Curriculum Overview

American Studies is a major for students who want to carve out their own path in the eclectic terrain of American culture. Unlike traditional majors, American Studies asks students to combine and cross disciplines in their study of American culture, past and present. American Studies explores the core narratives of the United States as well as the diversity of American social and cultural life. The American Studies Department teaches students to read critically, to articulate ideas clearly, to conduct research and to write effectively. It expects students to develop these abilities within an interdisciplinary curricular framework that requires them to encounter diverse peoples, types of cultural expression and patterns of social interaction. Students are involved in research and internship opportunities in the local community as well as in more traditional scholarship. The American Studies Department is committed to the advancement of these goals through effective teaching and active scholarship by its faculty. American Studies prepares students for a wide range of careers, including education, museums, nonprofit management, law, community organizing, media and public relations, marketing and branding.

A major in American Studies consists of 11 courses: AMS 100, AMS 350 and AMS 489; one class in global AMS—AMS 136, AMS 323 or an approved topics course; a thematic concentration of three courses, to be approved by the student’s AMS adviser by the fall of the junior year; and four AMS electives or other courses from the list of approved courses. Of these four electives, one course must be in American arts and literature and five courses in the major must be at or above the 300 level.

The writing requirement in the American Studies major is met by completion of the normal courses required to complete the major. Majors intending to enter graduate or professional studies should see the chairperson for particular courses necessary or desirable to prepare for advanced study. Other courses, such as foreign languages and/or quantitative skills, may be required for students wishing to pursue graduate work.

Majors in American Studies have studied abroad in the following programs in recent years: Advanced Studies in England, Bath; IFSA-Butler University of Edinburgh; DIS-Study Abroad in Copenhagen; Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia; SIT Human Rights: Foundations, Challenges, and Advocacy; and SIT Study Abroad/IHP:Cities in the 21st Century. American Studies majors are also encouraged to consider the University of Sussex in England and Flinders University in Australia. See the International Programs section of the Catalog for further information.

Courses Offered

A list of regularly offered courses follows. Please note the key for the following abbreviations: (A) Arts; (H) Humanities; (S) Social Sciences; (N) Natural Sciences with Laboratory; (LS) Language Studies requirement; (NSP) Natural Science in Perspective; (NW) Non-Western Cultures ; (WP) World Perspectives requirement.


100. Introduction to American Studies. (S)
An interdisciplinary introduction to American identity. Examines expressions of national identity in arts and popular culture. Pays particular attention to race, ethnicity and gender from the 19th through the 21st centuries.  

105. Jazz. (A)
The history of jazz, from its roots to the present day, with emphasis on stylistic distinctions. Considers African and European contributions, blues types, New Orleans jazz, Harlem Stride, Swing, bebop, cool jazz, hard bop, free jazz, fusion, neo-classical, and acid jazz, touching on most major figures and their contributions. Each stylistic period is studied from an economic and sociological viewpoint with emphasis on form, texture, improvisation, harmony, rhythm, and timbre. Same as AFS 105/MUS 105.     

106. History of the Blues. (A)
Blues history from its origins to the Blues Revival of the 1960s. Emphasis on the Delta blues tradition of Charley Patton, Robert Johnson, and Muddy Waters. Additional topics include: oral formulaic composition; politics of race and sex in the blues; the blues as a “secular religion”; the music business; appropriations of blues style in jazz and rock; the ongoing function of the blues as a core signifier of “blackness” in American culture. Same as AFS/MUS 106.    

115. Introduction to Asian American Studies: War, Empire, and Migration. (H)
This course will provide a multidisciplinary approach to Asian American Studies. By examining literature, historical/sociological scholarship, films, and music, we will explore both dominant and lesser-known narratives representing Asian American refugees, mixed-race communities, and colonial diasporas. The interlinking themes of empire, colonial conquest, militarization, transnational labor, state-sanctioned violence, urbanization, and race and gender relations will emerge from studying Filipino and Japanese pidgin-speakers from the plantations of Hawai`i, Vietnamese American refugees, and Asian American anti-war radicals in the streets of San Francisco. Students are also invited to explore and document stories of local Asian American communities. 

