Module Identifier AS30220  
Academic Year 2004/2005  
Co-ordinator Dr Martin Padget  
Semester Semester 2  
Other staff Dr Robert Harrison, Professor Timothy S Woods  
Pre-Requisite AS10120 , AS10220  
Co-Requisite AS30020 , AS30120  
Course delivery Seminars / Tutorials   20 Hours 10 x 2 hr  
Assessment TypeAssessment Length/DetailsProportion
Semester Assessment 1 x 5000 word essay100%

Learning outcomes

At the end of the module, students will be able to:

1. describe the impact of recent historical events on the politics and culture of late 20th century America;

2. demonstrate an understanding of the social and political contexts in which the set material was produced;

3. write about the period and culture in a well-structured and well-argued way;

4. illustrate their knowledge and views using a variety of examples from the range of disciplines covered during the course;

5. demonstrate developing skill in critical analysis;

6. develop extended writing and research skills in the development of an extended argument;

7. demonstrate developing skills in oral presentation.


This module aims:

1. To build upon the knowledge gained by students in Part 1 American Studies by familiarising single Honours American Studies students with crucial events and important changes in U.S. society since the 1960s.

2. To offer students an interdisciplinary approach to American Studies. The perspectives of history, literary and film studies, and politics will be brought to bear on a series of common topics in a way that will enhance understanding of the subject matter under investigation, as well as demonstrating the conceptual benefits (and problems) of interdisciplinary study.

3. To supplement the existing range of modules in American Studies and thereby enhance students' overall understanding of American culture.

Brief description

This module is organised around two focal points. One is the reaction to the events of the 1960s, in particular the Vietnam War, that characterised American politics and culture in the 1970s and 1980s; the other is the assessment of the state of America and her standing in the world at the end of the century and at the end of the Cold War. Our examination of contemporary America will focus on three themes: Vietnam and its aftermath; Reagan and his America; and the state of America in a post-Cold War, post-industrial, post-modern world.


Seminar Content

Section A: The Impact of Vietnam

We start by tracing the roots of America's involvement in Vietnam and then examine the tactical problems of counter-insurgency, noting the discrepancy between the weaponry involved and the apparent results. Particular attention will be paid to the experience of American soldiers on the ground in Vietnam and how that experience has been represented in documentary and fictional writing and on film. The difficulties that Americans have faced in coming to terms with the conflict will be illustrated with reference to the experiences of the veterans. In this section we are as much concerned with what the experience of Vietnam meant to Americans, and with the ways in which they handled that experience, as with the experience itself.

1. Representing the Vietnam War

2. The US and Vietnam, 1945-75

3. The Nature of the Conflict in Vietnam

Section B: Reagan's America

After an examination of the historical context, including the Carter interregnum, stagflation, the energy crisis, the Iranian hostage crisis and the perceived international decline of the U.S., we examine the Reagan constituency and the Reagan agenda, especially the attempt to roll back the influence of government and restore America's military strength and national pride. We shall explore the components of the "New Right", including a devotion to the free market and religious fundamentalism, noting the sometimes uneasy relationship between them. Two key issues of the Reagan years will attract particular attention: the politics of abortion, which touched on issues of gender roles, as well as individual rights; and the "underclass" debate, which called into question the rationale behind the welfare policies of the last fifty years. This discussion will be set against cultural representations of the Reagan years, describing both the "yuppie" ethos and the underside of 1980s America.

4. Reagan and the 'New Right'

5. The Culture Wars: Religion and Society in Contemporary America

6. The 'Underclass' Debate

Section C: American Cultures at the Close of the Century

This section begins with an examination of the euphoric reaction to the end of the Cold War, which seemed testimony to the strength and validity of America's ideology and institutions, and "victory" in the Gulf War, which seemed to confirm her status as the sole remaining superpower. It then proceeds to an examination of the anxieties that undercut this mood of triumphalism, including the uncertainties created by cultural fragmentation, the conflict between libertarianism and fundamentalism, the growing crisis of governance, relative economic decline, the deterioration of the inner cities, and the mounting divisions between rich and poor that led to discussion of a "Third World America", most vividly exemplified in the Los Angeles riot.

7. 'Greed is Good'

8. A Multicultural Society

9. Polarised Communities

10. Dystopian Visions

Required Viewing

Reading Lists

** Essential Reading
Bret Easton Ellis (1991) Less Than Zero Picador 0330294008
Gloria Anzaldua (1987) Borderlands / La Frontera Aunt Lute Books 1879960567
Tim O'Brien (1995) In the Lake of the Woods Flamingo 0006543952


This module is at CQFW Level 6