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Approaches to the Comparative Study of the Americas (HI981)

Module Leader

Dr Ben Smith

Context of Module
Aims and Objectives
Seminar Programme
Short Essay Titles
Assessment and Optional Non-Assessed Work


Context of Module

This is the core module for the MA in Comparative American Studies. The module, taught in the Autumn term, may also be taken by students on the MA in History, the MA in Modern History, or any taught Masters students outside the History Department.


Aims and Objectives

The aim of this core module is to introduce key approaches and methods for the comparative and transnational study of the history and culture of the Americas. The content of individual sessions will vary to allow the module to reflect historiographic developments and the interests of the various members of the School of Comparative American Studies. In all cases, however, the seminars will be oriented around discussing central themes in the region's history and culture. These include the nature of indigenous societies, the impact of colonialism and slavery, post-colonial and post-imperial revolutions, the development of national identities and other ideological movements, and the impact of mass culture. Each session will examine a theme through discussion of either foundational texts or an important historiographical debate.


Seminar Programme

Please see module handbook on top right of page.

Week 1 will NOT take place on Tuesday, but on Wednesday 10-12.

The module will be team taught. Seminars are taught on each tutor's office.


Short Essay Titles

These are sample essay titles. You are welcome to use other titles suggested by members of staff or a title of your own devising, provided, in the latter case, that you first confirm its suitability with the relevant staff member.

  • What are the advantages and disadvantages of approaching the Americas as a world region?
  • In what ways is the comparative study of the Americas important in the present day?
  • Describe the trends in U.S. historiography from the 19th century to the present.
  • What is relativism?
  • How did women’s history and African American studies impact the profession?
  • How did American Studies evolve within the ongoing debates about historiography in America?
  • Is it possible to use European and/or colonial sources to write indigenous history?
  • How important was the British open immigration policy for the development of colonial society?
  • Did Catholicism lead to better treatment for Native Peoples in Latin America?
  • Where was the worst place in the Americas to be enslaved in 1790? Why?
  • Were there alternatives to racial slavery in the economic development of the Americas?
  • Assess the extent to which the abolition of slavery in the Americas stemmed from external causes.
  • Use an ‘Andersonian’ approach to analyse a printed primary source such as a novel or newspaper, or a film, or an item of material culture such as a bottle of Coca-cola.
  • To what extent were the politics and ideology of post 1945 US exceptional in the Americas?
  • What impact did the rightward shift in US politics have on Latin America?
  • How has the left in the Americas responded to globalization?
  • Why has Latin America witnessed an upsurge in violent crime over the past two decades?
  • How has the urpsurge in violent crime affected Latin American democratization?


Assessment and Optional Non-Assessed Work

This module is assessed through one essay of up to 6,000 words (including footnotes and bibliography). In addition, all students have the option of submitting 1 non-assessed essay of up to 2,500 words. Should students decide to do so, these essays are handed in directly to the module convenor in week 7 and feedback will be received in week 10. This non-assessed essay can be a short version of the final assessed essay or be on an entirely different topic.

Module Handbook

Tutor/s Various; please see module handbook
Term Autumn
Seminar Day Wednesdays
Seminar Time 10:00-12:00 (in most cases; please refer to the Module Handbook for further information)


Tutors' Offices
Rebecca Isaacs tbc
Rosie Doyle tbc
David Lambert H3.33
Benjamin Smith H3.38
Jennifer Smyth H3.28