American and Canadian Studies modules - Second year

You will take the two core modules and then, depending on how many credits you choose to take in American and Canadian studies, you have the choice of taking a more extended version of the core Literature and Culture module and/or the appropriate number of credits of option modules.

Core modules

American History from 1890

(20 credits)

This module introduces intermediate students to some of the main themes in United States history from the 1890s to the present. By the end of the course, students will understand the significance of major events in the American past. They will also have a deeper understanding of the types and uses of evidence in US history and the way in which historians construct arguments from this evidence, and be able to respond to evidence themselves. Presentations, discussions and essay work will aid students in developing further skills in researching, evaluating interpretations and expressing original ideas.

20th-Century American Literature and Culture

(20 credits)

This course introduces students to key elements of 20th and 21st century American literature and culture. We will study different aspects of the American cultural, social, and built environment. This course is designed to build upon critical approaches to the study of American literature and history encountered in first year study and to introduce students to critical and conceptual frameworks used in the discipline of American cultural studies.

Optional modules

Options may include modules such as:

America and the Middle East Through Film

(10 credits)

This course offers insight into the history and interpretations of US involvement in the Middle East from the 19th century to the present through a complementary approach to official documents and films.Official cases will include the US approach to Israel, the Eisenhower Doctrine against Communism, and the "War on Terror" since 9/11, while films will include Casablanca, Exodus, Three Kings, and Team America.

Emergence of Mass Culture

(10 credits)

Mass culture and mass media in various forms are dominant, shaping forces in contemporary society: this module will explore their origins in nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century America. While the focus of the module will be the period 1880-1920, we will begin with a discussion of aspects of antebellum culture – including PT Barnum’s various enterprises, minstrel shows and the penny press, which introduce many of the cultural practices – and many of the key issues – that come to shape American mass culture.  Turning to the period 1880-1920, we will address a number of areas that historians have identified as origins for the fully developed mass culture of the twentieth century.  These include the evolution of theatres and amusements towards the early moving picture shows; large scale tourist attractions such as Coney Island and the Chicago World’s Fair (which hosted 14 million visitors in 1893); the growth of advertising as a professionalised, national enterprise; and the contiguous emergence of department stores, brand names and high circulation “national” magazines such as the Ladies Home Journal and the Saturday Evening Post.  In order to understand the impact of these developments, we will address the contested debate about the relationship between mass culture and its audiences.  To supplement the primary sources and cultural histories from which much of the module’s material required reading is drawn, we will also read Theodore Dreiser’s novel Sister Carrie (1900) – which provides a complex engagement with turn-of-the-century mass, urban culture – and L. Frank Baum’s The Wizard of Oz. The module recognises that “mass culture” is itself a politically loaded and highly contested term, and so will seek to address the implications of distinctions between “mass,” “popular,” “commercial” and “low” culture.

Hollywood Cinema

(10 credits)

This module aims to provide students with a detailed and wide-ranging understanding of Hollywood Cinema across a range of contexts. Students will consider the notion of ‘Hollywood’ in relation to a diverse set of established and emerging scholarly approaches, with a particular emphasis upon questions of genre, authorship and style. The industrial framework of Hollywood will provide a background to these debates as sessions debate the relationship and potential conflict between mainstream American cinema’s status as a global product and as an art form. With these issues in mind, the creative and, at times, antagonistic relationship between directors and studios will provide a sustained focus, taking in the work of Hollywood ‘auteurs’ such as Alfred Hitchcock, Douglas Sirk, Nicholas Ray, Otto Preminger, Max Ophuls, Orson Welles, Howard Hawks and Fritz Lang.

Literature and Illustration

(10 credits)

This module will examine the relationship between words and images in a range of texts from the mid-C19th to the mid-C20th. Focusing primarily on American examples, we will explore collaborations between authors and visual artists; the publication of short stories and other literature in magazines and journals where they are accompanied by illustrations, cover art, advertisements and other forms of imagery; and the broader visual culture that surrounds literary works. Surveying this material, the module will ask: What forms can the relationship between text and illustration take? How do illustrators collaborate with, reimagine, or challenge authors’ work? How do illustrations shape, enhance or detract from readers’ engagements with texts?  How do we ‘read’ illustrations? This module is designed to foster an active, participatory, independent approach to learning, to develop critical faculties and to consolidate and develop written and oral skills. 

The Foundations of African-American experience

(10 credits)

The module will provide students with an introduction of the African-American experience from c.1850-1945.  The module covers topics such as the slave narrative, resistance to slavery, the experience of the freedmen and the rise of Jim Crow, African-American leaders and campaigners such as Marcus Garvey, W.E.B. Du Bois and Ida B. Wells, the Harlem Renaissance and the experience of war.

