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American Studies

Der Fachrat ist die fachbezogene Zusammenkunft von Studierenden, akademischen Mitarbeitern und Hochschulprofessoren eines Instituts der Universität.

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Andreas Balz


Andreas Balz was born in Mainz, Germany in 1987. He studied English philology and biology at Heidelberg University, as well as Scottish literature and British history at the University of Edinburgh. Besides a B.Sc. in biology, he holds a “Staatsexamen”—a German degree required for teaching in advanced secondary education—in English and biology. His final thesis accomplished to reconcile his two major subjects by approaching two works by Cormac McCarthy, The Orchard Keeper and The Road, from an ecocritical perspective. Since his graduation in December 2014, Andreas Balz has been working as an academic advisor at the International Relations Office of Heidelberg University while pursuing his doctoral studies on authorship in contemporary American literature. In 2016, he joined the HCA’s Ph.D. program.

In his dissertation project, Andreas Balz aims at providing a new perspective on contemporary authorship, examining the social and cultural conditions of literary production, as well as related practices like publishing and literary reception in the U.S. Employing aspects of Pierre Bourdieu’s field theory and performance-based approaches to culture rooted in theater and gender studies, the project conceives of authorship as a cultural concept defined by a variable set of activities within a literary field. The works of authors like Dave Eggers, Tao Lin, Sheila Heti, and Ben Lerner, which portray the daily routine of literary writers and exhibit a complex semi-autobiographical relationship with their real-life counterparts, serve as a starting point. Since literary production itself only represents one aspect of authorship, their analysis has to be complemented by a study of their authors’ other activities “on the literary scene”. Taking into consideration socio-cultural developments like the institutionalization of creative writing, the increasing importance of literary prizes, and the phenomenon of authorial celebrity, the project will explore how fictionalized and real-life “performances” of literary authors engage in shaping our contemporary concept of authorship.

Primary supervisor: Prof. Dr. Günter Leypoldt


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Debarchana Baruah

(BASF Scholarship)

Debarchana Baruah was born in Guwahati in north-east India. In 2005, she moved to Delhi and later completed her B.A. (2008), M.A. (2010), and M.Phil. (2012) in English Literature at the Department of English, University of Delhi. Some of her areas of interest are American cinema and television, consumer culture and representations of modernity, post-war American literature, whiteness studies, feminist theories, body politics and ideologies of dissent. In July 2012, Baruah submitted her M.Phil thesis entitled "Elusive Dreams: Suburbia in Post World War II American Literature". During her M.Phil. program she taught as a guest lecturer at Sri Venkateswara College, University of Delhi. In October 2012, she moved to Heidelberg and started her doctoral studies at the Heidelberg Center for American Studies (HCA). At present, Baruah teaches a course at the English Department, University of Heidelberg on the representations of the suburb in post-war American literature.

The working title of Baruah’s dissertation is "The Age of Mad Men: The 1960s in 21st Century American Television." Her research focuses on contemporary America’s negotiations with memories of the 60s in the AMC television series Mad Men. She examines the factors that create and circulate contemporary desires to re-memorialize and return to the complex and paradoxical decade of the 60s in television. She uses memory and culture theories to analyze this on-going television series that activate and energize perceptions of the 60s embedded within contexts and ideas of “American-ness”. Thereby she outlines a framework of an ongoing retro boom and of the ways in which retro representations reconstitute memories of the period. Finally, she engages with the peculiar ways in which retros in American television such as Mad Men configure and interpret the 60s past in the present.

Supervisor: Prof. Dr. Günter Leypoldt.


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Anastassia Biederstaedt

(BASF Scholarship)

Anastassia Biederstaedt received her bachelor's degree in English philology and art history from the University of Stuttgart in 2011. Her B.A. thesis "Dead Man and the Mythic West: Anglo-Saxon Values Revised" examined Jim Jarmusch's movie Dead Man within the framework of classic Western looking at its subversive potential. In 2014, Anastassia Biederstaedt received her M.A. in English philology with distinction at the same university. Her M.A. thesis "Bodies in Escape: Performative Gender versus Gender as Institution in Jackie Kay's Trumpet and Jeffrey Eugenides' Middlesex" analyzed the construction and performance of masculinity in Trumpet and Middlesex. Within the broad field of American Studies, Anastassia Biederstaedt mainly focuses on ethnic literatures and cultures. In this area, she is also interested in post-colonial questions that range beyond the borders of North America. Queer and gender studies belong to her earliest research emphases. Moreover, she is highly interested in posthumanism and theoretical questions which arise at the interfaces of human & animal and human & machine. A participant in both the Ph.D. in American Studies Program of the HCA and the research group Human Geography of North America, Anastassia Biederstaedt is writing an interdisciplinary dissertation with the working title “Animal Milk in Human Culture: A Critical Study of U.S. Milk Advertisements in the 20th Century” drawing from a broad variety of theoretical discourses for her project. Apart from this, she is a freelance teacher and multimedia artist.

