Politics and American Studies BA


Fact file - 2017 entry

UCAS code:TL72
Qualification:BA Jt Hons
Type and duration:3 year UG
Qualification name:Politics and American Studies
UCAS code
UCAS code
Politics and American Studies | BA Jt Hons
3 years full-time (available part-time), 4 years full-time with year abroad
A level offer
Required subjects
None specific, but critical thinking and general studies not accepted 
IB score
Course location
University Park Campus 
Course places


Combining American history and literature with the country's government and politics, this course also offers qualifying students the opportunity to spend a year abroad in the USA.
Read full overview

This course is taught by the School of Politics and International Relations and the Department of American and Canadian Studies. This three or four-year degree is a specialist study of the USA - its government and politics, its history and culture - anchored in the grand sweep of political ideas, political history, political institutions and political issues the world over.

On this course you will study a range of compulsory modules in American history and literature, as well as the government and politics of the USA. You can also choose optional modules in both subjects as well as from a wide range offered across the University.

There is an opportunity to transfer to a four-year degree course, spending your third year studying abroad in North America, depending on satisfactory performance in year one.

Year one

In year one you will take modules in international relations, political theory, and comparative politics. You will learn to compare political institutions and behaviour in western liberal democracies, gaining a thorough understanding of the history of political ideas. You will also take modules in American history in the Department of American and Canadian Studies.

Year two

In politics and international relations you will choose one core module and will have free choice of two additional modules from the school so that you can begin to tailor your degree to your personal preference. You will also take compulsory modules in American thought and culture, along with other options in American studies.

Year three

You can apply to spend a year studying in North America, transferring to a four-year course and returning to Nottingham for your final year. This isn't compulsory (those who opt not to study abroad will complete their degree in three years) and eligibility is dependent on satisfactory performance in your first year.

If you do not take a year abroad you will undertake your dissertation in the third year as outlined below.

Year four (if taking year three abroad)

In your final year, you will undertake a dissertation on a topic of your choice in either politics or American studies. Each student is allocated a dedicated supervisor and you will also take optional modules from a wide selection to make up your remaining credits.


Entry requirements

A levels: ABB not including general studies or critical thinking

English language requirements 

If English is not your first language, you must fulfil, as a minimum, the following condition:

IELTS: 6.5 with no less than 6.0 in any element

Students who require extra support to meet the English language requirements for their academic course can attend a presessional course at the Centre for English Language Education (CELE) to prepare for their future studies. Students who pass at the required level can progress directly to their academic programme without needing to retake IELTS. Please visit the CELE webpages for more information.

Alternative qualifications 

View the alternative qualifications page for details.

Flexible admissions policy

In recognition of our applicants’ varied experience and educational pathways, The University of Nottingham employs a flexible admissions policy. We may make some applicants an offer lower than advertised, depending on their personal and educational circumstances. Please see the University’s admissions policies and procedures for more information.

Notes for applicants

We are looking for students who have the ability and motivation to benefit from our courses, and who will make a valued contribution to the department and the University. Candidates for full-time admission are considered on the basis of their Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) form.

Applications are considered solely on merit and academic potential. The selection process is normally based entirely on the UCAS application form - so it is important that this is completed correctly and fully. We do not normally interview applicants.



Typical year one modules

Core politics modules

Introduction to Comparative Politics

This module seeks to compare and contrast the decision-making structures of modern democratic states. Topics to be covered will include: 

  • politics
  • government and the state
  • the comparative approach
  • constitutions and the legal framework
  • democratic and authoritarian rule
  • political culture
  • the political executive
  • legislatures
  • political parties and party systems
  • electoral systems and voting behaviour
  • the crisis of democracy
Modern Political Theory

This module introduces you to the ideas of some of the canonical thinkers in the history of political thought, such as Burke, Rousseau, Kant, Mill, and Marx. The module considers the impact of these thinkers on modern political thought and practice, with reference to key political ideas and historical developments (such as liberty and equality, and the Enlightenment). The course will be text based.  

Understanding Global Politics

This module introduces global politics through the major theoretical, historical and empirical ways of seeing international relations. We consider how different approaches understand global politics, the role of different actors in global politics and different approaches to organising international relations. In particular, the module highlights the major issues of war and peace, and global poverty.  



