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African-American Studies

The Breakdown

Sparked by inauspicious beginnings, the African-American experience has certainly been trying and tumultuous.  From deep struggle to great cultural triumphs, African-Americans are an indelible part of America’s history and landscape.  If you are interested in questions of race relations, heritage and life in the Diaspora then African-American studies could be the major you seek.   

As an African-American studies major, you will study about the challenges, contributions and traditions of African Americans (obviously).  Undoubtedly an interdisciplinary pursuit, you’ll learn how to analyze the implications of race and ethnicity through classes ranging from sociology to economics and political science.  While a broad swath of courses will fulfill requirements, some programs ask students to take at least one history and literature class, one class in theory/modes of inquiry and to choose a concentration.  Possible concentrations might include African-American film, the female African-American perspective or pan-African literature.  Of course, regardless of class schedule/selection, you can expect reading, writing and research intensive syllabi.  Lastly, it is fairly common for undergrads to pair African-American studies with a second, complementary major.

A major in African-American studies calls for strong communication skills.  Additionally, you will need to be good at analyzing and synthesizing information.  Intellectual curiosity is also paramount as you’ll cover a variety of topics.  Finally, it’s imperative to know that the Harlem Renaissance took place long after the historical period known as “the Renaissance.”    


Nuts and Bolts

As an African-American studies major, you’ll cover all aspects of the black experience with classes such as: Introduction to the African Diaspora; Race and Urban Life; Ebony Singers: Gospel Music, Black Power and the Modern Narrative of Slavery; Imagining the American South; African-American Theater; Enslavement and Resistance in North America; History of the African-American Church; The Writings of Toni Morrison; Filming Black Futures and The Wire: The City and Race in Popular Culture.

Decisions, Decisions

African-American studies majors are interested in how aspects of race and identity play out in all parts of society and culture.  Therefore, they are also likely to take classes in American studies, history, comparative literature, African studies, women’s studies, political science, art history, film, sociology, anthropology, psychology, journalism and economics.

What's Next

All right – we’ll admit it.  African-American studies does not necessarily prepare you for any specific career track.  However, therein lies the beauty.  The skills you’ll both hone and acquire are applicable to a variety of fields and professional pursuits.  Indeed, if you do a little digging, you’ll find fellow majors in numerous industries.  Like so many liberal arts students, a number of African-American studies majors pursue law and business degrees.  Others land positions as archivists or museum educators.  Journalism and documentary film are also common pursuits as are advertising, public relations and public policy work.  Truly, just like African-American studies draws upon many different disciplines, it’s possible for majors to head in many directions.



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Don Munce