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Masters Degree

Coursework: The following list has been devised to give the student some background in American literature and history at the same time to allow maximum flexibility in designing an individual program of interdisciplinary study. To insure coherence in individualized programs, each student must work with an American Studies advisor in selecting courses.

American Studies seminar: “Research Methods in American Culture." This course is designed to survey the major methods, topics, and debates in the field.

NOTE: Students admitted with an MA in a field other than American Studies must take this introductory American Studies seminar, but may count it toward their PhD coursework requirements.

2 courses in American literature
1 course in American history
1 course in comparative cultures or cultural theory (from any university department)
5  courses selected in consultation with an American Studies advisor

Doctoral Degree

The Qualifying Exam: All students going on for the PhD— including students admitted into the graduate PhD program with an MA in a field other than American Studies— must take a two‐hour oral qualifying exam. In consultation with an American Studies advisor, each student develops a list of 12‐15 key works for the study of American culture; the student will be examined upon that list. In developing this list, the student will need to answer the following: 1) Explain the theme, concept, or idea that informs your choice of materials for this exam. 2) Which disciplinary perspectives (at least two) and/or theoretical positions are involved in this choice of materials? 3) What 12‐15 authors, works, studies, or artifacts are involved in this exam? After the advisor approves the list, and at least two weeks prior to the exam, the list must be submitted to the Director of American Studies. The student will also prepare a written opening statement of no more than three pages to be presented to the examining committee two weeks prior to the exam. The examining committee will consist of three members, one the student’s advisor, and two others—who may be from other departments where relevant to the student’s interests— chosen in consultation with the student’s advisor and the director of American Studies. It is expected that the qualifying exam will be taken no later than the fourth semester in residence (or the second semester in residence for students admitted with an MA in a field other than American Studies). Passing this exam qualifies a student for work as a PhD candidate in American Studies.

Coursework should provide the student with some depth in two fields of study and prepare the student for the dissertation: 3 courses in each of 2 fields of study, one of which will be American literature, and the other chosen in consultation with an American Studies advisor. (Students entering with an MA degree in a field other than American Studies must take “Major Texts for the Study of American Culture” [791A] and “Methods for the Study of American Culture” [791B], but may count them among these six required courses.)

The Comprehensive (Two Area) Exam:

PhD candidates in American Studies will take their comprehensive/two-area examinations upon completion of at least six courses beyond the qualifying examination. Students will be examined in two areas: 1) an area primarily within American literature (e.g., American women writers, African‐American novels, American literary realism); 2) an area of special interest designed to lead to a dissertation topic (i.e., documentary writing and photography in the 1930s, or representations of space in literature, architecture, and environmental psychology, 1890‐1930). One or both of the areas should deal, at least in part, with an aspect of American literary studies. In both areas, students are expected to demonstrate breadth of familiarity with texts and ideas, authority and imagination in interdisciplinary thinking, and progress toward completion of the PhD degree.

For each area, students, working with an advisor, will generate a list of approximately 30 texts— primary and secondary—and will write an essay, approximately 15-20 pages long, that defines the field of interest, considers the pertinent methodologies, identifies the important issues, and takes stands on those issues. At least three weeks prior to the exam, the essays and bibliographies will be distributed to all members of the examining committee and will be subject to approval by the committee members. The essays and the bibliographies will constitute the basis of the examination. The essay and the bibliography for the areas should demonstrate interdisciplinarity by including in its approach methodologies and texts from one or more disciplines other than literary studies (e. g., history, media studies, political theory, sociology, anthropology, etc.). 

Registering for Exam Credits. The student receives three credits for each of the two areas (796W, 796X, Independent Area), making a total of six credits toward the necessary twenty-four (eight courses) for doctoral course work. The best time to register for these credits is the semester of the exam. However, scheduling of two area credits is flexible: should you need or want a particular course during the semester you would otherwise be preparing your exam areas, consider signing up and beginning your areas a semester earlier. Registration forms for the areas are available from Wanda, and must be turned in to Wanda during registration (upon which she will enroll the student). The examining committee will consist of the two advisors plus two other faculty members chosen by agreement of the area advisors and the Director of American Studies.

Foreign Language Requirement: The same as the English Department PhD requirement; see the English Department graduate program description for details.

Dissertation Committee, Prospectus, and Defense  requirements are the same as those for the English Department PhD program; see the program description for details. 

Undergraduate American Studies Specialization

The English Department offers a Letter of Specialization in American Studies, an interdisciplinary program that concentrates on the unresolved social and intellectual issues of our culture – race, class, gender, and ethnicity. Students can earn the certificate by completing: a) English 279: Introduction to American Studies b) One or two courses in American literature within the English Department at least on the 300 or 400 level and c) Two or three additional courses in American culture from at least two other departments. Students who wish to construct a major in American Studies must do so through the BDIC program.

Last Updated: February 2024