American Studies Department

American studies offers innovative courses in the areas of social justice, cultural geography, environmental humanities, visual and popular culture, race and ethnicity, Indigeneity, and gender and sexuality. It is a highly interdisciplinary and transnationally oriented program that provides students with the tools to examine critically the stories about America that drove its history—from early beliefs in Manifest Destiny and imperial expansion, to the contemporary elevation of capitalist competition as the central model of social and economic interaction—and those narratives that have historically been marginalized.

Redesigned in 2020, the major and minor offer students strong foundations in the theories and methods of American studies as well as an exciting array of electives that include experiential learning and civic engagement.

Students in the Class of 2024 and beyond will follow the new major requirements. Students in the Class of 2023 are encouraged to do so as well, while others should consult their program advisors.


Chair, Associate Professor Laura Saltz
Professor Margaret McFadden; Associate Professor Laura Saltz; Assistant Professors Laura Fugikawa and Benjamin Lisle; Visiting Assistant Professor Natalie Michelle; Visiting Instructor Chelsea Fairbank
Advisory Committee: Professor Tanya Sheehan (Art); Associate Professors Chandra Bhimull (African-American Studies and Anthropology), Damon Mayrl (Sociology), Maple Rasza (Anthropology and Global Studies), Katherine Stubbs (English), Steve Wurtzler (Cinema Studies), and Natalie Zelensky (Music); Assistant Professors Gail Carlson (Environmental Studies), Gwyneth Shanks (Performance, Theater, and Dance), and Jay Sibara (Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies)

Requirements +

New Requirements for the Major in American Studies

The American studies major requires 11 courses in the following categories:

  1. Core courses: 171, 293, and 393.
  2. Electives: two American Studies courses and five additional courses selected from an approved list provided by the program advisor and posted to the program website. At least three electives are taken at the 300 level or above. No more than two can be taken outside the program at the 100 level. Electives are used to cover the following areas relevant to American studies: pre-20th century; the U.S. in a global or transnational context; praxis (broadly defined as political or civic engagement, digital humanities, public humanities, creative writing, multimedia storytelling, or other relevant experience-based learning). Where appropriate, each elective can fulfill more than one of these required areas. Additionally, electives must include two courses focused on social justice, which investigate the ways that social inequities have been produced, maintained, and/or challenged. These courses often examine how power works—historically, spatially, and differentially—across axes of race, Indigeneity, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, ability, religion, and economic class.
  3. Senior seminar: 493.

Of the required courses, 171 is normally taken before the end of the second year.

All majors develop a concentration, which is a thematic or conceptual focus. After declaring the major, students submit a narrative of approximately three pages to their program advisor. It names and describes the concentration, articulates a rationale for it, and explains how specific courses will support it. The program provides example concentrations, although students should tailor these to their individual interests through extensive consultation with their program advisor. Electives are generally selected to support the concentration.

To encourage a greater sense of intentionality and reflection in the choice of concentration and path through the major, students work with their program advisors to complete an online portfolio. The portfolio begins with the narrative description of the concentration described above. Students complete the other components of the portfolio in response to prompts issued by program faculty within the core courses of the major. These prompts ask students to identify emerging areas of interest, draw connections among courses, draw connections between courses and the concentration, refine the description of the concentration, and pose unresolved questions.

The point scale for retention of the major applies to all courses offered toward the major. No requirement for the major may be taken satisfactory/unsatisfactory. No more than three courses taken off campus may be counted toward the major.

Old Requirements for the Major in American Studies

This major requires 11 courses—four in American studies (American Studies 171, 393, 493, and one elective); two in American history (one pre-1865 and one post-1865); three in American literature and visual culture (one pre-1865, one post-1865, and any other American literature course, or a literature in translation or visual culture course); and two electives at or above the 200 level, selected from a list of appropriate courses or approved by the American studies advisor. In fulfilling the electives, students are encouraged to take courses with a transnational focus and/or with elements of experiential learning.

Honors Program

Students majoring in American studies may apply at the end of their junior year for admission to the honors program. Permission is required; students must have a 3.5 GPA in the major to be eligible to apply. Successful completion of the work of the honors thesis, and of the major requirements, will enable the student to graduate with “Honors in American Studies.”

Requirements for the Minor in American Studies

The minor requires at least seven courses: 171; either 293 or 393; and five electives selected from an approved list provided by the program director and posted to the program website. Two of those electives must fulfill the social justice area described above. At least one elective should be taken at the 300 level or above. No more than two electives outside the program can be taken at the 100 level. No more than two courses taken off campus may be counted toward the minor.