It is a much-cherished piece of national mythology that the United States is exceptional for having been a world power without having had a substantial empire. And debunking that particular myth has been a favorite pastime of historians of U.S. foreign relations since the late 1950s at least.

This course does not propose to settle the issue, which pretty much boils down to a question of what you mean by the word “empire.” Rather, it seeks to better understand the particular ways in which the United States has projected its power abroad from the nineteenth century through the present.

Questions such as the following will animate our tour through the scholarly literature on the United States’ empire.

  • How has the United States gained influence globally through settler colonialism, territorial government, military interventions, counterinsurgency, the rule of experts, military bases, and U.S. global markets?
  • How did the United States ascend to international hegemony after World War II and how did it maintain that position?
  • How were its norms and institutions taken up, rejected, or modified within its imperial domain?
  • And how have its attempts to dominate the world (or parts of it) shaped the domestic history of the United States?

This is not a course that focuses at length on the experience of the colonized. It is, rather, a study of power and its various forms. Particular emphasis will be placed on a topic that is not often singled out for attention: the U.S. overseas territories. But regional coverage will be broad, including the U.S. West, Latin America, the Caribbean, Southeast Asia, and Western Europe.

This class is most appropriate for students of U.S. history or students who are interested in considering empire from a comparative perspective.

[This class was designed, in large part, with scholarship and course content developed by Daniel Immerwahr, an associate professor at Northwestern University. His work ranges widely, but he’s particularly noted for his book How to Hide an Empire, about the United States’ overseas territories. At Northwestern, he teaches courses on U.S. foreign relations, global history, intellectual history, and the history of capitalism.]

Polyhistoria classes emphasize critical thinking, analyzing, evaluating, and creating. We believe that students learn history best by doing what professional historians do.

(Read more about our approach to history.)

This course offers students a challenging analytical examination of the role of political, social and economic factors in United States history from the 1800s to the present. Instruction emphasizes primary and secondary sources, academic papers and books, and opportunities for open discussion. Students are encouraged to develop their ability to interpret sources and to form an individual understanding of American history.

This course aims to help students:
-Compare, contrast, and contextualize the political, cultural, and social history of the United States and the present.
-Describe paradigms of knowledge, realities, values in western and non-western traditions.
-Evaluate the ways in which the historical development of political structures and beliefs, social structures and beliefs, and cultural structures and beliefs may impact and inform current political, social, and cultural issues.
-Assess increasing global interdependence, the potential for conflict, and the U.S. role in world events in the present and future.
-Describe the differences between primary and secondary sources.
-Identify and describe conflicting historical interpretations.
-Analyze the perspective and context in which the historical source was created.

This course is designed to increase effective observation and critical thinking skills and to encourage learner interaction. We encourage rigorous (but not ad hominem) discourse, questioning textbooks and teachers alike, and tirelessly trying to improve what we do. We believe in creating a truly welcoming space, where learners can come together with understanding, dignity, and compassion, and where diverse backgrounds and life experiences are embraced.

Learning is not a spectator sport. Interaction and intellectual exchanges involving all students and the instructor enrich learning for all. Studying history involves an accumulation of knowledge about the past. But it also requires that we communicate that knowledge to others. You must be ready to share your views in class. A worthwhile course depends upon active participation by all students in class discussions.

The goal here is to advance an intelligent conversation from which we all learn. The most obvious way to do that is to say smart things and say them clearly. But that is not the only meaningful way to participate. Asking a question, connecting something already on the table to another thing, clarifying something that someone else has said, and offering evidence from the text under discussion are also all valuable. Bonus points are awarded for contributions that draw on what others have said. Other things to keep in mind: aim for clarity, keep in mind the value of an amicable classroom environment, and try not to monopolize the conversation.

1) Students’ cameras and microphones must be turned on during the class.
2) This class requires the continuous use of logical thinking & hypothetical reasoning skills to critically and creatively analyze the topics covered in the class. These cognitive functions are generally not sufficiently developed until a student is 13+ years old. Students must have the ability to think critically and logically to analyze the topics covered in the class.

1 hour per week in class, and an estimated 0 – 1 hours per week outside of class.

Meets once a week for 18 weeks
4 – 9 learners, ages 13-18


(Jan 9)
WEEK 1: The Question of Empire

(Jan 16)
WEEK 2: U.S. Empire and World Empires

(Jan 23)
WEEK 3: Continental Empire

(Jan 30)
WEEK 4: Puerto Rico and the Insular Cases

(Feb 6)
WEEK 5: The Philippines

(Feb 13)
WEEK 6: Imperial Return

(Feb 20)
WEEK 7: Latin America I

(Feb 27)
WEEK 8: Latin America II

(Mar 5)
WEEK 9: Soft Power

(Mar 12)
WEEK 10: The Cold War -The Politics of Insecurity


(Mar 26)
WEEK 11: Pax Americana and Informal Empire

(Apr 2)
WEEK 12: The American Empire’s Long Reach


(Apr 16)
WEEK 13: Banking and the Global Financial Crisis

(Apr 23)
WEEK 14: Global Corporations

(Apr 30)
WEEK 15: Oil and Energy

(May 7)
WEEK 16: Trade Wars

(May 14)
WEEK 17: Media & Social Media Communication

(May 21)
WEEK 18: America as Empire, Now and In the Future

Thrilled by the opportunity to teach cutting-edge social science scholarship to teenagers, I leapt at the opportunity to teach classes online. I enjoy old, rare books and gardening in Colorado, where even the incompetent can have beautiful roses. In addition to teaching and gardening, I remain actively involved in competitive sports, and you are cautioned not to wager against me at the ping-pong table.

I teach ancient languages, human & political world geography, history, philosophy, economics, political science …and anything else that catches my interest.


Feel free to send me an email at


Come hang out with me on Twitter for more tidbits of interesting research, linguistic curiosities, and forgotten history.