American Studies

American Studies - MA

2018

This interdisciplinary Master’s programme provides an opportunity for you to deconstruct the American experience at an advanced level.

2018

Overview

It interrogates, challenges and moves beyond the Exceptionalist rhetoric and nation-states ideology of traditional American Studies to consider the USA, and its neighbours, in an insightful, challenging and relevant way.

You develop specialist knowledge and research skills in a range of disciplines by navigating complex historical, cultural, geo-political and environmental issues. A sophisticated awareness of the reach (and the limitations) of US hegemony, as well as issues of cultural collision, media penetration, region and identity, give our graduates an intellectual grounding well-suited to many careers, in addition to a solid foundation for graduate work at MPhil or PhD level.

About the Centre for American Studies

American Studies at Kent dates back to 1973 and, over the last few decades, has developed a strong research culture; this matches the commitment of the University to interdisciplinary study as well as the mandate of American Studies to explore the American experience in ground-breaking ways. 

Our team of scholars maintains close links with a number of North and South American research institutions and archives, and the University’s Templeman Library houses impressive collections on slavery, Native American culture, and photography/visual materials.

We treat the American experience in a critical and reflective manner, and offer an extremely good base for postgraduate study. While able to supervise a wide range of American topics, the Centre currently operates three specialist research clusters of particular interest to candidates:

  • The American West
  • The Study of US Environmental Issues
  • The Study of Race, Ethnicity and Borders.

National ratings

School of English

In the Research Excellence Framework (REF) 2014, research by the School of English was ranked 10th for research intensity and 15th for research power in the UK.

An impressive 100% of our research-active staff submitted to the REF and 95% of our research was judged to be of international quality. The School’s environment was judged to be conducive to supporting the development of world-leading research.
 

School of History

In the Research Excellence Framework (REF) 2014, research by the School of History was ranked 8th for research intensity and in the top 20 in the UK for research power.

An impressive 100% of our research-active staff submitted to the REF and 99% of our research was judged to be of international quality. The School’s environment was judged to be conducive to supporting the development of world-leading research.

 

Course structure

You take a compulsory 30 credit module ‘Transnational American Studies: Research and Approaches’. This is a year-long module designed to introduce key modes of analysis in transnational and interdisciplinary study as well as consider different methodologies, themes and intellectual debates.  Assessment includes an extended essay, seminar presentation and a critical review of an academic research paper.

You also select 90 credits from a range of optional modules, spread across at least two disciplines.  Optional modules vary year to year and below is a selection of recent modules on offer:

  • American Cold War Propaganda
  • Geiger Counter at Ground Zero: Explorations of Nuclear America
  • From Wounded Knee to the Little Bighorn Casino: The Vietnam War in American History
  • American Narrative in the Age of Postmodernism
  • American Modernism
  • Boundary Busting and Border Crossing
  • Myth, Image, Fashion and Propaganda in the Cuban Revolutionary Era
  • History and Memory
  • American Foreign Policy

The remaining 60 credits are made up with a Dissertation.  Written over the summer term, this 12,000 word extended study allows students to work on their own research project based on primary research.  You have the opportunity to present your ideas as part of workshop sessions on researching American Studies in the core course and receive supervision from an academic specialist.

Modules

Modules above are indicative of those offered on this programme. This list is based on the current curriculum and may change year to year in response to new curriculum developments and innovation. 

Modules may include Credits

The aim of this module is to explore the culture and society of the Americas, notably incorporating a transnational perspective. This will involve giving you a thorough grounding in the techniques and approaches needed for advanced study and research in advanced American Studies. This module will engage with interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary approaches in order to train you to ‘operate across disciplines, learning how to integrate a variety of approaches in formulating and solving problems, and using diverse materials and information sources.’ You will be encouraged to engage with critical debates surrounding American society and also to interrogate, challenge, and move outside the exceptionalist rhetoric and nation-state ideology of conventional American Studies. Attention will be focused on (but by no means confined to) Anglophone literature and culture, although chicano/Hispanic motifs will be forwarded in the context of English language-based study.