Anastassia Biederstaedt's project examines milk advertisements as outcomes of a complex interplay of social and historical vectors of power. Her dissertation with the working title“Animal Milk in Human Culture: A Critical Study of U.S. Milk Advertisements in the 20th Century” aims at investigating both the geopolitical and sociocultural forces that helped building milk as a cultural construct and the broad variety of myths and images intimately tied to this liquid. Given the persisting presence of milk overflow, how does milk continue to be promoted regarding these developments? Which changes did happen in milk advertising during about hundred years since the beginnings of industrialization and urbanization? Which images are used and established to gain new consumers? How do these images inform and are informed by dominant discourses of race, class, gender, and species? These are some of the questions driving this dissertation project.

Primary supervisor: Prof. Dr. Ulrike Gerhard


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Louis Butcher

(Curt Engelhorn Ph.D. Scholarship)

Louis Butcher was born and raised in London to an American mother and English father. He spent most of his childhood holidays with family in Detroit & LA. Prior to returning to academia for a second spell, he worked in a variety of fields and travelled extensively across Europe, the Americas, and Asia. He then graduated with a B.A. in (modern European) history from the University of Bradford, which included a year abroad at Clarkson University in upstate NY. Louis spent a further seven months backpacking across Latin America in an effort to improve his Spanish before returning to the UK to work in Bath for a year. In 2015, he moved to Heidelberg to enroll in the HCA’s MAS program. While there, he majored in political science, history, and law, and graduated in early 2017. Since then, Louis has occupied his time in Heidelberg by starting up an online business.

Louis Butcher’s project is titled “Analyzing the Impact of Police Body Cameras in America: Has Increased Surveillance of Police Behavior Reduced Incidences of Excessive Force?” It will seek to determine whether the growing use of police body-worn cameras (BWCs) in the United States has reduced the police’s use-of-force – and excessive force, in particular – thus, positively impacting relations between the police and the public at large.


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Thi Diem Ngoc Dao

(Heidemarie Engelhorn Ph.D. Scholarship)

Born in 1984, Thi Diem Ngoc graduated from the College of Foreign Languages, Vietnam National University, in 2006 with a B.A. degree in Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL). In the HCA’S MAS program, she chose history, international business culture, and political science as her majors. With her M.A. thesis about “Moving on to a Common Ground: Vietnam-U.S. Normalization of Relations, 1990-1997” she qualified for the HCA’s Ph.D. program.

Her project focuses on the main themes of Vietnam-U.S. relations in the late 20th century from historical and political perspectives. After the Vietnam War, the “continuation of war by other means” among American people and policymakers to codify the meaning of the war and cope with its legacy seemingly made normal relations between two countries a remote possibility. The freeze of Vietnam-U.S. relations dragged on, despite early efforts to improve relations and remove the U.S. economic sanctions on Vietnam. It was only in 1995 that President Clinton established normal diplomatic relations with Vietnam. Preceded by the lifting of the U.S. trade embargo on Vietnam in 1993, establishing diplomatic relations was a critical move to thaw relations between the two countries. There has been a wealth of literature on the Vietnam War; however, little has been done to shed light on how the U.S. and Vietnam have come to achieve reconciliation and “move on to common ground.” Therefore, the project is intended to explore the complexities of the normalization process as well as to specify the most important factors contributing to normalized relations in the 1990s. Thi Diem draws on the following points in her research: 1) the significance of the prisoners of war and missing-in-action (POW/MIA) resolution in the Vietnamese and U.S. political contexts 2) the weight of mutual economic and security interests in moving towards normalization of relations, and 3) state and non-state actors’ roles in the establishment of normal relations. Hopefully, the significance of this project will illustrate a turning point in Vietnam-U.S. relations against a haunting past of war memories and ideological conflicts.

Primary supervisor: Prof. Dr. Manfred Berg


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Gordon Friedrichs

Gordon Friedrichs was born in Heppenheim, Germany, in 1984. He studied political science and South-Asian Studies, first as an undergraduate at the Johann-Wolfgang Goethe University in Frankfurt/Main from 2005 to 2007, and later as a graduate student at Heidelberg University from 2007 to 2012. In addition, he spent a year at Arizona State University in 2009-2010. He graduated in 2012 with a Magister Artium, specializing in international relations, U.S. foreign policy, South-Asian security studies, as well as international organizations. After his graduation, Gordon Friedrichs worked at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs in Berlin before he joined the HCA's Ph.D. program in 2013. In his dissertation, Gordon Friedrichs focuses on the quality and direction of the U.S. leadership role in the twenty-first century.

