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 to xenophobia and zoos, American studies draws on the insights and methods of numerous academic disciplines, such as history, economics, sociology, anthropology, literary studies, art history, political science and musicology.
American studies at Smith is an interdisciplinary program that studies the history, culture and society of the diverse peoples who inhabit the contested and complex geographical, political and cultural space(s) named "America." The program brings together faculty and students from a variety of academic fields, including history, English, music, art, film and media studies, indigenous studies, Asian American studies, African American studies, politics, education, women and gender studies, critical disability studies, material culture and museum studies. Thoughtfully choosing among and combining these approaches, we seek a complex and nuanced understanding of American culture that will enable students to become deliberative, critically engaged participants in the United States and the world.
Students majoring in American studies are expected to:
- Interpret culture critically, attentive to the politics and aesthetics of cultural forms, and to the social construction of taste, pleasure, desire and anxiety.
- To understand how power shapes and disguises common‐sense or taken‐for‐granted practices, assumptions and modes of expression.
- Understand how to read ideologically.
- Study history in order to understand the origins of present systems, values, desires.
- Become attentive to the different reading and interpretive strategies required of different cultural forms: textual, visual, auditory, material objects, technologies, built environments and more.
- Engage theory, through reading and writing about theoretical texts.
- Approach problems and questions from a variety of disciplinary perspectives.
- Conduct original, contextualized and independent research, which requires the student to:
- Identify and locate primary sources for cultural analysis.
- Navigate archives effectively.
- Describe—in terms of content and form—primary sources.
- Interpret primary sources by reading them for indications of their expression of broad cultural values, anxieties and desires.
- Formulate a research question in light of issues currently debated in the field and learn how to conduct independent research.
- Identify and locate scholarly and critical materials relevant to research questions.
- Understand and critique scholarly and critical arguments in the field.
- Situate research in ongoing debates in the field.
- Communicate persuasive and well‐grounded arguments orally and in writing.
About the Major
The major in American studies enables a student to pursue a liberal arts education by focusing on American society and culture in the past and present. Instead of specializing in one of the traditional disciplines, the major combines several disciplines (e.g., history, art history, literature, economics) in the sequence of courses to fulfill major requirements.
Because of the wide-ranging interests and methods included within the interdisciplinary American Studies Program, careful consultation between a student and adviser is crucial to the planning of the major.
In order to structure the studies of American society and culture, majors will select a focus, such as an era (for example, antebellum America, the 20th century) or a topical concentration (for example, ethnicity and race, urban life, social policy, material culture, the family, industrialization, the arts, the media, popular culture, comparative American cultures), which they will explore in at least four courses. It is expected that several courses in the major will explore issues outside the theme.
Students who double major in American studies and another field normally can count toward the American studies requirements up to four courses used to fulfill the requirements of another major.
Many American studies majors study abroad either for a year or a semester.
Senior Certification Form
When indicating on the Senior Certification Form which 64 credits were taken outside of the major, an American studies student can list American subject courses that are not American studies courses themselves.
American studies majors can become licensed, as undergraduates, to teach in public schools throughout the country. Licensure is available on the elementary, middle or secondary levels. Gaining undergraduate licensure, however, requires careful planning. Students interested in doing this should decide fairly early in their undergraduate careers, usually by the end of sophomore year.
Students who are considering obtaining a teaching license should contact the Department of Education and Child Study.
Twelve semester courses totaling 48 credits, as follows:
- AMS 201 and 202
- Eight courses in the American field. At least four must be related in a coherent manner; at least two courses must be in the humanities and two in the social sciences; at least two must be devoted primarily to the years before the 20th century; at least one must be a seminar, ideally in the theme selected. Students who write honors theses do not have to take a seminar.
