Tuesday, April 13, 2010

American Studies Graduate Programs

On Sunday, I gave tours of Fordham at the school's annual Open House for accepted students. As per usual, I faced many perplexed faces each time I said that I was an American Studies major here. While there was some eye rolling, most families seemed very intrigued by my undergraduate interdisciplinary experience and one family even commented that the American Studies premise seemed very much in line with the Jesuit principles of a well-rounded liberal arts foundation and the development of critical thinking skills.

Speaking with so many students just beginning their Fordham experience made me definitely take a step back to reflect on my own. I came to Fordham as a Communication and Media Studies major with a minor in Political Science and am graduating as an American Studies and Communication and Media Studies double major with a concentration in Power, Politics and Institutions. While the two seem reasonably related, it truly has been the American Studies program that has set my Fordham experience apart from the one I had planned on having. Even though I enjoyed my journalism classes, I feel that my American Studies courses gave me much greater insight into the historical, economical and social issues that journalists have to write about and also sharpened by analytical and writing skills, since the seminars and individual class requirements were dense and writing/reading intensive.

Like many liberal arts majors, American Studies is not a major that leads directly to a specific career (unlike accounting, finance, teaching etc..) and while this is somewhat troubling in this economic climate, it is also very refreshing: the career possibilities are actually much less limiting than our accounting, finance and teaching counterparts. American Studies majors can apply to work at non-profit organizations, in the legal field, in the journalism field, in the publishing field, at political lobbying groups, in government offices, at museums and at many other institutions both in America and abroad.

American Studies is also a great major for those wishing to pursue advanced graduate degrees. A family asked me on Sunday if I would consider going to graduate school for American Studies and my immediate response was that I would not, that I would prefer instead to select a more focused graduate program geared toward my specific career goals. Since providing this response two days ago, however, I have somewhat reconsidered my answer- I do not think myself or any of the other American Studies majors should discount the value of a graduate degree in our undergraduate program. Below I have compiled some notable American Studies graduate programs across the country, each with some very interesting and unique offerings:

Pepperdine University:

This American Studies masters program is designed primarily to fit the needs of high school teachers in the humanities. The curriculum integrates American literature, history, political science, and economics and includes the following seven core requirements: Literature seminar, Social and Intellectual History of the United States, Private Enterprise and Public Policy, Contemporary American Ideologies, American Moral Traditions, Directed Readings in American Studies.

University of Maryland at College Park:

This program is one of the oldest such programs in the United States, operating continuously since 1945. Teaching and research in American Studies at Maryland are shaped by two principal intellectual themes: cultures of everday life and cultural constructions of identity and difference. These themes recur in the areas of ethnography & life writing, literature and society, material culture, popular culture & media studies, cultural landscapes, race and intersectionality, foodways and body & sexuality. Coupled with their commitment to cutting-edge technologies, the themes are also encouraging work in newer directions such as cyberculture and museum studies.

University of Michigan at Ann Arbor

The graduate program in American Culture is designed to address specific populations, periods, and disciplines to provide an integrative and intercultural perspective. The program included the Asian/Pacific American, Latino/a, Native American, and the emerging Arab American Studies departments. Among the program's strongest features are its interdisciplinarity (including literature, history, visual arts, psychology, film, and gender studies) and its emphasis on comparative ethnic experiences.

Lehigh University:

This program's core courses are mainly in U.S. and colonial American history and American literature and film, but the program also encourages students to work in political science, religion studies, sociology and anthropology, Africana studies, philosophy, journalism and communications, art history and music. The school specializes in gender and sexuality, Africana studies and Native America, popular culture and electronic media, intellectual history, New York City, early America, science, technology and society.

Brown University:

This Department of American Civilization encourages students to design their own course of study. The primary goal of the graduate program in American Civilization is to train students to become knowledgeable and productive scholars and public humanists who will significantly contribute to the communities in which they work and live. The program produces graduates who are knowledgeable about the changing and complex intellectual landscape of the modern university, originators of new and innovative research across the disciplines and who are part of a new generation of active and committed teachers and public humanists. This unique approach seems to set Brown's program apart.

The American Studies Association Web site has a comprehensive list of all American Studies program organized by region and this complete list can be accessed here:


Professor Glenn Hendler said...

This is wonderful, Amanda! Of course, I hope that anyone thinking about a graduate program in American Studies will come talk to me.....

Let me just mention four other top American Studies graduate programs.

The University of Southern California's Department of American Studies and Ethnicity is relatively new, but has fast become one of the best in the country. The Department hosts the flagship journal of the American Studies Association (American Quarterly)and features such prominent scholars as George Sanchez, Robin D. G. Kelley, and the current President of the ASA, Ruth Wilson Gilmore. (

The University of Minnesota's Department of American Studies is one of the older programs in the country. With outstanding senior faculty like David Noble and Elaine Tyler May as well as younger emerging scholars such as Roderick Ferguson, Minnesota is maintaining its high standards. (

Closer to home, Yale's American Studies Program has long been one of the best anywhere. Its list of prominent faculty is too long to reproduce here, but it's worth mentioning that former Fordham American Studies director Kirsten Swinth got her Ph.D. from this program. (

Right here in New York City, NYU's American Studies Program is part of a larger department named Social and Cultural Analysis, which incorporates several other programs including Africana Studies, Latino Studies, and Metropolitan Studies. Directed by Nikhil Pal Singh, the program features major intellectuals such as Lisa Duggan, Andrew Ross, and John Kuo Wei Tchen, along with many others. (

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