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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, Theater 

Yaacob Dweck, History

Paul Frymer, Politics 

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

William A. Gleason, English 

Carol J. Greenhouse, Anthropology 

Hendrik A. Hartog, History 

Alison E. Isenberg, History 

Stanley N. Katz, Woodrow Wilson School 

Noriko Manabe, Music 

Lee C. Mitchell, English 

Imani Perry, African American Studies 

Sarah Rivett, English 

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 

Judith L. Weisenfeld, Religion 

R. Sean Wilentz, History 

Stacy E. Wolf, Lewis Center for the Arts, Theater 

Sits with Committee

Karen Y. Jackson-Weaver, Office of the Dean of the Graduate School

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 101 (or a program-designated substitute), preferably during the sophomore year, and achieve a satisfactory standing in the course.

Program of Study

In addition to 101 (or the program-designated substitute), 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 101 America Then and Now   Spring EC

This course introduces a selection of signature ideas and debates that made the nation what it is today and what it is becoming. Objects of study range across multiple media, including texts, images, works of art, music, performance, and film, and draw from the diverse fields of literature, history, political science, art history, economics, law, cultural studies, and the history of science. The course attends to how knowledge about America has and continues to be produced, disseminated, and consumed, emphasizing the cognitive processes associated with the invention and delineation of America. I. Perry, R. DeLue, P. Frymer

AMS 201 American Places: An Introduction to American Studies (also LAO 201)   Not offered this year 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 315 The Age of Emerson (also ENG 430)   Spring LA

Using the poetry and prose of Emerson as a kind of measure, this course seeks to understand the governing cultural and political rhetorics through which nineteenth-century America thought about such issues as race, slavery, nationality, manifest destiny, westward expansion, and identity. Emerson's writings will be read as both symptomatic and critical of the discourses that shaped the terms of these issues and debates. Although most of our time will be devoted to readings of Emerson's writings, we also will be reading texts by, among others, Thomas Paine, Daniel Webster, and Frederick Douglass, in order to contextualize our discussions. E. Cadava

AMS 317 Social Media: History, Poetics, and Practice   Fall SA

Software-generated social networking environments encompass historical platforms, such as BBS systems, and contemporary platforms, such as Twitter and Second Life. This seminar will focus on the history, theory, and contemporary practice of online cultural community and on the creation of social media-based content. Shared student experience with Internet-based social networking and authoring, as well as collaborative envisioning of future cultural uses of social media will be important components, and students will create and present online content. Staff

AMS 321 Diversity in Black America (see AAS 323)

AMS 327 Theatre and Society (see THR 309)

AMS 328 American Genres: Western, Screwball Comedy, Film Noir (also ENG 358)   Spring LA

Why did three distinctive American genres -- the Western, screwball comedy, film noir--achieve classic status in the same twenty-year period, 1936-1956? Part of the answer lies in global disruptions (economic depression, world war) that unsettled codes of behavior. Part lies in pivotal innovations in film technology (sound, color). But the decisive answer lies in a handful of directors who brilliantly reconfigured gendered relations in three different generic forms. And it is the surprising correspondences that emerge among these classic films, also the obvious divergences even within single genres, that will focus our discussion. M. DiBattista, L. Mitchell

AMS 333 American Stages (see THR 236)

AMS 337 Performance and Politics in the 1960s: Hippies and "Homos," Black Arts and Broadway (also THR 336)   Fall LA

This course will explore U.S. performance in the 1960s, from Broadway to the avant-garde to community and political theaters, in the context of the decade's social, cultural and intellectual politics. We'll examine production practices and artists' intentions, scripted and unscripted "texts," and critical and public reception of these works. Our goal will be to construct a complex and nuanced "thick description" of performance and politics during this remarkable period, while also questioning the value and limitations of decade-oriented historiography. S. Wolf

AMS 342 Race, Racism and Politics in Twentieth-Century America (also HIS 442)   Spring HA

In this seminar, we will explore the relationship between race, racism and politics throughout twentieth-century America. Topics will include segregation; immigration and assimilation; the role of racial politics in World War II and the Cold War; the civil rights movement and white massive resistance; Black Power and the white backlash; and contemporary politics up to the election of Barack Obama. K. Kruse

AMS 349 Faith and Freedom: Jews, Judaism and Law in America (also JDS 339)   Fall HA

This class will examine how secular law in the Colonies and the United States has shaped the American Jewish experience. Beginning with a survey of Halachah (Jewish law) and both philosophical discussions and legal practices in Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries, the course will proceed chronologically, looking at the larger historical-legal context of Church-State relations in a given period as well as the major cases, laws and controversies arising out of the Jewish experience in America. L. Sussman

AMS 350 Civil Society and Public Policy (see WWS 385)

AMS 354 Asian Americans and Public History/Memory   Fall HA

This seminar focuses on two major events in American history, the WWII incarceration of 120,000 Japanese Americans and the impact of the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, as well as Congressional apology or expression of regret for having enacted racially damaging legislation. We review the process of legislation, roles of executive and judicial branches, and immediate and long term impacts on targeted populations. We trace development of successful redress efforts and meanings for American history and memory, especially through public history venues. F. Odo

AMS 355 Nathaniel Hawthorne and American Exceptionalism   Spring EM

This seminar will examine the Democratic Review (1830s-'50s) writers and their ideas, ideas that have come to be known as "American exceptionalism." The seminar will read and discuss at length Hawthorne's nuanced and ambiguous contributions to the theory. P. Berman

AMS 363 Gender, Sexuality, and Contemporary U.S. Theatre and Performance (see GSS 363)

AMS 365 Isn't It Romantic? The Broadway Musical from Rodgers and Hammerstein to Sondheim (see GSS 365)

AMS 366 Queer Boyhoods (see GSS 316)

AMS 390 American Legal Thought   Fall EM

This course surveys American legal thought and the practices of American lawyers. Along the way, it questions the notion of distinctive "schools," as well as the distinctive legality and the distinctive Americanness of legal thought. It offers an intellectual history of 20th century American law, with an emphasis on core controversies and debates. H. Hartog

AMS 399 In the Groove: Technology and Music in American History, From Edison to the iPod (also HIS 399)   Spring HA

When Thomas Edison invented the phonograph in 1877, no one, including Edison, knew what to do with the device. Over the next century Americans would engage in an ongoing dialogue with this talking machine, defining and redefining its purpose. This course will track that trajectory, from business tool to scientific instrument to music recorder to musical instrument. By listening to the history of the phonograph, and by examining the desires and experiences of phonograph users, students will perceive more generally the complex relationships that exist between a technology and the people who produce, consume, and transform it. E. Thompson

AMS 403 For Your Viewing Pleasure: Gender and Sexuality in Contemporary American Theatre, Film, and Popular (see GSS 403)