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Course overview

Our MA in American Studies is an interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary course, which enables you to focus on the study of:

  • history, literature, politics, film and culture of the United States
  • literature, culture and society of Canada

Some of the core issues you will look at include:

  • to what extent will the US be forced to renegotiate political, financial and cultural relationships long characterised by dominance?
  • how do we make sense of the Trump era?
  • how should the Obama Presidency be understood within the history of race relations and the struggle for civil rights?
  • how will cultural responses to changing political, media, and built environments work within and against established forms and traditions?

You will be involved in intellectual exchange among a group with shared interests but with a broad range of backgrounds and perspectives.

For more details about our teaching, research and what it's like to study with us see the Department of American and Canadian Studies website.

Why choose this course?

Thriving community

The department has a thriving postgraduate programme, and a teaching and research culture of the highest quality

Network of experience

This MA draws on a network of expert and experienced academics from disciplines across the University

Largest Department

We are the largest American Studies Department in Europe and the only Department of American and Canadian Studies in the UK

Course content

The course is made up of 180 credits. You will also develop your research management and personal development skills vital to postgraduate work.

You will take 60 credits of core modules and 60 credits of optional modules. You will choose from one of two 20-credit faculty-wide modules and select three 20-credit modules from a range of options offered by the department. If agreed with the course director, you may also choose relevant modules from related areas within the university.

Completed over the summer period, the compulsory dissertation (60 credits) provides the capstone of the degree and involves in-depth research supervised by a specialist tutor.

Part-time students complete the same components, but spread over two years.

Modules

Core modules

Approaches to American Studies

This module offers an overview and analysis of the various approaches to American Studies. It requires students to develop a reflexive understanding of the development of American Studies as a field of enquiry.

Literary (textual) criticism, visual culture, and cultural/intellectual/political history - along with interdisciplinary work – will be discussed in a seminar setting.

Moving chronologically across more than 200 years of American culture, each week a different departmental expert in a particular American Studies discipline will assign and discuss some examples of her/his published work (an article or book chapter), discussing not only the content, but also how the work fits within the field of American Studies, and the process of writing and researching in this area. These readings will accompany a key article that defined or changed that particular area of American Studies.

Students will be encouraged to recognise particular methodologies and approaches, with a view to testing out and developing their own preferred intellectual approaches along the way, in a coursework essay and in the dissertation proposal. The focus will be on issues, figures, events and texts (visual as well as written) that have been “stopping places” in the development of American Studies: points where disciplines have come together or have been added to the founding literature/history axis.

This module is worth 20 credits.

 

Researching Contemporary America

This module will examine Americans' differing attitudes over time toward sexuality.

From the Puritans to Playboy, sexuality has been a focal point in the culture, politics, and society of the United States.

Representative topics covered may include:

  • marriage and adultery
  • homosexuality and heterosexuality
  • nudity
  • abortion
  • birth control
  • prostitution
  • free love
  • rape

This module is worth 20 credits.

 

Dissertation in American Studies

This module consists of the selection, research and writing up of a topic in the field of American and Canadian Studies, chosen after consultation with the Course Director and other appropriate staff members.

This is a compulsory core module worth 60 credits.

Optional modules

You will choose one of the following modules:

Arts in Society

We will help you to apply your arts MA across society to enhance your career and contribute to wider society.

We'll demonstrate how the arts can be used to:

  • transform society, politics and culture
  • enhance the careers of arts and humanities MA students.

You'll be able to explore, explain and then detail how your disciplinary skills can impact upon wider issues to emphasise the applicability of the arts and humanities. From the role of the scholar activist to understanding ‘knowledge transfer’ and ‘public engagement’, you'll develop professional skills in preparation for a career within academia or across a range of sectors.

You will:

  • harness the ways in which the arts and humanities enable us to think differently and to innovate
  • work on issues of research, networking, grant-writing and cultural exchange
  • learn how to engage, communicate and create.

This module is worth 20 credits.

