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Readings in American History


Admission requirements

Bachelor’s degree.

This course is part of the MA North American Studies, but other students are welcome too if there are places available.


This interdisciplinary course, which is a required course for all MA North American Students starting in September, offers an introduction to major issues in, and influential scholarly debates about, American history and culture in the past few decades. We’ll read a number of both classic and recently published works on topics including the American Revolution, slavery, the Civil War, imperialism, immigration, LGBTQ history, American liberalism, environmental history, modern conservatism, and the Cold War, that will familiarize students with theories and debates about, for example, American exceptionalism, the role of the state in American history, and constructions of race, class, and gender. In addition to providing an overview of American history, the course enables students to read and discuss influential studies in the field critically and in depth, and to examine various methodological, theoretical, and ideological approaches. The course aims to introduce and contextualize themes and topics that will be discussed in more detail and depth in the more specialized elective courses in the program.

Course objectives

This course aims to:

  • make students familiar with a number of major issues and key concepts in American history and culture, for example, republicanism, U.S. exceptionalism, migration, race, and gender, and the scholarly debates about these issues;

  • stimulate students to think critically about major historical issues and link them to contemporary developments in American society, culture, and politics;

  • teach students to recognize different theoretical, methodological, and ideological approaches to the study of American history as well as North American Studies as an interdisciplinary field;

  • develop students’ skills to conduct independent research and to formulate clear research questions and a viable thesis statement, and situate their own research in an academic debate;

  • develop students’ oral communication skills through in-class discussion and a group presentation;

  • develop students’ ability to cooperate with other students in preparing an in-class group presentation;

  • develop students analytical, critical, and writing skills by writing critical reviews, and a historiographical essay;

  • develop students’ ability to provide constructive feedback to and formulate criticism of the work of other students and the ability to evaluate the value of such criticism and feedback on one’s own work and incorporate it.


The timetables are available through My Timetable.

Mode of instruction

  • Seminar

Assessment method


  • Oral presentation (15%);

  • Two short writing assignments (20%);

  • Blackboard postings and participation in class discussion (15%);

  • Historiographical essay (5000 words) (50%).


See assessment.


If the essay receives an insufficient grade, it may be rewritten.

Inspection and feedback

How and when an exam review will take place will be disclosed together with the publication of the exam results at the latest. If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the exam results, an exam review will have to be organized.

Reading list

  1. T. H. Breen, The Will of the People: The Revolutionary Birth of America (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2019).
  2. Matthew Karp, This Vast Southern Empire: Slaveholders at the Helm of American Foreign Policy (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2016).
  3. Amy Murrell Taylor, Embattled Freedom: Journeys through the Civil War’s Slave Refugee Camps (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2018).
  4. Greg Grandin, The End and the Myth: From the Frontier to the Border Wall in the Mind of America (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2019).
  5. Stephen Wertheim, Tomorrow the World: The Birth of U.S. Global Supremacy (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2020)
  6. Margo Canaday, The Straight State: Sexuality and Citizenship in Twentieth-Century America (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2009).
  7. Adam Goodman, The Deportation Machine: America’s Long History of Expelling Immigrants (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2020).
  8. Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, Race for Profit: How Banks and the Real Estate Industry Undermined Black Homeownership (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2019).
  9. David Kinkela, DDT & the American Century: Global Health, Environmental Politics, and the Pesticide that Changed the World (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2011).
  10. Simon Miles, Engaging the Evil Empire: Washington, Moscow, and the Beginning of the End of the Cold War (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2020).
  11. Elaine Tyler May, Fortress America: How We Embraced Fear and Abandoned Democracy (New York: Basic Books, 2017).


Enrolment through uSis is mandatory.

General information about uSis is available on the website.

Registration Studeren à la carte en Contractonderwijs

Not applicable.


  • For substantive questions, contact the lecturer listed in the right information bar.

  • For questions about enrolment, admission, etc, contact the Education Administration Office: Arsenaal


Not applicable.