17.428 | Fall 2004 | Graduate

American Foreign Policy: Theory and Method


Course Meeting Times

Lectures: 1 session / week, 2 hours / session

Recitations: # session(s) / week, # hour(s) / session


This course examines the causes and consequences of American foreign policy since 1898. Course readings cover both substantive and methods topics. Four substantive topics are covered:

  1. major theories of American foreign policy;
  2. major episodes in the history of American foreign policy and historical/interpretive controversies about them;
  3. the evaluation of major past American foreign policies–were their results good or bad? and
  4. current policy controversies, including means of evaluating proposed policies.

Three methods topics are covered:

  1. basic social scientific inference–what are theories? what are good theories? how should theories be framed and tested?
  2. historical investigative methodology, including archival research, and, most importantly,
  3. case study methodology.

Historical episodes covered in the course are used as raw material for case studies, asking “if these episodes were the subject of case studies, how should those studies be performed, and what could be learned from them?”

This is a graduate course, open to undergraduates by permission of the instructor only.

Course Requirements

Students will be asked to write 2 short papers (6-10 page typed doublespaced pages) and two 1-page exercises. One of the 6-10 page papers will be a case study; the other can be a case study or a policy evaluation. The 1-page exercises are due on Session 2 and Session 5; the papers are due on Session 11 and Session 13.


The course grade is determined by performance on 2 (6-10 page) papers and by the quality of in-class participation. The theory-framing exercises and the archive research exercise are ungraded.

Course Info

As Taught In
Fall 2004