The American Studies major is well-suited for intellectually curious and highly proactive students who have interests that cross disciplines and departments. Unlike many other majors in the College, those who are interested in American Studies must apply in the spring of their first year, and begin taking courses in the fall of their sophomore year.
The American Studies major seeks, through the relation and interaction of traditional disciplines in the humanities and social sciences, to develop an integrated and intensive understanding of the social, historical, material, and aesthetic aspects of American cultures. This is a highly flexible major that is designed to allow students to identify and then pursue their interests while working collaboratively with a cohort of students and faculty. Local fieldtrips and on-campus events help to build a strong intellectual community that undergirds each student's experience.
American Studies majors are required to complete 14 courses for the major. All students take the four semester sequence of American Civilization courses that begins in the fall term of their sophomore year and is completed by the spring term of their junior year. These core courses foster a common language and set of methodological approaches to interdisciplinary work. Students engage critically with a variety of texts that expose cultural dispositions towards race, religion, gender, class, and diversity throughout various periods of American history.
To supplement the four American Civilization courses, each student in the major is required to take two courses in American history, preferably the two-semester sequence “Studies in United States History” (HIST-180–181), as well as six upper division electives of their choice. American Studies electives are wide-ranging, as students are encouraged to take courses across various university departments to inform their intellectual questions and allow them to shape an area of concentration. Areas of concentration are not limited or defined; students may pursue interests in and across various fields including, but not limited to, Government, African American Studies, Economics, American History, Environmental Studies, Sociology, Art History, Journalism, Film and Media Studies, and/or English Literature. Students who chose to Study Abroad often find that their experiences in an alternative culture play an important role in shaping their perspectives and interests.
During their senior year, all majors work towards completing a senior thesis project. During this year-long endeavor, students develop expertise that complements the broad and interdisciplinary nature of their coursework to this point. They hone their skills in project and time management, experience the joys and challenges of designing, conducting, and analyzing primary and secondary research, and build their confidence in articulating their findings and conclusions. For the thesis project, students have the option of writing an original essay of approximately 60-80 pages, or developing a short documentary film, website, or a digital story. Regardless of the form a student's thesis takes, the student finishes senior year with a substantive piece of scholarship of which he or she can be proud. The thesis experience often plays a pivitol role in helping with the transition from college to the professional world.
American Studies majors at Georgetown are sought after in a number of professional fields because they write well, think critically, comfortably make connections between disperate ideas, and have a strong sense of their interests. Students pursue careers in business, law, medicine, government, performing arts, museum studies, and education. Having majored in the oldest interdisciplinary program in the College, American Studies alumni continue to be a highly active and engaged network of professionals.
The American Studies curriculum emphasizes writing as a central part of the development of students’ intellectual and professional lives. Student writing is expected to include critical, analytical and historical dimensions, not least because all students in the major must complete a senior research thesis project.
In preparation for this project, lower-division American Studies courses (American Civilization I and II) include weekly writing assignments in the practice of making arguments and supporting them with evidence from texts read in class. Additionally, students in these courses explore different forms of writing in multiple short genres, including museum exhibit descriptions, book introductions, etc. Students also complete research papers that encourage them to make connections between disparate ideas, identify and utilize primary research, and make compelling arguments. This work is facilitated through training in library research and through the use of citation formatting techniques.
In the interim between the lower-division courses and the senior thesis seminar, American Studies majors may be asked to participate in a student-led collaborative writing project. The objective of these projects is to engage students with forms of public scholarship. This is an opportunity for them to exercise their research and writing skills and present their work in various forms to not only fellow students and faculty, but also to alumni, parents, and a broader intellectual community. By way of example, one group is working towards the self-publication of their final papers from their American Civilization II course. They have the opportunity to develop their editorial skills and learn the rigorous practices of designing and distributing a publication.
The senior thesis seminar is organized into two courses taken sequentially in the student’s fourth year. These courses provide the opportunity for the genesis and development of an extended project, with a research and writing process that includes the development and refinement of research questions, methodologies, literature reviews/bibliographies, and work plans. Students are expected to have a regular habit of writing in order to digest and synthesize research insights, and do extensive draft and revision work to make clear, specific and discussion-worthy arguments. The emphasis of this process is the intellectual maturation of students, whereby their writing practice allows them to take ownership and responsibility for their final project produced at the year’s end.
(For course listings for American Studies see http://courses.georgetown.edu)