About the Major
Wesleyan’s American Studies Department provides a broad grounding in the study of the United States in a hemispheric and global context. American Studies majors draw on the intellectual resources of a variety of disciplines-anthropology, English, history, religion, sociology, as well as interdisciplinary programs such as Latin American Studies, African American studies, and feminist, gender, and sexuality studies. Individually designed concentrations, which are the hallmark of the department, allow students to forge interdisciplinary approaches to the particular issues that interest them, from visual culture and aesthetics to racial politics and gender systems.
Alongside its interdisciplinary emphasis, American Studies at Wesleyan stresses a comparative approach to the study of the United States. Such prominent features of U.S. cultural development as colonization, slavery, immigration, imperialism, capitalism, mass culture, gender and sexuality, race and ethnicity, political culture, the importance of modern social and political identities, and state development are juxtaposed to similar processes and phenomena in a variety of nations in the Americas. By studying cultural phenomena across national boundaries, American Studies majors develop a rich understanding of the complex histories that have resulted from the conflict and confluence of European, indigenous, African, and Asian cultures throughout the Western Hemisphere and the Pacific.
To major in American Studies, students should submit a major declaration request through their electronic portfolio and present a completed application to the administrative assistant at the Center for the Americas. The major application can be downloaded from the AMST website. The AMST chair will review applications and approve accepted applications through the electronic portfolio system.
Beginning with the class of 2016, prospective majors will be required to earn a B+ or better in two AMST or AMST cross-listed courses taken at Wesleyan. Ordinarily, one of these should be an required Introduction to American Studies (AMST175 or AMST176). Majors are required to complete an Introduction to American Studies course before the end of their junior year. It is strongly recommended that students take one in their first two years at Wesleyan. In addition, students applying for the major must have an overall grade average of B (85.00) or better at Wesleyan. Students who are enrolled in an AMST or AMST cross-listed course at the time of application must ask the professor to certify that the student is earning a B+ or better to be admitted provisionally to the major. Status will be reviewed at the end of the semester. If, at that time, the student has not met the requirement, the student will be required to drop the major.
Transfer students are exempted from the requirement that AMST or AMST cross-listed courses required for admission to the major be taken at Wesleyan. Transfer students must meet with the department chair to discuss what courses taken elsewhere can be offered as substitutes for Wesleyan courses.
Students who do not meet the criteria for admission may petition for a special review of their applications. They must submit a letter of interest, written work completed in AMST courses, and any additional materials requested by the department chair. AMST faculty members review the petitions; all decisions are final.
Majors in American Studies must take 10 courses to complete the major, or 11 if they are honors candidates. (Beginning with the class of 2016, 11 courses, 12 for honor candidates, will be required.) The department recommends that first-year students and sophomores considering the major enroll in one of the below, mentioned survey courses. Each of these courses offers an introduction and overview of important issues and questions in American Studies and would be a solid foundation for advanced work in the major. Recommended courses include Early North America to 1763 (HIST237), The Long 19th-Century in the United States (HIST239), The United States since 1901 (HIST240), American Literature from the Colonial Period to the Civil War (ENGL203), and American Literature,1865−1945 (ENGL204).
Junior core courses constitute the foundational base for the major. Colonialism and Its Consequences in the Americas (AMST200) and one junior colloquium are required of every major. The colonialism course situates American Studies in a hemispheric frame of reference and introduces a variety of theoretical and methodological approaches to an intercultural analysis of the Americas. Junior colloquia explore in-depth a range of theoretical perspectives utilized in American Studies, consider the history and changing shape of the multifaceted American Studies enterprise, and engage students in research and analysis. Students may take more than one junior colloquium and count the second one as an elective.
Concentration and electives. In addition to junior core courses and the senior requirement, the major includes seven upper-level electives that focus on the cultures of the Americas. The heart of each major’s course of study consists of a cluster of four courses among those electives that forms an area of concentration. (These should be numbered AMST201 and above.)
A concentration within American Studies is an intellectually coherent plan of study, developed in consultation with an advisor, that 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 models and inspiration for prospective concentrators, 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 adapt. Some 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. In addition, to ensure chronological breadth, majors must take at least one course (among electives or as a course taken to fulfill the senior requirement) that focuses on American culture(s) in the period before 1900.
Comparative Americas courses. Students are also asked to consolidate the comparative Americas focus by taking two courses that build on the foundation supplied in AMST200. Comparative Americas electives, when appropriate, may be counted toward a concentration. A senior seminar, essay, or thesis that utilizes a hemispheric perspective may count as a comparative Americas course.
Senior majors must choose a senior seminar, ordinarily but not necessarily one that facilitates advanced work in their area of concentration. A senior honors thesis (AMST409 and 410) or a senior essay tutorial (AMST403 or 404) may be substituted for the seminar requirement. The American Studies Department encourages proposals for senior honors theses, including research projects, critical essays, works of fiction, and other artistic productions.