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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.

Requirements

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

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.” Majors in the program develop critical tools for analyzing cultural texts (visual arts, literature, music, fashion, advertising, social media, buildings, objects, bodies, etc.) in relation to political, social, economic, and environmental contexts. Students have wide latitude to choose courses that most interest them, but they must fulfill the three-course core sequence and identify a primary focus that they will explore in at least four courses. 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.

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

The major consists of 10 four-credit courses (40 credits) in the study of American culture and society. Although majors have considerable freedom to choose courses from many different fields and departments, they must satisfy the following requirements:
• Three required “core” courses: AMS 201 (Introduction to American Culture and Society), AMS 202 (Methods in American Studies), and AMS 340 (Capstone).
• Seven elective courses that meet the following distribution requirements. (Note that any single course can fulfill multiple distribution requirements; for example, an AMS-prefixed course could also satisfy the history requirement):
a) Two courses with an AMS prefix (in addition to the core courses).
b) One course that studies the past and explores change over time. (Such courses can be found in a wide variety of departments including AMS, History, Africana Studies, English, Art History, Film and Media Studies, and Government.)
c) One course that studies culture and society from a transnational/diasporic/global/comparative perspective.
d) Three courses, chosen in consultation with the student’s advisor, that engage one or more of the analytic fields below. Students must cover at least three different analytical fields to complete the major:
1. race/ethnicity
2. citizenship/sovereignty
3. dis/ability
4. gender/sexuality
5. class
6. popular culture
7. media
8. visual arts
9. music/sound
10. literature
11. political economy
12. critical science/technology studies
13. empire/settler colonialism
14. Native American and Indigenous studies*
15. Asian/Pacific/American studies*
16. environmental studies
17. history and historicity
18. material culture/museums
19. knowledge production/education/epistemology
 
*We highlight these fields because they are connected to certificate programs closely associated with AMS at Smith.

Focus

Although AMS emphasizes interdisciplinary study, by the end of their senior year students should be able to name an area of focus in which they have taken 4 courses to identify their personalized pathway through the major. As a reference point, previous examples include Popular Culture, Race & Ethnicity, and Museums & Public History, but we emphasize that each student will construct and name their own focus in consultation with their adviser.

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

Courses

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

Frazer Ward
Professor, Art

 

Emeriti

Daniel Horowitz
Mary Huggins Gamble Professor Emeritus of American Studies

Helen Horowitz
Syndenham Clark Parsons Emerita of History and American Studies

 

Five College 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.

 

 

Contact

Department of American Studies

Wright Hall 224
Smith College
Northampton, MA 01063

Phone: 413-585-3503
Fax: 413-585-3389
Email: jwintjen@smith.edu

Administrative Assistant: Jeanette Wintjen

Individual appointments can be arranged directly with the faculty.