Skip to main content
Expand AU Menu

Intercultural and International Communication

The Rise of Public Diplomacy

Public Diplomacy is an increasingly significant dimension of statecraft, as international actors seek to extend their influence through communication and engagement with foreign publics. The growth of public diplomacy in foreign ministries around the world also demonstrates how the practice of diplomacy itself has changed, to encompass not just nation-states, but also citizens exerting their own influence in international relations. Public diplomacy reflects the rising importance of media and communication technology, where so-called “digital diplomacy” tools mediate between states and publics in ways that may transform how governments use communication to achieve their objectives. While ideas like “soft power” justify public diplomacy, the practice of public diplomacy also reflects the expansion of international relations to include new kinds of actors, new roles for communication technologies, and new strategic priorities for intercultural relations. Put simply, public diplomacy illustrates how people have become pivotal to achieving foreign policy ambitions. Understanding the policies, programs, and technologies of public diplomacy is the goal of the Public Diplomacy Concentration.

The concentration in Public Diplomacy prepares students for careers at the intersection of international relations and communication. The public diplomacy curriculum and an array of elective courses provide a foundation in the conceptual and practical dimensions of public diplomacy. Public diplomacy represents the ways in which international actors seek to manage the international environment and achieve strategic objectives through practices of persuading, educating, and building meaningful relations with foreign publics. Historically, this has been accomplished through a diverse range of policy tools, such as exchange programs, cultural diplomacy, international broadcasting, and information operations. The public diplomacy concept has since grown to include new forms of outreach through digital media platforms and new forms of strategic priorities, such as the rise of nation-branding, collaborative projects in cultural management, and international education programs.

Public diplomacy instruction is interdisciplinary, and draws on insights from communication, political science/international relations, cultural studies, diplomatic studies, and history. The Public Diplomacy concentration is designed to provide opportunities for students to draw on other concentration courses in the International Communication program and across SIS, to build their own trajectory in public diplomacy studies. The public diplomacy concentration opens up opportunities for a variety of career paths in government, journalism/media, strategic communications, education, cultural relations, and international development.

The School of International Service and the Intercultural and International Communication program represent one of the premier centers for instruction in public diplomacy. American University is home to an unmatched concentration of public diplomacy scholars, former ambassadors, and public diplomacy practitioners. The School of International Service also has a proven record of its students going on to work across a range of public diplomacy careers, while its faculty are recognized leaders in the field of public diplomacy studies. The School of International Service provides a unique opportunity for students to receive a rewarding and theoretically sophisticated graduate experience that blends the best of practical and scholarly approaches to public diplomacy. Students can explore public diplomacy in the context of media technology, culture, migration, security, education, and the broader sphere of transnational governance and activism represented in the SIS faculty and programs. Students also play an active role in the AU Public & Cultural Diplomacy Forum (PCDF), which features innovative events and research on public diplomacy.

This concentration is open to all SIS master’s students, but may be of particular interest to students in the SIS MA program in Intercultural and International Communication. In addition to the specific degree program requirements, students who seek to concentrate in Public Diplomacy will be required to take two foundational courses and have the opportunity to further specialize by electing to enroll in additional courses associated with the concentration.   

Public Diplomacy Courses

Global and Comparative Perspectives on Public Diplomacy

SIS 628.004

Professor Craig Hayden

This course provides an understanding of the history and dynamics of U.S. public diplomacy; knowledge of strategies and techniques for advocating policy and influencing opinion and behavior of international audiences in a Web 2.0 age; skills to communicate, especially in writing; an understanding of how to analyze key data, including opinion polls and audience surveys; and an ability to engage with the key moral, political, and practical dimensions of public diplomacy.


U.S. Public Diplomacy

SIS 628.004

Professor Amb. Anthony Quainton

Public diplomacy seeks to promote the national interest and the national security of the United States through understanding, informing, and influencing foreign publics and broadening dialogue between American citizens and institutions and their counterparts abroad. This course is designed to provide students an in-depth understanding of public diplomacy as an instrument of foreign policy. It will focus on the history of U.S public diplomacy since the Second World War and will explore the motivations, stakeholders and constraints which impact the use of public diplomacy by the American and other governments. By the end of the course students (1) should have a thorough knowledge of the enduring issues in public diplomacy as they have played out over time; (2) an understanding of the various public diplomacy tools that can be used to promote national interests and values; and (3) a capacity to relate foreign policy issues to public diplomacy strategies in various areas of the world. The course is designed to enhance students’ writing, speaking and critical analysis skills that are essential in a professional career.