Primary supervisor: Prof. Dr. Sebastian Harnisch

Further information and project description

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Melanie Gish

(Curt Engelhorn Ph.D. Scholarship)

Melanie Gish (née Hofmann) graduated from the University of Mannheim with a B.A. in German in 2003. During her undergraduate studies, Melanie concentrated on contemporary German literature, and minored in geography. Upon graduation, she received a scholarship to participate in an exchange program with the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada. She graduated from UW with an M.A. in German in 2004, defending a Master's thesis that explored matters of intertextuality, metafictionality, and the role of the author in Helmut Krausser's novel UC. From 2005 until 2007, Melanie lived in Tennessee and Colorado, where she worked as Educational Program Assistant at the Denver Public Library. Her experiences in the U.S. triggered the wish to engage in a more systematic American Studies effort, and in 2007 she received the HCA Director's Fellowship to participate in the MAS program. During the MAS, Melanie broadened her previous academic background to include political science, constitutional law, and international business cultures. She graduated as valedictorian of the class of 2008 and then joined the HCA Ph.D. program with an interdisciplinary thesis project about the evangelical environmental movement in the United States. Since 2015, Melanie holds a full-time position at the Bundesagentur für Arbeit, providing counseling and job placement services at Jobcenter Rhein-Neckar-Kreis.

Melanie’s dissertation “Wrestling With the Wounds of God’s World Amidst Cultural and Political Polarization: The Creation Care Movement at the Intersection of American Evangelicalism and Environmentalism” analyzes the evolution of the evangelical environmental advocacy community in the United States through an interdisciplinary theoretical framework decidedly influenced by the population ecology of interest representation and social movement theory. Her analysis covers the period since the establishment of the first evangelical environmental organization in 1979/80 until 2009 and 2012/13, respectively, when the newest group at that time was founded and then disbanded. In order to evaluate the depolarizing potential as much as some already surfaced weaknesses of the creation care movement, creation care is compared to and contrasted with “mainstream” environmentalism on the one side and organized evangelical environmental skepticism on the other. Moreover, Melanie qualitatively explores the religio-political “in-between but still within”-space creation care leaders have established with their movement against the backdrop of the ongoing political and cultural polarization in America and despite resistance and counter-mobilization from within their own faith community. The main goal of Melanie’s dissertation is to provide a nuanced analysis of organized creation care which answers the question of whether a culturally mediating – and thus potentially politically depolarizing – evangelical (mini-)movement has developed and taken root at the intersection with American environmentalism. Furthermore, the project contributes to the ongoing debate on the interplay of religion and politics in the public sphere and thrives to foster a better understanding of American evangelicalism as diverse and ideologically multi-faceted.

Primary supervisors: Prof. Dr. Günter Leypoldt, Dr. habil. Martin Thunert


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Iris Hahn-Santoro

Iris Hahn-Santoro received her M.A. in linguistics, Scandinavian studies, and philosophy from the University of Cologne in 2002. She wrote her thesis on anglicisms and neologisms in contemporary Icelandic, focusing on computer terminology. As part of her research, she spent a year at the University of Iceland as the recipient of scholarships from the German-Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) and the Icelandic Ministry of Culture and Education. After receiving her M.A., Iris Hahn-Santoro served as a research assistant in the Arctic Studies Center at the Smithsonian Institute's National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C.

Iris Hahn-Santoro's dissertation examines the sociolinguistic factors that play major roles in Native American language revitalization efforts. She spent several months in the United States conducting her field research with the Saginaw Chippewa Tribe in Michigan. Utilizing a multi-methodological approach consisting of participant observation, questionnaires, and interviews, she will identify the different sociolinguistic factors that influence the tribal members' decisions on whether or not to participate in language revitalization efforts. She will also take different levels of language setting into consideration, for example domestic versus public use. This is a particularly contested area in this case study since although the Ojibwe language is considered extinct in this region, an immersion school has been established for tribal members. This bottom-up process is a reversal of the more common top-down language death process, which typically takes place in public settings first and survives in the domestic domain.

Primary supervisor: Prof. Dr. Joern Albrecht


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Ryan Hoselton

(Heidemarie Engelhorn Ph.D. Scholarship)

Ryan Hoselton was born in New Mexico, U.S.A. He earned a B.A. in history from the University of New Mexico and an M.Div. and Th.M. from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY. Ryan wrote his undergraduate thesis on the history of religious studies in America, and his Master's thesis examined the Baptist theologian Andrew Fuller's theology of virtue. His doctoral dissertation focuses on the history of biblical interpretation in early American theology. Ryan also works as a research assistant to Prof. Dr. Jan Stievermann on the Biblia Americana Project.

Ryan Hoselton's dissertation examines how eighteenth-century New England theologians employed experiential piety in biblical interpretation. Historians have documented the ways that many conservative theologians adopted evidentialist reasoning to defend and interpret Scripture in response to pressures from deism, empiricism, and historical criticism. Alongside these changes, however, religious thinkers like Cotton Mather (1663–1728) and Jonathan Edwards (1703–58) ascribed increasing authority to experiential piety in their hermeneutics. Drawing chiefly from their biblical commentaries, sermons, diaries, and other writings, this project seeks to understand the elevated role of experiential piety in hermeneutics and its significance in the intellectual and cultural context of eighteenth-century New England.

