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Blake’s View: American Studies Year 2

Yesterday, I took my final exam, meaning that I now draw to a close 2 whole years of University. To be honest, I never thought 2 years would go so quickly. This Second Year has been a  whole new experience for me, and I’ve found myself having a lot of fun! Last September seems only a heartbeat away, yet I’ve done so much since then. To keep you informed about my course, please find below a run-down of the units I’ve taken this year in American Studies, with a personal overview at the end.

Race, Slavery and Emancipation (half year unit: compulsory)

Focussing on the stories and experiences of slaves in the Caribbean, North and South America. We studied how and why  slavery differed, how slaves rebelled, and how they secured their freedom, plus slavery’s legacy today.

 US Government and Politics (half year unit: compulsory)

Analysing the structure of the American political system, and looking into how it deals with current social issues in the USA, including hot topics such as: healthcare reform, media bias, the Tea Party, abortion, gay marriage, and gun control.

 US Foreign Policy (full year unit: compulsory)

The unit started in the late 1800s and worked its way each week through the Presidents of the United States and the major challenges of foreign policy faced in their terms of office. A very informative look at the different styles of the Presidents, and how their ideologies linked to their handling of foreign policy matters, which also affected the USA’s domestic affairs.

Democratisation in Latin America (full year unit: compulsory)

Looking at a range of South American countries, we saw how states emerged from times of military rule and dictatorial repression to become the democratic countries we recognise today, such as Argentina, Brazil and Chile. What influenced the paths they took following democratisation, and what were the major challenges? Other topics included the “pink-tide” of liberal social reforms, the problems faced by Cuba’s aging socialism, analysis of the system of ‘illiberal democracy’, and the continuing fight in Peru between government forces and the FARC.

Key Issues in Development (full year unit: optional)

A varied unit covering a multitude of development topics which influence developing nations: agricultural policy, infrastructure, empowering women, social enterprise, development aid, the role of NGOs, and political structure.

 Japanese (full year unit: optional)

I continued learning Japanese: speaking, reading, writing and listening, which I took last year as an additional unit. Very enjoyable because of the small class from which I’ve met a great bunch of friends. Japanese isn’t easy to learn, but at least I tried!

A Final Overview of the Year!

Race, Slavery and Emancipation broadened my perspective of the strange reality of slavery and its legacy. My understanding of slavery was challenged, and I realised what a long process it was to freedom. Many of the racial prejudices which still affect us now were created and embedded at this time. Slavery certainly isn’t a subject confined to the history books as it still has relevance in the modern age.

Government and Politics brought to life many of the issues and debates in the current political sphere of the USA. It highlights how the UK and USA differ greatly on some issues, and the hard-line approach many Americans take on abortion and gun-control continues to amaze me. Sometimes the debates seem genuinely comical (before you realise that they are being serious).

Foreign Policy really brought to life the different Presidents, and I feel I got to understand their characters a lot better, so they are more than just a name or a portrait. It was also great to learn about the USA’s foreign policy over the last century, and how America has shaped the world we live in today.

Democratisation in LA continued our learning from the First Year, and I particularly liked the group project where we created our own political party to stand in an election following authoritarian rule. I was the Finance Minister for the fictional Argentinian Liberal Party, standing for election in 1983. I had a great group, and the project really immersed me in the concerns and problems of this transition to democracy.

Key Issues in Development was a diverse unit and at the end I felt it started to come together, as I realised how all these different factors contribute to development. I also understood the need to question what ‘development’ even is and how we measure it. I particularly liked one of our assessments, which was to create our own index to measure a specific form of development. I feel this was a very practical task and a good learning experience for anyone looking to work in the development sector.

Japanese was a personal choice, though I am extremely pleased I did it. My Japanese skills have surely improved. Yet more importantly, I would recommend studying a language just because of the great people you get to meet. I made a bunch of friends from different courses and also got to meet many native Japanese students, which broadened my view of the world.

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