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30

This course investigates the development of American modernism in art and literature in the fifty year period between 1890 and 1940; a time bookended by official closing of the American frontier (which effectively concluded the period of the nineteenth century associated with "manifest destiny") and the outbreak of World War Two. The course will explore key texts of the period within their artistic and social contexts, including the development of new scientific and social-scientific modes of inquiry, the growth of the city and the increasing importance of the USA on the world stage.

The course is organized into blocks comprised of texts associated with various cities and movements within American modernism. We will begin by looking at the importance of New York and the American expatriate scene, before considering modernism in the mid-West and US South. A reading pack will be provided in the first week as an aid to student research.

Students will be expected to develop their own research interests within the topic and will be assessed by a 5,000 word essay. Essays that investigate topics not directly covered by the set reading are encouraged and can be developed in consultation with the tutor.

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30

'Reading the Contemporary' is a cross-disciplinary module the aim of which is to find out what it means to read the contemporary period through its aesthetic practices. The module will be co-taught by staff from the School of English, the School of Arts and the Institute of Contemporary Arts, with seminars alternating between the Canterbury campus and the ICA (London).

The module has three main objectives. First, it will consider what it means, in a theoretical sense, to think about our contemporary moment. Second, it will address key themes and issues in contemporary culture and will consider how they bear on and are shaped by recent aesthetic forms. Third, through the seminars delivered at the ICA, which will arise directly out of the ICA's programme, students will be introduced to examples of current aesthetic practice.

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30

This module explores the affinities, disjunctions, and dialogue between American, British, and Irish literary traditions from 1880 to 1920. The turn of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth gave writers on both sides of the Atlantic an acute sense of epochal drama and self-consciousness: they brooded over ideas of decadence, apocalypse, progress, revolution, and the nature of the zeitgeist; heralded endings, transitions, repetitions, reversals, and beginnings; and explored the ambivalences and confusions provoked by the idea of the 'modern'. We will pay particular attention to how writers conceptualise and represent history and time, and seek to anatomise the varieties of pessimism, nostalgia, and utopian thinking that the turn of the century inspired.

This module focuses on texts by both canonical and non-canonical writers that often fall through the cracks of conventional literary history because they were published in the 'awkward age' and are often considered neither solidly Victorian nor yet programmatically modernist. We will interrogate standard national narratives of literary history (in the case of Britain, the compartmentalisations of the fin de siècle and the Edwardian, and in the case of America, those of the Gilded Age and the Progressive Era), as well as the assumption that national literary traditions were distinct and coherent in the period. We will consider how American, British, and Irish writers reckoned with the forces shaping transatlantic intellectual and cultural life, especially post-Darwinian science, imperialism, socialism, feminism, and cosmopolitan ideals of culture. We will also consider how writers made the awkwardness of the age not simply a thematic preoccupation but a complex aesthetic challenge, prompting innovations as well as efforts to sustain the ideal of a literary tradition.

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30

This module introduces the challenges and pleasures of postmodern poetry and poetics. We will consider a range of poetic texts, and essays on poetry, that between them raise profound questions of nation, agency, language, politics and gender in the post-war period. Starting with Charles Olson’s groundbreaking inquiries into ‘open field poetics’, we will investigate a range of American and British poets for whom the poem has been a way of generating new modes of thought and life. In particular we will explore the ways in which poetry of the period enables us to think through the implications of globalization. We will consider how poetry can escape the constraints of place, and how it can imagine new forms of collective identity.

Among the poets we will consider are: Charles Olson, Robert Duncan, Frank O’Hara, Denise Riley, Lyn Hejinian, J. H. Prynne, and Tony Lopez. The work of these writers will be read alongside contemporary philosophy and political theory, and will be considered in relation to other art forms, especially painting. Students on the module will benefit from the activities of the Centre for Modern Poetry, including regular readings, research seminars and the reading groups.

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30

This module explores representations of illness and disability in American literature and culture from the nineteenth century to the present, with a particular focus on the cultural and political work of contemporary illness narratives.

