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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 MA North American Students starting in September, 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 including the American Revolution, slavery, the Civil War, imperialism, immigration, LGBTQ history, American liberalism, environmental history, modern conservatism, and the Cold War, that will familiarize students with theories and debates about, for example, American exceptionalism, the role of the state in American history, 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. The course aims to introduce and contextualize 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, 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 as well as North American Studies as an interdisciplinary 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;

  • develop students’ oral communication skills 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 writing skills by writing critical reviews, and a historiographical 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.


Visit MyTimetable.

Mode of instruction

  • Seminar

Assessment method


  • Oral presentation (15%);

  • Two short writing assignments (20%);

  • Blackboard postings and participation in class discussion (15%);

  • Historiographical essay (5000 words) (50%).


See assessment.


If the essay receives an insufficient grade, it may 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.

Reading list

  • T. H. Breen, The Will of the People: The Revolutionary Birth of America(Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2019).

  • Matthew Karp, This Vast Southern Empire: Slaveholders at the Helm of American Foreign Policy (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2016).

  • Carol Anderson, White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide (New York: Bloomsbury, 2016).

  • Julian Lim, Porous Borders: Multiracial Migrations and the Law in the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2017).

  • Laura McEnaney, Postwar: Waging Peace in Chicago (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2018).

  • Margo Canaday, The Straight State: Sexuality and Citizenship in Twentieth-Century America (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2009).

  • Elaine Tyler May, Fortress America: How We Embraced Fear and Abandoned Democracy (New York: Basic Books, 2017).

  • Petra Goedde, The Politics of Peace: A Global Cold War History (New York: Oxford University Press, 2019).

  • Jacob Darwin Hamblin, Arming Mother Nature: The Birth of Catastrophic Environmentalism (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013).

  • Drew Gilpin Faust,This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War (Vintage, 2008).

  • Additional articles will be linked via the Library catalog or posted on Brightspace.


Enrolment through uSis is mandatory.

General information about uSis is available on the website.

Registration Studeren à la carte en Contractonderwijs

Not applicable.


Dr. W.M. Schmidli


All other information.