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American Studies

About the Program

Director: Michael Thurston

The object of inquiry in American studies is culture—usefully defined as a society's "whole way of life"—the sum of the ways a society and its subjects at once understand and remake the world. Taking the contested and complex geographical, political and cultural space(s) named by "America" as a field for exploration, we ask how people in these spaces, in the present and in the past, make sense of their world, their relationships and themselves. Because culture includes everything from agriculture and architecture (the cultivation and building of spaces according to social values and desires) to xenophobia and zoos (the definition and expression of our relations with strangers and other species), American studies draws on the insights and methods of numerous academic disciplines (history, economics, sociology, anthropology, literary studies, art history, political science, musicology). Thoughtfully choosing among and combining these, we seek an interdisciplinary understanding of American culture.