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American Studies

The Breakdown

How has American identity been created? How did American traditions develop? Is there a distinct American voice? Do American policies inform its citizens or do its citizens inform American policies? If you are fascinated by questions like these and curious about many departments and disciplines, then you might want to consider a major in American studies.

As an American studies major, you’ll straddle multiple intellectual planes. Weaving together classes that range from economics, theology and political science to music, film and literature, you’ll closely analyze and critique the fabric of American society. In your studies, you will address issues of geopolitics, national identity and the narratives and myths that have been incorporated throughout American history. If you choose this major, you can expect coursework laden with reading, writing and research.

American studies majors are asked to be part anthropologist, part sociologist, part historian and part cultural critic. Therefore, a keen analytical mind and a talent for discerning and deciphering complex arguments are both vastly important. You will also need to rely on solid writing and communication skills. And, finally, you’ll want to know the postal abbreviations of all fifty (yes fifty) states.

Nuts and Bolts

American studies is an interdisciplinary field and as such, undergraduate students will likely have a diverse course schedule. Classes could include History of Rock Music, Immigration in U.S. History, U.S.-Mexico Border, The Archeology of North American Indians, Literature of the American South, Contemporary Constitutional Law, American Routes, Baseball and American Culture, Consumer Culture in America, Evangelical Christianity, American Disasters, Modernism in American Design and Architecture, and Tragicomedy of American Democracy.

Decisions, Decisions…

Students who pursue a degree in American studies are often intrigued by many facets of the humanities and social sciences. Therefore, they also might consider majoring in African-American studies, economics, sociology, anthropology, psychology, religion, political science, urban planning, archeology, women’s studies, history, English, Asian-American studies, art history and film.

What’s Next?

If you think the only employment opportunities available to American studies majors are a.) editor of American history textbooks or b.) re-enactor at historic Colonial Williamsburg, you are sorely mistaken. Sure, there might not be an American studies industry that recent grads can tap into, however, the skills you’ll acquire from your studies can be applied within a variety of settings. Like so many liberal arts students, a number of American studies majors pursue graduate degrees in law and business. Library science is another popular route for graduates. 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 as American studies draws upon many different disciplines, American studies majors can head off in any number of professional directions. And isn’t that part of the American dream?


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Don Munce