BA American and Canadian Modules Final Year

Listed below are the modules offered in American and Canadian Studies as part of its Final Year degree programme.

Dissertation

The dissertation differs from other modules and poses a greater challenge—and greater opportunity for personal development and originality. University taught courses provide a syllabus and bibliography, and the assessment generally explores a major theme of the course, sometimes by further recommended reading, or examines comprehensive understanding. The dissertation has quite different objectives. The final-year project is the pinnacle of undergraduate education and illustrates skills acquired through years of university study in research conceived and executed independently.

Value: 40 credits

Audio-Visual Dissertation (alternative to Dissertation)

Students taking the Audio-Visual Dissertation create a short documentary film on an American and Canadian Studies topic using our state-of-the-art Audio-Visual equipment and editing suite and with dedicated technical support. This project is submitted alongside a written defence.

Value: 40 credits

Optional modules

Options may include modules such as:

Aesthetics of Television

This module offers students the opportunity to engage critically and theoretically with a range of aesthetic styles in contemporary television. Working through examples from both US and UK programming, and across various genres, the module provides a detailed and comprehensive investigation of the methods and strategies employed by television practitioners as they seek to convey thematic and narrative content. As well as acquainting students with the critical appreciation of aesthetic elements such as lighting, costume, performance, camera technique and music, this module will address the fundamental issue of television’s status as an art form in contemporary culture, testing the claims made for creative ambition and achievement against broader contexts of value, judgement and taste.

CIA US Foreign Policy and International Relations since 1945

The course opens up new interpretations of US foreign policy and international relations through consideration of the "missing dimension" of the US intelligence services, specifcally, the Central Intelligence Agency. Building upon a history of the Agency from 1947 to 2013, the course considers intelligence, analysis, policy-making, and operations in areas such as "containment", "liberation", "engagement", and "coercive diplomacy". The course is linked to the news and analysis website EA WorldView.

Contemporary American and European Cinema: Dialogues and Discourses

 Twenty-first century cinema is as subject to global transformations as it is to regional tensions and is characterised by the relationship between the two. Few films, if any, are made in isolation for specific and exclusive audiences, but enter into discourses and dialogues with films and audiences from a great many elsewheres thanks to global distribution strategies, the Internet, and a voracious exchange of influences and legacies at many levels of production, distribution and reception. Beginning with Dogme ’95, the last great film movement of the twentieth century, which also marked the 100th birthday of cinema, this module explores the range and impact of filmmaking in America and Europe in the last twenty years. Ranging from mainstream movies (e.g. the original Bourne trilogy, Inception, The Lives of Others, The Red Squirrel, Gravity) to art-house cinema (e.g. 4 Months 3 years 2 days, Hidden, Before Sunset, Frances Ha), from experimental films (e.g. The Idiots, En la ciudad de Sylvia, Quiet City, 5x2, Waking Life) to the white noise of the Internet (Lonely Girl, Manic Pixie Dream Girl and many short films and ‘anonymous’ examples), while erasing the boundaries between each, this module seeks to contextualise, structure and examine the dialogues and discourses that make up contemporary cinema. It concludes with an appraisal of contemporary American and European cinema from many angles and incorporates investigation into numerous new ways of understanding, producing and watching films.

Death and the moving image

Death is everywhere and nowhere in contemporary Western culture. Corpses litter Hollywood film and vulnerability or violence propel most mainstream fictions, but the pain or banality of physical, or undignified, decline, or the dull ache of mourning, are rarely seen. This module investigates the representation of death, and its surrounding debates, across a range of cinemas, genres and aesthetic practices, to position it within both a socio-cultural and critical context. Through consideration of the various forms and functions of the spectre of death, or of cinematic death itself, it explores their relationship to narrative, ideology and spectatorship. 

Nation and Identity in Nineteenth-Century America

From the schisms and improvisations of a new nation that culminated in the Civil War to the position on the cusp of industrial, economic and political dominance celebrated at the 1893 World’s Fair, the American nineteenth century witnessed an extraordinary feat of nation-building without ever quite resolving the question of national identity. Nineteenth-century America’s literature and culture shaped and were shaped by debates over the institution and legacy of slavery; the competing claims of the nation’s diverse regions; emergent campaigns for women’s and minority’s right; an evolving relationship to Europe and to the past. This module explore ideas of nation and identity in novels, poetry and other literary forms, drawing on the work of writers such as Frederick Douglass, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Margaret Fuller, Herman Melville, Walt Whitman, Fanny Fern, Henry James, Mark Twain, Henry Adams and others.