 

Mastering the Arts: Interdisciplinary Approaches to Research

This module has been developed to introduce you to a range of research techniques and methodologies. It will also help you develop a variety of valuable transferable skills for your future career.

You will achieve:

  • greater confidence in dealing with original research
  • a recognition of the huge range of approaches that can be used to address research questions.

We build on the research skills you have already developed during both your undergraduate degree and discipline-specific MA modules. The emphasis is on:

  • ensuring you are possessed of a range of practical ways to approach research
  • making you think about the nature of your discipline-specific approaches within a context of growing interdisciplinarity.

You will have the chance to consider topics as varied as:

  • academic publishing
  • digital transformations
  • use of illustrations in dissertations.

You will also have the opportunity to hear academics from across the Faculty talk about the problems they have confronted and how they overcame them.

This module is worth 20 credits.

Mastering the Arts introductory video 

You will also select up to three 20-credit modules from a range of options offered by the department.

American Madness: Mental Illness in History and Culture

Experiences of and ideas about madness, insanity, and mental illness have varied and changed radically within American history and culture. This module will survey and analyse these changes from the mid-19thcentury to the present. We will consider how and why medical authority, gender, and class have all impacted the way in which mental illness is understood, and consider the significance of changing approaches to treatment. Sources used on this interdisciplinary module range from medical accounts and psychiatric theory to memoir, fiction and film. The aim is to place representations of mental illness in their historical context, and to ask what they reveal about related ideas about identity, conformity, social care and responsibility.

American Magazine Culture

The magazine has been one of the most accessible and influential cultural forms in America since the mid-18th century.

From the wide-ranging political and literary magazines of this founding period through the emergence of specialised and mass-market periodicals in the 19th century to the counter-cultural and consumerist magazines of the 20th century, this distinctive mode of publication has reflected the tensions and ideals of a rapidly developing society.

Using a broad range of representative magazines from different eras, this module will encourage students to get to grips with how American culture has shaped, and been shaped by, the periodical, and it will also introduce them to some of the unique literary and institutional qualities of the magazine.

Primary sources covered on this module are likely to include:

  • The Dial (est. 1840)
  • Harper's (est. 1850)
  • The New Yorker (est. 1925)
  • Life (est. 1936)
  • Rolling Stone (est. 1967).

Looked at in the context of their times, such sources show us how Americans have long engaged with and debated their own identity through the prism of print, as well as the ways in which this self-definition has changed across time.

Moreover, alongside the magazine's regular testing of new political and cultural concepts we will be able to see how the periodical form itself embraced other emerging media, including illustration, photography, and popular music.

The main content-spine through each week will be a focus on changes in the nature of American journalism, the rise of modern advertising, and the development of the short story as a form, as well as the interactions between these three elements.

In addition to the standard lecture/seminar set-up, the module will also incorporate a series of workshops focusing on hands-on study of hard copies of particular publications.

This is an optional module worth 20 credits.

 

Building the Nation: The Discursive Space of American Architecture

This module introduces students to an often overlooked area of material and visual culture in the form of architecture and the built environment.

The course encourages students to analyse and understand these sites as discursive and ideological spaces that encompass and reveal particular historical moments and social, economic and cultural movements.

Beginning by examining the plantation house, the module takes a broadly chronological approach and asks students to consider how buildings and public spaces construct and control citizens’ behaviours and allows them to further their understanding of key cultural theories including modernism, postmodernism and post-structuralism.

This is an optional module worth 20 credits.

 

Engaging Asia: The United States, India and Pakistan, 1942-Present

This module examines American relations with India and Pakistan between the Second World War and the onset of market-based economic reforms in the early 1990s that transformed the socio-economic landscape of the Indian subcontinent.

Much of the focus will be on:

  • American involvement in conflicts that shaped modern South Asia (Indo-Pakistani hostilities in 1947, 1965 and 1971
  • 1962 Sino-Indian War
  • 1979 Soviet intervention in Afghanistan
  • the influence exercised by external actors on American regional policy (principally Britain, the Soviet Union and Communist China)
  • the impact of international trends on America’s relations with India and Pakistan, such as decolonization, globalization and nuclear proliferation.

