American Studies Graduate Programs

Oct 20, 2021

American Studies is an interdisciplinary field of the humanities that analyzes American culture, society, and history; usually, this field focuses on the United States, though sometimes it can extend to examine the Americas at large, such as Central America. If you choose to pursue academic study in this field may go on to become academics, writers, or museum curators. In this article, we will cover some of the coursework common to graduate programs in American Studies, and conclude with what you can expect admissions requirements to be.

General American Studies Graduate Program Information

The coursework you will encounter in any given American Studies program may vary depending on your program's focus and your own personal choice of specialty. Some of the topics you may encounter during your course of study are outlined below.

American Politics

Sometimes shared with a university's political science department, these courses analyze and critique the contemporary and historic political system of the United States. You may examine the history and philosophy behind the development of the American political system, or the ways in which it operates today. You may also study specific historical periods, events, or movements important to the evolution of American political life.

African American History

Given the unique history and enormous influence of African Americans in the Americas, it is not surprising that African American Studies exists as its own discrete academic field, and your graduate career in American Studies will likely include at least one course in this area. These courses may vary widely, from literature to gender studies to social policy, but the focus will always be on tracing the development and influence of African American identity.

American Material Culture

'Material culture' refers to the physical objects produced by a society (such as handicrafts, textiles, and architecture), as well as the study thereof. In courses like this, you will examine a given American culture and/or time period through the objects it produced, including artwork. The goal of these courses is to demonstrate how these kinds of enduring objects can form and influence the development of cultural identities and to introduce you to different methods and modes of inquiry in interpreting American history and culture.

Museum Studies

American Studies programs are frequently closely intertwined with the development of museum research, so programs will often have classes such as this. These courses may be entirely analysis-based (e.g. learning about the social movements that gave rise to American museums, or analyzing the role they play in American identity), or they may have more of a professional focus, in which you learn how to catalog items and design museum exhibitions related to American society and culture.

Race and Ethnicity in America

These classes examine the various racial, ethnic, and religious groups that make up the melting pot of the Americas. Because the country and regions are so diverse, it's impossible to describe a single type of 'American person'. These courses examine the development of different American groups and the influence they have had on American society and history. You may learn the history, literature, music, or political development of specific ethnic and racial groups, or survey courses that explore how all of these different groups interact to form our conception of 'America.'

Program Admission Requirements

Like most graduate programs, you'll need a bachelor's degree for admittance. While most programs will consider any undergraduate major, they may show preference for a major in a field relevant to American Studies, such as sociology or political science. You will be expected to provide transcripts of all undergraduate and graduate coursework taken. Most graduate programs will ask applicants to submit a 1-5 page statement of purpose, describing past academic work, personal goals, and reasons for pursuing a master's degree. A resume, documenting relevant professional and academic work, is a common requirement.

You may be asked to submit a recent writing sample from a relevant college-level class to showcase your academic writing skills. You will often need to submit recent scores for the Graduate Record Exam (GRE) general test; subject tests are not required. If you are not a native speaker of English, you should expect to take the TOEFL. Finally, many programs require 2-3 letters of recommendation from previous instructors, or other people who can attest to the quality of your academic work and potential for future study.

American Studies is a wide-ranging and deep field of academic endeavor. There are a number of programs out there with a variety of different concentrations, though most will cover some of the same basic ground.

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