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Major Issues in American History and Culture


Admission requirements

Bachelor’s degree.

This course is part of the MA North American Studies, but students from other MA programs are welcome too if there are places available. Please enquire with the study adviser for the options.


This interdisciplinary course, which is a required course for all students in MA North American Studies, offers an introduction to major issues in, and influential scholarly debates about, American history, culture, and society. Students will discuss a number of topics that are crucial to understanding the contemporary United States such as freedom, empire, equality, (neo)liberalism, security, human rights, environmentalism, visual and digital cultures, and youth politics. Taken together, these varied themes will provide students with a multifaceted perspective into the historical rise, consolidation, and crisis of American exceptionalism. At the same time, the course will expose students to the most important methodological, theoretical, and ideological approaches that have enriched the American Studies field in the last decades, including the cultural, transnational, and intersectional turns as well as the ongoing interdisciplinary cross-fertilization with digital and environmental humanities. The course, which will also make extensive use of the Leiden University MOOC “The Rooseveltian Century,” will introduce and contextualize a number of subjects that will be discussed in more detail and depth in the elective courses of the MA 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, freedom, security, empire, 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 discussions and group presentations;

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

  • 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%)
Participation in class discussions (15%)
Book reviews (20%)
Historiographical essay (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

  • Greg Grandin, The End and the Myth: From the Frontier to the Border Wall in the Mind of America (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2019).

  • Woody Holton, Unruly Americans and the Origins of the Constitution (New York: Hill and Wang, 2008).

  • Tiya Miles, All That She Carried: The Journey of Ashley’s Sack, A Black Family Keepsake (New York: Random House, 2021).

  • Amy Murrell Taylor, Embattled Freedom: Journeys through the Civil War’s Slave Refugee Camps (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2018).

  • Kelly Lytle Hernandez, Bad Mexicans: Race, Empire, and Revolution in the Borderlands (New York: W. W. Norton and Company, 2022).

  • Gary Gerstle, The Rise and Fall of the Neoliberal Order: America and the World in the Free Market Era (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2022).

  • Campbell Craig and Fredrik Logevall, America’s Cold War: the Politics of Insecurity (Cambridge, Mass: Belknap Press, 2009).

  • Gender and State: Margo Canaday, The Straight State: Sexuality and Citizenship in Twentieth-Century America (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2009).

  • Elizabeth Hinton, America on Fire: The Untold History of Police Violence and Black Rebellion Since the 1960s (New York: William Collins, 2021).

  • Adam Goodman, The Deportation Machine: America’s Long History of Expelling Immigrants (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2020).

  • Security and culture: Elaine Tyler May, Fortress America: How We Embraced Fear and Abandoned Democracy (New York: Basic Books, 2017).

  • Mathew Desmond, Poverty, by America (New York: Penguin, 2023).

Additional literature and primary sources will be indicated on the course syllabus and made available through Brightspace and/or a course shelf in the University Library.


Enrolment through My Studymap is mandatory.

General information about uSis is available on the website


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

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


All other information.