BA English Language and English Literature / Course details

Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:
American Hauntings

Course unit fact file
Unit code AMER30811
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 3
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
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

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 50%
Essay 2 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)

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Natalie Zacek Unit coordinator

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