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American Studies

Painting by Thomas Charles Farrer. View of Northampton from the Dome of the Hospital, 1865 (detail). Oil on canvas.

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.

Double Majors

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.

Study Abroad

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.

Teaching Certification

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.

Major Requirements

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

American Cities

  • 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

Honors Requirements

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.

Recent Theses

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
Steve Waksman
Monday, 1:20 -2:35 p.m.

AMS 238 Only Joking: Race, Gender, and Comedy in American Culture
Kevin Rozario
Tuesday and Thursday, 9:25 - 10:40 a.m.

AMS 239 The Culture Wars
Lane Hall-Witt
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.


Cross-Listed Courses

ENG 351s Writing About American - The Art of Writing Family Stories
Susan Faludi
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
Steve Waksman

AMS 302 Seminar: The Material Culture of New England, 1630-1860
Barbara Mathews

AMS 340 Symposium in American Studies: Culture in Crisis
Evangeline Heiliger

AMS 351 Writing about American Society: The Grind and the Glory: Writing about Work
Brooke Hauser

AMS 400 Special Studies
Kevin Rozario

Cross-Listed Courses

ARX 340 Taking the Archives Public
Kelly P Anderson

ENG 384 Writing about American Society: The Grind and the Glory: Writing about Work
Brooke Hauser


Executive Committee

Carrie Baker
Professor, Study of Women and Gender

Floyd Cheung
Professor, English Language & Literature

Michael Gorra
Mary Augusta Jordan Professor of English Language and Literature

Lane Hall-Witt
Lecturer and Director, Diploma Program

Alex Keller
Professor, Flim & Media Studies

Daphne Lamothe
Associate Professor, Africana Studies

Jennifer C. Malkowski
Assistant Professor of Film & Media Studies

Christen Mucher
Associate Professor, American Studies


Richard Millington
Professor, English Language & Literature

Samuel Ng
Assistant Professor, Africana Studies

Kevin Rozario
Director, American Studies and Associate Professor, American Studies

Andrea Stephanie Stone
Assistant Professor, English Language & Literature

Michael Thurston
Professor, English Language & Literature

Steve Waksman
Sylvia Dlugasch Bauman Professor of American Studies, and Professor and Chair, Department of Music

Frazer Ward
Professor, Art



Daniel Horowitz
Mary Huggins Gamble Professor Emeritus of American Studies

Helen Horowitz
Syndenham Clark Parsons Emerita of History and American Studies


Visiting Faculty

Richard Chu

For information on Smith-approved programs abroad that have American studies offerings, see the following.

Contact the Office for International Study for more information about opportunities abroad.




Department of American Studies

Wright Hall 224
Smith College
Northampton, MA 01063

Phone: 413-585-3503
Fax: 413-585-3389

Administrative Assistant: Jeanette Wintjen

Individual appointments can be arranged directly with the faculty.