Primary supervisor: Prof. Dr. Jan Stievermann


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Julia Lichtenstein

(Curt Engelhorn Ph.D. Scholarship)

Julia Lichtenstein (nee Merkel) studied American Studies, Law, and Political Science at Frankfurt University where she received her MA. She joined the HCA in 2009 as a PhD student with her thesis on contemporary Southern fiction, titled “Persistent Tropology: Creating the Ultra-South in Postsouthern Times”. She has taught American literature at Frankfurt University, Heidelberg University and has been teaching Methodology in the BAS program at the HCA since 2010. Since June 2017 she serves as MAS coordinator for the MAS program.

Julia Lichtenstein’s dissertation with the working title “Persistent Tropology: Creating the Ultra-South in Postsouthern Times” investigates how contemporary Southern authors Barry Hannah, Larry Brown, and Harry Crews create and perpetuate a distinctive Southern literary space she calls the Ultra South. At first glance contemporary Southern storytelling still reproduces and perpetuates traditional literary Southern tropes, but a closer investigation reveals their alienating role as empty signifiers. The equivalents of the Southern Gothic rotting mansion are in today’s suburbs or trailer parks, residences with bad substance built with dirty or loaned money. William Faulkner’s history-ridden cast is distortedly mirrored in Hannah’s catfish-frying, cheap porn-bootlegging country folks, who sneer at mainstream America, or in Brown’s white trash who term Oxford, Miss., “up north,” and ironically have never heard about the Civil War. In the works investigated, Julia Lichtenstein argues, the readers are lured into the Ultra South by familiar markers and known defining features just to find themselves surrounded by surprisingly unfamiliar territory, but a territory still well-defined and with sometimes still seemingly impenetrable borders. Within the portrayed version of the South, a space Julia Lichtenstein calls the inner space is constituted by cultural practices and brings forth the imagined region. A strong and resilient regional identity is constituted and communicated, both in the protagonists and in the reader, and embedded in the outer space of the United States as a whole.

Primary supervisor: Prof. Dr. Günter Leypoldt


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Anthony Livanios

Anthony Livanios graduated in 1988 from the School of International Service, The American University, Washington, D.C. with a B.A. in economics and in 1991 from the School of International and Public Affairs, Columbia University with a master's of international affairs in international political economy. He has over twenty years of experience in structuring, negotiating, and implementing oil and gas projects, intergovernmental agreements, geopolitical risk assessments, and market intelligence. He has delivered consulting projects for the upstream and midstream petroleum industry in Eurasia and the Caspian region, the Eastern Mediterranean and the Persian Gulf, Europe and the United States. He has been a fellow at prominent Washington D.C.-based think tanks, such as the Atlas Economic Research Foundation (1994-1997), the American Enterprise Institute (1998), and the Leadership Institute (1999-2004). In 2006 he was honored in the United States with two International Templeton Awards for his active role and "outstanding work in the field of international development and cooperation in the region of East Mediterranean." He is often quoted as an analyst in the Wall Street Journal and The New York Times. He frequently appears asa commentator on CNN, Reuters, and Associated Press.

Anthony Livanios’ dissertation “The Geo-strategy of the United States and the Role of the US Oil Majors in the New Great Game of Oil and Gas in Eurasia After the End of Cold War” explores the influence of US policy and the challenges the US oil industry faced in the exploration and production of the Eurasian oil and gas resources. The Caspian Sea is at the heart of Eurasia, and the US geostrategy was unfolding, after the end of cold war, on the stage of geopolitics and petroleum industry. The US geo-strategy is analyzed in relation to the role of the US oil majors in the new Great Game in Eurasia. In his dissertation, Anthony Livanios uses the methodology of qualitative primary research, while performing and analyzing in-depth interviews with oil industry leaders and public policy decision makers.

Primary Supervisors: Prof. Dr. Dr. Detlef Junker, PD Dr. Martin Thunert, HCA


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Valentina López Liendo

Valentina López Liendo studied English philology and East Asian studies at Heidelberg and Osaka University. Her B.A. thesis analyzes Rudyard Kipling’s depiction of Japan in his travel writing with reference to Said’s Orientalism. After her B.A. degree, she continued to pursue her interest in literature with a master’s degree in English philology and transcultural studies at Heidelberg University. Her M.A. thesis centers on Colson Whitehead’s literary strategies in his zombie novel Zone One, drawing from discussions on literary writers’ use of genre elements, zombie studies, and post-soul conceptualizations of racial identity. She has worked as a language teacher for English, Spanish and German and as a student assistant at Heidelberg University, East Asian Studies Department and English Department.

In her PhD project, Valentina López Liendo seeks to position Colson Whitehead in the literary field. She aims to examine how Colson Whitehead can simultaneously function as the literary successor of authors such as Ralph Ellison and Toni Morrison, as the voice of Obama-era postracial America, and, considering the most current developments, as the politically aware Pulitzer Prize winner. She engages with current research in literary and relational sociology, which builds on Bourdieu’s concept of the literary field and his analysis of the inner workings of literary production and distinction, such as James English’s and Mark McGurl’s influential work, while also taking into account current discussions on contemporary conceptualizations of Blackness and African American Literature. She is interested in Whitehead’s self-fashioning as a multifaceted literary author, as well as the different (and shifting) contexts in which his work has been and is read, interpreted and reviewed.

