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Program in American Studies


Hendrik A. Hartog

Executive Committee

Wallace D. Best, Religion, African American Studies

M. Christine Boyer, Architecture

Margot Canaday, History

Anne A. Cheng, English, African American Studies

Rachael Z. DeLue, Art and Archaeology

Jill S. Dolan, English, Lewis Center for the Arts

Paul Frymer, Politics

Eddie S. Glaude Jr., Religion, African American Studies

William A. Gleason, English

Carol J. Greenhouse, Anthropology

Hendrik A. Hartog, History

Stanley N. Katz, Woodrow Wilson School

Noriko Manabe, Music

Lee C. Mitchell, English

Daniel T. Rodgers, History

Gideon A. Rosen, Philosophy, ex officio

Martha A. Sandweiss, History

Kim Lane Scheppele, Woodrow Wilson School, University Center for Human Values, Sociology

Paul E. Starr, Sociology, Woodrow Wilson School

Emily A. Thompson, History

Marta Tienda, Woodrow Wilson School, Sociology

Alexandra T. Vazquez, English, African American Studies

Judith L. Weisenfeld, Religion

R. Sean Wilentz, History

The Program in American Studies is an interdepartmental plan of study. The aim is to give students an understanding of American society--its culture, its institutions, its intellectual traditions, and the relationships among its diverse people--by exploring and debating issues raised in the separate disciplines.

The cooperating departments from which the program draws faculty and other resources include anthropology, architecture, art and archaeology, economics, English, history, music, philosophy, politics, psychology, religion, sociology, and the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. Students from all departments are welcome to apply for admission.

Admission to the Program

The program accepts approximately 45 students each year. Criteria for admission are a strong academic record and particular interest in the multidisciplinary work of the program. Before applying for admission, students must take American Studies 201, preferably during the sophomore year, and achieve a satisfactory standing in the course.

Program of Study

In addition to 201, students must complete two 300- or 400-level American studies courses. The work of these courses involves cooperative study of a major topic in American history or culture and its relation to other aspects of American life. Usually, the course operates as a seminar, with emphasis on independent research and writing. Lectures and discussions led by outside specialists, as well as films or field trips, frequently supplement the work.

Students must also complete three American studies electives, which are courses in the American field offered by departments throughout the University and approved by the program director (pass/D/fail not acceptable).

Students are expected to complete a normal departmental course of study with such emphasis on the American field as that department permits. The senior thesis must be on a topic related to American culture or history.

Certificate of Proficiency

Students who fulfill all requirements of the program will receive a certificate of proficiency in American studies upon graduation.


AMS 201 American Places: An Introduction to American Studies   Fall HA

An introduction to the key themes of interdisciplinary work on North America, from the 16th century to the modern era. Readings and related material will focus on the study of particular American places. Topics may include native-European contact, the American Revolution, slavery, urbanization, the rise of mass culture, and the computer revolution. One 90-minute lecture, one 90-minute preceptorial. W. Gleason

AMS 305 Law and Work (also POL 425)   Fall SA

Examines both what people want, and historically have wanted, in the workplace, and how American laws provide or fail to provide these rights and opportunities. Emphasizes the legal regimes created by the Wagner Act of 1935 and the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Categories of rights created in these eras are constantly being re-designed and understood. The class will look at how the law has interpreted these rights, and how far the expansion of workplace rights extends. Is the workplace best seen as a site for individual opportunity and personal growth, a furthering of American democracy, or an avenue to making money? One three-hour seminar. P. Frymer

AMS 317 The Fear of God: American Horror from Jonathan Edwards to Cloverfield   Fall LA

This seminar explores the evolution of American horror fiction and cinema, from the religious roots in the Puritan sensibility to the present day when horror addresses a somewhat wider range of dreads--including, but not confined to, the traditional fear of damnation. Works selected reflect a constant oscillation between the moral and amoral ends of fear-generation. The seminar will investigate this irresolvable ambivalence about the relative merits of salvation through fear versus fear as a perverse form of entertainment. One three-hour seminar. Staff

AMS 325 Urban Education Reform   Fall SA

This seminar focuses on issues involved in improving educational opportunities for children in urban schools. Students will analyze the historical and contemporary writings on issues fundamental to student educational performance, with emphasis on understanding the barriers and pathways to reform. Students will also apply their readings to case studies of selected urban school districts exploring the policy and political dimensions of various reform initiatives. One three-hour seminar. L. Gerwin

AMS 331 Intellectual Property: Theory, History, and Policy   Fall EM

Intellectual property law is concerned with the legal regulation of mental products. It affects such diverse subjects as the visual and performing arts, new plant varieties, electronic databases, advertising, insulin-producing bacteria, and video games. This course seeks to mix theoretical, historical, and policy approaches to the regulation of knowledge. Through approaching intellectual property as a regulatory system, it will examine the balancing of incentives to foster human creativity with the concern about unduly restricting its diffusion. One three-hour seminar. Staff

AMS 332 Special Topics in Performance History and Theory (see THR 331)

AMS 340 Shades of Passing (see AAS 340)

AMS 346 Latinos in American Life and Culture (see LAO 200)

AMS 350 Civil Society and Public Policy (see WWS 325)

AMS 353 Moby-Dick Unbound (also ENG 355)   Spring LA

Undertakes a close reading of Moby-Dick (1851), often acclaimed as the greatest American novel. Why was this story of a tragic sea voyage so neglected in its day, and so celebrated by later generations? To explore its twin lines of action--Ahab's drive to kill a white whale versus Ishmael's quest to know it--the class will use the methods of history, literature, art, religion, economics, philosophy, and ecology. Of special interest are the ways Melville anticipates recent environmental thought, depicts a globalized culture, and dramatizes the national struggle to reconcile faith and fact, race and justice. One three-hour seminar. W. Howarth

AMS 356 Migration, Urban Space, and African American Culture (see AAS 356)

AMS 361 Festival, Celebration, and Ritual in American Culture (see REL 361)

AMS 396 The Idea of America (see CHV 396)

AMS 411 Seminar in Political Theory (see POL 411)