120. Introduction to Latinx Studies. (S)
This course considers key theoretical contributions that speak to the construction, expressions, and representations of Latinx identities in the US.  We will take up an intersectional approach, one that emphasizes the diversity of Latinx experiences and the ways they are mediated by US and transnational understandings of race/ethnicity, gender, sexuality, nationality, and class. Of particular interest is how Latinx folks articulate fraught or ambivalent relationships to the US, to larger transnational communities, and to Latinidad itself. By way of method, the course will blend interdisciplinary scholarly and theoretical readings with a range of cultural texts that will allow us to deepen, extend, or complicate our understanding of Latinidad.     

136. U.S. Empire. (S)
From the Mexican War through World War II (1845–1945) the U.S. developed the intellectual and diplomatic arguments of empire while acquiring the territory necessary for achieving global predominance. This course examines this rise to world power, including territorial expansion, European diplomacy, world wars and the exertion of influence into Mexico from a historical perspective that includes both critics and supporters of U.S. world involvement. Same as HIS 136.  

150. Introduction to African American Studies. (S)
The development of the United States as a global and multiracial society. Topics can include the transatlantic slave trade in the 18th and 19th centuries; Pan Africanism, mass media in the African Diaspora; the Harlem Renaissance and Civil Rights movement into the 21st century. Same as AFS 150.    

167. American Spiritualities. (H)
Surveys the dominant tradition of American religious practice: spirituality. The goals of this course encompass the study of different forms of spirituality in the United States past and present. The course will familiarize you with mainstream as well as alternative spiritual practices, from Puritan Devotions and the Lakota Sundance to evangelicalism, political radicalism and various modes of artistic production. The course seeks to trace major outlines of development from past to present and to illuminate the meaning of spirituality for our time and in relation to American history. Same as RST 167.    

203. Cultural History of American Religion. (H)
Examines the relationship between religion and culture in the United States from approximately 1492 to the present. In addition to looking at liturgical forms of religion and surveying various religious movements and groups, we will explore 1) how cultural forms serve as vehicles of religious meaning; 2) how religious values are expressed and/or criticized in everyday social life; and 3) the interaction between religion and developments within the political, social, economic and philosophical spheres. Same as RST 203.    

213. Black American Film. (A)
An introduction to film studies using black film as a genre of Hollywood and independent film. Covers the work of Oscar Michaux through the “blaxploitation” films of the 1970s and into the 21st century.  Explores films as social commentary in particular historical contexts. Particular attention is given to screen analysis of segregation, sexuality, class differences and more. Same as AFS/TDF/WGS 213.     

234. American Enemies (H)
Does the United States have a “paranoid style,” as some historians claim? This class explores the tendency to identify, and the desire to eradicate, national enemies—both imaginary and real. Course units include the McCarthy Era, the Kennedy assassination, the Vietnam war, 9/11 and the war on terror. We will try to understand the varied sources of American paranoia and explore the truth of the old adage “Just because you’re paranoid, doesn’t mean that they aren’t out to get you.”    

235. U.S.-Mexico Borderlands. (NW) (S)
This course introduces students to the history of the present-day U.S.-Mexico border region. Although much of the course focuses on the past 150 years, we will also explore how early indigenous peoples lived in the region and interacted with the environment, and examine the legacy of colonialism in the region prior to the U.S.-Mexico War. Same as HIS 235.    

238. Dance on the American Musical Stage. (A)
A lecture-survey, supplemented by studio experiences, of musical stage dancing in America from the colonial period to the present. Dance styles covered include acrobatic, ballet, ballroom, melodrama, exotic, folk, jazz, modern and tap. Same as TDF 238.  

239. Hip Hop: The Global Politics of Culture. (H) (NW) (WP)
This course will engage in hip hop's "politics of authenticity" while also offering a primer on the participation and contributions of a variety of transnational, sexual, gender, and racial/ethnic constituents. Rightfully centering and honoring the genre's Afro-diasporic influences, we will examine debates involving transnationalism, gender, sexual, and racial boundaries in hip hop. We will also explore hip hop's global relevance, such as its sonic and cultural presence in reggaetón and its spread as a global dance form. Overall, this class will prompt students to untangle hip hop’s seemingly contradictory ethos of "keeping it real" while simultaneously promoting broader ideals of cosmopolitanism and global commodification. Same as MUS 239.  

243. American Art. (A)
Historical and aesthetic consideration of architecture, painting, decorative arts and sculpture produced in the United States from colonial settlement through the 1913 Armory Show. Course themes include the social functions of works of art, the relationship of U.S. and European cultures, the role of art in building a national identity, the development of an infrastructure of art institutions and the contrast and connection between popular and elite art. Same as ART 243.    