Primary supervisor: Prof. Dr. Günter Leypoldt


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Agnese Marino

(BASF Scholarship)

Agnese Marino was born in Naples, Italy. In 2008, she received her B.A. in English and Spanish languages and literatures at the University of Naples “L’Orientale” with a thesis in North-American history. The thesis was about the contribution of Chicano women (Chicanas) to the shaping of a Chicano identity and to the development of the Chicano movement. In 2011, she completed her M.A. degree. Her M.A. thesis, entitled “Performative Identities and Premises of Post-ethnicism in contemporary USA: an analysis of two novels by Gish Jen and Rebecca Walker”, provided insight into the history of the American national identity and a critical analysis of Multicultural ethno-racial identities from a post-ethnic point of view. The following year her work was awarded by the Italian Association for North- American Studies (AISNA). Now, as a PhD student at HCA, she is working on a project that analyzes mixed- race memoires and the way they can contribute to the shape of a new cosmopolitan identity in contemporary USA.

Through the analysis of mixed-race memoirs produced over the past twenty years, Agnese Marino’s project “Mixed-race Memoirs and Performative Cosmopolitanism” explores the contemporary conceptualization of ethnic identity in relation to Multiculturalism and New Cosmopolitanism. The reflection starts from the assumption that speaking of cosmopolitanism is to refer to a transformation in self-understanding as a result of the engagement with others over issues of global significance. This study adopts an interdisciplinary, transnational, and post-structural approach, trying to move outside of the gravitational force of exceptionalism, which has characterized much of the American debate on cosmopolitanism so far. Therefore, her literary analysis moves within the theoretical framework offered by Homi Bhabha’s, Kwame Antony Appiah’s, and Martha Nussbaum’s views about individual identity and cultural cosmopolitanism. On the other hand, Agnese Marino makes use of Judith Butler’s performative theory and David Hollinger’s post-ethnic theory in order to introduce the concept of “performative cosmopolitanism”. This specific form of cosmopolitanism denies any relation between body and its cultural significations, and favors practices of free affiliation over descent ties. Moreover, it represents a way to go beyond not only national boundaries, but also communitarian ones, being based on the idea that hybridity, and not the binary opposition of ontological categories, is the future of American society.

Primary supervisor: Prof. Dr. Dietmar Schloss


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Sina Movaghati

Sina Movaghati received his M.A. degree in English Language and Literature from Kharazmi University, Iran in 2014. His M.A. thesis, “Defamiliarization and Foreshadowing of Death in Henry James' Daisy Miller and The Wings of the Dove” discusses how James utilizes the narratological techniques such as blank, focalization, and stylistic oddity to reformulate his hackneyed subject of “American Girl.” Sina has published articles on Henry James, Paul Bowles, and W. Somerset Maugham. He also translated Bowles’ acclaimed novel, The Sheltering Sky, into Persian. His current research interests are modern fiction, Henry James, E. M. Forster, Paul Bowles, and literary aesthetics. His latest article discusses the motives of Bowles’ villains in the short story collection The Delicate Prey.

The Aesthetics of Failure: A Jamesian Tradition in Modern and Postmodern Novels

The last novels of Henry James are still a focal point for modern fiction scholars. The protagonists of these novels undertake missions to solve complicated and intricate affairs; however, on the verge of triumph, they lose interest in their goals and abandon their missions. The Wings of the Dove (1902), The Ambassadors (1903), and The Golden Bowl (1904) – all follow the same pattern. Taking a closer look at these novels’ unresolved dénouements, I will study these works in light of Emmanuel Lévinas’ interpretation of aisthesis. Critical of the aesthetic attitude towards the world, Lévinas considers “being” in an ontological sense where a subject is surrounded by a world of objects towards which he holds certain intentions. However, there are times when an unformed sensuous element claims its particularity and substitutes the worldly objects. In this regard, the subject’s intention is lost in a transcendental image rather than in a real being. Thus, the reality of the world is eroded, and the worldly perspective is brought to collapse by sensationalism. In my readings of the novels, the much-debated “renunciations” of Lambert Strether, Merton Densher and others are regarded as “modern failures” when intentionality is engulfed in a sensuous image and fails to arrive at the worldly target. Drawing on this thematic pattern, I will show that the Jamesian failure has become a successful prototype in the hands of the subsequent generations of fiction authors such as Edith Wharton, E. M. Forster, Kazuo Ishiguro, and Ian McEwan. I will conclude that these novelists’ preoccupations with the subject of failure are also due to the aesthetic dimension and the aesthetic function of failure. I will also draw on concepts by proponents of the aesthetics such as Hans Robert Jauss, Wolfgang Iser, Alan Singer, and Rudolf Arnheim.

Primary supervisor: Prof. Dr. Dietmar Schloss


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Hannes Nagl

Hannes Nagl studied English literature and political science at Heidelberg University. After graduating in 2009, he joined the HCA’s Ph.D. program working on a thesis on “Figurations of Violence: Contemporary American Fiction and the Sociology of Modernization.” Between August 2010 and July 2011 he worked as a research assistant at the English Department as part of the research project “Violence and the Hidden Constraints of Democracy: A New Civilization Studies Approach to American Literature and Culture.” At the HCA he is responsible for the institute’s website and teaches American literature and culture.

