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, majors will be required to complete an Introduction to American Studies course (AMST174 to AMST177 or a substitute approved by their major advisor) before the end of their junior year. Transfer students should meet with the department chair to discuss what courses taken elsewhere can be offered as substitutes for Wesleyan courses.
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), 20th Century United States Histroy (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.
Hemispheric Americas and Transnational American Studies. Students are also asked to consolidate a hemispheric/transnational American studies focus by taking two courses that build on the comparative foundation supplied in AMST200. Hemispheric Americas and Transnational American Studies courses are identified on the AMST website. Courses used to meet this requirement may also, as appropriate, be counted toward concentration, elective, or senior seminar requirements. A senior essay or thesis that utilizes a hemispheric or transnational American studies approach may count toward this requirement.
Every American Studies major must complete a capstone experience in order to fulfill the major. This capstone experience can be fulfilled in one of three ways. First, the American Studies Department encourages proposals for honors theses, including research projects, critical essays, fiction, and other artistic productions. A senior in good standing can undertake a two-term honors thesis in an honors thesis tutorial (AMST 409 and 410) with a thesis advisor and this enables the major to stand as a candidate for “Honors in American Studies.” The advisor is usually a core faculty member in American Studies (see the core faculty profiles on the AMST website), but sometimes an advisor is not a member of the American Studies department’s core faculty (in this case the major should consult with the faculty advisor). If a senior receives “Honors” or “High Honors” on the honors thesis, this is printed on the Wesleyan diploma and listed in the commencement bulletin. If a senior receives “Credit” (pass) on the honors thesis, “Honors in American Studies” is not awarded. Two readers other than the honors thesis advisor evaluate the thesis, each writes a substantive review of the thesis (given to the thesis writer), and they determine the honors ranking. The advisor, however, determines the transcript grades (both terms) for the tutorial. The honors thesis is usually due in early April rather than at the end of the spring term. Honors thesis proposals are due in early May of the junior year and require the approval of the American Studies faculty. Second, a senior can enroll in a one- semester tutorial (AMST 403 or 404) with a thesis or project advisor in order to undertake an essay or project (for instance, play, screenplay). This essay or project does not qualify the major to stand for “Honors in American Studies.” The advisor is the sole reader of the essay or project, determines the due date, and assigns the transcript grade. Again, the advisor is usually a core faculty member in American Studies (see the core faculty profiles on the AMST website), but sometimes an advisor is not a member of the American Studies department’s core faculty (in this case the major should consult with the faculty advisor). Third, a major may take an advanced 300-level seminar originating in or cross-listed with American Studies, or, with the permission of the American Studies faculty advisor, outside of American Studies for AMST capstone credit. Most majors who enroll in an advanced 300-level seminar are seniors, though some students take a capstone seminar earlier. A major can have more than one capstone experience. For instance, a major could take more than one advanced 300-level seminar and write an honors thesis or do a not-for-honors senior essay or project (in a case such as this, the major should consult with the faculty advisor about having the capstone seminars count as American Studies electives or concentration courses).