The History and Paradigms of American Studies 2 (Šesnić, 2019)

Course title: The History and Paradigms of American Studies 2 (A, 19th c./20th c.)
Instructor: Dr. Jelena Šesnić
ECTS credits: 6
Status: elective (obligatory for American Studies majors in the 2nd semester)
Enrollment requirements: enrollment in the 2nd and/or 4th semester

Course description: This course is a companion course to the History and Paradigms of American Studies1 which investigates the origins of the discipline of American Studies. Since the 1970s, however, the discipline has undertaken to interrogate some of its main premises based on the changing conceptions of U.S. society and the nation-state. Even though the revisionist interventions began to be felt already in the 1970s, we will posit as a starting point of our inquiry a methodological break observable in the 1980s as “ideology” becomes a necessary accompaniment of any AS inquiry. The next historical break—the end of the Cold War in 1989—indicates another momentous shift as we follow the developments thereafter. These will demonstrate the efforts by so-called New Americanists to devise contesting models of American culture, while the emphases in their agendas may differ, as our readings will show. In the process of revising American Studies various theories have been made use of, ranging from New Historicism to poststructuralism, to ethnic/ race, feminist and gender studies to Marxism and cultural studies to transnational perspectives. In the process it becomes evident how each new methodology in the discipline invents, as it were, a new conception of “America” as its object of study while ur-theories and underlying conceptions in the discipline of AS show great resilience and attest to the discipline’s continuity. In the last part of the course the foregoing theories will be tested on an array of texts. The course is obligatory for AS majors and elective for other English MA students.

Course requirements: regular attendance, participation in class discussions, mid-term and final test (continuous assessment), presentation in class, written assignments and a final seminar paper

Syllabus (alterations possible):

Primary works:

1. Henry David Thoreau: Walden (1854). Multiple copies in the library; begin reading from session one.
2. Joel and Ethan Coen: True Grit (film; 2010)
3. Bruce Springsteen: selection
4. Benjamin Franklin’s Autobiography (1790?). Available in the library; start reading early.

February/ March

Week 1: Laying the ground for (new) American Studies: disciplinary premises and theoretical frameworks (Castiglia: from The Practices of Hope). Begin reading Walden.

Week 2: Castiglia: cont. Ideology and readings of American artefacts in the 1980s and beyond: H. D. Thoreau: Walden (1854). Exemplary approaches to Walden: 1. Michael Gilmore: “Walden and the ‘Curse of Trade’”

Week 3: Gilmore: cont. Exemplary approaches to Walden: 2. Lawrence Buell: “Walden’s Environmental Projects”

Week 4: Exemplary approaches to Walden: 3. Stanley Cavell: from The Senses of Walden. Individual project 1.

Week 5: Ideology and readings of American artefacts: revision of the frontier myth: Joel and Ethan Coen: True Grit (2010). 1. Richard Slotkin: from Gunfighter Nation.


Week 6: CEEPUS guest lecturer: Professor Reka Cristian (University of Szeged). Topic: tba.

Week 7: Revisions of the frontier myth: 2. Patricia N. Limerick: from Something in the Soil; Neil Campbell, from Post-Westerns: Cinema, Region, West.

Week 8: Ideology and readings of American artefacts: identity approaches (race, ethnicity, gender, class and religious identities): African American studies. Mid-term test.

Week 9: CEEPUS guest lecturer: Professor Aleksandra Izgarjan (University of Novi Sad). Topic: tba.

Week 10: Chicano and Latino studies. Individual project 2.


Week 11: Asian American studies.

Week 12: Case study 1: Bruce Springsteen: masculinity, religion, ethnicity, nationalism. Selection from Womack et al., ed., Bruce Springsteen, Cultural Studies, and the Runaway American Dream

Week 13: Case study 2: Charles Murray, from Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010

Week 14: Case study 3: Benjamin Franklin’s Autobiography (1791, 1793; Shapiro). Seminar paper deadline.


Week 15: Benjanim Franklin, cont. Castronovo: “Benjamin Franklin and Wiki Leaks.” Final test. Course evaluation.

Additional reading

– Bercovitch, Sacvan, and Myra Jehlen, eds. Ideology and Classic American Literature. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1986.

– Buell, Lawrence. The Environmental Imagination: Thoreau, Nature Writing, and the Formation of American Culture. Cambridge and London: The Belknap P of Harvard UP, 1995.

– Campbell, Neil. Post-Westerns: Cinema, Region, West. Lincoln and London: U of Nebraska P, 2013.

– Castiglia, Christopher. The Practices of Hope: Literary Criticism in Disenchanted Times. New York: New York UP, 2017.

– Cavell, Stanley. The Senses of Walden. An expanded ed. Chicago and London: The U Chicago P, 1992.

– Limerick, Patricia Nelson. Something in the Soil: Legacies and Reckonings in the New West. New York, London: W.W. Norton, 2000.

– Murray, Charles. Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2000. New York: Crown Forum, 2012.

– Rowe, John Carlos, ed. A Concise Companion to American Studies. Malden, Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010.

– Shapiro, Stephen. The Culture and Commerce of the Early American Novel: Reading the Atlantic World System. University Park: The Pennsylvania State UP, 2008.

– Slotkin, Richard. Gunfighter Nation: The Myth of the Frontier in Twentieth-Century America. Norman: U of Oklahoma P, 1992.

– Womack, Kenneth, Jerry Zolten, and Mark Bernhard, eds. Bruce Springsteen, Cultural Studies, and the Runaway American Dream. Farnham, Brulington: Ashgate, 2012.

A course reader with assigned readings will be provided on Omega.