nl en

American Humor and Matters of Empire


Admission requirements

Relevant bachelor’s degree.


Matters of empire have inflected American humor for two hundred years because comic rhetoric carries ideological weight born of old colonial ties to Europe and elsewhere. Scholarship on humor helped establish American Studies as a field in the 1930s because humor articulates cultural politics through its orientation toward an audience, toward an intended effect, and toward specific attitudes, viewpoints, and values. This course explores several intertwined strands of humor and empire in American rhetoric, balancing historical context with cultural significance. We begin with the postcolonial Anglo-American tradition of popular writing, from verse satires to vernacular (dialect) humor, long hailed as the mainstream of American humor. A second segment, however, surveys comic discourse reflecting (and sometimes justifying) the internal colonization and racism of Manifest Destiny, as in writings by Mark Twain and the film classic Blazing Saddles. A third unit explores satires of U.S. international engagement, historical and imagined, from the 1880s onward, including fiction by Philip Roth and Junot Díaz as well as the controversial Evan Golberg and Seth Rogen film The Interview. The last section returns to the early national period to consider the possibility of positioning the Knickerbocker School of antebellum humor, especially Washington Irving and Lewis Gaylord Clark, in the Dutch-American context of postcolonial New Netherland instead of the Anglo-American context of postcolonial New York. Asserted or merely implied, ideology plays a large role in this history. Scholarly writings on humor and ideology will augment the texts and films we will study.

Course objectives

This course offers an interdisciplinary approach to American literary humor as an index to ideological and social concerns across the history of the U.S., and aims to:

  • develop students’ skills in analysis and criticism of comic texts and film, through in-depth study of in their historical and cultural context;

  • give insight into the ideological traditions of American humor, especially (anti)imperialism, in terms of U.S. exceptionalism, national and ethnic identity, and migration (including settler colonialism);

  • introduce students to basic theoretical concepts in the cultural approach to humor studies;

  • develop students’ skills to conduct independent research;

  • develop students’ oral and written presentation skills through in-class discussion, (group) presentation, and an essay proposal and a research essay, respectively.


See timetable.

Mode of instruction


Course Load

Total course load for the course (10 EC x 28 hours): 280 hours.

  • Seminar sessions: 13 × 2.5 hours = 32.5 hours

  • Time for required reading and film viewing: 105 hours

  • Tutoring: 2.5 hours

  • Time to prepare presentation and to write proposal and paper (including reading & research): 140

Assessment method

Weekly discussion questions & participation (30%), oral presentation & discussion leadership (10%), research paper proposal (10%), research essay (50%).
Retake: If the final grade is insufficient, only the research essay can be rewritten


Yes. E-texts of required readings in the public domain and links to supplemental essays will be available on Blackboard

Reading list

The booktitles and / or syllabi to be used in the course, where it can be purchased and how this literature should be studied beforehand.
Alexie, Sherman. The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven. 20th Anniversary Edition. Grove Press, 2013. 978-0802121998.
Díaz, Junot. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. Riverhead Books, ISBN-10: 1594483299.
Irving, Washington. A History of New York. 1809. New York, N.Y: Penguin Classics, 2010. 9780143105619.
Roth, Philip. The Plot Against America. 2004. New ed. New York: Vintage, 2005. 978-0099478560.
Twain, Mark. A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. 1889. Edited by Bernard L. Stein. The Works of Mark Twain, vol. 9. 3rd. rev. ed. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2011. 978-0520268166.
Other works (primary texts in the public domain & scholarly essays for class discussion) will be made available on Blackboard.
Note: Purchase of these books is required and the assigned texts have to be brought to class. Make sure you have the right edition.


Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs
Registration Studeren à la carte via: Registration Contractonderwijs via: ### Contact

Contact information


All other information.