The course follows a thematic rather than chronological framework and is divided into three sections. The first section has a more historical flavour and is concerned with the disabled and modified body in American culture. It starts with the history of the nineteenth-century freak show, and its consideration by disability scholars in week 1, turns to prosthetics in post-war and contemporary American culture in week 2, and concludes with a memoir focusing on disability activism during the American counterculture of the 60s and 70s in week 3. The second section, "Illness as many narratives", explores a range of illness narratives and representations of disabled bodies across media. It begins with a theoretical work, Sontag's study on illness as metaphor (week 3), and proceeds to investigate illness as metaphor and the politics of illness using as case studies cancer and AIDS narratives from the twentieth century, including a consideration of drama, photography and multimedia narrative experiments. In week 7, we turn to fiction and read DeLillo's novel White Noise alongside questions of statistical panic and fears of illness and death in postmodern American culture. Weeks 8 and 9 continue the exploration of illness in life writing (especially within the memoir as a genre) looking at the medicalisation of emotions (in particular during adolescence) and the emergence of "new" diseases such as Alzheimer's. These two weeks raise questions about the relationship of mental and cognitive illness to age. The final section of the module entitled "The Art of Medicine" turns to the depiction of doctors and their patients’ conditions in American fiction, memoir and poetry written by doctors, as well as in popular culture. Particular attention is given here, through the autobiographical accounts of a Cuban American doctor and a Navajo female surgeon, to the importance of adopting cross-cultural perspectives on health/illness, and within medical practice, and to the rise of medical humanities as an academic field. A brief lecture will introduce each of the sections to provide theoretical underpinning

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30

This module will look at eighteenth-century British representations of North American Indigenous people and consider the cultural functions of these representations, their origins, and their effects on British identity.

Students will be asked to look at British texts beginning with samples of early voyage narratives up to the Romantic period and consider the changing purpose of the figure known as the "Indian." In addition to conventional literary texts, this module will also incorporate museum catalogues, collected objects, and philosophical writing from the period.

The module will look at the interest in primitivism alongside narratives of progress and Enlightenment, as well as the new anxieties surrounding developments such as consumerism and empire, and assess the unique role played by Indians.

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30

This course investigates what has come to be known as the affective turn in literary criticism. This turn, acting as a response to linguistic criticisms popularized during the moment of high postmodernism in the 1970s-1980s, seeks non-linguistic, or pre-linguistic ways of understanding the world. Under this new critical regime, feelings, mood, forces, and emotions become ways of tracking, describing, and engaging with the contemporary. In both the literature and the theory, students will be tasked with investigating representations of subjectivity in the present. The contemporary sees an enmeshing of theoretical and literary texts where both become crucial tools of critical inquiry. Thus, the literary texts in the module will reflect the theoretical concerns of the theoretical texts, and vice versa.

Students will examine a range of contemporary American fiction and poetry that investigate representations of feelings, emotions, and mood. In this way the module will focus on the place of humans within a larger ecological structure, and through working with the literary and theoretical texts students will ex-amine the construction of boundaries between humans and their surroundings. Some broad questions the module seeks to explore: What is the relationship between the individual, the public, and literature? What can the study of affect add to literary criticism? Finally, are there particular aesthetic techniques that capture something as ephemeral as a mood, or a feeling?

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30

This course examines film history and historiography through case studies. In carrying out this investigation students will be encouraged to work with archive and primary sources held in libraries, museums and archives. For students studying at the Paris campus this would include, for example the Cinémathèque Française, the Bibliothèque Nationale, the American Library in Paris and the Paris Diderot library. This will help them to evaluate and contest received histories, which may be based on aesthetic, technological, economic, and/or social formations. Through this investigation students will be better able to understand the role and value of the contextual study of film, while having the opportunity to research and write on an aspect of film history. The choice of case study will depend upon the expertise of the module convenor but will typically be from French film history.

