations with most nations and major powers.

4. Institutional

The hegemon, working with its allies, makes most of the rules that govern global political and economic relations. The hegemon, along with its allies, usually controls most of the international institutions. Thus, most of the policies of the international institutions favor the hegemon and its allies.

5. Ideological

The hegemon largely determines the terms of discourse in global relations. Marx once wrote, "The ruling ideas of any age are the ideas of the ruling class." Today, the predominant ideas about globalization are the ideas of hegemon.


Counter-hegemony and Counter-hegemonic Alliance Systems

All states have the choice of either siding with or opposing the hegemon, as a general strategy and on particular issues.  In the language of international relations, these choices are called bandwagoning (siding with the hegemon) or balancing (allying against the hegemon).  Even hegemons face resistance from popular movements and national elites who contest the hegemon's plan for globalization on each of the five levels listed above.  States who oppose the hegemon often form a counter-hegemonic alliance system, as did the Soviet Union and China in the early Cold War, Germany, Japan, and Italy in the 1930s, and Germany and Austria-Hungary in the early 20th century.  International political movements also arise to oppose the hegemon.  Communism, fascism, and the current anti-globalization movements are examples of movements of resistance against the hegemon

Theories of Hegemonic Stability and Hegemonic Instability

Most American specialists in international relations (and many of their European counterparts) believe in the theory of hegemonic stability.  Simply stated, this theory argues that the hegemonic power plays a crucial role in maintaining stability and order in the world system.  In other words, the hegemon is the most benign power in the global system.  Because the hegemon is the power that benefits most from the existing world system, the hegemon has the greatest stake in keeping that system functioning.  The military power of the hegemon keeps the peace, discouraging challengers to the global order.  The economy of the hegemon is the engine that drives international economic growth and development.  In order to preserve its network of alliances, the hegemon is the political broker who moderates disputes between other powers, thus keeping them from escalating into serious conflict.  The hegemon seeks to bind other states into the global order and thus plays a leading role in developing global institutions that manage international security and economic relations.  The hegemon is often the source and usually a propagator of ideas about world order and security.  For example, current concepts of “globalization” are shaped largely by American intellectuals.  In the words of former Secretary of State Madeline Albright, the hegemon is “the indispensable nation…(the one) that walks tall and looks forward.”

On the other hand, the theory of hegemonic instability argues that hegemony is a destructive force in the global system.  The hegemon uses its military power to impose its will around the world, raising the level of violence associated with regional political conflicts.  The economy of the hegemon sucks resources from less developed economies and twists development around the globe to fit its insatiable appetites rather than benefit the peoples of the world.  The alliance system of the hegemon virtually guarantees that peoples and states excluded from the hegemon’s councils will be forced into a series of counter-hegemonic alliances.  Conflict between the hegemonic alliance system and the counter-hegemonic alliance system was the source of the two world wars and the Cold War.  The military competition between the hegemonic and counter-hegemonic alliances turns many otherwise manageable political disputes into violent conflict.  The rules and values of the international institutions constructed by the hegemon are blatantly unfair.  The hegemon represents its own narrow national interests as the interests of global society, while in fact global institutions serve to expand the power and wealth of the hegemon.  Just as a dictator within a nation proclaims himself the protector and voice of the people while actually suppressing and exploiting the people, the hegemon claims to be the protector of international order and the driving force of global prosperity, but in truth the hegemon spreads disorder, repression, and exploitation.

Select Subject Bibliography


Teaching American Studies Outside the U.S.


Boris, Anne Clift, “Teaching History in Belarus: Differences in Teaching and Learning Strategies,” American Studies International, vol 36, no 2, June 1998


Maragou, Helena, “American Studies and Gender Issues in an International Classroom,” American Studies International, vol 38, no 3, October 2000


Rudnick, Lois et. Al, “Teaching American Identities: A University/Secondary School Collaboration, American Quarterly, vol 54, no 2, June 2002


American Studies in a Global Context


Adams, Rachel, “The Worldling of American Studies,” American Quarterly, vol 53, no 4 (December 2001)


Averbach, Margara, “Crossings: Multiple Margins Meet on the Bridge,” American Studies International, vol 38, no 3, October 2000


Budianta, Melani, “Double Texts: Representing America and Discussing Women’s Issues in Indonesia,” American Studies International, vol 38, no 3, October 2000


Buell, Frederick, “Nationalist Postnationalism: Globalist Discourse in Contemporary American Culture,” American Quarterly, vol 50, no 3, September 1998


Desmond, Jane and Virginia Dominguez, “Resituating American Studies in a Critical Internationalism, American Quarterly, vol 48, no 3, September 1996


Friedensohn, Doris, “Toward a Post-Imperial Transnational American Studies,” American Studies International, vol 36, no 1, February 2998


Giles, Paul, “Virtual Americas: The Internationalization of American Studies and the Ideology of Exchange,” American Quarterly, vol 50, no 3, September 1998


Ickstadt, Heinz, “American Studies in an Age of Globalization,” American Quarterly, vol 54, no 4, December 2002


Wong, K. Scott, “The Transformation of Culture: Three Chinese Views of America,” American Quarterly, vol 48, no 2, June 1996


American Studies on the Internet


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Media Studies


Frank, Thomas and Matt Weiland, Commodify Your Dissent (New York, W.W. Norton & Co, 1997)


Grainge, Paul, “Global Media and the Ambiguities of Resonant Americanism,” American Studies International, vol 39, no 3, October 2001


Kellner, Douglas, Media Culture (London: Routledge, 1995)


Parenti, Michael, Inventing Reality (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1993)


Schwoch, James et al, Media Knowledge (State University of New York Press, 1992)


Manifest Destiny and American Foreign Policy History


Coles, Roberta, “Manifest Destiny Adapted for 1990s War Discourse: Mission and Destiny Intertwined,” Sociology of Religion vol 63, no 4, Winter 2002


Gamble, Richard, “Savior Nation: Woodrow Wilson and the Gospel of Service,” Humanitas, vol 14, no 1, 2001


Loewen, James, Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1995)


Rorty, Richard, “American History,” http://www.auroraforum.org/issues/nepal1.asp


Santiago-Valles, Kelvin, “Still Longing for de Old Plantation: The Visual Parodies and Racial National Imaginary of US Overseas Expansionism, 1898-1903, American Studies International, vol 37, no 3, October 1999


Stephanson, Anders, Manifest Destiny: American Expansionism and the Empire of Right (New York: Hill and Wang, 1995)


Zinn, Howard, A People’s History of the United States (New York: The New Press, 1997)


American Hegemony


Barber, Benjamin, Jihad vs. McWorld (New York: Ballantine Books, 1995)


Dunne, “US Foreign Relations in the Twentieth Century: From World Power to Global Hegemony,” International Affairs, vol 76, no 1, 2000


Haass, Richard, “What to do with American Primacy,” Foreign Affairs, vol 78, no 5 Sept-Oct 1999


Huntington, Samuel, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1996)


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Ikenberry, G. John, “America’s Imperial Ambition,” Foreign Affairs, Sept-Oct 2002


Johnson, Chalmers, Blowback (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2000)