The American Studies Program is an honors-track major that is comparative and interdisciplinary in its approach to American Studies. The major draws on a broad range of faculty from the humanities and social sciences so that students can examine components of U.S. culture, the diverse experiences of Americans, and others affected by Americans locally, nationally, and globally. Students are allowed a wide-ranging yet disciplined exploration that crosses the boundaries of traditional academic fields. All students conduct a senior research project. Study abroad and upper level foreign language proficiency are encouraged. Freshmen and sophomores apply for admission to the major early in spring quarter. Because this selective honors-track program has more applicants than available space, admission depends in part on academic distinction and on demonstrated interest in American cultural study in a broad context.
The American Studies major consists of three key components. They are 1) the core 301 seminars which all majors are required to complete; 2) an individualized concentration designed by each student with the advice and approval of the Program director; and 3) the American Studies 390-1, 2 senior honors seminar. Regarding the yearlong sequence: majors are required to take 2 of the 301 seminars. All new majors are enrolled in the fall, half of each in the winter or spring (the decision is made by the Director). 301-2 and 3 get half of their enrollment from majors in affiliated American Studies programs and departments, namely African American Studies, Asian American Studies, and Latino/a Studies. In the quarter during which a student is not enrolled in 301, he/she must take an approved course in one of these programs, or a course approved by the Director for the fulfillment of the 301 requirement.
In addition, the Program offers a small number of electives, listed under the rubric of American Studies 310, open to all undergraduates, though majors are given preference in registration.
Seminar for Majors
A key feature of the seminar sequences, in addition to their limited size, is that the students stay together for two quarters of an academic year, though the instructors normally change from quarter to quarter. The purpose of this is to develop intellectual community among the majors and to provide intellectual synergy between American Studies affiliated programs as these students together explore significant topics from different perspectives. Typically the three different courses that comprise the 301 sequence address a single large theme. All of these themes are comparativist or international in focus, or enable a comparativist or internationalist approach or framework for thinking through key disciplinary and/or methodological dimensions. In the 2010-2011 academic year the theme was "An American Education," and the instructors came from the disciplines of Political Science, Communication Studies, and American and Comparative Literature. No matter what the topic, the development of the skills of spoken and written analysis and expression are emphasized.
Concentrations consist of at least ten 200 and 300-level courses chosen by the student from the offerings of at least three different departments or programs from throughout the University and organized around a topic or theme. All students must include either English 270-1 or 2 (the U.S. literature survey) or History 210-1 or 2 (the U.S. history survey). These two courses count towards the ten required courses for the major. At the discretion of the Program director, students who have scored a 4 or 5 on the American History AP examination may instead take one 300-level American history course to substitute for the U.S. History survey. Given the orientation of the program toward American Studies in a comparative context, students are urged to design a concentration with a similar emphasis. Concentrations may focus on a specific period, subject area (e.g., law, education, language), a special topic (e.g., revolution, religion, gender, race), or field of inquiry (e.g., the relationship between social thought and social action, art and society). But all concentrations should be comparative and, preferably, either inter-ethnic or international in their scope. Students must meet quarterly with the Program director in defining their concentrations and selecting courses, and the director must approve both the topic or theme of the concentration and the courses that can be counted toward fulfilling it. The precise nature of a student's concentration often evolves through his or her career in the Program.
Study abroad is strongly encouraged, as is proficiency in a language other than English. A number of majors have supplemented their course work on the Evanston campus with field studies or study abroad for a quarter or more. This is only possible for students who enter the major in their sophomore year, since every new student is required to take the American Studies 301 seminar in the first year. Numerous students have also decided to complete a minor or a second major. Visit the Northwestern University Study Abroad Office website for more information.
In their senior year, all majors conduct a research project that deals explicitly with the U.S. in a comparative or global dimension. They participate in the senior project seminar while undertaking the honors thesis on a topic of their choice, which typically emerges from their area of concentration. Students work both with their individual project adviser and the American Studies 390 instructor, and they meet regularly with their fellow seniors and the 390 instructor to discuss their own project and matters of common concern. While there is some freedom in the choice of topic and the precise final form of the project, all students are expected to do independent research and produce an original piece of comparative, inter-ethnic, or globally focused cultural analysis based on primary sources. The Program actively encourages all students who wish to do so to conduct part of their research off campus, and many seniors receive funding from the University and/or Weinberg College. Copies of virtually all the projects prepared over the years are available for reading in the Program office.Back to top