America in the World   /   Spring 2003   /    Bibliographic Review

An Annotated Bibliography on America in the World

C. William Walldorf

Margaret Hamilton standing next to the navigation software that she and her MIT team produced for the Apollo Project (1969).

Since the end of World War II, the role of America in the world has been widely discussed among policy makers and scholars alike. This attention derives, in part, from the sheer magnitude of American economic, military, and cultural power. United States arguably represents the strongest state in the history of civilization, and its impact, like other great powers in history, has subsequently been undeniable.

Yet for scholars, the story of America in the world is more than one simply of power. Fascination with who America is as a nation and what it represents also explains the vast attention to the U.S. as an international actor. For America has thrust its very nature as a liberal democratic and capitalist state onto the fabric of international politics in a way that is truly unique in history. The consequences have been farreaching and, in some respects, have transformed the way that states interact with one another. Any effort to understand contemporary international institutions and phenomena like the United Nations, globalization, and international terrorism ultimately fails without first understanding the values, power, and behavior of the United States.

In contemporary debates over the role that the U.S. should play in international relations, the voices are both loud and contradictory. The critics complain that America acts alone too often, others that it does not lead enough. Some argue against the imposing presence of American power, while others rightly contend that nation after nation seeks to replicate U.S. economic, social, and political institutions. Still further, many demand greater morality in American foreign policy, while others counter that the U.S. needs to pay greater attention to its material interests. To say the least, deep normative ambivalence at home and abroad exists about America’s appropriate place in the world today.

This bibliography can by no means touch upon each of the numerous sources that deal with the international role of the United States. It will instead give the reader a broad set of resources to begin to understand what makes America act and behave as it does internationally, how those factors have shaped the current international order, and what scholars are discussing for the road ahead.

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