In addition, consideration will be given to the cultural dimension of America’s relationship with India and Pakistan. Cinematic and literary depictions of US-South Asian relations, encompassing issues of race, religion, gender and neo-colonialism, will be critically examined.

This is an optional module worth 20 credits.

 

Ethnic and New Immigrant Writing

This course will consider the development of ‘ethnic’ and new immigrant literature in the United States from the early twentieth century to the present day. It will do so by positioning literary works within their wider historical, political and cultural context.

The course will examine the dominant ideas and concerns of a range of texts from life-writing and poetry to drama, short fiction and the novel by writers from a range of ethno-cultural backgrounds, including Irish, Jewish, Italian, Caribbean and Asian American.

Issues for discussion will include:

  • the claiming of the United States by new immigrant and ‘ethnic’ writers
  • race and ethnicity
  • gender, class and sexuality
  • labour and economic status
  • the uses and re-writing of American history and ‘master narratives’
  • the impact of US regionalism
  • the ways in which writers engage with the American canon
  • multiculturalism and the ‘culture wars’
  • the growth of ‘ethnic’ American writing and Ethnic Studies as academic fields.

The course will analyse works by such writers as:

  • Jacob Riis
  • Mario Puzo
  • Philip Roth
  • Jamaica Kincaid
  • Bharati Mukherjee
  • Sandra Cisneros.

This is an optional module worth 20 credits.

 

Feminist Thought in the US: 1970-Present

This module will familiarise students with the major “strands” of feminist thought which have emerged in the United States since the 1970s: from liberal feminism through radical and materialist to post-structural and neo-liberal feminism.

Although the module will focus on key texts and thinkers for each “strand,” we will simultaneously challenge any neat categorisation by exploring the central issues and debates, such as the sex-gender distinction, female sexuality, and pornography, which have preoccupied as well as divided feminist thinkers over the past few decades.

Finally, we will contextualise these issues and debates by looking at contemporaneous representations of women in fiction, the mass media, and other cultural sites.

This is an optional module worth 20 credits.

 

From Revolution to Rapprochement: Britain and the US 1776-1877

This module encourages students to reassess the Anglo-American relationship during an era of major upheaval in both nations (1776-1877).

Taking students from the American Revolution through to the end of the Reconstruction era the module will challenge learners to examine how events and ideas forced Britons and Americans to re-conceptualise their relationship.

Through the module, students will engage with concepts crucial in the formation of the modern world including:

  • race
  • ethnicity
  • liberty
  • republicanism
  • class
  • gender
  • manners
  • reform

This is an optional module worth 20 credits.

 

History of the Civil Rights Movement

This module examines a range of documents and scholarly controversies pertaining to the Civil Rights Movement between 1940 and 1970.

Documents will include:

  • public and organisational records
  • photo- journalism
  • speeches
  • memoir
  • personal papers

Controversies will include those relating to the chronological limits, spatial dynamics, and gender politics of the movement, as well as those relating to the movement’s goals and achievements.

This is an optional module worth 20 credits.

 

In the Midst of War: The United States and the Vietnam Wars, 1940-1975

This module looks at American attitudes, perceptions and policies toward Vietnam from the Second World War until the collapse of the South Vietnamese government in 1975.

We will examine the forces that led the U.S. to get entangled in Southeast Asia looking at the Cold War, domestic politics, economics, and broader international issues, as well as the Vietnamese role in this process and the part they played in decisively shaping the events that unfolded.

As we will see, it was the U.S. involving itself in the long Vietnamese struggle for self-determination that provoked two major wars in the area between 1945 and 1975.

We will also consider important themes such as race, gender, religion, self-determination, empire, decolonisation, domestic politics and national security that can help us to develop a broader understanding of these events.