Problems in Global Politics

This module explores some of the major problems that exist in contemporary global politics. It introduces you to a wide range of challenges faced by states and non-state actors in the international system and engages with topics ranging from security concerns to economic issues. 

The module draws on a wide range of ideas and examples from around the world to help you to better understand global politics.



British Political History Since 1945

This module will introduce and interrogate British political history since 1945. The module will take students through key issues and controversies in post-war British politics and as they relate to leaders and governments (in lectures) and key debates over controversies (in seminars). 

The module will explore a range of issues relating to:

  • economic policy
  • social policy and the welfare state
  • industrial relations
  • foreign and defence policy
  • Europe
  • local government and nuclear deterrence

Seminars will employ a range of activity-based scenarios to develop student understanding of key crises experienced by leaders and governments since 1945.  


Core American studies modules

American History 1: 1607-1900

This module will provide a broad introduction to the history of the United States of America, from its colonial origins to the end of the 19th century. This is seen as a 'core' module, which will give a grounding for further study of American history.

American History 2: 1900-Present Day

This module examines the history of the United States in the  20th century. It will assess changes and developments in the lives of the American people who have faced the challenges of prosperity, depression, war, liberal reform, political conservatism, minority protests, multicultural awareness, and international power.

Approaches to American Culture: An Introduction

This module aims to introduce you to some of the key facets of American culture across a broad historical range. The emphasis will be on texts and cultural artifacts beyond those encountered in the core modules on American Literature and American History.

In this respect we are likely to focus on a variety of forms, which may include music, painting, cinema, television and various genres of writing. We will concentrate on important and influential cultural forms, demonstrating and exploring connections made across different time periods and, in particular, with developments in contemporary America.

Ideally the module will help to open up ways for the students to move between different parts of the undergraduate programme, while also encouraging them to think critically about some of the assumptions that they bring to the subject.

Approaches to American Culture: Developing Themes and Perspectives

This module aims to introduce you to some of the key facets of American culture across a broad historical range. The emphasis will be on texts and cultural artefacts beyond those encountered in the core modules on American Literature and American History. In this respect we are likely to focus on a variety of forms, which may include music, painting, cinema, television and various genres of writing.

We will concentrate on important and influential cultural forms, demonstrating and exploring connections made across different time periods and, in particular, with developments in contemporary America.

Ideally the module will help to open up ways for the students to move between different parts of the undergraduate programme, while also encouraging them to think critically about some of the assumptions that they bring to the subject.


Typical year two modules

Core politics modules

Approaches to Politics and International Relations

The module introduces you to alternative theoretical approaches to the study of political phenomena.

We consider the different forms of analysing, explaining, and understanding politics associated with approaches such as:

  • behaviouralism
  • rational choice theory
  • institutionalism
  • Marxism
  • feminism
  • interpretive theory 
  • post-modernism

The module shows that the different approaches are based upon contrasting 'ontological' suppositions about the nature of politics, and they invoke alternative 'epistemological' assumptions about how we acquire valid knowledge of politics and international relations. 



How Voters Decide

Elections are the foundation of representative democracy. The act of voting creates a link between citizens' preferences and government policy. This means that the choices voters make have important consequences. But, how do voters make these choices? Are they based on the policies that parties promise to enact in the future, or is it more about the policy successes (or failures) that parties have experienced in the past? Does the party's leader make a difference? Can campaigns or the media's coverage change how voters see their electoral choices? Finally, given the importance of elections, why do many citizens choose to abstain from the process altogether?

How Voters Decide will explore the choices that citizens make when they participate in elections and it will provide students with the skills necessary to evaluate arguments about electoral behaviour in Britain and beyond.


Optional politics modules include:

Civilisation and Barbarism

This module explores some of the major themes in the study of international relations. Power and order feature prominently, but so too do war and disaster, imperialism and race, totalitarianism and emancipation, law and human rights.

The course is distinctive in two respects. First, the study of these themes each week takes its bearings from a significant text, and that text in its entirety. Second, the emphasis is on the interplay between the form and style of these texts and the ideas they contain. This inquiry is interesting and important in itself, and should also help you appreciate texts encountered elsewhere during your studies.

