Majors

At Duke Kunshan University, each major consists of an interdisciplinary set of courses that integrate different forms of knowledge and a distinct set of disciplinary courses that provide expertise in specific areas.

U.S. Studies (Tracks: History and Literature)
US Studies fosters understanding of the ideas, cultures, art, institutions, aspirations, and realities that have played an important role in the development of American society and public life. The major draws on a broad range of faculty from the humanities and social sciences so that students can examine components of U.S. culture, the diverse experiences of Americans, and others affected by Americans locally, nationally, and globally. The courses offered in the program examine the formation of historical, philosophical, religious, social, artistic and political traditions that shape American political thought, institutions, culture and literature.
U.S Studies/History

Required Courses

Divisional Foundation Courses
Interdisciplinary Courses
Disciplinary Courses

Recommended Electives for the Major

Courses listed below are recommended electives for the major. Students can also select other courses in different divisions as electives.

Electives in the American History thematic area:

 

U.S Studies/Literature

Required Courses

Divisional Foundation Courses
Interdisciplinary Courses
Disciplinary Courses

Recommended Electives for the Major

Courses listed below are recommended electives for the major. Students can also select other courses in different divisions as electives.

Career Path

Graduates will be prepared to begin careers in government, education, media and journalism, or to pursue graduate study in history, literature and politics.

Foundational Questions in Social Science

People everywhere ponder and debate fundamental questions: What does it mean to be human? How is society to be ordered? What is a moral life? Our ancestors asked such questions as well: it is likely that those questions lie at the origins of humanity itself. They also provide the foundations for much of the most important research in the social sciences today. This course examines the ways in which social scientists from a diversity of disciplines approach these fundamental questions. Study material for the course will include foundational texts from across the social sciences, as well as cutting-edge research from the present day. This course will not attempt to answer these vast questions, or provide neat solutions for students: rather, we want to excite students about the social sciences and whet their appetites for further study.

The Art of Interpretation 1: Written Texts

Training in close reading and analysis of text remains a foundational skill in the arts and humanities, whether the text is literary or documentary. This core course combines practical training in close reading of a variety of texts, with strategies of analysis that are theoretically informed without, however, offering a comprehensive treatment of theory per se. The course will focus both on reading and analysis of literary texts, and on the nuanced unpacking of documents (official, unofficial, personal) with a view to historical method.

American Ideas and the Idea of America

What is the story of the United States? What fundamental ideas of America have been formed as a nation and as an empire? Are there connections we can draw between the US today and its past? What relevance does the US have in China historically and in the present day? What place does the US have in the Chinese imagination? In this course, we address these questions by examining a variety of texts, ranging from important founding documents, political speeches, autobiographies, and travelogues to excerpts of American novels. Through class discussions, team projects, and role plays, we will discuss fundamental concepts of America, its past and present, and explore themes such as politics and religion, race and slavery, immigration and identity, women and economics, and education and citizenship. We will also consider how America is being perceived in the world specifically within the Chinese context.

Democratic Institutions in America

Using methodologies from different disciplines, this course examines the origin and evolution of political, legal, economic and cultural institutions, including congress, the presidency, the Supreme Court, the mass media, corporations, and schools. It trace how democratic institutions have functioned and how they have changed over time and explores competing political ideologies and the ways in which ideas and institutions have facilitated and constrained efforts to advance liberty and achieve equality and the tensions between the two.

America in the World

This course examines the place of America in the wider world and the nature of American regional and global engagement. It explores how Americans have viewed and defined themselves in relation to numerous other nations and peoples examines the relation between ideology, politics, culture, and foreign policy.

The American Romance of Self-Making

This course foregrounds the Protestant roots of the U.S. literary imagination. It introduces the preeminent form of America’s diverse literatures, which is the narrative, or romance, of the struggle for self-determination, most often a novel or memoir focused on a protagonist’s search for freedom, maturity, and/or bicultural virtuosity. The course begins with examplars of the genre including: the Protestant pilgrimage story; its secularization by Franklin; its philosophical working out by Melville and Emerson; its leveraging of ecological attentiveness by Thoreau; its sentimentalization in the fallen women plots and captivity narratives; its political mobilization in the slave narrative and prison memoir; and its apotheosis in Whitman’s “Song of Myself” and Dickinson’s poems.

American Otherness and Otherness in America

This course foregrounds the ethnic, racialized and gendered formations of “America’s” aesthetic gifts to the world. It investigates national icons of the long 20th century with profoundly ethno-religious, racial, and gender determinations. Examples include: African American musical forms from the blues to rap; the “Jewish songs” of Tin Pan Alley or Jewish humor from the Catskills to Seinfeld; the contact zone of sports (Latins in baseball, contemporary women’s boxing); Catholic influence in 1930s film; the sexualities of American musical comedy; the womanist conquest of Oprah; the cults of East Asian Kung-Fu and South Asian Yoga; and the cultural politics of America’s relation with the Caribbean and East Asia.

Methods of Historical Research

This course offers an introduction to theories, methods and approaches to historical inquiry and research including the use of archives, the interpretation of visual and textual documents, and the recording of oral histories. Students will be exposed to both the humanist and the social scientific approaches to historical research, as well as broader theoretical questions of history and historiography. As such, students learn what is history, how is it made, and what constitutes valid scholarly approaches to historiography. Students will apply their learning by conducting original historical research on a topic of their own choosing and writing a research paper.

American History 1

This course cover the history of what is now the United States from pre-Columbian times to 1876. It investigates: the voyages of exploration and colonization, including Native American responses to them; the rise of race slavery and its significance to the American revolution; the war of independence; Anglo-American expansion westwards; slave life and culture; industrialization and economic development in the 19th century; and the civil war, the emancipation of slaves, and postwar reconstruction. Throughout the course emphasizes social developments, conflicting political and economic visions, and tensions between ideals and reality.

American History 2

This course evaluates the ongoing impact of industrialization, immigration, urbanization, and the rise of mass culture in the United States. It examines the effect of depressions and wars on American society and politics; and considers the roots and results of reform movements ranging from populism and progressivism to the civil rights, women’s, and environmental movements. Throughout it takes note of ongoing debates about the government’s proper economic and social role; changing views of ethnicity, race, and gender in America; and the determinants of United States foreign policy.

Documenting Durham and the New South

The course trains students to document and represent Durham past and present with digital media. Students learn how to digitize historical and cultural materials, research in archives and public records and present information through various forms including web pages, databases, maps, video and other media. In addition to producing digital represenations of historical materials, students learn more broadly how to think about and analyze the social impact of new representations of place and space.

America in Asia, Asians in America

This course explores the intersection between foreign relations and the evolution of American society, with a focus on Asian-Americans in different moments of history. It is divided into three main historical eras and themes: (1) the early period of Chinese emigration and the building of American railroads until the Exclusion Acts; (2) Japanese-American society before and after Pearl Harbor; (3) Chinese Americans in modern American science, engineering, and innovation. Through the use of representative cases, the course trains students to understand the lives of Asian Americans in relevant historical, cultural and political contexts.

U.S. Citizenship: History, Meaning and Conflict

What does it mean to be and to become an American citizen? What combination of political principles, cultural identity, and historical experience does and should constitute U.S. citizenship? This course explores the meaning of citizenship and nationhood in different historical contexts, amidst competing constitutional interpretations, and at the center of contemporary policy debates.

Civil Rights and Civil Liberties

This course examines the meaning rights and liberties in the American and global context. It considers competing justifications as well as specific legal and policy debates ranging from freedom of speech and the press, religion, sexuality, abortion, and discrimination.

The United States and China in War and Revolution

This course looks at the Chinese-American alliance during World War II from multiple perspectives. What did the partners in this anti-Japanese alliance have in common? What was the level of their mutual understanding? What was the role of key decision-makers in Chongqing, Washington, and Yanan? What was the experience of this alliance from the perspective of ordinary soldiers and the civilians they encountered? How did the various actors imagine Chinese-American relations after the war? What can we learn from a Chinese-American alliance that was at once successful and fragile?

Cold War America

This course explores the nearly 50 year conflict between the superpowers of the US and USSR and considers the domestic impact of America’s “cold war” against communism. It assesses both the ideological clash and the economic conflict between capitalism and state control. Topics include the development of the atomic bomb, George Kennan’s “containment” strategy, the moon race and military and technology competition and the key historical developments such as the Korean War and the Cuban Missile Crisis, as well as relations with China and US influence in Third World countries. (300-400 Level)

Revolutions and Foundings: A Comparative Perspective

This course examines the Founders of the American political order and compares them with the more contemporary founders of other political traditions. This course examines the political thought and careers of key protagonists in the American Revolution and constitutional Founding (such as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Alexander Hamilton, and James Madison) and revolutionaries and founders in other modern settings (such as Mohandas Gandhi, Che Guevara, Nelson Mandela, Vaclav Havel, Mao Zedong, and Lee Kwan Yew).

American Capitalism in the World

This course examines American economic history and the global reach of capitalist markets. It explores patterns of commerce, the development of the regulatory state, business cycles and crises, the nature of the corporation and the changing of labor markets and the meaning of work. The course considers crises, contradictions, and competitive virtues and drawbacks associated with the modern American economy and highlights key trade-offs and lessons for democratic institutions, business, and culture.

US/China Relations

This course addresses the complex relationship between China and the United States from the eighteenth-century to the present, including the two countries’ foreign relations, trade, cultural exchanges, and images and (mis) representations of each other. Starting with the arrival of Europeans and Americans in China, and moving to the Opium Wars and the Unequal Treaties to WWII, and Hollywood depictions of China, the course turns to China since 1949 and its relationship to the United States, covering themes of the Cold War to Nixon and China and the re-engagement of the two countries, including the challenges confronting China and its rise as an industrial superpower, and the environmental challenges thereof.

Religion and Community in America

The U.S. has been characterized as a “nation with the soul of a church.” This unpacks that statement and explores the distinctive role that religious belief and institutions have played in American life. It examines religious figures and movements, the role religion plays in politics and public life, the cultural contours of religious popular and social movements, the racial, ethnic and gendered dimensions of religious life, and the nature of individualism and social solidarity in the U.S.

Race and Ethnicity in the United States

This course provides a critical framework for which to access the origins, manifestations and evolution of race, ethnicity and citizenship. It explores the complex ways that race and ethnicity have operated in American politics and culture, how race and ethnicity have been defined and changed over time. We will approach these issues from a comparative perspective, probing the experiences of differently groups through in-depth analysis of primary and secondary sources.

Immigration and the American Experience

This course studies immigrants and immigration policy in the United States from 1850 to the present, with a focus on the origins and power of immigrant exclusion during three waves of migration: Northern European and Asian migrations between 1850 and 1880; Eastern European, Latin American, and Asian migrations, 1880-1920; and Latin American, African, and Asian migrations, post 1965. The course examines the roels of immigrants in shaping policy debates, citizenship rights, labor movements, and American culture, past and present. The course also considers migration patterns and policies in comparison to other major immigrant destinations.

Foundational Questions in Social Science

People everywhere ponder and debate fundamental questions: What does it mean to be human? How is society to be ordered? What is a moral life? Our ancestors asked such questions as well: it is likely that those questions lie at the origins of humanity itself. They also provide the foundations for much of the most important research in the social sciences today. This course examines the ways in which social scientists from a diversity of disciplines approach these fundamental questions. Study material for the course will include foundational texts from across the social sciences, as well as cutting-edge research from the present day. This course will not attempt to answer these vast questions, or provide neat solutions for students: rather, we want to excite students about the social sciences and whet their appetites for further study.

The Art of Interpretation 1: Written Texts

Training in close reading and analysis of text remains a foundational skill in the arts and humanities, whether the text is literary or documentary. This core course combines practical training in close reading of a variety of texts, with strategies of analysis that are theoretically informed without, however, offering a comprehensive treatment of theory per se. The course will focus both on reading and analysis of literary texts, and on the nuanced unpacking of documents (official, unofficial, personal) with a view to historical method.

American Ideas and the Idea of America

What is the story of the United States? What fundamental ideas of America have been formed as a nation and as an empire? Are there connections we can draw between the US today and its past? What relevance does the US have in China historically and in the present day? What place does the US have in the Chinese imagination? In this course, we address these questions by examining a variety of texts, ranging from important founding documents, political speeches, autobiographies, and travelogues to excerpts of American novels. Through class discussions, team projects, and role plays, we will discuss fundamental concepts of America, its past and present, and explore themes such as politics and religion, race and slavery, immigration and identity, women and economics, and education and citizenship. We will also consider how America is being perceived in the world specifically within the Chinese context.

Democratic Institutions in America

Using methodologies from different disciplines, this course examines the origin and evolution of political, legal, economic and cultural institutions, including congress, the presidency, the Supreme Court, the mass media, corporations, and schools. It trace how democratic institutions have functioned and how they have changed over time and explores competing political ideologies and the ways in which ideas and institutions have facilitated and constrained efforts to advance liberty and achieve equality and the tensions between the two.

America in the World

This course examines the place of America in the wider world and the nature of American regional and global engagement. It explores how Americans have viewed and defined themselves in relation to numerous other nations and peoples examines the relation between ideology, politics, culture, and foreign policy.

The American Romance of Self-Making

This course foregrounds the Protestant roots of the U.S. literary imagination. It introduces the preeminent form of America’s diverse literatures, which is the narrative, or romance, of the struggle for self-determination, most often a novel or memoir focused on a protagonist’s search for freedom, maturity, and/or bicultural virtuosity. The course begins with examplars of the genre including: the Protestant pilgrimage story; its secularization by Franklin; its philosophical working out by Melville and Emerson; its leveraging of ecological attentiveness by Thoreau; its sentimentalization in the fallen women plots and captivity narratives; its political mobilization in the slave narrative and prison memoir; and its apotheosis in Whitman’s “Song of Myself” and Dickinson’s poems.

American Otherness and Otherness in America

This course foregrounds the ethnic, racialized and gendered formations of “America’s” aesthetic gifts to the world. It investigates national icons of the long 20th century with profoundly ethno-religious, racial, and gender determinations. Examples include: African American musical forms from the blues to rap; the “Jewish songs” of Tin Pan Alley or Jewish humor from the Catskills to Seinfeld; the contact zone of sports (Latins in baseball, contemporary women’s boxing); Catholic influence in 1930s film; the sexualities of American musical comedy; the womanist conquest of Oprah; the cults of East Asian Kung-Fu and South Asian Yoga; and the cultural politics of America’s relation with the Caribbean and East Asia.

The Epic of America (the novel)

This course introduces a range of works from the US canon that engage the concept of travels in relation to the themes of race and slavery, gender and sexuality, and citizenship and empire. Through reading some great American novels, we will explore travels and mobility from pre-Civil War to modern America, and from the slave-holding south to multiracial and multicultural metropolises both within and beyond the US borders. By drawing connections between these great American novels, we will discuss how they collectively cross and challenge national, geographical, and political boundaries of the color line––and importantly––how they resonate with DKU’s core concept of “rooted globalism.”

Genre 2: American Lyric Across Borders (the poetry)

After Whitman and Dickinson’s Romantic call to the world beyond U.S. borders, this course turns to the controversy between the rootedness of Frost, William Carlos Williams, and Langston Hughes and the internationalism of Stevens, Eliot, H.D. (including the Sino-philia of Pound), both of which can also be seen as belated forms of Romanticism.  Possible attention to later explorers of such issues as Robert Duncan, Gwendolyn Brooks, Sylvia Plath, and Frank O’Hara; to the populist challenge of song lyric (blues, tin pan alley, folk, rock, hip-hop); or to the problems of translation and translatability.

American Icons (rhetoric and performance—pulpit /address /theater/ music)

A study of the works and dramatized presence of any number of iconic figures on America’s cultural stage, which varies each semester according to the expertise of the instructor. The course could have a pre-Revolutionary focus, treating semi-mythic figures such as Bradford, Wild Bill Hickock, Pocohantus, Morton, Adams and Hamilton. It might look at mid 19th century such as Andrew Jackson, Sitting Bull, Abraham Lincoln, John Brown, Fanny Fern, Thomas Dartmouth Rice, “Little Eva,” “Stagger Lee,” and “John Henry.” Or it will focus on more recent icons, from Teddy Roosevelt, Harry Houdini, Bessie Smith, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Valentino, and Mae West in the early decades to Billie Holiday, Frank Sinatra, and Judy Garland (to cite only the singers) at mid-century to Kennedy, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King in the sixties (to cite only the politicos) or even Madonna, Tupac, Gaga, Beyoncé and Kendrick Lamar (back to the musicians). A study of the interplay among their arts, their celebrity personae, and their impact on ethnic, national, and international scenes.

Asian-American Arts and Letters

This course examines the history of Asian-descent literature including fiction, memoir, poetry, drama) and, to a lesser extent, expressive cultures (film, martial arts, music) with special emphasis on Chinese America. Topics include broad themes of cultural identity, memory and belonging, gender and class, as well as specific issues of the relationship between diaspora communities in the US and national cultures in Asia. Texts are placed within the context of the history of Asian American acclamation, focusing on tensions between cultural assimilation into mainstream America and the pressure to maintain distinctive cultural identities.

African American Literature and Culture

This course examines the history of African narrative, drama, poetry, and such expressive arts as the sermon, the political address, and popular music. Narratives are placed in the context of the history of slavery, emancipation and the continuing struggle for civil rights. Topics include: questions of self-identity and American citizenship; the reception of African American literature overseas; the construction of pan-African identities and politics; literature of the African American diaspora; and the concept of home. Students will gain a cross-cultural understanding of the African American experience and its ongoing significance in American life and politics.

The Western Across Boundaries

This course studies the film genre that has, for better and for worse, defined what it means to be an American for Americans themselves and for the rest of the world. It places these films in the historical context of the American westward expansion, and the genocide of native Americans. It examines these films through the myths of the American pioneer, rugged individualism, heroic masculinity, and drama of the American landscape. By focusing on the concept of crossing boundaries, the course analyzes the concept of the frontier, the representation of frontier communities including Chinese and Irish immigrants, Hispanic peoples and native Americans.

American Musicals

This course examines the history of American musicals, focusing on the period from Show Boat to Sondheim with attention to poetics, aesthetics, and politics. It demonstrates how the American musical has functioned as a popular representation of key themes such as immigration, race and gender and sexual diversity. Students will learn to identify historical and cultural references, and place the evolution of the musical in its proper social and historical context, including the significance of Broadway and New York in the popular American cultural imagination. Students learn to interpret music as text and understand the relationship of musical theater to other musical forms such as blues, jazz, pop and rock.

Early Literatures from Colonization to Revolution

Columbus and other narratives of European exploration, conquest, and settlement; the interplay of Puritan literature (Bradford, Winthrop, Wigglesworth, Mather, Bradstreet), Native oral traditions, Phyllis Wheatley’s poetry, and early captivity narratives; the pre-revolutionary novel (Rowson, Foster, C.B. Brown); and the revolutionary texts (The Federalist Papers).

The American Renaissance and Its Rivals

A course on the major antebellum prose writers (Emerson, Thoreau, Melville, Hawthorne), the storytellers of enslavement (Douglass, Jacobs, Equiano, Brown) and Native displacement (Child, Sedgwick), and the poetry (Whitman before and after the war, Dickinson, possibly late Melville) that ensued.

The Realist Moment

This course focuses primarily on realism (Howells, James, Gilman, Harper, Johnson), naturalism (Dreiser, Norris, Crane), and regionalism (Twain, Jewett, Chopin, Chesnutt) during the rise of consumer-managerial capitalism, first-wave feminism, and Jim-Crow Reconstruction. Possible attention to early utopian fiction (Adams, Bellamy, Gilman, Howells) or the impact of journalism (Dreiser, Crane, Henry Adams, Jane Addams, and the muckrackers) on fiction.

America’s Novel Modernity

This course is focused on the fiction, primarily the novel, that distinguishes the American literary response to the phenomena of “modernity” in the 1920s and 1930s: modernization, urbanization, the rise of consumer and finance capitalism, the Harlem Renaissance and “New Negro” Movements, the anti-immigration and Indian citizenship acts, the press of ethnic upward mobility, and the European literary experimentation called “modernism,” the world-entailing crash of the U.S. stock market.  To be drawn from the works of: Stein, Cather, Wharton, Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Dos Passos, Larsen, Toomer, Schuyler, Hurston, Barnes, Hammett, Roth, McKay, Faulkner, DiDonato, Steinbeck. 

The Literary Arts of the Cold War

This course focuses on the fictional, theatrical, cinematic, poetic, and new-journalist representation of the Cold War and its “Hot” manifestations ( the Korean and, especially, the Vietnam War, as well as the violent turns in U.S. Radicalism). From the rise of postmodernism and the Beat era (Kerouac, Ginsberg, O’Connor, Williams, Miller) through treatments of the Civil Rights Movement, the New Left, and various manifestations of the Counter Culture (Eastern religions, the sexual revolution, communes, Afro-naturalism, Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In), especially the anti-War Movement and Black Protest movements, to whatever of the 1970s (belated Vietnam films, feminist impact, etc.) works for closure.

The Center Stage of Ethnic and Women’s Writing

Women’s, ethnic, and especially ethnic women’s writing from the breakthroughs of Walker, Morrison, Hong Kingston, Bambara, Silko, Joan Chase, and Paule Marshall to the glory days of Erdrich, Naylor, Alvarez, Cisneros, Anzaldúa, Jen, Kogawa, Adrienne Kennedy, Suzan-Lori Parks, and—of course—Morrison again, along with their male dissenters and allies, such as Ishmael Reed, Charles Fuller, Tony Kushner, Charles Johnson, Chang-Rae Lee, Oscar Hijuelos, Richard Rodriguez, David Henry Hwang, Junot Diaz, and Ron Hansen.

The U.S. and the Contemporary Global Imagination

This course treats issues of the globe in the U.S. and the U.S. in the globe, as imagined in both Maximalist fiction of various orders (DeLillo, Wallace, Silko, Butler, Delaney, Chabron) and the auto-ethnographic and multicultural contact novel (Morrison, Lee, Cole, Díaz, Shteyngart, Adichie, Hoessini, Hamid, Beatty, Whitehead) centered in the multicultural U.S.–as well as whatever global anglophone writing (Sebald, Mitchell, Coetzee), the graphic novel (Speigelman, Satrapi, Sacco, Eisner, Bechdel, the Hernandez brothers), or serial television (The Sopranos, The Wire, Breaking Bad) works for a particular semester.