Finally, the module also introduces students to some of the key sources, materials and archival collections that can be employed when embarking upon independent research in the area.

This is an optional module worth 20 credits.

 

Latino Cultures

This module offers a survey of Latino cultural expression from the colonial period through to the present.

It explores genres, forms, and sites involved in the production and consumption of Latino culture including:

  • art
  • vernacular architecture
  • music
  • testimony
  • fiction
  • performance
  • religious expression
  • tourism/heritage/museum
  • media industries
  • elite/popular/everyday cultural expression

It also looks at the positioning of Latino culture at the margins and within the mainstream of US society.

It acknowledges the diversity and demographic significance of the Latino population by covering a range of groups such as:

  • Mexican
  • Puerto Rican
  • Cuban
  • Dominican

We also look at several major US cities and metropolitan regions including:

  • Los Angeles
  • New York
  • Chicago
  • Miami.

The module adopts a largely chronological approach and considers a range of critical debates about the production and consumption of Latino culture and its social and political significance.

This is an optional module worth 20 credits.

 

North American Film Adaptations

This module examines North American short stories and novels and their film adaptations.

We'll look at the contexts in which both the literary and the cinematic texts are produced as well as to the analysis of the texts themselves.

In particular, the module takes an interest in literary texts whose film adaptations have been produced in different national contexts to the source material.

This is an optional module worth 20 credits.

 

Popular Music Cultures and Counter-cultures

This interdisciplinary module examines the role played by American popular music in counter-cultural movements. A central concern is to evaluate the effectiveness and potential of popular music as a socially-critical or oppositional force.

We focus on:

  • the ways in which marginalised, subordinate or dissenting social groups have used popular music as a vehicle for self-definition and for re-negotiating their relationship to the social, economic and cultural mainstream
  • how the mainstream has responded to music countercultures in ways that range from repression to co-optation
  • how the music and the movements have been represented and reflected on in fiction, film, poetry, journalism and theory.

The module is built around case studies of key issues and moments in American popular music history.

One of the key issues is the debate over the ownership and use of African-American musical resources, from nineteenth-century minstrelsy to twenty-first century hip-hop. Another is the function of commercial entertainment institutions in mediating between music subcultures, political countercultures, and the mainstream culture.

Among the key moments examined are:

  • the folk revival and the 1930s Popular Front
  • rock 'n' roll and desegregation in the 1950s
  • rock music and the 1960s counterculture
  • postmodernism and identity politics in the music of the MTV age, and the relationship between hip hop culture and neo-liberalism in the early twenty-first century.

This is an optional module worth 20 credits.

 

Recent Queer Writing

This module explores representations of sexuality and gender expression in contemporary Canadian and American texts by LGBTQ writers (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual & transgender, two-spirit, queer & questioning).

The module is multi-generic, engaging with forms including:

  • novels
  • short fiction
  • life writing
  • poetry
  • drama
  • graphic narrative.

Topics for discussion will include:

  • LBGTQ sexuality
  • constructions of masculinity and femininity
  • the politics of representation: the extent to which writing can enable agency as subjects or citizens
  • intersections between race, ethnicity, class, nationality and religion in the construction of gender and sexual identities
  • writing for LGBTQ youth

Literature studied will be contextualised in relation to relevant debates in feminist, queer, postcolonial and transnational theories.

Representative authors for study may include:

  • James Baldwin
  • Jane Rule
  • Dionne Brand
  • Dorothy Allison
  • Tomson Highway
  • Alison Bechdel
  • Leslie Feinberg
  • Ivan Coyote

This is an optional module worth 20 credits.

 

Sexuality in American History

From the Puritans to Playboy, sexuality has been a focal point in the culture, politics, and society of the United States. This module will examine Americans' differing attitudes over time toward sexuality. Representative topics covered may include:

  • marriage and adultery
  • homosexuality and heterosexuality
  • nudity
  • abortion
  • birth control
  • prostitution
  • free love
  • rape.

