General Program Description
The American Studies Program, an eleven-course major, uses interdisciplinary approaches to develop students’ understanding of the complexity of the culture(s) usually labeled “American.” Examining history, literature, visual media, performance, and other forms of expression, we explore the processes of cultural definition as contested by diverse individuals and groups. We ask new questions about aspects of American life long taken for granted; we also use American culture as a laboratory for testing classic and contemporary theories about how cultures work.
Non-Majors, First-Year Students, and Sophomores
American Studies 201 is open to non-majors including first-year students. All elective courses are open to students who meet the requirements of the departments that sponsor those courses. Courses designated as junior or senior seminars are open to non-majors with permission of the instructor.
Rationale for Course Numbering
In addition to an occasional 100-level topical course, the introductory course is offered at the 200 level to suggest the desirability of some preliminary training in college-level history, literature, sociology, or political science. The American Studies 301, the designated Junior Seminar, is offered primarily for juniors, although they are open to sophomores who have had 201 and will be away from campus during the spring of their junior year. 400 level courses designated as Senior Seminars are designed for senior majors.
Required Major Courses
American Studies 201, American Studies 301, (Junior Seminar), 400 level courses designated Senior Seminar
Eight courses: five should be chosen from one of the specializations, the other three chosen from among any of the electives listed, but students must draw their remaining courses from two of the other specializations. Students are also required to take at least one course covering pre-1900 American history or culture.
The Degree with Honors in American Studies
Candidates for honors in American Studies will undertake a substantial, year-long independent project during their Senior year. Applicants should have a consistent record of high achievement in courses taken for the major, and normally will have done work in the field of study of their proposed thesis. Students who wish to write or produce an honors project should consult with a prospective faculty advisor in their junior year. Formal application to pursue honors should be made by the time of spring registration in the junior year. Students must submit a 1- to 2-page preliminary proposal describing the proposed project to the Chair of the American Studies Program at this time. Final admission to the honors thesis program will depend on the AMST advisory committee’s assessment of the qualifications of the student and the merits and feasibility of the project. If the proposal is approved, they will be permitted to register for AMST 491, W30, and AMST 492 the following year. The completed project is due in mid-April. Each student will present a short oral presentation of his or her thesis at the end of spring semester. Honors Theses count as one of the eleven courses required for the major.
All majors will be assigned a faculty advisor. Majors must meet with their advisor during the first week of classes during the fall semester and at the time of the spring semester registration period in order to have their courses and plans for the American Studies major approved. Both majors and non-majors are encouraged to talk at any time with the program chair or other affiliated faculty about the major.
American Studies and Other Programs
Students majoring in American Studies are encouraged to consider pursuing concentrations in Africana Studies, Environmental Studies, Latina/o Studies, Performance Studies, and Women’s and Gender Studies. Many of the courses counted for those concentrations may also earn credit toward the American Studies major.
Study Away from Williams
We encourage students to pursue cross-cultural comparative studies. A major in American Studies can be combined with study away from Williams for a semester or a year if plans are made carefully. Many courses that will be approved for College credit may also count toward the American Studies major if their subject matter is American culture. Students planning to be away in the junior year should have taken American Studies 201 before they leave; those away for junior-year spring term should take a Junior Seminar in their sophomore year. Students should consult as early as possible with the chair or their advisor about their plans for fulfilling the requirements of the major.