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MSc International Relations of the Americas
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The Americas in Comparative Perspective I: Historical Roots

James Dunkerley (QMU)


The study of the western hemisphere as a whole offers a rich range of opportunities for comparative and inter-disciplinary study between and within the existing nation-states of the Americas as well as on a sub-regional plane.

Popular acceptance of the USA as the sole “American” state remains strongly undergirded by the claims of “American Exceptionalism”, many of which can usefully be tested through the comparative method with the rest of the continent. The sectoral divisions upheld by the Cold War concept of Area Studies not only sharply divided “American Studies” from those of Latin America but also excluded Canada, which represents a quite distinctive North Americanism, and the Caribbean, which powered the economic growth of modern Europe and continues to be a crucial archipelago. The prism of comparison permits an invaluable critical appraisal of the traditional historiography of the Americas.

This course will address the historical roots of contemporary issues of political economy, cultural identity, and international relations of the American continent as a whole, with a particular emphasis on the scholarly schools and genres that upheld theses of difference, sameness and conflict – Exceptionalism and dependency theory. It will open with a consideration of the dominant images of the Americas from Elizabethan England and Habsburg Spain through to the culturalist dichotomies upheld by Tocqueville and Bryce before addressing the perspective of Atlantic history and the claims of American exceptionalism.

The traditional distinctiveness of Anglo-American Empire from those of the Iberian powers will be reassessed with respect to patterns of conquest, settlement, treatment of indigenous peoples and colonial administration. The experience of independence from London and Madrid will be compared in the distinct international contexts of the 1770s and the 1810s, with particular consideration being given to the “outlier” experiences of Haiti and Canada.

The course will end with a synoptic survey of that theme most generally treated comparatively in the scholarly literature – slavery. With this range, the module will provide a solid basis both for considering the evolution of the continent in the 20th century (Part II) or reviewing more discipline-based studies in a wider and deeper context.

The module aims to provide you with the opportunity to undertake multi-disciplinary comparative analysis of one of the world’s major politico-cultural regions. It will encourage and challenge you progressively to build, analyse and test the constituent features of one of the modern world’s dominant phenomena – Americanism. The module will build familiarity with the comparative method – whereby sameness, similarity and difference are assessed from various deductive and inductive perspectives - through analytical practice and varied empirical objects.

The course breaks from the traditional scholarly parameters, including Canada and the Caribbean as core constituents of the hemisphere. You will be expected to acquire a firm outline empirical knowledge of the historical evolution of the Americas as a whole as well as of the principal intellectual schools seeking to explain the commonalities and divergences in hemispheric patterns of development up to 1900.

The overwhelming bulk of the assigned literature is in English and reflects both the mainstream and critical currents of North and Latin American historiography and social science.

You will not be expected to read Spanish, French or Portuguese, but knowledge of those languages will strengthen certain cultural aspects of the module, which has been designed as an interdisciplinary option, with no disciplinary prerequisites.

General Reading

  • Disciplinary and Background Surveys


  • J.H.Elliott, Empires of the Atlantic World. Britain and Spain in America, 1492-1830, Yale 2006
  • Felipe Fernández Armesto, The Americas. A History of Two Continents, Phoenix 2004 
  • M.Gutmann, F.Matos Rodríguez, L.Stephen, and P.Zavella (eds.), Perspectives on Las Américas. A Reader in Culture, History and Representation, Blackwell 2003
  • Lester D.Langley, The Americas in the Modern Age,  Yale 2005 
  • L.Hanke (ed.), Do the Americas have a common history? Knopf 1964 
  • J.H.Elliott, Do the Americas Have a Common History? John Carter Brown Library 1998 
  • A.Arciniegas, America in Europe: A History of the New World in Reverse, Harcourt Brace, 1975
  • C.Véliz, The New World of the Gothic Fox. Culture and Economy in English and Spanish America, University of California Press, 1994 
  • J.Dunkerley, Americana. The Americas in the World around 1850, Verso 2000
  • J.Adelman (ed.), Colonial Legacies. The Problem of Persistence in Latin American History, Routledge 1999
  • J.Adelman, Sovereignty and Revolution in the Iberian Atlantic, Princeton 2006 
  • T.Bender, A Nation among Nations. America’s Place in World History, Hill and Wong 2006
  • T.Bender (ed.), Rethinking American History in a Global Age, University of California Press 2002
  • L.Kerber, “Diversity and the Transformation of American Studies”, American Quarterly, 43:1, 1989, pp.415-31.
  • M.Jones, The Limits of Liberty. American History, 1607-1992, 2nd ed. Oxford University Press 1995
  • E.Williams, From Columbus to Castro: The History of the Caribbean, 1492-1969, André Deutsch, London 1970
  • E.Williamson, The Penguin History of Latin America, 2nd impression, Penguin 1992 
  • J. Bumsted (ed.), Interpreting Canada’s Past, 2 vols., Oxford University Press, Toronto 2005.

Cultural Studies

  • W.Mignolo, The Idea of Latin America, Blackwell, Oxford 2005
  • S.Castillo and I.Schweitzer (eds.), The Literatures of Colonial America. An Anthology, Blackwell 2001
  • J.King (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Modern Latin American Culture, Cambridge University Press 2004
  • D.Cohn, History and Memory in the Two Souths: Recent Southern and Spanish American Fiction, Vanderbilt UP 1999
  • G.Brotherston, Book of the Fourth World. Reading the Native Americans through their Literature,  CUP 1992
  • K.Jrade (ed.), ` Rethinking the Americas: Crossing Borders and Disciplines’, Vanderbilt e-Journal of Luso-Hispanic Studies (  
  • E. Ching, C.Buckley and A.Lozano-Alonso (eds.), Reframing Latin America. A Cultural Theory Reading of the 19th and 20th Centuries, Texas 2002

Geographical, Anthropological and Environmental Studies

  • W.McNeill, Plagues and Peoples, Doubleday New York 1976
  • A.Crosby, The Columban Exchange: Biological and Cultural Consequences of 1492, rev’d ed., Westport 2003
  • D.Lowenthal and M.Bowden (eds.), Geographies of the Mind. Essays in Historical Geosophy, OUP New York 1976
  • D.Hoosen (ed.), Geography and National Identity, Oxford 1994
  • D.Meinig, The Shaping of America. A Geographical Perspective on 500 Years of History, 3 vols, Yale University Press 1993
  • J.Gallup, A.Gaviria and E.Lora, Is Geography Destiny? Lessons from Latin America, Inter-American Development Bank, New York 2003
  • E.Wolf, Europe and the People without History, University of California Press 1982
  • C.Geertz, The Interpretation of Cultures, Fontana 1973
  • C.C.Mann, Ancient Americans. Rewriting the History of the New World, Granta 2005
  • J.Diamond, Guns, Germs and Steel, Vintage  1997
  • S.Mintz, Sweetness and Power. The Place of Sugar in Modern History, Viking 1986
  • J.Goodman, Tobacco in History: The Culture of Dependence, London 1993
  • W.Schivelbusch, Tastes of Paradise. A Social History of Spices, Stimulants and Intoxicants, New York 1992
  • R.Davenport-Hines, The Pursuit of Oblivion. A Global History of Narcotics, Weidenfeld and Nicholson 2001