American Studies

About the American Studies Department

Founded in 1939, the American Studies department at Amherst College is the oldest continuous American Studies department in the United States.

Among the most crucial founding assumptions of the field of American Studies is that nothing so complicated as a culture or society can adequately be comprehended with reliance on a single disciplinary or methodological approach. Adequate comprehension must exploit insights derived from the study of history, literature, the arts, and the social sciences. Like other American Studies departments and programs across the country and around the world, the department has for decades undergone periodic rethinking of the field and reshaping of the curriculum.

The most important new developments in recent years have been the fuller integration into the department’s interdisciplinary project of transnational, racial and ethnic perspectives. Indeed, American Studies has become the home of comparative race and ethnicity studies at Amherst. The department has also come to work closely with Amherst’s Center for Community Engagement to develop community-based learning courses and opportunities for situated research. The American Studies major fosters the critical study of American society and practices of civic engagement.