The Thriller: American Crime Fiction

(10 credits)

This module provides an introduction to the theory and practice of the thriller genre in the USA. Following a brief study of the emergence of the thriller in the 19th and early 20th centuries, it examines the ways in which writers in America have adapted, redirected and subverted the norms of the genre since the 1960s. The course will enable students to recognise the key generic features of the thriller; understand and apply theories of popular culture to the thriller; discuss the ways in which the thriller genre has changed during the 20th century; read and critique individual works within a generic context. The course begins with a critical introduction to detective fiction and explores its origins in Poe's ‘The Murders in the Rue Morgue’ and Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes story, The Sign of Four.  It moves on to examine the manner in which Mark Twain subverts the genre in Pudd'nhead Wilson, before focusing on a range of 20th century texts, which may include: Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep, The Maltese Falcon (film), Chester Himes’ Cotton Comes to Harlem; Paul Auster’s The New York Trilogy; and Sara Paretsky’s Toxic Shock.

The African-American experience from 1945

(10 credits)

This module offers students the opportunity to study the political, social and cultural experience of African-Americans since 1945. It includes the study of important events in the civil rights movement, such as the Montgomery Bus Boycott, Mississippi Freedom Summer, and the rise of Black power. The course allows students to  critically assess the role of leaders such as Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, and the work of civil rights organizations such as the Student Nonviolence Co-ordinating committee. The course examines the impact of the civil rights movement, studying post-civil rights themes such as Black Poverty and access to justice. The course is delivered through two hour workshops, which include lecture and group work.

Fantasy Film and Television

(10 credits)

This module takes the dramatic growth in popularity of fantasy in post-millennial film and television as a starting point for an evaluation of the genre’s broader critical, historical and theoretical contexts. Throughout the course of the module, students will consider the uneven status of fantasy as a genre (especially in relation to more established notions of ‘realism’) and investigate the potential for claims of value and achievement to be articulated in relation to specific texts. As part of this inquiry, students will engage closely with examples of film and television, employing a methodology of close textual analysis to structure debates and form conclusions. Potential texts for study may include The Wizard of Oz, Game of Thrones, Pan's Labyrinth, Dr Who and The Lego Movie.

Signing the Screen: Film and Television Authorship 

(10 credits)

How come we can all name dozens of film directors but struggle to name the director of any episode of Breaking Bad or Game of Thrones? Why is it that the concept of authorship is so different in relation to film (supposedly a director’s medium) and television (apparently a writer’s medium)?  This module explores, examines and challenges the concept of authorship in relation to film and television. It begins with analysis of the various traditions and examples of authorship in both media. It focuses on the emergence of ‘big name’ film directors in Hollywood cinema and continues by engaging with the Auteur theory: the notion that the film director should be considered the ‘author’ of a film as a writer is the author of a book. This theory is then challenged in analysis of specific writing on the subject as well as close case studies and in-depth analysis of key filmmakers and television writers and their most important works. The module thus pursues an understanding of the tension between directorial autonomy, audience demands, critical expectations and the film and television industries. 

Terrorism in America: A History

(10 credits)

Terrorism in the form of politically motivated violence has a long history in the United States. Since the aftermath of the Civil War in the 19th century, various groups on the left and the right have used violence as a tactic in pursuit of political aims. This module examines in depth the nature of terrorism in America through a thematic, theoretical and chronological approach from the 19th century to the 21st century.

North American 1920s: literature & society

(10 credits)

The module questions some conventional attitudes towards Canadian and American fiction in the 1920s and considers the relationship between social developments and formal experiments in the North American novel and short story.The course includes assessment of Willa Cather’s ambivalent look at the past in A Lost Lady and Edith Wharton’s satirical methods in The Age of Innocence, with attention to critiques of consumerism. Hemingway’s In Our Time is examined both for its formal experiments in the short story and for its insights into post-War disillusion.  Each American text is paired with a Canadian work of fiction that investigates similar themes. John Glassco satirizes the expatriate American community in Paris and offers a contrasting example (to Hemingway) of formal experimentation in Memoirs of Montparnasse. L.M. Montgomery’s Emily Climbs fictionalizes the author’s own experiences as a woman writer caught between Victorian family values and the allure of fame and economic independence.  LMM herself—the J.K. Rowling of the early 20th century—offers us a fascinating case study of a celebrity writer whose fan-base and iconic characters have endured for nearly a century.  Finally, we return to some of the pre-occupations of Cather’s novel via Martha Ostenso’s Wild Geese which employs various popular and literary genres in its exploration of a rapidly changing prairie society.