New York, New York

At the start of the twentieth century New York City was becoming the city of modernity; the “cubist city” as Francis Picabia described it. Its metropolitan scale, vibrant, cosmopolitan sidewalk cultures, and the visceral rush of its rapid transit systems demanded new modes of expression from writers (and painters and photographers). The juxtaposition of skyscrapers and tenements created new symbolic and physical urban geographies. This module begins with Henry James, Jose Marti, Abraham Cahan, John Sloan, George Bellows, Alfred Stieglitz, Anzia Yezierska, Claude McKay, Djuna Barnes, Walker Evans, Bernice Abbott and Weejee as they meet the challenges of early-twentieth-century urban representation.

The module goes on to explore changes in the City and its representation over the course of the twentieth century. For the Beat Generation New York was at once oppressive and inspirational; in the 1960s it became a site of countercultural expression and transformation. By the late 1970s the city was on the verge of bankruptcy, a byword for urban decay: the emergence of hip-hop as a visual, verbal and musical counterculture at the end of this decade exemplifies the “creative destruction” – the process of rapid degeneration and regeneration – that characterises the art of the city. From its origins at Bronx block parties to its crossover into mainstream culture, from Grandmaster Flash to Eric B. & Rakim, hip-hop created soundscapes and lyrics that described and reimagined this complex urban environment.  

Moving from Henry James to Grandmaster Flash “New York, New York” is, like the City itself, expansive, and so, like the City, needs to be broken down into manageable neighbourhoods. Week-by-week this module explores the ways in which a particular neighbourhood and the literature and culture it fostered – for example Greenwich Village in the 1910s and Harlem in the 1920s – exemplifies or defines a particular New York decade

Reading and popular culture: contemporary book cultures in North America and UK

Why do you read? What or who made you into a reader?

We live in an era and a region of the world where less people are reading more books; where more books are published now than 20 years ago, yet educators and librarians fret that young people only play video-games, while the US government would rather Americans read To Kill A Mockingbird than watch Desperate Housewives. Why, in a digital age, does the reading of printed books and the existence of a ‘bookish culture’ still matter? Why do some people, including government agencies, think that reading ‘good’ books makes you a more moral human being or a better citizen? How do literary prizes, publishers and bookshops affect what and how you read – and what have these got to do with globalization? Why do people come together in book clubs and reading events to share their reading? In order to explore and understand both the material and ideological aspects of contemporary book cultures, this module focusses on the social location and cultural function of book reading in the 21st century. Drawing upon contemporary case studies from North America and the UK, the module also considers how and why ‘ordinary’ people read books, how the contemporary mass media frame reading as a form of popular culture and why these practices matter – politically, socially and culturally.

US Foreign Policy and Terrorism

Since the attacks of 11 September 2001, the relationship between US Foreign Policy and terrorism has been a prime topic of worldwide debate. This discussion has centred not just on US Foreign Policy as a direct or indirect cause of terrorism, including acts against the United States itself, but also over the effectiveness and appropriateness of the US response to terrorism, both in the past and present. This module will provide a deeper understanding to this dialogue while supplying new insight into the current "War on Terror" through a thematic and historicized exploration of the subject. Topics to be covered will include: definitions of terrorism and its "root causes"; US foreign policy as a cause of terrorism; US responses to terrorism in different eras, including the 1970s and 1980s; cultural depictions of US foreign policy and terrorism; September 11 and the "War on Terror."

American Woman  since 1945 

This course offers students to opportunity to study the history of American women since 1945.  The course will take a chronological approach, investigating the progress which American women have made towards equality. The course will begin by investigating the impact of the Second World War and the cult of domesticity of the 1950s, before moving on to assess the impact of the civil rights movement and second wave feminism on women’s place in American life. This course will examine the way in which debates about race, ethnicity and sexuality  and reproductive rights challenged the early assumption of the second wave feminist movement. The course will examine American women’s struggle for political and economic and social equality, as well as campaigns to address cultural representations of women’s role.

Anti-Americanism

Since 11 September 2001, substantial discussion as to the motivations for the attacks has ensued. Some of the discussion has focused on the resentment and hatred toward the United States by many nations and their citizens around the world. Employing interdisciplinary methods, this class will examine anti-Americanism. Topics will include the historical roots of anti-Americanism, the Internet and anti-Americanism, feelings toward the United States in literature and film, globalisation and anti-Americanism, ideology and anti-Americanism, anti-anti-Americanism, anti-Americanism and US foreign policy, and the impact of the attacks of 11 September on attitudes toward the United States. The course will assist students in understanding the concept of anti-Americanism and the place of the United States in the world, in developing the ability to critically analyze the motivating factors for anti-Americanism in its various forms in the past and present, in discussing in an academic environment ideas surrounding the United States, and in improving writing, research and Internet skills. 

