Major Explorations: Black Studies


Black Studies provides an interdisciplinary exploration into the histories and cultures of Black people in Africa and its diaspora. It is also an inquiry into the social construction of racial differences and how these differences perpetuate racism and racial domination.

Black Studies Major

Black Studies major provides an interdisciplinary exploration of the histories and cultures of black people in Africa and the diaspora.   It is also an inquiry into the social construction of racial differences and its relation to the perpetuation of racism and racial domination.

The major in Black Studies consists of eight courses: three core courses, three distribution courses, and two electives. The three core courses are BLST 111, BLST 200, and BLST 300. The three distribution courses consist of one course in three of four geographic areas: Africa; the United States; Latin America and the Caribbean; and Africa and its Diaspora. The student may choose the two electives from the department’s offerings, from cross-listed courses, or from other courses at the Five Colleges. Majors fulfill the department's comprehensive requirement by successfully completing Black Studies 300.

Black Studies majors learn in many ways.  For a start, all majors take an introductory course (BLST 111) that familiarizes them with some of the central debates and problems within the field:  Is there such a thing as a "Black" experience?  How African is African-American culture?  What kinds of theories can we advance to explain the relationship between race and a range of social and economic indicators?  How have scholars traditionally understood the connections between Africa, the Caribbean and the Americas?  How do issues of gender affect issues of race?  What new insights do postmodern and postcolonial theories offer on all these subjects?  Many of the thematic and disciplinary questions raised in the introductory course are expanded upon in other courses.  

Research in Black Studies (BLST 300) prepares students for the kinds of research expected of an honors thesis at the College.  In addition to being a required course, for the major, students hoping to write a senior honors thesis in the department are strongly encouraged to take BLST 300 in their sophomore year whenever possible, especially if the student plans to study abroad in their junior year.

Like many Amherst students, Black Studies majors often go on to have successful careers in business, medicine, teaching, and law after they graduate.  In recent years, several majors have chosen to enter graduate programs in such fields as literature, history, sociology, anthropology, and film at some of the nation's top research institutions.  Others have found their expertise in the field of Black Studies has gained them entry into interesting new, private and public sector jobs for which an understanding of racial and cultural differences is important.

By the time students complete the Black Studies major, they should be able to:

  • demonstrate broad familiarity with several regions in Africa, and the African Diaspora;
  • read books and articles across the range of genres and disciplines in which scholars have written about race-related topics;
  • recognize and utilize the elements of sound argument in their reading and writing;
  • focus their work within the major on a particular field or a specific research question;
  • prepare and complete an extended research project.

Key for core and distribution requirements for the major: R (Required); A (Africa); US (United States); CLA (Caribbean/Latin America); D (Africa and its Diaspora).