251. Issues in Modern and Contemporary American Drama. (A)
A literary and theatrical examination of representative American Drama from the early twentieth century to the present, emphasizing developments since 1950. The focus of this study is on how and why Americans and American life have been depicted onstage as they have and the powerful effect this range of depictions has had on American identity and the American imagination. Same as ENG/TND 251. 
C. Davis

256. African American Literature I:
Declarations of Independence and the Narratives of Slavery (H)

This course covers African American narratives of slavery from the colonial period through the early 19th Century. The Declaration of Independence, the founding narrative of American selfhood and agency, provides the discursive background of the course. The Declaration did not mention Slavery, thereby erasing Slaves’ experiences in the American narrative about peoplehood. We will engage the logic, rhetoric and contradictions of the document by pluralizing “declaration” to broaden and then examine how Slaves’ oral narratives (the Spirituals, etc.) and texts (by Phyllis Wheatley, Oladuah Equaino, etc.) were figurative and literal declarations of independence that simultaneously question the Declaration’s principles and ideology and affirm its transcendent meanings in the writers’ discourses on Slavery, Black humanity and selfhood, race, the American Dream, etc. Same as AFS/ENG/WGS 256. 

257.  African American Literature II:
Meaning of the Veil and African American Identity. (H)

In The Souls of Black Folk (1903), the African American writer W. E. B. Du Bois introduces two concepts—the “veil” and “double-consciousness”—to explain the black experience in America. This course, which covers African American literature from Reconstruction to the Harlem Renaissance, the Black Aesthetic/Black Power movement and beyond, will examine the recurrence of the veil metaphor (and its synonyms) generally and engage Du Bois’s formulation of the concept specifically in the cultural and historical contexts that frame this period’s literature. We will explore how writers (Paul Laurence Dunbar, Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, Ralph Ellison, Toni Morrison, etc.) engage topics (race, gender, music, identity, etc.) that reinforce, expand and/or complicate Du Bois’s metaphor. Same as AFS/ENG/WGS 257.  

261. North American Indians of the Eastern Woodlands. (NW) (S) (WP)
A survey of the past and present diversity of indigenous peoples in the Eastern Woodlands of the United States and Canada. The focus is on the prehistoric archaeology of the region, the consequences of European colonization on native groups and the struggles and achievements of indigenous peoples today. An examination of issues ranging from the controversy that surrounds the initial settlement of the Eastern Woodlands by Native Americans to contemporary debates on federal recognition and sovereignty. Prerequisite: ANT 100 or 102. Same as ANT 261.
M. A. Levine

282. Vietnam and the Cold War. (S) (WP)
This course examines the longest armed conflict in our history, the Vietnamese-American War that began in 1946, when the United States began aiding the French effort to take back control of their colony in Indochina, and ended with U.S. defeat in 1975. It places that conflict in the larger context of national liberation in the Third World (the formerly colonial regions of Africa, Asia, and Latin America). Same as HIS 282.    Gosse

301. Pops & Jelly Roll:
New Orleans and Its Music in the Early Twentieth Century. (A)

An examination of Louis Armstrong and Jelly Roll Morton’s New Orleans. The course evaluates their music and the more general style of early New Orleans jazz in relation to the geographical, social, political, and economic dynamics of that great American city in the early 20th century. Particular attention will be given to the social and musical interactions among New Orleans’ disparate ethnic groups that led to the formation of a unique style of jazz derived from ragtime, blues and the ubiquitous marching band music from that era. Same as AFS/MUS 301. 

302. Bebop. (A)
A history of the bebop movement in jazz of the 1940s and ’50s. Special attention given to the social, economic, and political conditions that led a small handful of musicians to abandon Swing Era big bands in favor of the small combos that formed out of Harlem jam sessions between 1941-1943. Covers distinguishing features of the bebop style through an examination of the music of Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk, and others. Concludes with an evaluation of the social and political meanings of bebop and its historical legacy. Same as AFS/MUS 302. 

