American Studies

Fields of Concentrations

A concentration within American Studies is an intellectually coherent plan of study, developed in consultation with an advisor, which explores in detail a specific aspect of the culture(s) and society of the United States. It may be built around a discipline (like history, literary criticism, government, sociology), a field (such as cultural studies, ethnic studies, queer studies), or a "problematic" (such as ecology and culture, politics and culture). As model and inspiration for prospective American Studies majors, we have developed descriptions of seven standing concentrations--Queer Studies, Race and Ethnicity, Cultural Studies, Material Culture, Visual Culture, Historical Studies, and Literary Studies--that we encourage majors to select or to adapt to their own particular goals for their education. These descriptions are given below, beginning with the fields most recently incorporated into our curriculum. Some of our majors choose a disciplinary concentration; others devise their own concentrations. Among the latter in recent years have been concentrations in urban studies, gender studies, education, and environmental studies. Now that Wesleyan has a College of the Environment which does not offer a stand alone major but requires a “linked” major, we anticipate more students choosing an environmental focus. 

 

Click on the concentrations below for more information.

  • Queer Studies
    • Queer Studies focuses not only on LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and trans) lives and communities, but more broadly on the social production and regulation of sexuality and gender. Decentering static or stable conceptions of sexual identity, Queer Studies asks: How does (hetero)normativity structure and shape diverse social and political institutions? What are the intersections of sexual marginality and other axes of difference (gender, race, ethnicity, disability, class, nation)? How do organizations of sexuality distribute power and privilege both within and outside the United States? Drawing on American Studies faculty with expertise in Anthropology, English, Feminist and Gender Studies, and History, Queer Studies courses explore intersectional, social-constructionist, and transnational understandings of sexuality, social norms, and power. Areas of study include transnational sexualities; theories of embodiment; queer activism; histories of queer culture; queer of color critique; intersections of queer, trans, and disability studies; and explorations of nationalism, capitalism, and sexuality. For more on Queer Studies at Wesleyan, see: http://www.wesleyan.edu/queer/queer_academics.html.

       

      Students interested in the concentration in Queer Studies should plan to take the Junior Colloquium in Queer Studies (AMST 201).  The recommended advisor for majors concentrating in Queer Studies are Margot Weiss and Laura Grappo.

  • Race and Ethnicity
    • The concentration in Race and Ethnicity offers a framework through which students can study the historical and contemporary constructs of race and ethnicity from an interdisciplinary perspective in the context of the United States.  Students working in this area also learn the distinction between race and ethnicity as categories of analysis and the epistemological implications of each regarding the intellectual questions we pose about them. The concentration draws on American Studies faculty with expertise in Anthropology, English, Feminist and Gender Studies, History, Religion, Sociology, and Visual Culture, allowing students to explore the cultural, economic, and social institutions and vocabularies that produce, maintain, and respond to hierarchies of racial and ethnic difference.  Courses in the concentration enable students to focus on particular racial or ethnic groups, but also guide students in comparative, transnational, and intersectional approaches. Thus, students might engage in cross-cultural comparisons, or study transnational phenonema such as immigration, diaspora, and globalization, or consider the ways in which processes of racialization intersect with gender, sexuality, class, nation and other matrices of social difference.  Likewise, a student may focus on a particular intellectual area such as aesthetics or legal theory or draw on several critical methodologies.  While students in the concentration will learn to read cultural and social texts closely, they will be encouraged to situate those texts within the contexts of historical, political, and economic struggles.

       

      Students interested in pursuing the concentration in Race and Ethnicity should plan to take either the Junior Colloquium on Representing Race in American Culture (AMST 202) or the Junior Colloquium on Methodologies in Critical Race Studies (AMST 207).  Recommended advisors for majors concentrating in Race and Ethnicity are Indira Karamcheti, J. Kehaulani Kauanui, Elizabeth McAlister, Amy Tang and Laura Grappo.

  • Cultural Studies
    • The Cultural Studies concentration in American Studies is interdisciplinary--and sometimes postdisciplinary and antidisciplinary--in its scope. It introduces majors to the analyses and critiques of U.S. cultures--and mass cultures--as historically- and economically-rooted systems of social reproduction that shape “common sense,” habits, identities, interests, values, premises, structures of significance, ways of thinking, seeing, and feeling, and concepts of social agency and political resistance. Many courses that contribute to this concentration focus on integrating cultural theory (Marxism, feminist critiques, Queer theories, antiracist theories, semiotics, post-structuralist theories, literary theories, various kinds of historical, sociological, and anthropological theoretical approaches) and cultural history. And many theorize and historicize the complex intersections of social contradictions and class, gender, ethnic and racial formations. Areas of study include film, television, advertising, mass literature, art, theater, popular discourses of subjectivity, law, institutionalizations of popular memory, and “hip” style-rebellions as well as forms of cultural criticism, activism, and cultural-political organizing that have sought to bring about social transformations. A wide range of courses in the concentration challenge majors to be self-reflexive when contemplating the powers of culture, ideology, and hegemony, and to engage not just in learning but unlearning. Several courses that explore transnational and cross-cultural perspectives help make the national operations of U.S. cultures more visible. Some courses also investigate the history of cultural studies and American studies in the U.S and beyond.

