The Major

Three students

Major Requirements

The American Studies Program at Williams College is anchored by interdisciplinary studies of cultures and social formations considered “American,” as well as places, peoples, and events around the world shaped by the U.S. Our students learn methods and theories from history, literature, social sciences, art, performance, and other forms of expression, while exploring lived experiences of diverse individuals and groups. We ask complex and critical questions about aspects of American life that are both newly emerging and that have deep roots in enslavement, dispossession, empire, and more. Grounded in our faculty’s award-winning research and expertise, our courses often feature work by BIPOC artists, activists, and academics. Through classes, advising, and mentorship, the Program aims to help students find lasting interests in a wide variety of passions and professions, including journalism, teaching, urban planning, writing, law, and so much more.

CourseworkThree students

Ten courses are required for the major. Three are required and seven are electives. Of the seven elective courses, one must count for pre-1900 credit. A pre-1900 course will have a significant amount of material dedicated to events, topics, ideas, etc. prior to the twentieth century.

Required courses:

  • AMST 101, The Nation and Its Discontents
  • AMST 301, Theories and Methods in American Studies (Junior Seminar)
  • One 400-level course designated as a Senior Seminar

Elective courses and specialization:

Majors must choose to concentrate their electives in one of four specializations. The specializations are Arts in Context; Comparative Studies in Race, Ethnicity and Diaspora; Critical and Cultural Theory; and Space and Place. Although we do our best to keep the course catalog and the website up-to-date with a course’s “attribute” (i.e. which courses count for which specializations), you may need to ask an advisor about classes on a case-by-case basis. For most of this semester’s listings, see this Google document

The remaining seven courses must include either five in the chosen specialization and one each in two other specializations (“5-1-1”), or four in the specialization and one in all three remaining specializations (“4-1-1-1”). 

Example of a “5-1-1” model:

  • AMST101
  • AMST301
  • Senior Seminar
  • 5 courses in Critical and Cultural Theory
  • 1 course in Space and Place
  • 1 course in Comparative Race, Ethnicity, and Diaspora

Example of a “4-1-1-1” model:

  • AMST101
  • AMST301
  • Senior Seminar
  • 4 courses in Comparative Race, Ethnicity, and Diaspora
  • 1 course in Space and Place
  • 1 course in Arts in Context
  • 1 course in Critical and Cultural Theory

In each of the models above, at least one of the elective courses should also be a Pre-1900 course. 

Courses that count for an elective in AMST will have an AMST course code but may also be cross-listed with other units. In special cases, courses without an AMST course code may count for AMST elective credit, but this must be decided on a case-by-case basis with your advisor. Consistent with College policy, AMST majors may count courses taken for a concentration (e.g. in LATS, WGSS, Global Studies, etc.) for the AMST major but may not “double count” courses taken for another major. 

Advising for rising juniors and seniors:Three students

American Studies faculty will be available to help rising juniors declare the major or address questions related to the major. While faculty are excited to talk to you about the major at any point during the school year, a typical time to discuss major declaration is in March or April, ahead of the registrar’s major declaration deadline. If you have already identified a faculty member who you would like to be your advisor, please feel free to reach out to that person for advising (with the exception of visiting faculty, who do not advise majors). If you are not sure with whom you’d like to advise, you may reach out to the chair of the program, who may advise you or assign you an advisor.

 During your meeting, the faculty member will guide you through the major declaration process, which will involve completing this college form AND this American Studies form. Once you complete the American Studies Program form, please share it with Robin Keller (rkeller​@williams​.edu). If you have any questions, please contact Robin or the department chair.  

Already a major? Three students

Please reach out to your assigned major advisor by email to discuss course selection before pre-registration opens. It is important that rising seniors reach out to their major advisors to confer about course selection, to ensure that all major requirements are fulfilled by the time of graduation.

As will all registration matters, it is important to consult the Registrar’s timeline, found here

Advising hours

Professor Cassandra Cleghorn,Chair

Friday, April 19 thru Wednesday, April 24, 1-4 pm & by appointment.

Office: Stetson 506

email: [email protected]

Professor Jan Padios

Students please use this link to sign up:

Professor Kelly Chung

email: [email protected]

Professor Brian Michael Murphy

Students please use this link to sign up:

email: [email protected]


Senior Thesis and the Degree with Honors

Candidates for honors in American Studies will undertake a substantial, year-long independent project during their senior year (a senior thesis). Applicants should have a consistent record of high achievement in courses taken for the major and, typically, 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 both the chair and prospective faculty advisor in the fall or winter of their junior year. Students who wish to pursue honors must submit a brief proposal describing their project to the Chair of the American Studies Program by the time of spring registration of their junior year.  Final admission to the honors thesis program will depend on the AMST advisory committee’s assessment of the qualifications of the student, the merits and feasibility of the project, and the availability of relevant faculty advisors. If the thesis proposal is approved, a thesis student will enroll in AMST 491/Winter Study/AMST 492.  These courses, taken together, count as one of the required electives. 

Please see the AMST Senior Thesis Q & A for complete, up-to-date information on doing a senior thesis in American Studies. 

Independent Study

Independent study courses are an option for students who want to pursue a topic independently (or with a peer), but who do not necessarily want, or are not eligible to pursue, a year-long senior thesis. If you are interested in an independent study, please reach out to the faculty member who you would like to advise you (or the chair of the program), at least one semester before you would like to pursue one. Please note that independent study is contingent on the availability of faculty to work with students in this special capacity. 

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. Many of the courses offered by Williams at Mystic Program also count toward the major. Please see the chair if you have questions about how your study abroad may enhance your American Studies experience. The program accepts up to two courses for AMST credit toward the major. 

Students planning to be away in the junior year should have taken American Studies 101 before they leave; those who can take the Junior Seminar before they go away are strongly encouraged to do so. Students should consult as early as possible with the chair or their advisor about their plans for fulfilling the requirements of the major.