American Studies

Georgetown College offers an A.B. in American Studies.

Major in American Studies

Founded in 1969, the American Studies Program at Georgetown University offers an interdisciplinary major that encourages students to ask critical questions about power, identity, history, and American culture. The program provides a strong core of courses that help students develop new ways of thinking about the narratives and ideas that define this country. Students examine American ideals, such as equality and democracy, but they also consider how differences and conflicts challenge those ideals. In American Studies, students consider how cultural artifacts and practices, ranging from art and pop culture to protests and political campaigns, reflect and influence social trends. In our courses, students might trace how eighteenth-century paintings comment on political divisions, how nineteenth-century dime novels challenge assumptions about gender and class, or how contemporary music responds to race relations, among other things. In addition to core courses in American Studies, students select courses from related fields – History, Art, English, Music, Sociology, Government, Philosophy and more – to create individualized degree plans based on their own interests. The major culminates with a year-long senior thesis project. With guidance from faculty mentors, students develop the deep knowledge to construct insightful critical arguments that can take many forms, from a traditional academic thesis to a multimedia or artistic project.

Because the program is small and our courses emphasize discussion and hands-on learning, students develop a strong sense of community through the creation of cohorts for each year group. This is enhanced by extracurricular activities, including field trips, social events, and lectures. Recent field trips have included a visit to a special exhibit of Thomas Cole’s paintings at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, a multi-site tour of Baltimore, and a visit to Richmond, VA. Every academic year, the annual Richardson Lecture in American Studies brings nationally-known writers, scholars, and artists to campus, and these events always include opportunities for students to talk in small groups with the speakers.

The American Studies major is well-suited for intellectually curious and independent students whose interests cross disciplines and departments. The American Studies major is designed to help students develop an integrated and intensive understanding of the social, historical, material, and aesthetic aspects of American cultures. This highly flexible major allows students to identify and pursue their interests while working collaboratively with a cohort of students and faculty.  Field trips and on-campus events help to build a strong intellectual community that undergirds each student’s experience. 

The program lays a strong foundation in two core courses that students take in their sophomore year and culminates in a guided year-long thesis sequence, in between students have significant freedom to pursue questions and topics of their choice by selecting from a wide range of electives. Because of the sophomore core courses, students interested in American Studies must apply in the spring of their first year, unlike other majors in the College.

More than half a century after its founding, American Studies at Georgetown University remains committed to challenging its students with a demanding curriculum that prepares our graduates for careers in a wide variety of fields, including law, journalism, teaching, government, museum curation, national security, new media and television, non-profit work, and business, as well as advanced study at the masters and doctoral level.

Requirements for the A.B. in American Studies

American Studies majors are required to complete 14 courses for the major. 

  • 2 Core courses in the Sophomore year:
    • AMST 2003: Origins and Identities
    • AMST 2004: Memory, Power, and Culture
  • 2 Core courses in the Junior year:

These core courses are designed by American Studies core faculty to allow juniors to continue learning about the field of American Studies in more specialized ways.  In these courses, juniors will have the opportunity to do assignments that will help them prepare for the development of a senior thesis proposal. 

For a course to fulfill these requirements, it must be taken after completion of AMST 2003 and AMST 2004. The majority of students take these courses during their junior year. Fall and Spring options will allow juniors to take their Junior Core Course requirements during their junior year and also participate in study abroad.  Examples of junior core courses include: AMST 3027: Workers in the US Food System, AMST 3073: Crime and Punishment, FMST 3399: Social Justice Documentary, AMST 3081: Advertising & Social Change and MUSC 1170: Rock History.

  • 2 courses in American History:

American Studies students take two history courses to gain background and context to their other core courses. Students are encouraged but not required to choose one history course that covers pre-1865 and one that covers post-1865 America. We recommend that you fulfill your history requirement as a first year or a sophomore. As you get into your junior and senior years, you will likely want to take other history courses as electives.  Study abroad courses cannot count towards these history requirements, as it is important that students work with Georgetown faculty. These courses are selected each semester by the Program from the History Department offerings.

  • 6 electives from an approved list of courses updated each semester by the Program
  • 2 courses in the Senior Thesis Seminar sequence:

AMST 4960: Thesis Research Seminar

AMST 4961: Thesis Writing Seminar

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 (AMST 2003 and AMST 2004) 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.

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 Schedule of Classes