American Studies is an innovative field of study that looks at the American past and present through an interdisciplinary lens. Students in the major draw upon concepts and methods developed in history, literature, sociology, philosophy, political science, anthropology, art history and music in their analyses of various American social, cultural and political phenomena. American Studies majors are eclectic, critical thinkers who are able to analyze a variety of texts (such as photography and visual arts, novels, films, sports, advertising and popular music) and to investigate how these texts reflect or challenge dominant conceptions of identity and power. The American Studies curriculum has a strong transnational focus (emphasizing that “America” does not stop at the borders of the United States), as well as a distinctive fieldwork component, which sends majors out into the community to learn and to contribute their knowledge.
At Dickinson, the American Studies department offers both a major and a minor. Students take core courses in American Studies and draw coursework from across the curriculum. Each American Studies student has a unique program that is given coherence through the core American Studies courses and through careful planning and advising.
Courses appropriate for prospective majors
AMST 101-01, Topics in U.S. Cultural Diversity
AMST 201, Introduction to American Studies
AMST 202, Workshop in Cultural Analysis
AMST 200, Mass Media
AMST 200, Fat Studies
AMST 200, Introduction to Latino Studies
AMST 200, American Capitalism and Social Justice
First-Year students: In the first year, students interested in exploring American Studies might take AMST 101, HIST 117 or 118, an ENGL 101 course in American literature, or SOCI 110. They might also take AMST 201, AMST 202, or a 200-level American Studies topics course in the second semester of their first year. Anyone interested in the American Studies major should contact the department chairperson Professor Sharon O'Brien.
For course descriptions and requirements for the major, refer to the Academic Bulletin: American Studies.
Courses that fulfill distribution requirements
AMST 101-01, Topics in U.S. Cultural Diversity
Suggested curricular flow through the major
First Year/Sophomore Year
One course in American history
One 200-level course in AMST
One course in either American literature or American history
One course in representation
One course in American literature at the 300-level
One course in structures and institutions
One course in history at the upper level
AMST 401 (fall)
AMST 402 (spring)
Any courses remaining to fill out the major
To be eligible for consideration for honors, an American Studies major must be recommended by her or his AMST 401 instructor, must have a minimum 3.5 grade point average (rounded) in the major by the end of the fall semester of their senior year, and must have no breaches of the college's academic community standards. A student pursuing honors must complete a research manuscript in 402 that goes beyond the merit of an "A" paper. An "honors" thesis should be at least 50 pages in length and should demonstrate skilled writing and extensive research; a nuanced ability to make connections between the specific issue studied and larger social and cultural issues; extensive use of primary sources; an awareness of key theory and methods; an engagement with current critical questions within American Studies; and, finally, an ability to work on all three levels essential to an American studies project - history, representation, and structures and institutions. An Honors Committee, made up of three faculty, including the seminar instructor(s) from 402 and preferably from core American Studies faculty, shall assess the project(s). Part of this assessment shall include a meeting and discussion with the Honors Faculty Committee.
Internships become appropriate when they are relevant to the thematic concentration of the student. Students have interned with Student Services, Carlisle Youth Services, the borough of Carlisle, the county public defenders office, CBS Evening News, the Smithsonian Folk Life Division, the Carlisle School District, the American Cancer Society, the Evening Sentinel, WITF Public Television, Domestic Violence Services, Communications and Development, MTV, Carlisle Police Department.
Opportunities for off-campus study
American Studies majors often study in Dickinson's East Anglia program in Norwich, England because East Anglia has a strong American Studies department. Other programs of interest to American Studies majors include the Washington Center for Internships and Academic Seminars, and Dickinson's other programs abroad. American Studies majors have also participated in the Dickinson programs in Australia, Cameroon, India, Italy, and Mexico. Other majors have spent semesters abroad through non-Dickinson programs in England, Ireland, and South Africa.
These off-campus programs are usually part of the Junior year and should be planned well in advance of the semester they are to be engaged in.
Related activities: When appropriate, American Studies offers films and lectures that are coordinated with the core courses, but which are open to the entire community, often in cooperation with the participating departments.
Student Advisory Committee: Interested American Studies majors serve on the student advisory committee.
Careers: Recent graduates have found jobs in the non-profit and social services areas, business, publishing, journalism, teaching, government, counseling, and law. Some have gone on to graduate education in a variety of fields including American Studies, business, education, fine arts, historic preservation, museum studies, history, law, political science, urban planning, religion, journalism, and medicine.
Further information: Information on the major and minor as well as on the particular courses being offered each semester are available from the American Studies Department Chairperson.