       

      Majors interested in concentrating in cultural studies should consider taking AMST 204 Junior Colloquium: Cultural Power and American Studies (Pfister), AMST 202 Junior Colloquium: Representing Race in American Culture (Tang), or AMST 201 Junior Colloquium: Critical Queer Studies.  Recommended advisors for majors concentrating in Cultural Studies are Indira Karamcheti, Joel Pfister, Amy Tang, Margot Weiss, Megan Glick and Laura Grappo.

  • Material Culture
    • Material culture is not a single discipline or analytical method. Rather it is an approach shared by scholars of many disciplines (notably art history, archaeology, anthropology, ethnology, folklore, history and sociology) who study the beliefs -- values, ideas, attitudes, and assumptions -- of a particular community or society through fabricated spaces, structures or objects produced at all societal and economic levels. Material culture study is inherently interdisciplinary because it requires the critical analysis and interpretation of written texts to help document and illuminate the contexts—social, economic, political, religious—in which artifacts, structures and/or spaces were produced or manipulated and used. Students pursuing a concentration in material culture study theoretical approaches and also gain practical experience in physical, contextual and historical analysis conducted in the field. Artifacts, craft systems, patterns and/or spaces of use and meaning might range from a gas pump to a tall-case clock, from marble sculpture to colonial construction techniques, from the floor of a factory to the galleries of a museum, from the Yosemite Valley to the gardens at Monticello.

       

      The recommended advisor for majors concentrating in Material Culture is Patricia Hill.

  • Visual Culture
    • “Visual culture works towards a social theory of visuality, focusing on questions of what is made visible, who sees what, how seeing, knowing and power are interrelated. It examines the act of seeing as a product of the tensions between external images or objects, and internal thought processes.” (Eilean Hooper-Greenhill, Museums and the Interpretation of Visual Culture, London: Routledge, 2000, p. 14.) Students pursuing a Visual Culture concentration study the relationship of historical and/or contemporary literary and cultural theory to visual culture as a means of investigating the connections between cultural productions, critical theory, and society. This concentration might include courses on film, television, digital media, art, and photography taught in a range of disciplinary and interdisciplinary fields.

       

      Students interested in pursuing the concentration in Visual Culture should consider taking the Junior Colloquium on Representing Race in American Culture (AMST 202) or Cultural Power and American Studies (AMST 204) for an introduction to relevant theory.  Recommended advisors for majors concentrating in Visual Culture are Joel Pfister, Amy Tang, and Megan Glick.

  • Historical Studies
    • The Historical Studies concentration asks students to draw on Wesleyan’s rich curriculum in history, art history, and selected courses in historical anthropology to construct a perspective on American culture and society which utilizes the array of methods and theoretical perspectives that characterize the multifaceted field of history today.  Advisors work with students to select a set of courses that collectively develop expertise in a specific aspect of historical study or a specific period in the American past. Concentrators in Historical Studies are encouraged to select courses in literature, sociology, government, and theory that complement their specific areas of concentration. 

       

      Students interested in pursuing the concentration in Historical Studies will find introductions to relevant theoretical and methodological issues in most of the junior colloquia and in AMST/LAST200, “Colonialism and Its Consequences in the Americas.” Recommended advisors for majors concentrating in Historical Studies are Patricia Hill and Megan Glick.

  • Literary Studies
    • The Literary Studies concentration approaches literature (fiction, poems, plays, creative non-fiction, autobiographies, biographies), mass literature (literary journalism, pulp fiction, dime novels, comic books), literary movements (gothic literature, sentimentalism, romanticism, realism, modernism, postmodernism, science fiction), and literary theories (postcolonial theories, antiracist theories, poststructuralism, feminist criticism, Marxist critiques) not only as historically-specific representations that “reflect” but also constitute culture, consciousness, points of view, assumptions, and structures of feeling. This concentration approaches the analyses of language, narrative, genres, and forms as indispensable to the historical study of literatures and changing U.S. cultures and forms of power:  Americans, after all, live their lives shaped by language, narratives, genres, and forms. Sometimes literary studies courses scrutinize how literature is “symptomatic” and ideologically complicit with social contradictions. And sometimes they draw on literature as a critical--in a sense, “interdisciplinary”--resource that explored areas of social experience before historians viewed them as “history” and cultural theory before the academy developed the field of “theory.” Indeed, U.S. literatures might be read as complex “American Studies” syntheses--some of which existed before the field of American Studies was institutionalized in the 1930s--that can teach us much. Majors who concentrate in Literary Studies have a vast array of courses from which to choose that invite them to better understand capitalism, colonialism, indigenous cultures, slavery, class, ethnicity, race, gender, and sexual formations, environmental practices, regional and national ideologies, and transnational relations through their reading of literature.  Numerous courses train readers of literatures to be more sophisticated readers of U.S. cultures and the ways in which these cultures have socialized them to read themselves. 

       

      Majors interested in concentrating in literary studies should consider taking AMST 202 Junior Colloquium: Representing Race in American Culture (Tang) or AMST 204 Junior Colloquium: Cultural Power and American Studies (Pfister). Recommended advisors for majors interested in the Literary Studies concentration are Indira Karamcheti, Joel Pfister, Amy Tang, and Matthew Garrett.