By Glenn Hendler

About Glenn Hendler

Glenn Hendler is Professor and Chair in the English Department at Fordham University, where he also teaches in the American Studies Program. He is the author of Public Sentiments: Structures of Feeling in Nineteenth-Century American Literature.


Writing the acknowledgments for a publication such as this one is a daunting task, particularly when the friendships and collaborations that have made it possible span many years and cover the production of two volumes, one of which is print and digital. We should begin, of course, by listing the names of our contributors. All of them have produced marvelous intellectual work, after enduring what must have seemed endless requests for revision. We thank them all for putting up with us, and many of them for putting up with us twice.

The idea for this publication emerged, developed, and was tested through interactions with a series of collaborators, interlocutors, and audiences, including the American Cultures workshop at the University of Chicago; the Americanist Workshop at the University of Notre Dame; the Columbia American Studies Seminar; the Simpson Center for the Humanities at the University of Washington; the Clinton Institute at …

Keywords: An Introduction

I. What Is a Keyword?

In contemporary usage, the term “keyword” generally refers to a type of data or metadata. The Oxford English Dictionary’s primary definition is “a word serving as a key to a cipher or code,” one that provides “a solution or explanation” or one that is “of particular importance or significance.” Dating from the mid-eighteenth century, these usages represent keywords as data that unlock mysteries. The OED’s second definition is a term “chosen to indicate or represent the content of a larger text or record” in an “index, catalogue, or database.” Dating from the early nineteenth century, this usage represents keywords as tools for information retrieval within various archiving systems. This second meaning points toward the most familiar usage of the term today. Keywords are forms of metadata that authors, librarians, book indexers, concordance makers, web designers, and database builders add to a print or …

Note on Classroom Use

We emphasize in “Keywords: An Introduction” that one of the primary aims of Keywords for American Cultural Studies is to provoke readers to engage in self-reflexive, open-ended, and future-oriented forms of inquiry as they conduct research on and make claims about “America” and its various “cultures.” We want our readers to respond to the online and print essays by revising them or adding to them and, in doing so, supplementing the collective argument of the whole. In order to make good on this desire, we built a website as a complement to the first print version of Keywords for American Cultural Studies in 2007. This site included an interactive forum, which we called the “Keywords Collaboratory,” where readers could work individually or collaboratively to create new keywords essays. Between 2007 and 2014, over five hundred readers used the site to that end, with the vast majority of those uses taking …


The keyword “society” is generally used in academia and everyday life to refer to forms of human collectivity and association, but the scale and values of the formations referenced by the word—and its adjectival form “social”—vary widely. When we refer to Twitter and Facebook as “social media,” the term is roughly synonymous with “interactive,” a word that at its narrowest refers to exchanges between discrete individuals. But when mainstream media outlets and politicians assert that the spread of social media is somehow responsible for phenomena ranging from the Arab Spring to the August 2011 London riots, from Occupy Wall Street to so-called flash-mob attacks in U.S. cities, they are claiming (plausibly or not) that interactive technologies enable political participation and are linking the word to broader and more explicitly political usages such as “social justice” and “social movement.”

The term’s wide range of connotations was already evident in the classical …

Collectivities, Disciplinarities, Power

Syllabi and Assignments

Since the publication of the first edition in 2007, thousands of students have read Keywords for American Cultural Studies in courses across a wide range of disciplinary and interdisciplinary fields, and at every level from first-year writing courses to advanced graduate seminars.

The materials on this page supplement our “Note on Classroom Use” by providing examples of how instructors have used Keywords for American Cultural Studies and, in some cases, the Keywords Collaboratory in their courses.

If you have found a way to use the publication or Collaboratory in your courses, please send your syllabus or assignment to, along with the information included in other sample syllabi and sample assignments on this site.

Course Planning: Questions and Considerations

Sample Syllabi and Assignments

“Major Developments in American Culture,” Fordham University, Glenn Hendler

“Reading Fiction (Survey Literature Course),” University of Washington Seattle, Deborah Kimmey

“Diversity and Power; Gender, Race, and

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