In his thesis, Hannes Nagl will analyze different contemporary American novels which are notorious for their depictions of violence. By doing so, he will especially focus on the following questions: What motivates the fascination with violence in contemporary American literature? How do these representations of violence square with the notion of a “pacified” and “civilized” society? The basic assumption that underlies the project is that such novels offer not only entertainment and thrill but can be read as socio-analytical novels, which present a quasi-sociological analysis of the role violence plays in postmodern American society. From this perspective, the main aim of the thesis will be to make these socio- analytical and, to a certain extent, socio-critical aspects of contemporary “novels of violence” transparent. In order to do so, Hannes Nagl will draw on rather uncommon theoretical sources: Besides more recent sociological research on violence, he will use Norbert Elias’ “theory of civilization” and other sociological theories of modernization as a theoretical background for the interpretations of the novels. Although Elias’ theory is rather uncommon for literary studies and has been applied only rarely to an American context, his approach of modernization and modern society as well as his writings on the sociology of modern sport are considered as a promising and a fruitful theoretical model for analyzing both the sociological and aesthetical aspects of contemporary novels of violence. From an Eliasian perspective, the literary and cultural fascination with violence and the reality of “pacified” modern societies are not contradictory, but rather complementary facts. Beyond the individual “worlds” of the novels, the Eliasian approach will thus also help to shed new light on the various restraints and self-restraints that establish social discipline and peaceful cooperation in “civilized” Western societies as well as on the cultural role of real and imaginary violence in this context.

Primary Supervisor: Prof. Dr. Dietmar Schloss


Adwan Bw

Amra Odobasic


Born in Karlsruhe in 1990, Amra Odobasic studied English and Spanish philology at the University of Heidelberg and the Universidad de Buenos Aires. She graduated in Heidelberg in 2015 with a Staatsexamen and also holds a qualification for teaching German as a Foreign Language from the Pädagogische Hochschule Heidelberg. Since her very first semester, linguistics — particularly phonetics and phonology — has remained her passion, which is why she worked as a phonetics and phonology tutor for five semesters in the Heidelberg English Department. Her final thesis entitled "Politeness in Parliament - A Study in Contrastive Pragmatics" dealt with the question of whether parliamentary discourse in Great Britain and Germany is polite or merely ‘politic’.

Ms. Odobasic's doctoral research topic is entitled "Vocal Fry — A Sociophonetic Study in Women's Speech" and aims at investigating the causes for the ambiguity regarding vocal fry's social perception and potential negative evaluation when used by women. Vocal fry is a phonation that is characterized by a combination of rapid and short glottal pulses and a low frequency. Ms. Odobasic's two main hypotheses are that it is not vocal fry causing the negative evaluation per se but a) an excessive use of vocal fry manifesting itself in a high ratio between vocal fry and word number and/or b) a combination of vocal fry and other (non-)linguistic features. Aside from the study of relevant research literature and the work with various spoken corpora, Ms. Odobasic's main work will focus on analyzing test persons' reactions to vocal fry via questionnaires and via picture and audio recordings.

Primary supervisor: Prof. Dr. Beatrix Busse


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Maarten Paulusse

(BASF Scholarship)

Maarten Paulusse received his bachelor's degree in history at Utrecht University in 2007, and completed his Master's degree in American Studies at the same university in 2009. During his studies he did an internship in New York City with the U.S. correspondent of the leading Dutch current affairs television program "Nova", and undertook several other ventures into journalism. In the summer months of the years 2010-2013 he has taught courses on Dutch history and culture to international students at bachelor-level at the Summer School of Utrecht University. In the Spring semester of 2011 Maarten enrolled in the Ph.D. program at the Heidelberg Center for American Studies.

In his doctoral study Maarten explores the ways in which politicized forms of “contemporary spirituality” are having an impact in the American public sphere. The project aims to make a contribution to the contemporary discussion on the role of religion in American politics. In this far from settled debate among historians, political scientists, sociologists, theologians, and other analysts of public life in the United States, the primary focus in the past two decades has been on the interaction of forms of Evangelicalism, particularly those related to the “Christian Right”, with American politics. In this project the matter will instead be explored from the angle of “contemporary spirituality”, using the recent Occupy movement as a case study. The extensive theoretical toolbox offered by the academic field of religious studies will be used in this endeavor. In 2012 and 2013 Maarten completed two research trips to the U.S., during which he interviewed participants of the Occupy movement.

Primary supervisor: Prof. Dr. Inken Prohl


Adwan Bw

Hien-Le Pham

Hien Le Pham (Le is her first name) was born in Da Nang, a beautiful city in central Vietnam. She graduated from Foreign Trade University with a major in International Economics. Le worked for HSBC Bank Vietnam for over one year after graduation and started to collaborate with some publishing companies as a freelance book translator. Before moving to Germany for her graduate study in 2016, she had been a fulltime corporate trainer at a US software company for over three years. Le received her Master’s degree in American Studies in April 2018 and decided to go further on her academic journey by staying with the HCA for the PhD program.

