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Major Issues in American History and Culture


Admission requirements

Relevant bachelor’s degree.


This interdisciplinary course, which is required for North American Studies students, 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, American foreign policy, slavery, and immigration 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 critically read and discuss important books in depth, and to examine the methodological, theoretical, and ideological approaches of leading scholars in American Studies. The course, which is required for all students in 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

The course aims to make students familiar with a number of major issues and concepts in American history and culture, for example republicanism, U.S. exceptionalism, migration, race, and gender, and the scholarly debates about these issues.
Students learn 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 interdisciplinary field

  • develop their analytical, critical, and research skills, a.o. through the writing of reviews

  • to formulate a research question and situate their own research in an academic debate.
    The course develop students’ oral and written presentation and communication skills through in-class discussion and (group) presentation and a research essay


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 (38 hours);

  • studying literature (190 hours).

Assessment method

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

  • 2 book reviews (1000 words; 20%);

  • historiographical essay (4000 words; 50%).

If the final grade is insufficient, only the research essay can be rewritten.


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);

  • Richard Hofstadter, The Age of Reform (1960);

  • Jackson Lears, Fables of Abundance: A Cultural History of Advertising in America (1994);

  • Isabel Wilkerson, The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration (2010);

  • Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Empire (2000);

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


Via uSis.


The course is required for North American Studies students. Students from other departments can take it as an elective course.


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