Structure of the American Studies Major

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American Studies majors are required to take ten courses and complete a senior project. The American Studies major includes two specific course requirements and eight other courses on American culture and society, at least two of which must be met with American Studies courses taken at the 200 and 300 levels.  The remaining six elective courses can be chosen, in close consultation with an advisor, from courses offered by the department, or from courses with relevant content offered across the curriculum of the college, the Five Colleges, or during study away from Amherst.  The American Studies major offers enormous flexibility for interdisciplinary exploration. Upon declaring an American Studies Major students meet with their major advisor to chart their intended course through the major. The American Studies major counts all passing grades (including P) towards the completion of major requirements. 

The American Studies Department recognizes the collective and psychic harms of systemic and institutional racism and supports our students with excused absences for selfcare under stressful conditions.  We hope, too, that our classrooms can be supportive spaces for conversation and learning about these conditions.

American Studies Courses at the 100 Level

All majors are required to take a 100 level course, ideally early in their progress through the major. These courses are also excellent entry places for students interested in exploring American Studies.  Although the topics may change, all of our 100 level courses offer an introduction to interdisciplinary work in American Studies.

American Studies Courses at the 200 and 300 Level

All American Studies majors must take at least one American Studies course at the 200 level, and at least one American Studies course at the 300 level.  These courses can also simultaneously meet the requirements for community-engaged courses and/or for courses with significant pre-1900 content.

American Studies 468

This seminar on research methods in American Studies is offered every year and must be taken by the spring semester of junior year. This course serves an important function in preparing students for their senior projects.  Students who take this course as a Sophomore often find it very helpful in shaping their experience of the major.

Community-Engaged Learning

Community engagement is an important part of our curriculum and American Studies methods. All majors are required to take one course that not only studies but engages with local and regional communities. American Studies offers several courses that fulfill this requirement. Students should consult with their advisor and/or the department chair to choose their course. With the approval of the student’s American Studies advisor, the requirement can also be met by other community-engaged learning courses taught at Amherst or across the Five College consortium.

In 2020-2021, American Studies offers these courses, which will have a community engagement component:


America Before the 20th Century

All American Studies Majors must take three courses with significant pre-1900 content. These might include a history course on some aspect of early America or the nineteenth century, a course on American literature, a course on pre-20th century American art or architecture, a Black Studies course on slavery or Reconstruction, a Sexuality, Women’s and Gender Studies course focused on these centuries, an Environmental Studies course on land use, an American Studies course on Native cultures, a Political Science course on the nation’s founding— any course that pays significant attention to America before the 20th century. American Studies 111:  Global Valley may be counted towards this requirement.


At least three, and no more than four, of the ten courses required for the major should be devoted to a single theme or academic discipline. For example, a student might have a concentration in Asian American Studies, Latino Studies, Native American and Indigenous Studies, sexuality, urban studies, environmental studies, or in literature, history, economics, or political science, or film and media.  Students declare their Concentration at the time of declaring an American Studies major.

Senior Project

In their senior year, all American Studies majors will complete an interdisciplinary independent project closely supervised by a faculty advisor.  A student may choose to enroll in AMST 498 or 499 to produce a senior thesis, necessary to be considered for honors; or can choose to enroll in AMST 496 to produce a one-semester capstone project—either a shorter essay or some other form of independent interdisciplinary research and production.  In both cases, the senior project serves as the grounds for a comprehensive evaluation of each student's achievement in the major.

500 word proposals for Honors Projects and Capstones should be submitted to the department in the spring of the junior year. American Studies Senior Projects can take many forms besides that of a traditional academic thesis. In addition to a description of the project, proposals should include an account of relevant coursework or other appropriate preparation and be accompanied by a brief bibliography.

Sample American Studies Advising Form

Majors work with their advisors to track their project through the major. The password protected Google Sheets the department uses for this purpose provide a useful summary of  Intentions upon declarng an American Studies Major and department requirements for fulfilling one. The form looks like this:
Intentions on Declaring a Major in American Studies
Things to think about when declaring a major in American Studies: Your initial intentions Reflections and changes
Why did you choose to major in American Studies?    
Intended area(s) of concentration    
Methods and/or skills you aim to hone or acquire    
Plans to study away, and ideal places to go    
Interest in particular modes or sites of community engagement    
Ways you would like to engage with earlier historical periods    
Requirements Course Name & Number Faculty Date taken Pre-1900 (3) CBL (1) Concentration (3-4)
1.   100 Level AMST course
2.   200 Level AMST course
2.   300 Level AMST course
4.   AMST468 
5.   Elective course
6.   Elective course
7.   Elective course
8.   Elective course
9.   Elective course
10. Elective course
Capstone or
Approval of Major