Democracy and its Critics

Democracy is a contested concept and organising principle of politics both ancient and modern. Its appeal seems to be universal, yet it has always had its critics. 

This module investigates the nature of democratic principles, the arguments of democracy's opponents and the claims of those who say that contemporary life is inadequately democratised. A particular feature of the module is the use of primary sources to investigate historic and contemporary debates.  

Global Security

This module explores issues in global security since the end of the Cold War. It focuses on security in a broad sense, from issues relating to the use of force by states, through to violence by non-state actors, such as terrorist groups, and on to the concept of human security. 

The module builds on the first year modules, Understanding Global Politics and Problems in Global Politics, challenging you to deepen your theoretical as well as empirical knowledge in international security. It is also a preparation for the research-led third year modules that require a much more developed capacity of analysing empirical developments from a range of different theoretical perspectives.  


Typical year three modules

You can apply to spend a year studying in North America, transferring to a four-year course and returning to Nottingham for your final year (depending on satisfactory performance in year one). If you do not take a year abroad you will have the module options listed for year four below in your third year.


Typical year four modules

Core modules

Dissertation in Politics and International Relations or American Studies

This module enables students to undertake a sustained piece of research and analysis into a subject within the discipline of politics and international relations, or American studies.


Plus additional modules chosen from a list provided by the Department of American and Canadian Studies. 

Optional politics modules include: 

Airpower and Modern Warfare

The invention of the aircraft fundamentally changed the ways in which wars are fought and won. Over the course of only a century airpower developed into an indispensable instrument of warfare. Today, war without airpower is an unlikely prospect and major military operations, as a rule, are launched with overwhelming air attacks. In recent years, however, the utility of 'strategic' airpower has increasingly come under question. Whilst technological innovation continues to strengthen airpower's capabilities, the relevance of these capabilities in contemporary conflicts cannot be taken for granted.

This module critically assesses the role of air power in modern conflict within the broader framework of strategic and security studies. It will assess the evolution of air power theory since the First World War and examine the limits of its practical application with reference to specific air campaigns. Particular emphasis will be placed on the role of air power in the post-Cold War security environment, for example, in counterterrorism and counterinsurgency campaigns.

American Politics

This course will offer an overview of the main political institutions and the behaviour of political actors in the United States, applying a variety of analytic concepts and empirical tools to the study of American politics. It will in particular focus on rational choice theories of voters and politicians' behaviours addressing the incentives and constraints faced by politicians when choosing public policies.

By employing theoretical and empirical tools to study public decision making at the federal and state level, the course will highlight the impact of different institutional arrangements on electoral accountability and policies in the United States.

Gender and Development

This module examines major themes, debates and issues in the field of Gender and Development. We will focus on the relationship between ideas and concerns of gender (in)equality and processes, policies, and practices of economic, social and political development.

We will explore the key literature and major debates in the field of feminist political economy, linking academic, policy-related and practitioner/activist debates. We will cover theoretical and conceptual frameworks as well as key contemporary issues explored through thematic and sector/policy case studies. We will explore how political, economic and social processes of globalisation and development intersect, impact, and are in turn influenced by gender relations in the South.

Intervention in Africa

This module analyses political, economic, cultural and especially military intervention in Africa. It focuses on the role of external actors such as international organisations, regional organisations, and NGOs, with a special emphasis on the role of France, the UK and the European Union. We will examine theories, concepts and case studies to explain the nature of contemporary intervention.

Themes include:

  • the types and evolution of intervention
  • the growing connection betweensecurity and development
  • ethics of intervention
  • the new landscape of internal conflicts and insecurity
  • the role of the International Criminal Court
  • EU policies towards Africa
  • the difficult relationship between European actors on African issues

Case studies include Rwanda, DRC, Somalia, Sudan, SierraLeone, Ivory Coast, Libya.

Politics and Drugs

This module studies the implications of the growing abuse of narcotics for the political system from both a national and international perspective. It will examine the production, consumption and trade in drugs as an international problem. 

The development of and issues associated with contemporary British drug policy will be explored and the theoretical questions raised by drug control policy will be examined.  