Le has a keen interest in American foreign relations, especially in the relationship between the US and East Asia. Her project, which is titled “US Policy towards China on Maritime Territorial Disputes in East and Southeast Asia,” examines America’s involvement and interest in these territorial disputes since the Nixon administration’s famous rapprochement with the People’s Republic of China in the early 1970s. The disputes involve several of America’s strategic partners and long-time allies in the region. Thus, they pose serious challenges for US policymakers trying to strike a balance between Washington’s interest in establishing constructive relations with Beijing and America’s commitment to its allies. An inquiry into America’s reactions to China’s territorial claims may therefore provide new perspectives on how the United States conceives of its role in a new multipolar. Eventually, the key questions that the project hopes to answer are whether, historically, the dilemma that the United States has to deal with now could have been anticipated earlier in the past, and what are the possible flaws in US modern foreign policy that led to this situation..

Primary supervisor: Prof. Dr. Manfred Berg


Adwan Bw

Jonathan Pike

(BASF Scholarship)

Jonathan Pike most recently earned an MSt in Theology from the University of Oxford where he wrote on Samuel Clarke's Newtonian theology in relation to moral agency and human liberty. Prior to that he obtained an MA in History from Oxford Brookes University where he wrote on the rejection of original sin and the recrudescence of more Pelagian perspectives in relation to the American Revolution. He earned his BA in History from Brigham Young University. He studies the impact of theology on political thought through the history of ideas. He is particularly interested in the long-eighteenth century's transatlantic flow of ideas in relation to the American Revolution and Founding. His dissertation focuses on the Trinitarian debates and their impacts on the substance and character of the American Revolution.

Jonathan Pike's dissertation continues his interest in the anatomy of an ideational revolution, or, more specifically, the theological roots of the American Revolution. Within the context of his prior graduate studies, his PhD dissertation centers on the Trinitarian debates and controversies that formed a primary impetus toward the tripartite nexus of theological, societal, and political thought that fed into the justifications for and subsequent supporting structures of the American Founding. Related aspects of the political theologies held by principal Founders and other significant voices (such as Benjamin Franklin and Jonathan Mayhew), as well as the transatlantic impact of seminal publications (such as Samuel Clarke's Scripture Doctrine of the Trinity (1712)), are significant areas of endeavor in his research project, which aims to contribute to a greater and more cultivated understanding of the American Revolution and its origins.

Primary supervisor: Prof. Dr. Jan Stievermann


Adwan Bw

Natalie Rauscher

(Heidemarie Engelhorn Ph.D. Scholarship)

Natalie Rauscher began studying in Heidelberg in 2009. She received her B.A. in 2013 in English Literature, Linguistics and Cultural Studies as well as Political Science. Following her interest in American culture and language she spent one year in the US at St. Mary’s College of Maryland, taking courses in literature, American history and Political Science. After her B.A. she wanted to pursue her interest in the US further by joining the MAS program at the HCA in Heidelberg where she earned her Master’s degree in 2015. In her Master’s project she looked into the influences of social movements on political decision-making with her thesis “The Occupy Movement and its Influence on the Political Discourse in the United States.” After a few months away from Heidelberg, she returned in the fall of 2015, working as a Teaching Assistant and a Research Assistant at the HCA while applying for the PhD program where she was admitted for the fall of 2016. Natalie is currently working on the issue of social inequality and the rise of the “sharing economy” in the United States.

Natalie’s project under the headline "The changing discourse on social inequality in the United States under the influence of the “sharing economy” and digitization" focuses on the issue of social inequality rising all across American society. The once overwhelming majority who defined itself as middle-class is shrinking fast. Hit hard by the recession of 2008, many people could not find stable jobs or work their way back up the social ladder. Profound changes in business and the economy are also doing their bit. The rise of digital technology is reshaping private and public lives, culture, politics, the workplace and the economy as a whole. In the wake of this profound transformation, politicians need to find ways to respond, being themselves held accountable online but also taking into consideration the downsides of the digitization trend. The so-called sharing economy has become a catalyst for economic growth, yet it is also the source of new forms of inequality and precarious conditions. In her dissertation Natalie will address the issues arising through social inequality under the influence of digitization in the United States, while focusing especially on the political discourse among Democratic stakeholders. By introducing original corpus data the dissertation will be able to focus on political communication and how (digital) inequality is affecting it.

Primary supervisor: PD. Dr. Martin Thunert


Adwan Bw

Chitra Sanam

Chitra Sanam served U.S. citizens for over seven years in her capacity as a senior foreign service national with the U.S. Diplomatic Mission in India. She helped open the new U.S. Consulate in Hyderabad and build its American Citizen Services Unit, from the ground up. Highlights of her career include temporary duty during crises at the U.S. Embassies in Yemen and Djibouti, and collaborating with the U.S. Mission to encourage the Indian Government to accede to the Hague Abductions Convention. Prior to joining the Consulate, she enjoyed being a feature writer with India’s national newspaper, The Times of India. She holds a Master of Science degree in Journalism from Ohio University. She was born and raised in Hyderabad, India, but enjoys traveling to new places, and seeing the world with a new pair of eyes.