Cold War and Film

This module aims to examine American films of the Cold War, predominantly from the period c. 1945-65. The module will examine the political and economic context of the production of film, looking at issues such as political control via McCarthyism and HUAC.  Students will then examine a series of films, in order to assess the extent to which film reflected or engaged with social, cultural and political debates of the time, and how these evolved across the Cold War period.  The aim of the course is to enable the student to develop skills in both film theory and film history.

Contemporary North American Writing

This module introduces students to key examples of North American writing of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, representing a diverse range of literary voices and concerns. Students will be able to critically engage with ideas and features of selected literary texts, including postmodernism, new sincerity writing, and representations of North American history. The module will enable students to study some of the key themes and texts that have emerged in North American writing within the last twenty-five years. Students will be able to identify and analyse the major theoretical and conceptual concerns of the contemporary literary cultures of the U.S and Canada through novels, short stories, and essays. 

Authors to be studied include some of the following: David Foster Wallace, Junot Diaz, Colson Whitehead, ZZ Packer, Dana Spiotta, Don DeLillo, Joshua Ferris

New media, social media and politics

This course is a combined academic/professional module in which students become involved in media and politics both as observers, developing analytic skills, and as writers.

The module begins with an understanding of the evolution in mass media since the 19th century before evaluating the specifics of today's media environment and technological development. Students then develop specialist understanding of issues in international politics before applying this as writers for the electronic media.

The assessment will be a combination of academic essay and article submission for EA WorldView (www.eaworldview.com), the internationally-prominent website run by the course tutor.

Postcolonial Film

This module offers students the opportunity to study postcolonial film from different historical and national contexts and via a range of geopolitical and technological shifts. It will explore the changing relationship between colonialism/imperialism and film through the course of the twentieth century and beyond. It will begin by investigating Cinemas of and as Empire (with an emphasis upon Anglo-American history and neo-colonial Hollywood) before moving on to various case studies of postcolonial film (e.g. Third cinema or Iranian film). The final section of the module will address key related themes such as Cinema under Occupation (e.g. Palestinian Film), Migrant Experience (e.g. Accented Cinema or Human Trafficking Films) and Screening Human Rights (e.g. online activist video).

Postmodern Historical Fictions 

History – what constitutes the past and the methods we use to explain that past – has always been a close relation of the novel. Both are concerned with telling believable stories and both rely on the power of narrative and the structure of language to convey truth. The genre of historical fiction, so prominent and popular during the early decades of the nineteenth century, was revived in the later years of the twentieth century by writers seeking to test the boundaries and hinterlands of historical subjects and stories to reflect on the difficulties of writing about the past. This revival was no longer interested in presenting the past – as the great German historian Leopold von Ranke described it – “as it actually happened”, but instead challenged the belief that ‘history’ describes a realm which can be accessed in the present in an unbiased and objective way. Rather, such works of postmodern historical fiction are strongly concerned with the idea that versions of the past are contingent on who is telling them and are subject to the prejudices and partialities of the present, and they explore the past in innovative and challenging ways. 

PoMo Historical Fictions will introduce you to a wide range of contemporary texts, films and theory to reflect on the uses made of historical tropes in postmodern fiction. The course sets literary and filmic postmodernism in a wider debate about the nature of knowledge, and it highlights connections between disciplines, and promotes and encourages vibrant interdisciplinary assessed work. 

Visualising C19th Networks  

The concept of the “network” is not new, but—as historians have recently pointed out—has its roots in the transportation and communications revolutions of the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. This course examines visual materials produced during that transformative era—a period during which makers and viewers increasingly came to think of themselves as components of “innumerable little hangings-together … within the larger hangings-together, little worlds, not only of discourse but of operation, within the wider universe,” as William James put it in 1907.

Scholarly readings for this interdisciplinary course introduce the complex histories of networked people and things as well as theoretical models that may be used to interpret them. We will test these approaches and conclusions by applying them to case studies uncovered by students each week as they dig into primary source databases and archives. As we track the shifting meanings attached to the word “network” throughout the nineteenth century, we will examine a wide variety of illustrations, artworks, and objects that engage course themes (railroads, electrification, telephony, social and corporate networks, etc.). Embracing an international range of materials, our investigations will prompt deep consideration of the challenges posed by transatlantic comparative scholarship, and enable us to consider effective methods for uncovering nineteenth-century voices and images.