The Politics of Ethnic Conflict

Questions relating to nationalism and ethnic conflict have become more prominent in political debate since the end of the Cold War, and the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan demonstrated the continuing importance of constitutional crafting as a means to manage ethnic diversity within states. 

This module evaluates differing definitions of the 'nation' and 'ethnic group', examines different state strategies to manage diversity such as multiculturalism, assimilation and integration, and considers different explanations of conflict between different ethnic groups. 

It then examines in more detail strategies adopted by particular states to manage their diversity. The countries of India, America, France, Afghanistan, the UK, and Germany are focused upon, but students are encouraged to use material relating to other countries if they have particular knowledge of these cases.

Politics Placement

This module involves part-time placement (one day a week) in an external organisation, and is aimed at developing hands-on work experience and employability skills in a workplace relevant to students of politics. Pre-placement training will be provided via three half-day workshops at the beginning of the module.

Each placement will be arranged by the work placement officer. Placements will be provided by organisations involved in private, public and third sector organisations, such as the civil service, charities and political parties.

Departmental mentoring will take the form of a weekly drop-in tutorial with the module convenor, in which experiences are shared and work is undertaken on the assessment tasks. Group presentations will occur during the final four hour workshop, at which time each group will critically reflect on their experiences of the ethos and goals of their host organisation.

The Rights and Wrongs of Climate Change

What should the world do about climate change? How should we proceed in the face of persistent claims that it won't do serious harm, or isn't occurring at all? Should poor countries as well as rich ones be obliged to cut their carbon emissions? Is it wrong for individuals to fly? What if you offset your flight? How much weight should we accord harm that may come many years in the future? 

Arguments about climate change raise many of the most controversial issues in contemporary ethics and political theory. This module will examine these debates and the broader questions they hinge on. 

The War in Iraq

This module will comprehensively deconstruct the causes, conduct and consequences of one of the most controversial wars of the modern era: the invasion and occupation of Iraq. It will assess how the road to war was paved at the United Nations and through the formulation of a 'coalition of the willing'. It will then critically evaluate how the swiftly concluded invasion of Iraq and toppling of Saddam Hussein gave way to a vicious insurgency.

The adaptation of the US military to the demands of counter-insurgency warfare will be analysed, as will British military performance in southern Iraq. The module will end by critically assessing the effectiveness of the 'surge' strategy under the implementation of Gen. David Petraeus, and evaluating the utility of 'analogical reasoning' through comparisons with the Vietnam War.  


Optional American studies modules include:

African American History and Culture

This module seeks to examine African American history and culture from slavery to the present through a series of case studies that highlight forms of cultural advocacy and resistance and thus indicate how African Americans have sustained themselves individually and collectively within a racist, yet liberal society. These will illustrate the resilience of African American culture via music, literature, art and material culture.

Examples may include the persistence of African elements in slave culture, the emergence of new artistic forms in art, religion and music during the segregation era, and the range and complexity of African American engagement with US public culture since the 1960s across art, literature and popular culture.

Prohibition America

This module explores the United States' bold but disastrous experiment with Prohibition during the period 1918 to 1933, with particular focus on crime, disorder and policing. We begin with the reasons for passage of the 18th Amendment which outlawed the liquor trade, and examination of its impact on US society and culture during the 1920s.

We shall consider the rise of organised crime, gangsters and G-men, and the expanding crime fighting role of the state. The module concludes with the federal crime crusade of the early 1930s and the inglorious end of Prohibition.

US Foreign Policy, 1989-2009

This module examines the making of US foreign policy in the post-Cold War period, from the end of the Cold War to the end of the 'war on terror'. It begins by considering the grand historical narratives of American international relations and goes on to consider in depth the motivations and drivers behind the foreign policies pursued by Presidents George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.

It considers whether the post-1989 period has constituted a break from previous traditions in US foreign policy or whether there has been an essential continuity through to, and including, the 'war on terror'. It does this through a thematic examination of the impact of economics, geopolitics, ideology and security issues on post-1989 strategy, as well as the impact of a new international environment marked by the demise of bipolarity and the rise of globalisation.