“American leadership has been wanting, but is still wanted,” stated Hillary Clinton at the Secretary of State Nomination Hearing, at the start of President Obama’s term in office, in 2009. “We must use what has been called ‘smart power’… with smart power, diplomacy will be the vanguard of foreign policy,” she further discussed, after describing a range of smart power tools – military, diplomatic and cultural, among others – that the Obama administration adopted. ‘Smart power’, to that end, promised great potential for the U.S. to build stronger ties with nation states, cooperate and address various worrisome global issues such as terrorism, pandemics, climate change and energy. It led to a shift in U.S. diplomacy practices. Chitra Sanam’s research aims to analyse how U.S. leadership through the lens of Obama’s ‘smart power’has impacted U.S. diplomatic relations with the world, in the area of addressing transnational issues. A focus on better understanding ‘smart power’ as a diplomatic tool of this era would certainly contribute to the growing dialogue on assessing the true value of ‘smart power’ in addressing world issues specific to this time and age.

Primary supervisor: PD. Dr. Martin Thunert


Adwan Bw

Maren Schäfer

(BASF Scholarship)

Maren Schäfer studied International Business in cooperation with ALDI SÜD, graduating from the Baden-Wuerttemberg Cooperative State University in 2011. After receiving her B.A., she managed key accounts and international projects in an online marketing agency before she joined the MAS program at the HCA in Heidelberg. As part of her studies, she spent a year at the University of New Mexico as a recipient of the Baden-Württemberg-Stipendium. In 2016, she graduated with a M.A. in American Studies. Her Master’s project reflected her interest in political rhetoric, dealing with “The American Presidency and the ‘Power to Persuade’”. While working as a program coordinator at the SRH University in Heidelberg, Maren joined the HCA’s PhD program in 2017 to further pursue her interest in political rhetoric. In her dissertation, she focuses on the issue of contemporary populist rhetoric and framing in the United States.

In her dissertation project, Maren focuses on the impact of contemporary populist rhetoric and framing on people’s attitudes in the United States. Despite being a recurring feature of American politics, populism has perhaps reached an all-time high. In the aftermath of the Great Recession, increasing inequality and distrust of elites seem to have contributed to this development while the mass proliferation of digital media outlets and mobile devices has facilitated direct communication with a mass audience. Trump’s victory in 2016 is seen by many as the manifestation of this trend. In the contemporary United States, more and more mainstream actors of all ideological persuasions seem to be employing populist rhetoric to shape people’s attitudes and beliefs in their favor. In particular, framing has become a popular strategy to alter the ways in which information is being presented, in the hopes of influencing people’s attitudes. In her project, Maren will address the issue of contemporary populist rhetoric. She aims at understanding how and why framing, especially with an underlying populist notion, can influence audiences by focusing on the political discourse among stakeholders of different ideological backgrounds.

Primary supervisor: PD. Dr. Martin Thunert


Simelyte Bw

Juste Šimelyte


Justė Šimelytė studied law at the University of Vilnius (Lithuania) where she specialized in commercial law. In 2007, she received her master‘s degree in law. In Lithuania, she also worked as a legal consultant in the Law Clinic of Vilnius University where she offered pro bono legal advice. In October 2007, she began her studies at the HCA, majoring in law, political science and international business cultures. In 2008, Justė Šimelytė received her M.A. in American Studies with a thesis entitled “Cultural Globalization: ‚Made in the USA‘ or ‚Made in Europe‘?”

Currently Justė Šimelytė is working on her thesis “Americanization and Europeanization: Two Forms of Cultural Globalization in Lithuania.” Her thesis deals with social processes of the last twenty years in Lithuania, which has undergone dramatic changes in the political, economic, and cultural realm. After regaining its independence, Lithuania had to build new state institutions, create national laws, and determine new political and economic as well as cultural strategies. In 2004 Lithuania became a member of NATO and the European Union. The accession to the single European market and the free movement of goods, capital, and people facilitated transnational cultural contacts that brought new possibilities and challenges for Lithuanian culture. This empirical study focuses on the changes that occurred in Lithuania since 1990s (after it became independent from the Soviet Union) and refers to the research areas that can be summarized in such key-words as space and place, identity, consumption, and cultural values. From the perspective of Americanization and Europeanization this thesis analyses the transformation of Lithuanian cultural places and spaces, the building of a new identity, the perception of European values as “imposed from above,” the consumption of popular culture, western artefacts and (N)ostalgia remaining in a post-communist Lithuania. The thesis reveals the perception of Americanization and Europeanization as well as the relationship between these two multidimensional processes.

Primary Supervisors: Prof. Dr. Detlef Junker, PD Dr. Martin Thunert


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