303. As Seen on TV: History as Media Event. (H)
“Where were you when…?” Whether the Kennedy assassination, Richard Nixon’s resignation, the shooting of Ronald Reagan or the fall of the Berlin wall, most Baby Boomer Americans would answer: “I was watching it on TV.” This course will explore the representation of history-making moments in the mass media, with a focus on the second half of the 20th century.  We will explore how television covered the event at the time, how that coverage shaped the first draft of history, and how it has participated in shaping the cultural memory of the event in the years since. Course units include Edward R. Murrow’s duel with Senator Joe McCarthy, the JFK assassination, Vietnam, Watergate, the O.J. Simpson case, and 9/11. Same as FLM 303. 

310. American Masculinities. (S)
This course explores the importance of masculinity and its various constructions in American history and the contemporary period. We begin by examining the theoretical and historical foundations of American masculinities. We will focus on key ways in which men (and women) sustain and recreate masculinities. Topics include manhood and the workplace, politics, sports, courtship, fatherhood, military, immigration and ethnicity, crime and prisons and religion. Same as HIS/WGS 310.

316. Harlem Renaissance. (H)
The Harlem Renaissance represented an explosion of Black cultural, economic and political activity in the first and second decades of the twentieth century. Fifty years after emancipation, African Americans were still struggling for equality and acceptance from White America. The cultural products of the period -- events, writings, music, theater, and literature, for example -- represented a desire by African Americans to forge a new identity and find a place in American democracy. We will explore how African Americans used these cultural products to express their history, experiences, predicaments, hopes and racial consciousness and pride. In this course, we will examine some of the writers and the texts of the period. Same as ENG/AFS 316. 

320. American Women and Social Movements Since 1900. (S)
An interdisciplinary study of the various ways women have participated in American society and politics. Topics include the suffrage movement, modern modes of political participation and the New Deal and World War II. Critical analysis of the meaning of feminism and special attention to the post-1945 period. Same as HIS/WGS 320. 

322. Buddhism in North America. (H)
Focuses on some of the distinctive forms that Buddhism has taken in North America. Discusses a number of traditions, including Theravada, Zen and Tibetan Buddhism, comparing their American versions with those in Asia and addressing the transformations of various Buddhist traditions to accommodate American lifestyles and views. Also addresses a number of issues pertinent to Buddhism in America and the West, such as Buddhist identity, ethnicity, gender issues, authority and social activism. Same as RST 322. 

323. Cuba and the United States: The Closest of Strangers. (S)
This course examines the long history of relations between North Americans and Cubans, two peoples separated by only 90 miles. Our topics will range from baseball to guerrilla warfare, from the Mambo to the Missile Crisis. This history includes a shared commitment to anticolonial liberation; annexationist schemes among Southern slaveholders; repeated military interventions by the United States; solidarity from the U.S. with various Cuban Revolutions, including but not limited to Fidel Castro’s; and two hundred years of cultural contact between African Americans and Afro-Cubans that has profoundly influenced U.S. culture, music, and sports. Same as AFS/HIS 323. 

339. Civil War and Reconstruction. (S)
Interdisciplinary course asks students to investigate the causes, events and results of the American Civil War and its enduring impact on American life. The class usually takes one all-day trip to battlefields. No prerequisite, although some background in 19th-century history is helpful. Same as HIS 339. 

350. Studying the American Experience. (S)
An examination of the principal methods and paradigms used in conceptualizing, researching and writing in American Studies. Usually completed in the junior year. Topics vary. 

353. American Photography. (A)
Soon after the invention of photography, photographic images quickly constituted much of visual culture—either national or global. Sometimes photographs were made with high artistic intention, but, far more often, not. This seminar will examine diverse topics in 19th and 20th-century American photographic history, from vernacular images produced for the masses (daguerreotypes, tintypes, snapshots) to what have now become nearly iconic photographs produced either for documentary purposes or to make artistic, self-expressive statements. We will consider the work of unknown makers as well as that produced by celebrated photographers such as Alfred Stieglitz, Edward Weston, Walker Evans, Ansel Adams, Dorothea Lange, Robert Frank, and Robert Adams. Same as ART 353. 

354. Gender and Race in Ethnic Studies Film. 
“Gender and Race in Ethnic Studies Film” examines the concept of Ethnic Studies as an educational curriculum emerging from social movements. In an effort to understand Ethnic Studies, we will explore the media productions by and about people of color in relation to U.S. social unrests of the late-1960s, 1970s, and the aftermath of these decades. We will focus on three groups: U.S. Latinos, African Americans, and Asian Americans. Same as AFS/FLM/WGS 354.