- One course that will enable the student to make explicit comparisons between the United States and another society, culture or region. The purpose of this requirement is to encourage students to take at least one course in their major that enables them to think about what they have learned of the United States in comparative perspective. Students can fulfill this requirement by making such comparisons on their own but through their engagement with materials and ideas in a course whose focus is largely outside the United States—courses, for example, in anthropology or in non-U.S. history, literature or art.
- AMS 340/341
Students have chosen many different ways of giving their major in American studies a focus that builds on their own needs and on the college's rich curricular offerings.
Here are some samples of what they have chosen as the foci of their majors:
Popular Culture/Mass Media
- FLS 241 Genre/ Period
- GOV 210 Public Opinion and Mass Media in the U.S.
- SOC 318 Sociology of Popular Culture
- FLS 200 Introduction to Film Studies
- SOC 213 Ethnic Minorities
- HST 279 Urban History
- EDC 200 Education in the City
- GOV 204 Urban Politics
Racial and Ethnic Diversity in American Life
- ENG 267 Introduction to Asian American Literature
- GOV 310 Native Americans in American Law and Politics
- AAS 248 Gender in the Afro-American Literary Tradition
- SOC 214 Sociology of Hispanic Caribbean Communities in the U.S.
Public History and the World of Museums
- AMS 220 Curating American Memory
- AMS 302 The Material Culture of New England
- AMS 410 Tutorial on Research Methods at the Smithsonian
- AMS 412 Research Project at the Smithsonian
19th-Century American Culture and Politics
- ENG 248 American Literature From 1865 to 1914
- AAS 335 Free Blacks in the U.S. before 1865
- HST 266 The Age of the American Civil War
- ARH 264 Arts in North America
Director: Christen Mucher
Honors students write a thesis, usually 50 to 80 pages in length and based on original research. Typically an honors thesis counts for two courses (8 credits) taken in either one or two semesters.
Examples of completed theses include the following.
- No John Trumbull: Social, Political, and Cultural Resonance of Hamilton: an American Musical
- “The Wife, the Widow”: Narratives of Grief in Contemporary American Memoir
- Tolerance and Trade: Multiculturalism in Seventeenth Century New Amsterdam
- Community Center to Concert Hall: Youth Outreach, Classical Music Publics, and Institutional Discourse
- Performing Liminality: Embodying Disability and Trans Identity Onstage
- History on Display: Commemoration at the 1876 Centennial Exposition
- “Being a Part of Something Special Makes You Special, Right?”: Creating a Glee-ful Community of Jewishness on American Television
- Could I Be Miss America?: An Asian American’s Experience with the Miss America Organization
- A Mixed Memory: Mexican American Studies in the Borderlands
- Recovered Memory: The Making of Profit, Place, and Person at Sierra Tucson Rehab Facility
- Breaking the "Jolly Negro": Racist Material Culture and White Domesticity in the Era of Jim Crow
- Motivation, Meritocracy, and the Model Minority Rights Myth: Representations of Asian Americans in Spelling Bees
AMS 202 Methods In American Studies
Monday, 1:20 -2:35 p.m.
AMS 238 Only Joking: Race, Gender, and Comedy in American Culture
Tuesday and Thursday, 9:25 - 10:40 a.m.
AMS 239 The Culture Wars
Monday and Wednesday, 10:50 a.m. - 12:05 p.m.
AMS 245 Feminist and Indigenous Science
Evangeline Heiliger and Christen Mucher
Monday and Wednesday, 1:20 - 2:35 p.m.
ENG 351s Writing About American - The Art of Writing Family Stories
Thursday, 1:20 - 4:00 p.m.
AMS 201 Introduction to the Study of American Society and Culture
Evangeline Heiliger and Kevin Rozario
AMS 220 Dance, Music, Sex, Romance
AMS 302 Seminar: The Material Culture of New England, 1630-1860
AMS 340 Symposium in American Studies: Culture in Crisis
AMS 351 Writing about American Society: The Grind and the Glory: Writing about Work
AMS 400 Special Studies
ARX 340 Taking the Archives Public
Kelly P Anderson
ENG 384 Writing about American Society: The Grind and the Glory: Writing about Work
This list contains most, but not all, of the courses that can count toward American studies. The list of courses is not meant to be exhaustive but rather to indicate the range of possibilities within the major. We encourage majors and prospective majors to discuss other possibilities with their advisers, or with the Director of the American Studies Program, Professor Kevin Rozario, Seelye Hall #231A.