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30

This module critically examines the surface and decay of Nuclear America in the twentieth century. Responsible for ushering in the modern atomic era, the USA is widely acknowledged as a pioneer in nuclear technology and weaponry. Receptivity towards the atom has nonetheless shifted over time: atomic materials once heralded the saviour of American society (through the promise of reactors delivering ‘electricity to cheap to meter’) have also been deemed responsible for long-term environmental problems and doomsday anxieties. Why the atom has received typically bi-polar and polemic responses is of great interest here. Along with events of global significance (such as the bombing of Hiroshima), the module also covers the more intimate views of American citizens living and working close to ground zero. Personal testimonies come from ‘atomic foot soldiers’ traversing blast sites in the 1950s and protesters trespassing across reactor sites in the 1970s. In particular, the module examines the role of media, propaganda and image in inventing popular understandings of the nuclear age, as well as the contribution of atomic scientists to national discourse.

Themes and Topics:

Popular and Scientific Ideas of Radioactivity

The Manhattan Project and the Decision to drop the Bomb

Cold War (1): The Rosenbergs

Atomic Veterans and explorations of Ground Zero

Civil Defence and Fallout Culture

Atomic Movies (1) Fantasy

Cold War (2): The Cuban Missile Crisis

Protesting the Peaceful Atom: Diablo Canyon and Three Mile Island

Atomic Movies (2) Realism and Survivalism

Cold War Memory, Legacy and Atomic Tourism

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30

What do we understand by the term 'myth'? How can the various theoretical definitions of the term be applied to modern Cuba, in relation to image projected from Cuba to the outside world, and the image projected upon Cuba? How do the inevitable forces of politics, history and conflict in Cuban literature and film relate to theoretical models of myth and mytholigisation? Are the figures of, for example, Che Guevara and José Martí, elements of the creative poetic myth explored by Lezama Lima, the secular ‘canonisation’ explored by Lévi-Strauss, or the ‘ideological abuse’ of Roland Barthes? This module examines a variety of textual media created during the Cuban revolution era, and explores the degree to which the texts employ the persuasive language of rhetoric in the creation of mythical ‘truths’ concerning the revolutionary history.

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The dissertation is selected by the student as an independent research project and hence the curriculum is not generic. The project should contain inter or multi-disciplinary perspectives in line with the rationale of American Studies and has to contain elements of primary research and original thinking appropriate to postgraduate level work.

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Teaching and Assessment

Assessment for this course includes an extended essay, seminar presentation and a critical review of an academic research paper.

Programme aims

This programme aims to:

  • provide you with a thorough grounding in the techniques and approaches necessary for advanced research in American Studies.
  • promote interdisciplinarity as a conceptual mode of theory and analysis (encourage you to ‘operate across disciplines, learning how to integrate a variety of approaches in formulating and solving problems, and using diverse materials and information sources.’
  • encourage critical reflection and engagement with public debates relating to aspects of American society.
  • consolidate the strengths of our long-running undergraduate programmes whilst interrogating, challenging, and moving outside the exceptionalist rhetoric and nation-state ideology of conventional American Studies (develop a ‘synthesising impulse…which can work across, as well as interrogate traditional discipline boundaries in innovative ways’.
  • promote a curriculum supported by scholarship, staff development and a research culture that provides breadth and depth  of intellectual inquiry and debate.
  • assist you to develop cognitive and transferable skills relevant to their vocational and personal  development.

Learning outcomes

Knowledge and understanding

You will gain a knowledge and understanding of:

  • The culture and society of the Americas
  • Advanced methodological practices associated with research in American Studies
  • The value of interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary perspectives
  • The value of a transnational perspective in relation to study of the Americas (‘the similarities and differences between areas, thus fostering cross-cultural and international perspectives’.
  • texts and other source materials, read both critically and empathetically while addressing questions of genre, content, perspective and purpose
  • the problems inherent in the cultural record itself, and the limits within which interpretation is possible

Intellectual skills

You develop the intellectual skills in:

  • advanced academic study
  • organising, evaluating and presenting research findings appropriate to postgraduate study
  • gathering, deploying and synthesising information from a number of sources in order to gain a coherent understanding of critical theory and general methodology
  • making discriminations and selections of relevant information from a wide source and large body of knowledge
  •  reflecting on, and managing your own learning and to seek to make use of constructive feedback from peers and staff to enhance your own performance and personal research skills

Subject-specific skills

You gain subject-specific skills in:

  • the close critical analysis of documents of American culture, politics and society.
  • a informed understanding of the variety of critical and theoretical approaches to American Studies.
  • the ability to articulate knowledge and understanding of texts, concepts and theories relating to American Studies.
  • the ability to understand a multi-disciplinary academic subject, with its array of literature, history and other discourses.
  • the ability to combine various academic discourses (eg. Literature and History) in order to forge an interdisciplinary understanding
  • the ability to construct an independent, research-led argument, marked by an inter- and multi-disciplinary pedagogy and scholarly practice .

Transferable skills

You will gain the following transferrable skills:

  • Communication: the ability to organise information clearly; respond to written sources; present information orally; adapt style for different audiences; use of images as a communications tool.
  • Numeracy: the ability to read graphs and tables; integrate numerical and non-numerical information; understand the limits and potentialities of arguments based on quantitative information.
  • Information Technology: produce written documents; undertake online research; communicate using email; process information using databases and spreadsheets (where necessary).
  • Independence of mind and initiative.
  • Self-discipline and self-motivation
  • Ability to work with others and have respect for others' reasoned views.

Careers

Recent postgraduates now work in media, publishing and a variety of businesses in the UK, Europe and the USA. Teaching is also a popular option, as are marketing and public relations. A Master’s in American Studies gives you an intellectual grounding suitable for graduate work at MPhil or PhD level.

Study support

Postgraduate resources

American Studies benefits from excellent library resources, and is especially strong in literature, film and history. Specialist collections include slavery and anti-slavery, a large collection of works on photography and contemporary images, and a slide library with well over 100,000 classified slides. The Library also houses the British Cartoon Archive. Kent is within easy reach of London’s major library resources.

Postgraduate students have access to the resources provided by the Centre for American Studies and its related departments. The Centre runs regular research events each year. Other schools and departments such as English, Film, Politics and International Relations, and History also host research seminars that students are welcome to attend.

Dynamic publishing culture

Staff publish regularly and widely in journals, conference proceedings and books. Among others, they have recently contributed to: Journal of American Studies; American Review of Canadian Studies; European Journal of American Culture; and American Indian Quarterly. Details of recently published books can be found within the staff research interests section.

Global Skills Award

All students registered for a taught Master's programme are eligible to apply for a place on our Global Skills Award Programme. The programme is designed to broaden your understanding of global issues and current affairs as well as to develop personal skills which will enhance your employability.  

Entry requirements

A first or 2.1 honours degree in an appropriate subject or equivalent.

All applicants are considered on an individual basis and additional qualifications, and professional qualifications and experience will also be taken into account when considering applications. 

International students

Please see our International Student website for entry requirements by country and other relevant information for your country. 

English language entry requirements

The University requires all non-native speakers of English to reach a minimum standard of proficiency in written and spoken English before beginning a postgraduate degree. Certain subjects require a higher level.

For detailed information see our English language requirements web pages. 

Need help with English?

Please note that if you are required to meet an English language condition, we offer a number of pre-sessional courses in English for Academic Purposes through Kent International Pathways.

Research areas

Staff interests broadly fit within the parameters of American literature, American history, American film and American politics, although we actively welcome interdisciplinary projects that investigate several areas of study. Current strengths in American Studies at Kent are: Native American literature and culture; African-American history; slavery and the Atlantic world; the American West; US environmental issues; US visual culture; Disney and recreation; American realist fiction; modern American poetry; US immigration politics; American science fiction; Hollywood; US foreign policy.