This is an optional module worth 20 credits.

The Great American Short Story

This module examines the development of the American short story over the last 200 years, from Washington Irving’s Sketchbook (1819) through to contemporary short story writers such as George Saunders and Junot Diaz.

It focuses on:

  • the emergence of the American short story in comparative context and in the shadow of the critical birth of the Great American Novel
  • how short story genres emerge and disappear
  • how critics have theorised the short story form
  • the relationship between the short story and the magazine
  • the relationship between the short story and the creative writing program in the twentieth century

This is an optional module worth 20 credits.

 

US Foreign Policy

This module examines the making of US foreign policy in the post-Cold War period, from the end of the Cold War to the present.

It examines the grand historical narratives of American international relations and considers in depth the drivers behind the foreign policies pursued by Presidents:

  • George H. W. Bush
  • Bill Clinton
  • George W. Bush
  • Barack Obama
  • Donald Trump

It considers whether the post-1989 period has constituted a break from previous traditions in US foreign policy or whether there has been an essential continuity through the war on terror and beyond. It does this through an examination of the impact of economics, geopolitics, ideology and security issues on post-1989 strategy in different regions of the world, as well as the impact of a new international environment marked by the demise of bipolarity and the rise of globalisation.

This is an optional module worth 20 credits.

 

Varieties of Classic American Film, Television and Literature Since 1950
  • What is a film, television or literary classic?
  • How has this term come under pressure and fractured over the past half century or so?

This module will examine these questions by building on knowledge and study skills acquired by students in level 1 and level 2 classes that touch upon North American film, television and literature.

It will do so by considering the concept of the mid and late twentieth century American “classic” in a variety of contrasting and overlapping contexts. These contexts will be elaborated on the basis of their formal, generic, period and/or cultural designations that will cover university and exam curricula reading lists, popular opinion and widespread critical consensus (such as the currently prevalent view, for instance, that the early twenty-first century constitutes a ‘golden age’ of US television).

The overall aim will be to encourage students to scrutinise more assiduously both the aesthetic and social processes by which ‘classic’ categories and sub-categories have and continue to be constructed.

The following represent a few examples of texts/ designations that might be explored:

  • Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man and Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo as ‘canonized’ classics
  • Harper Lee's To Kill A Mockingbird and Steve McQueen’s Twelve Years A Slave as ‘pedagogical’ classics
  • John Williams’ Butcher’s Crossing and Jonathan Nolan & Lisa Joy’s TV series Westworld as classic modern westerns
  • Evan Connell’s novel Mrs Bridge and Kenneth Lonergan’s movie You Can Count On Me as ‘minor’ classics
  • Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar and the recent TV adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale as feminist classics
  • Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections and Vince Gilligan’s Breaking Bad as critically lauded ‘contemporary classics’

This is an optional module worth 20 credits.

 

The above is a sample of the typical modules we offer but is not intended to be construed and/or relied upon as a definitive list of the modules that will be available in any given year. Modules (including methods of assessment) may change or be updated, or modules may be cancelled, over the duration of the course due to a number of reasons such as curriculum developments or staffing changes. Please refer to the module catalogue for information on available modules. This content was last updated on Friday 21 August 2020.

Learning and assessment

How you will learn

  • Lectures
  • Seminars
  • Tutorials
  • Workshops
  • eLearning

Teaching and learning will be based both in the classroom or lecture hall and on the university’s VLE (Virtual Learning Environment) Moodle. Materials such as readings, lecture slides and videos, and stimulus material for seminar tasks will be available on Moodle, and there may also be activities such as quizzes and discussion forums.

How you will be assessed

  • Dissertation
  • Essay
  • Examinations
  • Presentation

Most modules will be assessed via coursework, which will in most cases involve an extended essay, but may also include presentations or videos, short answer questions or research proposals. Language modules will be assessed by examination.

Contact time and study hours

As well as scheduled teaching you’ll carry out extensive self-study such as reading set academic texts, preparation for seminar tasks, and writing assessments.

