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What is American Studies?

Exterior view of Denny Hall where the office of American studies department is located

Denny Hall, Dickinson College

A revolt against the rigidity of the traditional academic disciplines of history and literature gave birth to the American Studies movement in the 1930s.  A basic principle of the interdisciplinary field that emerged in the succeeding decades is that “America”—a concept which includes but is not limited to the United States—is too richly complex to be analyzed with the tools of a single discipline.  Drawing on a wide variety of intellectual traditions in the humanities and social sciences, American Studies scholars have developed new methods and theories that help us understand the relationships between politics, economics, values, art, literature, and racial, ethnic, and gender identity in America.

American Studies majors acquire a broad understanding of the American history, and learn to think analytically and systematically about American structures and institutions, and the representation of various cultural groups in art, literature, and popular culture.  Majors culminate their course of study by writing a research thesis on a topic reflecting a particular area of expertise, developed in close consultation with faculty advisors.  Specialists in making connections and drawing together different strands of the American experience, American Studies majors have pursued careers in public service, politics, law, education, business, and media and journalism.