381. 9/11 and the War on Terror. (H)
This course will look at representations in popular culture of 9/11 and the subsequent war on terror. Starting with television news coverage from September 11, 2001, we will also analyze nonfiction accounts (narrative and graphic), as well as documentaries, commercial films, and television programs that deal with these traumatic and defining moments. From these texts, we will come to understand that the ways in which we remember 9/11 and the war on terror play a role in shaping our understanding of the United States and its place on the world stage. 

385. Gender at Work. (S)
What is women’s work? How has it changed over the course of American history? How is it valued? This course explores the world of women’s work by comparing it to “men’s” work. We will focus on wage earning, caregiving, sex work, housework, “double days” and “glass ceilings.” We will especially consider women’s strategies of survival and resistance from various demographic, racial and ethnic groups. Same as BOS/WGS 385. 

390. Independent Study.

391. Directed Reading.
Tutorial. Topics adapted to the knowledge and interests of the individual student. Admission by consent of the instructor.

420. Selected Topics in the Cultural and Intellectual History of the United States. (S)
Recent topics include: “Lincoln” and “National Discourse.” Same as HIS 420. 

467. Multi-Media Memoir. (A) (H)
This course is an exploration of memoir through several media and genres—prose, poetry, performance art, photographs, film and theater. We also engage with the most recent “mnemonic theory,” and our theoretical study takes form in essays that probe the curious genre of memoir–a genre that slips between literary and fact-based writing, between imaginary and nonfiction prose. The seminar provides a longer workshop or “studio” component in which you’ll probe connections between assigned work and the writing of your own memories and experiences. Permission required. 

489. Senior Seminar. (S)
A capstone or integrative seminar. Topics vary. 

490. Independent Study.



Topics Courses Expected to be Offered in 2022-2023 

  • American Popular Music.

  • Border Law and Policy. 

  • “Hamilton” and History.

  • Latinx Representations in U.S. Pop Culture.
  • Lincoln.
  • MMM: Race, Class, Sex in Movies.
  • Religion, Politics and American History.
  • Reproduction, Law and Policy in the U.S.
  • Revolutionary America 1750-1800.
  • WWI, F&M, U.S. and the World.


Approved Courses for American Studies Electives 

The courses listed below have been approved as American Studies electives. They have been selected on the basis of being self-conscious about their American subject matter as a problem or issue or because of the questions they raise about American identity. Other courses that meet these criteria, such as topics courses or courses taught by visiting professors, may be approved by the chairperson of American Studies. Students should be aware that some of these courses have prerequisites.


AMS—Other elective American Studies courses, if appropriate.
ART 227. Lancaster Architecture.
ART 251. Modern Art Since 1900.
ENG 206. American Literature I.
ENG 207. American Literature II.
ENG 208. American Literature III.
ENG 250. Contemporary American Short Story.
ENG 265. Contemporary Graphic Novel.
ENG 461 – 469. Author seminars, where appropriate.


AMS—Other elective American Studies courses, if appropriate.
BOS 332. Law, Ethics and Society.
ENE 216. Environmental Policy.
ENE 245. American Nature Essays.
ENE 313. Nuclear Power, Weapons and Waste Disposal.
ENE 320. International Environmental Law.
GOV 208. American Presidency.
GOV 219. City and State Government.
GOV 305. Public Policy Implementation.
GOV 309. The Congress.
GOV 310 Campaigns and Elections.
GOV 314. The American Constitution.
GOV 315. Civil Rights and Civil Liberties.
GOV 318. Media and Politics.
GOV 330  Foreign Policy Analysis
GOV 370, 470. Topics in American Politics.
GOV 411. Presidential Character.
HIS 233. African American History.
HIS 334. The American South.
HIS 409, 410, 411. Selected Studies/Social and Political History of North America.
HIS 408, 420. Selected Studies/Intellectual and Cultural History of the United States.
PBH 303. Problem-Solving Courts/Drug Court.
PBH 415. Public Health Research: You Are What You Eat?
PBH 420. Public Health Research: Pregnancy Outcomes in American Women.
RST 313. African American Religion
SOC 330. Sociology of Medicine.
SOC 350. Sociology of Gender.
SOC 360. Race and Ethnic Relations.
SOC 364. Sociology of the Family.
SOC 384. Urban Education.