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Migration Matters: (Im)migration, Memory, and Identity in American Literature and Film


Admission requirements

Bachelor's degree

Note: This course is intended for students from a limited number of programs. Because of the limited capacity available for each program, you may be placed on a waiting list. Students in the MA program in North American Studies (NAS)--and if their places are filled, those in Literary Studies--will have priority. The definite admission will be made according to the position on the waiting list and the number of places that will be available after the NAS students have been placed. In total there is room for a maximum of 24 students in the seminar.


To migrate, Salman Rushdie writes in Imaginary Homelands, is “to lose language and home, to be defined by others, to become invisible, or, even worse, a target; it is to experience deep changes and wrenches in the soul.” However, he adds, “the migrant is not simply transformed by [this] act; he [or she] transforms his new world” (210). In this course we will explore the ways in which first- and second generation immigrant writers as well as writers who are descendants of forced migrants to America testify to the complex transformations migration, diaspora, and exile have brought about and how in the process they have profoundly changed American literature in the past three decades. Complicating the idea of the United States as a self-proclaimed nation of immigrants, the recent immigrant and minority writers we’ll read imagine hybrid or multiple identities and alternative, multicultural and multiethnic, national and transnational communities. We will study literary works by Jewish American, Native American, African American, Chicana and Latino American, and Asian American writers as well as a few movies, focusing on the interrelated themes of diaspora and home(land); borders and border-crossings; exile and otherness; language and silence; gender and sexuality; trauma and memory; intercultural and generational conflict and reconciliation; race and ethnicity. We will also read a few theoretical texts about migration, ethnicity, and trauma. We’ll focus on U.S. literature and film, but will also explore the relevance of the gained insights to our own changing and globalizing communities today.

Course objectives

Students will end the course with a critical understanding of:

  • U.S. exceptionalism, that is, in the context of this course, the civic ideals that have made the United States a land of opportunity for many people across the globe;

  • The forces and factors that have worked against the fulfillment of those ideals, such as the exclusion of certain groups;

  • The ways in which literary works (and films) by and/or about immigrants as well as Native and African American literature has promoted, critiqued, and/or complicated those civic ideals and the notion of the United States as a nation of immigrants;

  • Theoretical concepts in migration, postcolonial, ethnic, and memory studies, such as hybridity/hybrid identity, ethnicity, borderlands and mestiza consciousness, deterritorialization, Third Space, subalternity, trauma;

  • The ways in which the literary works and films we study can put into historical perspective and shed light on contemporary debates about immigration and national identity in the U.S. and Europe.

More generally this course also aims to:

  • Develop students’ analytical and critical skills through in-depth reading of literary texts and films in their historical and cultural context;

  • Develop students’ skills to conduct independent research and to formulate clear research questions and a viable thesis statement, taking into account the theories and methods of the field;

  • Develop students’ skills in oral and written communication in correct adademic English and written communication and other academic skills through in-class and online discussion and group presentation, an essay proposal and a research essay, respectively;

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

  • 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.

  • Research MA students should reveal in their coursework a more nuanced understanding of the complex relationship between social formations and cultural productions by means of a more detailed and thorough theoretical/methodological framework.

(ResMA only): the student demonstrates the ability to engage with and actively contribute to complex theoretical debates.


The timetables are available through My Timetable.

Mode of instruction

  • Seminar

Attendance is required. If a student cannot attend class, he or she needs to contact the instructor in advance with an explanation. The instructor will then decide if it is excusable and if and how the student can make up the missing work.

Assessment method

  • oral group presentation (20%)

  • Active discussion participation (20%)

  • research essay (c. 4000-4500 words; 60%)

  • Research MA students will have to write an extra 3000 word paper on a topic to be decided in consultation with the tutor.


The final grade for the course is established by determining the weighted average.


If the final grade is insufficient, only the research essay can 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

  • Anzia Yezierska, Bread Givers

  • Willa Cather, My Ántonia (Penguin; also reprinted in Norton Anthology of American Literature, 9th ed. Volume D)

  • Maxine Hong Kingston, The Woman Warrior

  • Gloria Anzaldúa, Borderland/La Frontera: The New Mestiza. 4th ed.

  • Derek Walcott, Omeros

  • T.C. Boyle, The Tortilla Curtain

  • Thomas King, Green Grass, Running Water

  • Julia Alvarez, How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents

  • Chimamanda Adichie, Americanah

  • Mohsin Hamid, Exit West


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