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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.


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 and culture in the past few decades. We’ll read a number of both classic and recently published works on topics such as the American Revolution, slavery, and the Sixties that will familiarize students with theories and debates about, for example, American exceptionalism 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 of leading scholars to American Studies. The course, which is required for all students in the MA North American Studies, aims to introduce and contextualize a number of 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, globalism, 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, literature, and culture as well as North American Studies as an inter- and multidisciplinary 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;

  • to develop students’ ability to apply knowledge of North American history and culture to current issues and developments, nationally and internationally;

  • the ability to judge the relative merits of academic opinions and scholarly arguments on contemporary developments in the field of North American Studies;

  • develop students’ oral communication skills in academic English 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 academic English writing skills by writing critical reviews, and a research 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.

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


See timetable.

Mode of instruction


Course load

Total course load is 10 ec x 28 hours = 280 hours:

  • seminar sessions 14 × 3 hours = 52 hours;

  • various assignments (reviews, presentation, essay) = 58 hours;

  • studying literature = 170 hours.

Assessment method

  • presentation + participation in class discussion (30%);

  • 2 book reviews (1000 words; 20%);

  • historiographical essay (4000 words; 50%).


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.

Exam review

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.


Blackboard will be used for information about individual authors, reviews of books, and background information on topics of discussion.

Reading list

  • Sacvan Bercovitch, The American Jeremiad (1978);

  • Gordon Wood, The Radicalism of the American Revolution (1993);

  • Greg Grandin, The Empire of Necessity: Slavery, Freedom, and Deception in the New World (2014);

  • Drew Gilpin Faust, The Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War (2008);

  • Jackson Lears, Fables of Abundance: A Cultural History of Advertising in America (1995);

  • Todd Gitlin, The Sixties: Years of Hope, Days of Rage (1987);

  • Eva Illouz, Cold Intimacies: The Making of Emotional Capitalism (2007);

  • Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness (2012);

  • Jill Lepore, Joe Gould’s Teeth (2016).


Via uSis.

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable.




Dhr. Dr. E.F. (Eduard) van de Bilt.