Students are especially encouraged to consider courses in Afro-American studies and Latin American and Latino/a studies. In addition, students should explore the relevant offerings in the Five Colleges. Students are especially alerted to courses in the Five College Program in Asian/Pacific/American Studies, which are very likely to count toward the AMS major.
H Historical studies
S Social science
N Natural science
M Mathematics and analytic philosophy
A The arts
F A foreign language
AAS 111 Introduction to Black Culture (S)
AAS 117 History of Afro-American People to 1960 (H)
AAS 155 Introduction to Black Women's Studies (H/S)
AAS 175 African American Literature 1900 to the Present (L)
AAS 202 Topics in Black Studies (L)
AAS 212 Family Matters: Representations, Policy and the Black Family (S)
AAS 245 The Harlem Renaissance (L)
AAS 278 The '60's: A History of Afro-Americans in the United States From 1954 to 1970 (H)
AAS 335 Seminar: Free Blacks in the U.S. Before 1865 (H)
All courses count towards the major except AMS 100 and AMS 102.
Some courses in anthropology may count toward the major, depending on the student's focus. Anthropology courses provide an excellent way to fulfill the "explicit comparison" requirement.
ARH 264 Arts in North America: Colonial Period to Civil War (will meet requirement for a course for the major which must be devoted primarily to the years before the 20th century)
ARH 265 Arts in the United States after the Civil War (will meet requirement for a course for the major which must be devoted primarily to the years before the 20th century)
ARH 360 Studies in American Art
BIO 101 Modern Biology for the Concerned Citizen (N)
CHM 108 Environmental Chemistry (N)
ECO 224 Environmental Economics (S)
ECO 230 Urban Economics (S)
ECO 233 Free Market Economics (S)
ECO 265 Economics of Corporate Finance (S)
ECO 272 Law and Economics (S)
ECO 275 Money and Banking (S)
ECO 314 Seminar: Industrial Organization and Antitrust Policy (S)
ECO 324 Seminar: Economics of the Environment and Natural Resources (S)
ECO 341 Economics of Health Care (S)ECO 363 Seminar: Inequality (S)
Education & Child Study
EDC 110 Introduction to American Education (S)
EDC 200 Education in the City (S)
EDC 232 The American Middle School and High School (S)
EDC 235 Child and Adolescent Growth and Development (S)
EDC 237 Comparative Education (S)
EDC 336 Seminar in American Education
English Language & Literature
ENG 120 Colloquia in Literature (L)
(Will count when course focuses on U.S. material)
ENG 230 American Jewish Literature (H)
ENG 231 American Literature Before 1865 (L)
ENG 233 American Literature From 1865 to 1914 (L)
ENG 235 Modern American Writing (L)
ENG 282 The Harlem Renaissance (L)
ENG 303 Seminar: American Literature (L)
ENG 382 Readings in American Literature
FLS 200 Introduction to Film Studies (H)
First-year seminars will count when the course focuses on United States material.
