American studies is about intersections.

We look at the intersections between history and popular culture, art and identity, politics and literature, diversity and citizenship.

Mural with a person walking by.
Frutos De La Expresion Mural by Claire Bain in Albuquerque, New Mexico.  Photo by Mark Ralston.

About the Department

American Studies explores cultures of the United States using a mode of inquiry that moves beyond the scope of any single disciplinary approach. 

Marked by an interplay between cultural history and the examination of diverse creative forms, social analysis, and critical theory, American studies explores primary sources and asks how they might be understood in the broader contexts of aesthetic traditions, political power, and cultural beliefs.

While sharing a commitment to interdisciplinarity, American studies faculty specialize in a range of subjects and methodologies, including literature, anthropology, history, art history, and communication studies. The American studies curriculum is further enriched by cross-listing courses with other departments, including religion, history, film and media culture, and English and American literatures.

Billboard for the American Way from the 50s.

Why American Studies?

Are you interested in exploring constructions of Americanness, as expressed (and contested) in forms ranging from music and material culture to social justice movements and mass media? This is a deep and growing field that will engage, inform, and inspire you. Find out how.

Our Courses

  • Madness in America

    It’s a mad, mad course. In this course we will focus on representations of madness from colonial to late 20th century America, emphasizing the links between popular and material culture, science, medicine, and institutions. We will consider how ideas about madness (and normalcy) reflect broader (and shifting) notions of identity. Thus, issues of race, ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation, community, class, and region will play significant roles in our discussions and critiques.

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  • Portraits of the Lady

    At the end of the 19th century, women fought against restrictions limiting their sphere of influence. As they sought to exercise more control over their lives personally, socially, and economically, this “New Woman,” and the way she was changing the face of society, became a popular subject in literature and art. In this course we will consider portraits of women by well-known American authors alongside those by prominent painters, sculptors, photographers, illustrators, and filmmakers.

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  • American Holidays

    In this course we will offer an introduction to the interdisciplinary study of American culture and identity. Integrating a range of sources and methods, we will examine myths, symbols, values, and social changes that have been used to create and contest ideas of “Americanness.” This year we will focus on holidays, both secular and religious, and how they have been celebrated or observed in the U.S., past and present, privately and publicly.

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  • Posthuman Medicine

    Medical treatments and technologies now keep people alive when they once surely would have died. But the increasing power of medicine has also raised nightmarish possibilities of lives controlled, squandered, or sacrificed to a system that often alienates patients, is centered on profit, and has a long history of treating marginal populations recklessly. How do sci fi writers, doctors, film makers, memoirists, and healthcare corporations portray an ever more medicalized vision of human experience and human bodies?

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Students and Special Collections Curator Rebekah Irwin examine rare documents in the Library.
Professor Ellery Foutch teaches Vermont Collaborations, a public humanities lab in which students collaborate with local archives, museums, and community organizations to explore and interpret archival sources. In this photograph, students in Professor Foutch’s class pore over rare documents with Special Collections Curator Rebekah Irwin.  Students share their scholarship with the broader community, in the form of exhibitions, publications, and websites or other digital media.

Thematic Concentrations

While the American studies curriculum is varied in topic and approach, each student in the major will develop a thematic concentration that gives their studies conceptual coherence:

  • Popular Culture
  • Race and Ethnicity
  • Artistic and Intellectual Traditions
  • Space and Place
  • Cultural Politics

View some recent student research that illustrates the breadth of these areas of concentration. 

Students in Professor Will Nash’s public humanities lab course “Reading, Slavery, and Abolition” review historical documents at the Rokeby Museum in Ferrisburgh, Vermont. (Photo © 2021 Brett Simison)

Public Humanities

As part of its commitment to collaborative learning, the American Studies Program has participated in the Axinn Center for the Humanities’ Public Humanities Labs Initiative, which is partially funded by a grant from the Davis Education Foundation. These lab courses, including AMST 0109: U.S. Origin Stories and AMST 1017: Material Culture in Focus, connect American studies theories and methods to the practice of publicly engaged research and community-based scholarship.

Visit the Public Humanities Labs at the Axinn Center for the Humanities

Rokeby Museum

Students in Professor Will Nash’s Reading, Slavery, and Abolition class, a public humanities labs course sponsored by the Axinn Center for the Humanities, partnered with the Rokeby Museum to evaluate the permanent exhibit on the Underground Railroad. The students worked on designing its 2022 season exhibit, tentatively titled Dissent, Abolition, and Advocacy in Print.

Vermont Collaborations

Professor Ellery Foutch teaches Vermont Collaborations, a public humanities lab which was also sponsored by the Axinn Center for the Humanities in collaboration with local archives, museums, and community organizations to explore and interpret archival sources. Students share their scholarship with the community in the form of exhibitions, publications, and websites or other digital media.

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