The History and Paradigms of American Studies 2 (Šesnić, 2020)

Course title: Literary Seminar (MA Level): The History and Paradigms of American Studies 2
(A, 19/20)
Instructor: Dr. Jelena Šesnić. Dr. Sven Cvek
ECTS credits: 6
Status: elective (obligatory for American Studies majors in the 2nd semester)
Enrollment requirements: enrollment in the 2nd and/or 4th semester
Spring 2020
Mon, 11-12:30 a.m. (A-123); Wed, 1:15-2 p.m. (A-105)
Office: B-018
Phone: 01- 4092060
Office hours: Mon, 12:30-1:30 p.m.; Thur, 11-12 a.m., and by appointment

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 last part of the course the foregoing theories will be tested on an array of texts. The course is obligatory for AS majors.

Course requirements: Regular attendance, participation in class discussions, mid-term and final test (continuous assessment, mandatory), presentation in class, written assignments and a final seminar paper. Grade break-down: tests—40 %, seminar paper—40 %; the rest—20 %.

Syllabus (alterations possible):

Primary works:

  1. Henry David Thoreau: Walden (1854). Multiple copies in the library; begin reading from session one.
  2. Benjamin Franklin’s Autobiography (1790?). Available in the library; start reading early.
  3. Bruce Springsteen: selection
  4. Alex Rivera: Sleep Dealer (2008; film)


Week 1: Laying the ground for (new) American Studies: disciplinary premises and theoretical frameworks: Leo Marx, Oppermann: intro. Begin reading Walden.

Week 2: 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: Exemplary approaches to Walden: 2. Lawrence Buell: “Walden’s Environmental Projects.” 3. Various authors: “Thoreau’s Walden in the Twenty-First Century”

Week 4: Ideology and readings of American artefacts: revisions of the frontier myth: Prince: intro. 1. Richard Slotkin: from Gunfighter Nation.

Week 5: Revisions of the frontier myth: 2. Patricia N. Limerick: from Something in the Soil; 3. Neil Campbell, from The Cultures of the American New West.


Week 6: Ideology and readings of American artefacts: identity approaches (race, ethnicity, gender, class and religious identities). African American studies: Ron Eyerman.

Week 7: Easter Monday: no class. African-American studies: cont. Individual research project.

Week 8: Asian American studies: David Palumbo-Liu. Mid-term test.

Week 9: Chicano and Latino studies: Paul Lauter.


Week 10: Crises and ruptures: 9/11, Katrina: Pease, “Re-thinking American Studies”; C. Franklin; M. Sturken.

Week 11: Crises and ruptures: American Studies and China: Dirlik; Ross; Luk.

Week 12: Crises and ruptures: university in debt: C. Marez; M. Joseph.

Week 13: 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 14: Case study 2: Benjamin Franklin: Shapiro; Castronovo. Seminar paper.

Week 15: Case study 3: Rivera: Sleep Dealer; J. Melamed. Course evaluation. Final test.

Reading materials will be provided in a course pack on Omega.

Secondary readings:

Bercovitch, Sacvan, and Myra Jehlen, ed. Ideology and Classic American Literature. Cambridge UP, 1986. (selection)

Buell, Lawrence. The Environmental Imagination: Thoreau, Nature Writing, and the Formation of American Culture. The Belknap P of the Harvard UP, 1996. (selection)

Campbell, Neil. The Cultures of the American New West. Edinburgh UP, 2000. (selection)

Dallmann, Antje et al., ed. Approaches to American Cultural Studies. Routledge 2016. (selection)

Eyerman, Ron. Cultural Trauma: Slavery and the Formation of African American Identity. Cambridge UP, 2001. (selection)

Lauter, Paul. From Walden Pond to Jurassic Park: Activism, Culture, and American Studies. Duke UP, 2001. (selection)

Limerick, Patricia Nelson. Something in the Soil: Legacies and Reckonings in the New West. W.W. Norton, 2000. (selection)

Palumbo-Liu, David. Asian/ American: Historical Crossings of a Racial Frontier. Stanford UP, 1999. (selection)

Shapiro, Stephen. The Culture and Commerce of the Early American Novel: Reading the Atlantic World-System. Pennsylvania State UP, 2008. (selection)

Slotkin, Richard. Gunfighter Nation: The Myth of the Frontier in Twentieth-Century America. U of Oklahoma P, 1998. (selection)

Womack, Kenneth, et al., ed. Bruce Springsteen, Cultural Studies, and the Runaway American Dream. Ashgate, 2012.

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