What is American Studies?


American Studies focuses on one big question: what does it mean to be an American?  This is not an easy question to answer and the stakes are high.  As a nation of natives and immigrants, the United States has always encompassed diverse racial and ethnic groups.  Throughout rapidly changing historical and global contexts, Americans have forged various cultures expressing the diversity of American experience as well as an ideological heritage shaped by the ideals of democracy and equality.  American Studies examines those cultures, societies, and politics from multiple critical perspectives.  How do we express, institutionalize, celebrate, and contest American identities? 

One of the signature strengths of the department of American Studies at Notre Dame is transnational American Studies, which explores the movement of people, products, and ideas across nation-state borders and studies the cultural and political impact of such shifts. Our research and courses focus on key issues in transnational American Studies, including immigration, imperialism, globalization, and the image of the United States abroad.

Like all majors in the College of Arts and Letters, we emphasize research, analysis, writing, and communication skills.  Because American Studies is inherently interdisciplinary, we employ the tools of history, literature, political science, journalism, media studies, visual and material culture studies, and more to answer these questions. 

Our department has a core faculty of nine professors, about 100 majors, and an exciting body of courses.  We encourage students to pursue internships and explore research opportunities over the summer and while studying abroad.  Many of our seniors complete a year-long senior thesis project working one-on-one with a faculty advisor. 

A wide range of internship opportunities are available and we encourage students to explore research opportunities over the summer and while studying abroad. The John W. Gallivan Program in Journalism, Ethics, and Democracy is affiliated with the Department of American Studies. 


What can I do with an American Studies degree?

Everything—the arts, medicine, social work, education, journalism, advertising, finance, law school, public policy and politics—you name it. 

According to one NYT Education Life article, employers who hire university graduates said they would like to see more emphasis on “the ability to effectively communicate orally and in writing,” better “critical thinking and analytical reasoning skills,” and “the ability to innovate and be creative,” rather than more specialized training or degrees (“Career U.,” 1-3-2010).  Learning how to question assumptions, see problems from multiple points of view, and frame problems imaginatively are increasingly valuable skills because they produce better leaders and more effective problem solving (“Multicultural Critical Theory.  At B-School?” NYT, 1-10-2010).  They are also the core of what we do in American Studies.  American Studies’ concern with the diversity of the American experience, especially in terms of class, ethnicity, gender, and race, encourages students to think ethically about the world around them. 

All of these skills are central to an American Studies degree and give graduates the tools to succeed in a wide variety of careers. American Studies offers students a unique opportunity to examine American culture and society in challenging and creative ways. By integrating the tools of history, literature, media studies, sociology, anthropology, art history, political science, and journalism, students learn to evaluate a wide range of source material from a variety of perspectives.

American Studies’ concern with the diversity of the American experience, especially in terms of class, ethnicity, gender, and race, helps students appreciate and think ethically about the world around them.