A typical 20 credit module involves 2 to 3 hours of workshops, or lectures and/or seminars per week and a further 15 hours of self-study time.

Your lecturers will usually be permanent academic staff.

Class sizes vary depending on topic and type but we try to keep workshops and seminars to between 10 and 20 students. Lectures may be larger, but not typically more than 50 students.

Entry requirements

All candidates are considered on an individual basis and we accept a broad range of qualifications. The entrance requirements below apply to 2021 entry.

Undergraduate degree2:1 (or international equivalent)

Applying

Our step-by-step guide covers everything you need to know about applying.

How to apply

Fees

Qualification All
Home / UK To be confirmed in 2020
International To be confirmed in 2020

If you are a student from the EU, EEA or Switzerland starting your course in the 2021/22 academic year, you will pay international tuition fees.

This does not apply to Irish students, who will be charged tuition fees at the same rate as UK students. UK nationals living in the EU, EEA and Switzerland will also continue to be eligible for ‘home’ fee status at UK universities until 31 December 2027.

For further guidance, check our Brexit information for future students.

Additional costs

You'll be able to access most of the books you’ll need through our libraries, though you may wish to buy your own copies of core texts.

Funding

Midlands4Cities Nottingham Masters Studentships

These financial awards are for students wishing to pursue a full-time on-site Masters over a maximum period of one year.

Find out more

There are many ways to fund your postgraduate course, from scholarships to government loans.

The University also offers masters scholarships for international and EU students. Our step-by-step guide contains everything you need to know about funding postgraduate study.

Postgraduate funding

Careers

We offer individual careers support for all postgraduate students.

Expert staff can help you research career options and job vacancies, build your CV or résumé, develop your interview skills and meet employers.

More than 1,500 employers advertise graduate jobs and internships through our online vacancy service. We host regular careers fairs, including specialist fairs for different sectors.

Graduate destinations

MA American Studies will give you the opportunity to study a subject that you are passionate about at a more detailed level than is possible during an undergraduate degree. As such, this is an ideal step into a future research qualification, such as a PhD.

As you have this option of developing your interests at a more specialised level, you will even be able to tap into current debates surrounding America’s global position. As such, this course offers excellent preparation for a career in teaching, journalism and the media, government service, diplomacy, and NGO's.

The interdisciplinary focus of the course will also equip you with the skills and flexibility to adapt to a range of other professions, such as management, business, public services and law

You will also be ideally placed to pursue a career or further study in North America or Canada.

Career progression

78.4 % of postgraduates from the Faculty of Arts secured graduate level employment or further study within 15 months of graduation. The average annual salary was £23,045*

*HESA Graduate Outcomes 2020. The Graduate Outcomes % is derived using The Guardian University Guide methodology. The average annual salary is based on graduates working full-time within the UK.

Two masters graduates proudly holding their certificates
" Having trained in cultural history with a focus on Mexican migration in Los Angeles, my research now spans the field of contemporary Latinx visual culture. From modernism in New Mexico to contemporary Chicanx photography in Texas, and Caribbean diaspora art in New York, Latinx visual cultures are powerful modes of witnessing and storytelling. In examining how Latinx artists connect up different memories and places, my research shows the United States as enmeshed with other parts of the Americas, and has involved mapping histories of settler-colonialism, contemporary narratives of loss in the U.S. city, and debates about ecological trauma and extinction. "
Stephanie Lewthwaite, Associate Professor in American History

Related courses

The University has been awarded Gold for outstanding teaching and learning (2017/18). Our teaching is of the highest quality found in the UK.

The Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) is a national grading system, introduced by the government in England. It assesses the quality of teaching at universities and how well they ensure excellent outcomes for their students in terms of graduate-level employment or further study.

This content was last updated on Friday 21 August 2020. Every effort has been made to ensure that this information is accurate, but changes are likely to occur given the interval between the date of publishing and course start date. It is therefore very important to check this website for any updates before you apply.