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Teaching the Territories in US Foreign Policy: Race and Empire in the American Experience

Teaching the Territories in US Foreign Policy: Race and Empire in the American Experience

by Peter Harris, Colorado State University

The acquisition and governance of non-sovereign territories has been a feature of US foreign policy since the birth of the republic, yet the territories are rarely included on syllabi dealing with US foreign relations. This is a mistake that teachers of foreign policy would do well to redress. First, the history and politics of territorial acquisition can be a valuable lens for viewing a range of traditional topics in the study of US foreign policy, including the reality of who and what determines US actions abroad; the question of how the United States became a great power and later a superpower in world affairs; questions of morality in international relations; and contemporary topics such as defense and environmental policies. Second, the history of territorial expansion can bring a number of non-traditional themes to light: disclosing that ideas of race and racism have long influenced how the US deploys its power abroad, undermining notions of American exceptionalism, and raising questions about the liberal, democratic, and republican foundations of the US polity. Indeed, teaching about the US territories is perhaps a unique way of exposing students to some uncomfortable realities about racism and imperial thinking as drivers of US actions abroad.

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PS: Political Science & Politics / Volume 50, Issue 2 /Published online: 31 March 2017