GOV 190 Empirical Methods in Political Science (S/M)
GOV 200 American Government (S)
GOV 201 American Constitutional Interpretation (S)
GOV 202 American Constitutional Law: The Bill of Rights and the Fourteenth Amendment (S)
GOV 206 The American Presidency (S)
GOV 207 Politics of Public Policy (S)
GOV 213 Colloquium: The Bush Years (S)
GOV 215 Colloquium: The Clinton Years (S)
GOV 237 Colloquium: Politics and the U.S./Mexico Border (S)
GOV 304 Seminar in American Government
- Topic: Inequality, Social Policy, and the Politics of Methods. Who Counts? (S)
GOV 306 Seminar in American Government (S)
GOV 307 Seminar in American Government (S)
GOV 312 Seminar in American Government (S)
HST 265 Race, Gender and United States Citizenship, 1776-1861 (H)
HST 267 The United States Since 1877 (H)
HST 270 (C) Aspects of American History (H)
HST 278 Women in the United States, 1865- Present (H)
HST 280 (C) Inquiries into United States Social History (H)
HST 289 (C) Aspects of Women's History (H)
HST 371 Problems in 19th-Century United States History (H)
HST 372 Problems in American History (H)
HST 383 Research in United States Women's History: The Sophia Smith Collection (H)
HST 390 Teaching History (H)
JUD 230 American Jewish Literature (H)
LSS 100 Landscape, Environment, and Design
LSS 105 Introduction to Landscape Studies
Latin American and Latino/a Studies
Courses in this program are good ways to meet the "explicit comparison" requirement.
MUS 100 Colloquia
(Will count when course focuses on U.S. material)
MUS 105 Roll Over Beethoven: A History of Rock (A/H)
PSY 140 Health Psychology (S/N)
PSY 150 Abnormal Psychology (N)
PSY 165 Adult Development (S/N)
PSY 241 Psychology of Adolescence and Emerging Adulthood (S/N)
PSY 246 Colloquium: Psychology of Asian American Experiences (S)
PSY 247 Psychology of the Black Experience (S/N)
PSY 265 Colloquium: Political Psychology (S)
PSY 266 Psychology of Women and Gender (S/N)
PSY 269 Colloquium: Categorization and Intergroup Behavior (S/N)
PSY 270 Social Psychology (N)
PSY 374 Psychology of Political Activism (S)
PSY 375 Research Seminar on Political Psychology (N)
PPL 220 Public Policy Analysis (S)
PPL 250 Race and Public Policy in the United States (S)
PPL 390 Senior Public Policy Workshop (S)
SOC 101 Colloquium: Introduction to Sociology (S)
(Will count when course focuses on U.S. material)
SOC 201 Evaluating Information (M)
SOC 202 Quantitative Research Methods (S/M)
SOC 203 Qualitative Methods (S)
SOC 213 Race and National Identity in the United States (S)
SOC 218 Urban Sociology (S)
SOC 219 Medical Sociology (S)
SOC 229 Sex and Gender in American Society (S)
SOC 226 Sociological Perspectives on Power and Privilege in American Education (S)
SOC 244 Feminisms and Women's Movements: Latin-American Women's and Latinas' Pursuit of Social Justice (H/S)
SOC 250 Theories of Society (S)
SOC 317 Seminar: Inequality in Higher Education (SS)
SOC 323 Seminar: Gender and Social Change (S)
Study of Women & Gender
SWG 150 Introduction to the Study of Women and Gender (H)
SWG 222 Gender, Law and Policy
SWG 270 Colloquium: Documenting Lesbian Lives (H/S)
SWG 271 Reproductive Justice (H/S)
SWG 290 Gender, Sexuality and Popular Culture (A/S)
SWG 300 Special Topics in the Study of Women and Gender (when topic is focused on aspects of American culture)
THE 213 American Theatre and Drama (L/H/A)
Interdepartmental/Extradepartmental Course Offerings
IDP 208 Women's Medical Issues (N)
Professor, Study of Women and Gender
Professor, English Language & Literature
Mary Augusta Jordan Professor of English Language and Literature
Lecturer and Director, Diploma Program
Professor, Flim & Media Studies
Associate Professor, Africana Studies
Jennifer C. Malkowski
Assistant Professor of Film & Media Studies
Associate Professor, American Studies
Professor, English Language & Literature
Assistant Professor, Africana Studies
Director, American Studies and Associate Professor, American Studies
Andrea Stephanie Stone
Assistant Professor, English Language & Literature
Professor, English Language & Literature
Sylvia Dlugasch Bauman Professor of American Studies, and Professor and Chair, Department of Music
Opportunities & Resources
For information on Smith-approved programs abroad that have American studies offerings, see the following.
