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Working Through 9/11: Literature, Film, and Memorial Culture


Admission requirements

The course Working Through 9/11: Literature, Film, and Memorial Culture is intended for students from a limited number of programmes. Because of the limited capacity available for each programme, all students who will enroll are placed on a waiting list. Students in the MA program in North American Studies (NAS) will have priority. The definite admission (by August 25) will be made according to the position on the waiting list and the number of places that will be available after the North American Studies students have been placed. In total there is room for 25 students in the seminar; the estimated number of NAS students who will follow the course is 18-20.


The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, are often perceived as representing a radical and even traumatic break in the history of the U.S. The idea that “9/11” marked a moment of radical historical rupture and collective trauma was controversial because it was mobilized to legitimize political and military responses to the attacks. Nonetheless, “9/11” was in many ways a watershed in U.S. history, politics, culture, and public discourse. While older orientalist stereotypes and a previously discredited rhetoric of civilizational clashes were revitalized, a new rhetoric of “war on terror,” “homeland security,” and more recently “crisis” (financial crisis, refugee or immigration or border crisis, climate crisis) have entered and at times dominated public discourse in the wake of 9/11.

This interdisciplinary course will critically investigate literary and other cultural responses to 9/11 and its aftermath—the invasion of Afghanistan and the war with Iraq, and more recently a climate of crisis that post-9/11 political and public discourse helped generate, giving rise to nationalist populism in the U.S. and elsewhere in the world. Studying critical and theoretical debates about 9/11 in the field of American Studies, we will explore the ways in which recent novels and films reflect on terrorism and in what ways they engage with public responses to it, such as “othering” discourses, political polarization and the climate of crisis. Drawing on but also interrogating theories of trauma, we’ll first study some key examples of post-9/11 political rhetoric, including the so-called immigration or border crisis in the U.S. The main part of the course will be devoted to discussion of novels and films. Besides U.S. writers like Don DeLillo, Art Spiegelman, Amy Waldman, Kevin Powers, and Barbara Kingsolver, we’ll also read novels by Mohsin Hamid and Nadeem Aslam, which critically interrogate U.S. exceptionalist political discourse and place both terrorism and migration in a larger historical, transnational, and postcolonial perspective. Among the films we’ll discuss are the Naudet brothers’ 9/11, John Hillcoat’s The Road (based on a novel by Cormac McCarthy), Chris Morris’s Four Lions, Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker, and Abderrahmane Sissako’s Timbuktu. Finally, we’ll take a critical look at the contentious history of the memorialization of 9/11 at “Ground Zero,” parodied in Waldman’s novel The Submission. Studying both the political mobilization and (following Judith Butler) the ethics of trauma, this course aims to challenge students to think “through and beyond terror” (Boehmer 2010) and to reflect critically on how crises are constructed and to what ends.

Course objectives

This course offers an interdisciplinary approach to the cultural response to the 9/11 attacks in literature, film, and memorialization practices and aims to:

  • develop students’ analytical and critical skills through in-depth reading of literary texts, films and political discourses related to 9/11 and other acts of terror as well as and the culture of crisis, which will be studied in their historical and cultural contexts;

  • give insight into the central issues in ongoing critical and theoretical debates in the field of American Studies about cultural responses to terrorism and crisis, particularly the notion of U.S. exceptionalism; the discursive construction of crisis and (trans)national, cultural, racialized and gendered identities; and migration, (neo-)orientalism, and multiculturalism;

  • introduce students to, and help them develop a critical understanding of, trauma theory and memory studies and their relevance to the texts and films discussed in the course.

More generally this course also aims to:

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

  • develop students’ oral and written analytical, communication and other academic skills through in-class discussion and group presentation, a short writing assignment, an essay proposal and a research essay, respectively;

  • develop students’ ability to engage in team work while 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.

(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 for the course (10 ec x 28 hours): 280 hours.

  • Study of compulsory literature and film screening: 120 hours;

  • Short writing ssignment(s): 10 hours;

  • Tutorials: 40 hours;

  • Group presentation: 30 hours;

  • Research essay: 80 hours.

Assessment method

  • Attendance and participation (10%);

  • oral group presentation (30%: 20% group grade + 10% individual grade);

  • short writing assignment (10%);

  • essay proposal and 4000-4500 word research essay (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.

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.


Blackboard will be used for specific information about (components of) the course, such as links to recommended critical and theoretical articles, websites, discussion questions, presentation and essay topics, and academic writing materials.

Reading list

We’ll read the following works, roughly in the order listed (so that you can read ahead):

  • Don DeLillo, Falling Man (Scribner);

  • Art Spiegelman, In the Shadow of No Towers (Pantheon);

  • Amy Waldman, The Submission (Windmill or Picador);

  • Kevin Powers, The Yellow Birds (Little Brown);

  • Nadeem Aslam, The Wasted Vigil (Vintage International);

  • Mohsin Hamid, Exit West (Harvest);

  • Barbara Kingsolver, Unsheltered (Faber and Faber)

  • Links to a number of political speeches and scholarly articles will be made accessible on Blackboard;

  • Films that are not easily accessible will be screened; you will be expected to watch the other films at home, e.g., via Netflix.


Via uSis.

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable.




Mw. Dr. J.C. (Joke) Kardux