Skip to content
ACE 2283 Exploring the American Dream: An Introduction to American Studies.ONLINE COURSE ONLY is a Course

ACE 2283 Exploring the American Dream: An Introduction to American Studies.ONLINE COURSE ONLY

Ended Mar 16, 2022

Sorry! The enrolment period is currently closed. Please check back soon.

Full course description

Course Outline:

American studies examine the development of the United States of America by looking at history, society, and culture. The United States remains one of the most influential nations on earth and has a dominant popular culture. The sharp divisions in American society ensure that it is constantly in the news. American studies lend itself very well to an appealing and engaging multi-disciplinary approach encompassing literature, drama, music and the cinema and television.    

Course Content

Classes will be delivered online on Wednesday 7-9pm for eight weeks from 26 january to 16 March.

Lectures would cover the following themes:

1.   The American Dream. This lecture will focus on the development of a distinct American identity based upon the idea of ‘American exceptionalism’, the American Revolution and the ‘New Adam’ and the aspiration towards equality of opportunity and rugged individualism. Key reference: The Declaration of Independence.

2.   Politics in the United States. This lecture will examine the development of American political institutions. The US Constitution and Thomas Jefferson. The tension between the Federal Government and state’s rights, eventually leading to the Civil War. The two-party system. Populism in American politics. Key reference: Democracy in America by Alexis de Tocqueville (1840).   

3.  The Myth of the Frontier. This lecture will lead on from the introduction and examine the notion that the American character was shaped by the presence of the frontier. The myth of the American hero as a figure that straddles the wilderness and settled society (this will be illustrated by reference to western movies such as Shane and The Searchers). ‘Manifest Destiny’. Attitudes to Native Americans. The veneration of the wilderness existing in parallel with the urge to conquer it. The founding of the National Parks and the growth of the environmental movement. Key reference: The Significance of the Frontier in American History by Frederick Jackson Turner (1893).

4.  America on the world stage. This lecture will look at American foreign policy and the tensions between isolationism and internationalism. The Monroe Doctrine. The experience of entry into the two World Wars (features in movies such as Sergeant York and Casablanca and the novel A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway (1932)). The sense of a loss of innocence following involvement in European conflict. The Cold War and the ideological struggle with the Soviet Union. McCarthyism. The war in Vietnam. Key reference: Catch 22 by Joseph Heller (1961).

5.  The Immigrant Experience in America. This lecture will consider the contribution made by immigrants to American society. The lure of the American Dream, and the promise of the Statute of Liberty (“Give me your tired, your poor/Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free”). Patterns of immigration: Irish, Italians and Jews on the East Coast, Asians on the West Coast, Latin Americans across the Mexican border. Racial quotas and discrimination. The cultural significance of immigrants, the example of Frank Sinatra as a visible Italian American and a superstar whose art reflected the American Dream. Key reference: The Devil’s Highway by Louis Alberto Urrea (2006).         

6.  Afro-American history. This lecture will focus on the Afro-American experience up to the Civil Rights movement; starting with slavery, Emancipation and Reconstruction (segregation and the Jim Crow laws). The movement from the rural, agrarian South to the urban, industrial North. The development of Afro-American music; early blues, the influence of the Black Church, jazz (and how these musical forms evolved when taken to the Northern cities). The Harlem Renaissance. Afro-American literature. Key reference: Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison (1952).   

7.  The American Dream in the 20th Century. This lecture will examine the development of industry and technology in America, the figures of Thomas Edison and Henry Ford. The growth of the suburbs. The Great Crash and the Depression (see the movie The Grapes of Wrath). F. D. Roosevelt’s New Deal. Post-war affluence and consumerism. The souring of the American Dream seen in works such as the TV series Mad Men and the novel Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates (1961). Key reference: the play Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller (1949). 

8.  Dissent in America. The final lecture will follow on from the previous one and examine the presence of dissent and counterculture in post-war American society. The absence of a socialist party in the USA channels radicalism into social movements. The response to McCarthyism. The Beat Generation of the 1950s (the novel On the Road by Jack Kerouac (1957) and the poetry of Allen Ginsberg). The protest music of Woodie Guthrie, Pete Seeger, and Bob Dylan. The counterculture of the late 1960s. The Civil Rights movement (with the contrasting approaches of Dr Martin Luther King and Malcolm X). The Feminist movement. Key reference: The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan (1963).   

     If it were preferred to extend the course to ten weeks, lectures on the urban experience in America (including an examination of organised crime and corruption and of 1930s and 1940s ‘pulp fiction’) and on the influence of the Hollywood cinema

Course Lecturer

Mark Rowlands have a degree (hons) in Humanities (specialising in American Studies) from the University of Glamorgan, a MSc in Politics and Sociology from London University (Birkbeck College, which specialises in evening courses) and a Diploma in Film Studies from the British Film Institute. Mark taught on the Higher Diploma in Occupational Health and Safety at UCC for the Adult Continuing Education Department for 20 years. he  also participated in several conferences run by the History Department in recent years.

Entry Requirements

Applicants must be at least 18 years old at course commencement. No prior knowledge of Irish culture, folklore, mythology or the Irish language is necessary.


Short courses are not assessed. Students will receive a UCC Certificate of Attendance upon completion.

Closing Date for Application

Monday 17 January

Contact Details for Further Information

Regina Sexton, Phone: 021-4904700, Email: