HENKE2402U English - Free topic B: The American Century: Twentieth Century Explorations in American History and Literature

Volume 2024/2025



The term “American Century” was coined by Henry Luce, publisher of Time¸ Life, and Fortune magazinesLuce wrote that “American jazz, Hollywood movies, American slang, American machines and patented products, are in fact the only things that every community in the world, from Zanzibar to Hamburg, recognized in common. Blindly, unintentionally, accidentally and really in spite of ourselves, we are already a world power in all the trivial ways – in very human ways. But there is a great deal more than that. America is already the intellectual, scientific and artistic capital of the world.” (Henry Luce, 1941)


The American Century course provides an in-depth thematic exploration of the transformation of the nation in the twentieth century. We will look at the ways in which it developed in literary, historical and political terms. How and in what ways did the American Century come about? How did it manifest itself? How was it discussed by American intellectuals, and how was it represented by American artists and writers? Has the American Century now ended, and are other superpowers, especially China, about to take over as hegemonic power(s)? These are among the main questions to be asked and debated throughout the course.


The history element scrutinizes the relationship between America’s internal and external growth. Economic, social, political, technological, and cultural viewpoints are covered, using an interrogative and explanatory method towards primary sources and secondary explanations. This method will allow us to contemplate critically how, why, and by whom history is studied and constructed, and to consider how historians work.


The literature element takes us through the major currents of realist, modernist and postmodern writing in both theory and practice with a focus on narrative prose and poetry that provide keys to understanding of a particular dimension of America at a particular time such for instance as F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, Toni Morrison’s Beloved, and Paul Auster’s The New York Trilogy.

This course only leads to exams Free Topic 1, Free Topic 2 and Free Topic 3.
  • Category
  • Hours
  • Class Instruction
  • 56
  • Preparation
  • 353.5
  • Total
  • 409.5
Continuous feedback during the course of the semester
Peer feedback (Students give each other feedback)
Type of assessment
Portfolio, A joint portfolio uploaded in digital exam: Deadline January 6th 2025
Type of assessment details
A power point presentation (3-5 slides) at a student conference based on a synopsis and bibliography (2-4 pages) in the literature element. Slides, synopsis and presentation count as ½ of the final grade.
Final essay (11-15 pages) on set question(s) in the history element course. It counts as ½ of the final grade.
Exam registration requirements

This course only leads to exams Free Topic 1, Free Topic 2 and Free Topic 3.

Criteria for exam assesment