BA Politics and Modern History / Course details

Year of entry: 2020

Course unit details:
American Hauntings

Unit code AMER30811
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 3
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Offered by English and American Studies
Available as a free choice unit? No


This interdisciplinary module explores the place of the supernatural in American history and culture from the beginnings of English settlement in North America through the current era. It explores the ways in which the “original sins” of American history, such as the enslavement of African-Americans and the dispossession of Native Americans, have been understood through the figures of ghosts, monsters, and spirits, and how the recurrence of such figures over centuries reflects the novelist William Faulkner’s claim that “the past is never dead; it’s not even past.” We will explore the haunted history of the United States by discovering how fictions and folk beliefs can illuminate the past in ways unavailable through standard historical sources, and whether these cultural artefacts can be a form of resistance against past and present injustices.


  • To understand the concept of haunting as a way through which to understand obscured histories of the United States;
  • To appreciate the ways in which non-traditional sources can expand our understanding of historical events and processes;
  • To appreciate the incomplete nature of various aspects of U.S. history and culture


Week 1: Haunting and/as history: introduction to the module

Week 2: In the Devil’s snare: the spectres of Salem
(Nathaniel Hawthorne, The House of the Seven Gables and “Young Goodman Brown”; Cotton Mather, The Wonders of the Invisible World)

Week 3: Uncanny valley: the haunted Hudson (Maxwell Anderson, High Tor; Washington Irving, “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”)

Week 4: “We may expect black crews”: the Haitian Revolution and the birth of American gothic (Uriah Derick D’Arcy, The Black Vampyre; Leonora Sansay, Secret History, or the Horrors of St. Domingo)

Week 5: “Grinning unappeased aboriginal demons”: the return of the “vanishing Indian” (Algernon Blackwood, The Wendigo; William Faulkner, “A Bear Hunt”; Philip Freneau, “The Indian Burying Ground”)

Week 6: “Pastoral scene of the gallant South”: the haunted plantation (George Washington Cable, “Jean-ah Poquelin”; Charles Chesnutt, “The Marked Tree”)

Week 7: “Not a house in the country ain’t packed to the rafters with some dead Negro’s grief”: the spectral aftermath of slavery (Toni Morrison, Beloved; Phyllis Alesia Perry, Stigmata)

Week 8: In another country? Haunting the US-Mexico border (Robert Montgomery Bird, Calavar: A Romance of Mexico; Rodrigo Reyes, Purgatorio)

Week 9: The Devil in the slum: the haunted city (Bernard Rose, Candyman; Harlan Ellison, “The Whimper of Whipped Dogs”; H.P. Lovecraft, “The Horror at Red Hook”)

Week 10: “Squeal like a pig!”: redneck nightmares and backwoods terror (John Boorman, Deliverance; Fred Chappell, Dagon; Donald Ray Pollock, The Devil All the Time)

Week 11: “Nowadays everybody’s crazy”: countercultural dreams and nightmares (Emma Cline, The Girls ; Joan Didion, “Slouching Towards Bethlehem”)

Week 12: Conclusions

Teaching and learning methods

 3-hour seminar; Blackboard (consistent with at least minimum SALC requirements)

Knowledge and understanding

  • Expanded knowledge of a variety of events and processes in the history of the United States, from the beginnings of European settlement through the present;
  • Understanding of the concept of haunting and its usefulness in the study of history

Intellectual skills

  • Ability to use non-traditional sources, such as fiction and folk belief, as sources of historical understanding
  • Understanding of history as an incomplete and unstable process

Practical skills

  • Combination of traditional and non-traditional sources in historical research;
  • Presentation of ideas in a variety of assessment contexts

Transferable skills and personal qualities

  • Participation in group discussions;
  • Research, analysis, and expression of ideas in written and verbal contexts
  • Organisation of time in relation to module meetings and assessments

Employability skills

This module calls upon students to develop and practice the skills listed above under ¿Transferable Skills and Personal Qualities,¿ all of which are central to employability. In addition, each student is expected to take responsibility for her/his learning, and to improve his/her understanding of the material and success in the assessments for this module through engagement with the feedback provided (in both written and verbal form) by the course unit director; these too are important skills for employability in many fields.

Assessment methods

Essay 1; 3,000 words (50%)

Essay 2; 3,000 words (50%)

Recommended reading

Gretchen A. Adams, The Specter of Salem: Remembering the Witch Trials in Nineteenth-Century America (University of Chicago Press, 2008)

Renee Bergland, The National Uncanny: Indian Ghosts and American Subjects (University Press of New England, 2000)

Matt Clavin, “Race, Rebellion, and the Gothic: Inventing the Haitian Revolution,” Early American Studies 5 (2007): 1-29

Alice Driver, More or Less Dead: Femicide, Haunting, and the Ethics of Representation in Mexico (University of Arizona Press, 2015)

Bernice M. Murphy, The Rural Gothic in American Popular Culture: Backwoods Horror and Terror in the Wilderness (Palgrave, 2013)

Judith Richardson, Possessions: The History and Uses of Haunting in the Hudson Valley (Harvard University Press, 2005)

David Talbot, Season of the Witch: Enchantment, Terror, and Deliverance in the City of Love (The Free Press, 2012)

Maisha Wester, African American Gothic: Screams from Shadowed Places (Palgrave, 2012)

Study hours

Independent study hours
Independent study 0

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Natalie Zacek Unit coordinator

Additional notes

Timetable for 2019/20:

Lecture: Tue 10am - 11am

Seminar 1: Wed 9am - 11am

Seminar 2: Fri 9am - 11am

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