The course also covers the limits and constraints of US foreign policy imposed by public opinion, lobby groups, the media and US allies during this period.


Listen to our lecturers talking about some of the modules on offer in our virtual module fair.

The modules we offer are inspired by the research interests of our staff and as a result may change for reasons of, for example, research developments or legislation changes. The above list is a sample of typical modules we offer, not a definitive list.


Study abroad

The University of Nottingham has one of the biggest and most diverse study abroad programmes in the UK, and those who have studied abroad often say that it was the highlight of their time as a student.

On this course, you can apply to spend part of your second year at the University's campuses in China or Malaysia or take a semester or a full year at one of our international partner universities in locations such as Australia, Canada, Europe, Japan, Mexico and the USA. You'll get the opportunity to broaden your horizons and enhance your employability by experiencing another culture and will study similar modules to your counterparts back in Nottingham (teaching is in English).

You can also apply to switch to a four-year course which is offered in conjunction with the Department of American and Canadian Studies and spend a year in North America as part of your degree. This is dependent upon satisfactory performance in year one.

Find out more.



At Nottingham you will acquire a strong academic foundation and a range of excellent transferable skills, such as the ability to study independently and communicate effectively, both orally and in writing. You will leave us with specialist knowledge of international issues and political systems that will enhance your global career prospects.

Our graduates develop careers across the private, public and charitable sectors. Private sector destinations include print and television journalism, broadcasting, television and film production, advertising, marketing and personnel as well as the commercial and financial sectors. Some go into party politics as parliamentary assistants, councillors in local government and even MPs; others work for the civil service and in research and data analysis.

Third-sector careers include working for non-governmental organisations, charities and development agencies. Some graduates opt for further study or take vocational qualifications in postgraduate law or teaching.

Students taking the four-year option with a year abroad will be able to demonstrate adaptability, independence and initiative, among other desirable qualities for employers.

We recognise that graduates often need more than just a great degree to stand out from the crowd. As such, we help provide valuable placement and internship opportunities for politics and international relations students. We currently have over 25 placement partners providing 100+ placements a year, including internship opportunities in Westminster and even overseas.

Average starting salary and career progression

In 2015, 95% of first-degree graduates in the School of Politics and International Relations who were available for employment had secured work or further study within six months of graduation. The average starting salary was £21,728 with the highest being £35,000.*

In 2015, 92% of first-degree graduates in the Department of American and Canadian Studies who were available for employment had secured work or further study within six months of graduation. The average starting salary was £19,065 with the highest being £28,600.*

* Known destinations of full-time home first degree undergraduates 2014/15. Salaries are calculated based on those in full-time paid employment within the UK.

Careers support and advice

Studying for a degree at The University of Nottingham will provide you with the type of skills and experiences that will prove invaluable in any career, whichever direction you decide to take. For the last three years Nottingham has been one of the two most targeted universities in the country by employers.

Throughout your time with us, our Careers and Employability Service can work with you to improve your employability skills even further; assisting with job or course applications, searching for appropriate work experience placements and hosting events to bring you closer to a wide range of prospective employers.

Have a look at our Careers page for an overview of all the employability support and opportunities that we provide to current students.  


Fees and funding

Scholarships and bursaries

The University of Nottingham offers a wide range of bursaries and scholarships. These funds can provide you with an additional source of non-repayable financial help. For up to date information regarding tuition fees, visit our fees and finance pages.

Home students*

Over one third of our UK students receive our means-tested core bursary, worth up to £2,000 a year. Full details can be found on our financial support pages.

* A 'home' student is one who meets certain UK residence criteria. These are the same criteria as apply to eligibility for home funding from Student Finance.

International/EU students

The University of Nottingham provides information and advice on financing your degree and managing your finances as an international student. The International Office offers a range of High Achiever Prizes for students from selected schools and colleges to help with the cost of tuition fees.


Key Information Sets (KIS)

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This online prospectus has been drafted in advance of the academic year to which it applies. Every effort has been made to ensure that the information is accurate at the time of publishing, but changes (for example to course content) are likely to occur given the interval between publishing and commencement of the course. It is therefore very important to check this website for any updates before you apply for the course where there has been an interval between you reading this website and applying.

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