Exile in America: Historical and Literary Perspectives

Prof. Dr. Christine Gerhardt (American Studies)
Prof. Dr. Sabine Freitag (Modern and Contemporary History)

Course Description

Much of US-American culture has been informed by histories of immigration. The impact of these global movements on American culture and its narratives can hardly be overestimated. On the one hand, the US has long prided itself to be able to absorb people, languages, and cultures from all over the world, and the supposedly egalitarian ideals of the “Melting Pot” (or “Salad Bowl”) and the “American Dream” are inextricably linked to people’s geographical mobility across national borders. On the other hand, the imperial notion that the US was “destined” to spread from Atlantic to Pacific, and the country’s key involvement in the transatlantic slave trade and Native American “relocations” profoundly contradict idealizing notions of the US as “nation of immigrants.”

We will study formative moments in the history of American immigration, from the first arrival of European colonists to moments of “mass” immigration in the 19th and 20th centuries. Focusing on major waves of immigration from different parts of Europe, Asia, and South America, and related phenomena such as political exile, we will discuss how different forms of migratory unrest have shaped American culture. At the same time, we’ll explore which role literature has played in negotiating the meanings of American immigration. Reading short stories from different contexts, we will ask: how do migration stories shape and critique ideas of the Melting Pot, the American Dream, or the Frontier? Which roles do family, food, education, or the natural world play in American immigration literature? How do constructions of race, ethnicity, gender, and class inflect these perspectives? And which formal and aesthetic features characterize America’s immigration literature?

This compact seminar welcomes English and History students. It offers a unique chance to study together and learn from each other in an affordable retreat in the French Alps (Haus Giersch, in Manigod).

There are only limited places available, so sign up now by sending an email to Christine Gerhardt or Sabine Freitag!


This is a regular advanced seminar for which you can get 2–8 ECTS points in English and American Studies, or in History.

It will take place as a compact seminar (Blockseminar) at a study center in the French Alps (Haus Giersch, Manigod), Sept 27 (Fr) – Oct 04 (Fr) 2024.

There will be a pre-meeting on Tuesday, May 21 from 2-4 p.m. in room U11/00.16, which all interested students need to attend, since all organizational questions will be addressed during that meeting.

For details and pictures from the last 3 seminars, see /amerikanistik/exkursionen.

If you have any questions, please feel free to send an email to the instructors, who will be happy to help!


The seminar will be held in German and English. Students can use the language they feel most comfortable with, but should be able to follow discussions and read short texts in both languages. Each participant should give a 20-minute presentation. For a grade, you can write a final paper or take an oral exam.

Information in GERMAN and specifically for HISTORY STUDENTS is provided HERE.