The American West

Kent is the only UK institution to operate a research cluster on the American West, with five members of the Centre specialising in trans-Mississippi studies. The research cluster engages in pioneering work on Native American literature, Western films and video games, female frontiering and several other elements of the Western experience.

The Study of US Environmental Issues

US environmental history is a relatively new field of study, but of increasing importance. Our two environmental specialists work on wildlife management, animal studies, nuclear protest and concepts of ecological doomsday.

The Study of Race, Ethnicity and Borders

The Centre has a long history of studying race and ethnicity. Currently, six members of the team cover a range of topics that include African-American political, cultural and social history, Native American literature, Latin American relations and immigration writing and politics.

Staff research interests

Full details of staff research interests can be found on the school websites:

Literature : www.kent.ac.uk/english/staff

History: www.kent.ac.uk/history/staff

Politics: www.kent.ac.uk/politics/about-us/staff

Film: www.kent.ac.uk/arts/staff

Latin American Studies: www.kent.ac.uk/secl/hispanicstudies/staff/

Dr Stella Bolaki: Senior Lecturer in American Literature

Multi-ethnic American literature (especially with a focus on migration/diaspora and transnational approaches); the Bildungsroman; gender theory; life writing and illness/disability; medical humanities. 

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Dr Michael Collins: Senior Lecturer in American Literature

Nineteenth-century print culture, theatre, American studies and New York intellectual history; performance theory; new historicist and/or transnational methodologies.

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Dr Will Norman: Reader in American Literature and Culture

Twentieth-century American literature and culture; European and American modernism; Vladimir Nabokov; models of high and low culture in the mid-20th century; critical theory; American crime fiction and transatlantic studies.

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Professor David Stirrup: Professor of American Literature and Indigenous Studies

First nations and Native American literature; 20th-century North American literature; the American and Canadian Midwest; border studies.

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Dr George Conyne: Lecturer in American History

American, constitutional, political and diplomatic history; Anglo-American relations; British diplomacy in the 20th century; the Cold War.

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Dr Karen Jones: Senior Lecturer in American History

The American West; environmental history; the wolf: science and symbolism; hunting, nature and American identity; human relationships with animals; nuclear culture; parks and other tourist/heritage landscapes.

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Dr John Wills: Senior Lecturer in American History

Modern US history; environmental, cultural and visual history; American nuclear landscapes; California protest culture; Disney; theme parks; tourism; 1950s America; cyber-society (including video games).

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Dr Ruth Blakeley: Reader in International Relations

US foreign policy; US-Latin American relations; terrorism; state violence; human rights.

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Dr Andrew Wroe: Senior Lecturer in American Politics

Direct democracy; trust in politics; immigration; race/ethnicity; American politics and government.

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Dr Tamar Jeffers McDonald: Reader

Genres, including romantic comedy, melodrama and the gothic; stardom; film costume; strategies and representation of sex and virginity; performance. 

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Professor Peter Stanfield: Professor of Film; Head of School of Arts

The cultural history of American film, with a twin focus on cycles of formulaic movies and the synergy between cinema and other forms of popular culture, including music, comic book and sequential art, pulp novels and material culture.

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Dr William Rowlandson: Senior Lecturer in Hispanic Studies

Cuban art and culture, especially José Lezama Lima; Latin American poets; Borges.

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Dr Natalia Sobrevilla Perea: Reader in Hispanic Studies

State formation and political culture in the Andes from the end of the colonial period throughout the 19th century, as well as issues of race, ethnicity and military culture in the 19th and 20th centuries in South America.

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Fees

The 2018/19 annual tuition fees for this programme are:

American Studies - Taught MA at Canterbury:
UK/EU Overseas
Full-time £7300 £15200
Part-time £3650 £7600

For students continuing on this programme fees will increase year on year by no more than RPI + 3% in each academic year of study except where regulated.* If you are uncertain about your fee status please contact information@kent.ac.uk

General additional costs

Find out more about accommodation and living costs, plus general additional costs that you may pay when studying at Kent.

Funding

Search our scholarships finder for possible funding opportunities. You may find it helpful to look at both: