American Studies

The American Studies Major

The American Studies department at Amherst College is the oldest American Studies department in the United States. The core premise of American Studies is disarmingly simple: no discipline or perspective can satisfactorily encompass the diversity and variation that have marked American society and culture from the very beginning. This premise invites majors to craft their own distinctive way of coming to terms with America. Some will favor sociological, historical or economic interpretations; others will be drawn to literary or visual modes of interpretation. However individual majors fashion their courses of study, each major engages with one or more of the department’s faculty in an ongoing discussion of what is entailed in the study of American society. This discussion culminates in an interdisciplinary capstone project, of one or two semesters. The topic may emerge organically from the courses a major has selected or it may arise out of a passionate engagement with a work of fiction, a curiosity about a historical event, or a desire to understand the persistence of a social problem. Whatever the substantive focus, the capstone project affords majors the opportunity to reflect on what they have learned, refine their analytic and expository skills, and put all this to the test of making sense of some aspect of American society and culture.

The diversity of course selections available to majors ensures that they gain a heightened awareness of the history and present state of the peoples and social forces which constitute American society. Race, class, ethnicity and gender figure centrally in our courses, whether they are treated historically, sociologically or aesthetically. Our introductory course, focused on the Connecticut River Valley, and our requirement that all American Studies majors take a community-based learning course combine to challenge majors not only to study American culture and society but to be actively engaged citizens.