- University of East Anglia, England
- University of Sussex, England
- University of Wales, Swansea
- University of Toronto
- McGill University
Contact the Office for International Study for more information about opportunities abroad.
The Hoxie Scholarship is for AMS majors planning to intern 35–40 hours per week for three weeks during interterm. Submit a 1–2 page statement, with a cover sheet that includes your information, description of your internship in detail, a concise schedule, budget and two faculty references. Contact email@example.com for further information.
Newton Arvin Prize in American Studies
The Newton Arvin Prize in American Studies is awarded for the best long paper in the introductory course on the study of American society and culture.
Most recent recipient: Jacqueline Richardson ’21
Gladys Lampert ’28 and Edward Beenstock Prize
The Gladys Lampert ’28 and Edward Beenstock Prize is awarded for the best honors thesis in American studies or American history.
Most recent recipient: Becca Tibbitts '19
Eleanor Flexner Prize
The Eleanor Flexner Prize is awarded for the best piece of work by a Smith undergraduate using the Sophia Smith Collection or the Smith College Archives.
Most recent recipient: Jenna Gilley '19
Nancy Boyd Gardner Prize
The Nancy Boyd Gardner Prize is awarded for an outstanding paper or other project in American studies by a Smithsonian intern or American studies major.
Most recent recipient: Sara Hollar '20, Xiaofie (Sophie) Lie '20
Donald H. Sheehan Memorial Prize
The Donald H. Sheehan Memorial Prize is awarded for outstanding work in American studies.
Most recent recipient: Claire Baumgardner '19
Students who graduate from Smith College with an A.B. in American studies pursue a range of career alternatives. Each year several of our majors go on to doctoral programs, most often in U.S. history, American literature or American studies.
Many of our graduates go on to graduate or professional work that prepares them for careers in law, business, social work, public policy, elementary and secondary education and communications or graduate programs in historic preservation, material culture or museum studies. Over the course of the years, our majors find careers and life choices that are not markedly different from those who have majored in fields such as history, government, sociology and English.
Smith College Resources
Resources in American Studies at Smith College
The Smith libraries provide links to web resources and databases accessible from the Smith campus.
Sophia Smith Collection
This nationally recognized archive of primary audio and visual documents pertaining to women’s history covers such subjects as birth control, women’s rights, suffrage, the contemporary women’s movement and middle-class family life in 19th- and 20th-century New England.
Explore the history of Smith College in student letters, diaries, course notes, photographs and memorabilia, along with more official records from the college’s past.
Mortimer Rare Book Room
Discover medieval manuscripts and printed books from the 15th century to the present in all subjects. The collection is rich in original editions of 19th- and 20th-century American literature and history, especially children's literature, early educational materials, etiquette and advice for women, popular novels, and travel writing by women. It houses a small collection of literary manuscripts by women writers, notably Sylvia Plath and Virginia Woolf.
Smith College Art Museum
Explore the collections of major American and European art from BCE 2500 to the present. The internationally renowned permanent collection is supplemented by a variety of visiting exhibits, lectures and programs.
Resources in the Pioneer Valley
Historic Northampton’s collection of more than 500,000 objects and three historical buildings documents the history of Northampton and the Connecticut Valley from Pre-Columbian years to the present.
Porter-Phelps Huntington House
Six generations of the same family lived in this 18th-century Hadley homestead, which features family documents and artifacts. Open seasonally. There is an admission fee.
Historic Deerfield is a museum of New England history and art featuring a collection of 18th- and 19th-century houses and the Flynt Center of Early New England Life, filled with some of the great decorative arts of early America.