American Studies


Romare Bearden, Jazz Village, 1967

What is American Studies?

American Studies is an interdisciplinary field dealing with the study of the United States. It traditionally incorporates the study of history, literature, and critical theory, but also includes fields as diverse as law, art, the media, film, religious studies, urban studies, women's studies, gender studies, anthropology, sociology, queer studies, African American studies, Chicano studies, Asian American studies, American Indian studies, foreign policy and culture of the United States, among other fields.

Per USF policy, logistical details about this program of study (BA, Major) are located in the university Undergraduate Catalog. Information on the Minor is available here.

Our American Studies program focuses on understanding historical events, social issues and institutions, and people through the formal and phenomenological analyses of cultural texts. We examine, from several perspectives, the development and expressions of a national culture and myriad subcultures, as well as borderland and diasporic cultures. By means of a combination of foundational lecture courses, core seminars, American Studies courses, and courses from relevant disciplines (literature, history, the arts, and the social or behavioral sciences), students in the American Studies program explore diverse aspects of the American experience locally, nationally, and globally.


What are the differences bewteen American Studies and History?

Because of our interdisciplinary methods, we examine works and texts that are typically not engaged by historians, such as popular culture (graphic novels, pop art, toys, pop music, fan fiction), material culture (tools, furniture, architecture), and mass culture (advertisements, consumer behavior, television). And, of course, art, literature, film, and music.

What are some American Studies courses?

  • Ethics of Food Production
  • American Wilderness
  • American Culture in the 1980s
  • America during World War II
  • Jazz and Civil Rights
  • Regions of America: The West

What can I do with an American Studies major?

Only a small percentage of American Studies majors go on to work in the field of American Studies; most go on, instead, to become lawyers, librarians, businesspersons, writers, archivists, researchers, teachers, politicians, and even entertainers. Leaders in every industry, from business to the arts, can point to their training as American Studies majors as the starting point for their success.

What are the skills one learns as an American Studies major?

One of the key ways of thinking about what an American Studies major prepares you to pursue after graduation is to focus on the skills one acquires as an American Studies student. These include:

  • Effective writing skills--vital to any job for which a college degree is a necessity, effective writing means the ability to successfully and precisely communicate one's ideas in text.
  • Critical analysis skills--vital to the decision-making process for any job, critical analysis means the ability to analyze a situation and come up with creative and practical solutions.
  • Research skills--vital to any job, research skills mean the ability to understand past practices and policies and to trace the roots of any issue, to find new information which bears on that issue, and to incorporate that information into one's analysis of an issue.
  • Interdisciplinary thinking and training--vital to any position, interdisciplinary thinking and training means the ability to think about a problem in a multitude of ways, to analyze it using multiple tools, and to provide solutions which draw from different traditions of thought.
  • Curiosity and inquisitiveness--vital to any position, curiosity and inquisitiveness mean the desire to learn more and to continue learning, to examine reasons beneath issues, and to come to understand them as part of a continual, life-long, education process.

What are some of the career paths which American Studies majors commonly follow?

American Studies majors as Educators:

Many American Studies majors go on to become educators, focusing on the communication of their ideas. Educators include teachers in Elementary and Secondary education. They also include Higher Education on many levels, including teaching at community and junior colleges, undergraduate colleges, and universities. But educators are also important members of other educational institutions that you may not think of as immediately as schools. These include historic sites and museums, where history majors can become docents, education directors, curators, guides, and interpreters. In addition, there are other forms of teaching than standing up in front of a classroom. These include work as historical consultants, contract archivists, public historians, writers, and even filmmakers.

American Studies majors as Researchers:

Many American Studies majors go on to careers as researchers, emphasizing their skills in evaluating and analyzing documentary evidence. American Studies scholars as researchers include public historians as well as policy advisors, who serve as planners, evaluators, and policy analysts, often for state, local, and federal governments. In addition, American Studies scholars often find employment as researchers for museums and historical organizations, or pursue additional specialized training to become professionals in cultural resources management and historic preservation.

American Studies majors as Writers and Editors:

Because success as an American Studies majors depends upon learning to write effectively, many American Studies majors become writers and editors. They make their living as authors of historical books, or more commonly, they work as editors at a publishing house. Many American Studies majors become print and broadcast journalists, and others become documentary editors who oversee the publication of documents such as those produced by government agencies.

American Studies majors as Information Managers:

Because American Studies majors must learn to deal with documents, many pursue a one- or two-year graduate program in library studies (commonly, a Master of Library Science, or MLS, degree) or archival management and enter careers as information managers. With this additional training, they enter the fields of archives management, information management, records management, and librarianship.

American Studies majors as Advocates:

Many American Studies majors find that the interdisciplinary nature of American Studies training makes a perfect preparation for Law School, as American Studies scholars and lawyers often do roughly the same thing--they argue persuasively using historical data to support their arguments, and they analyze and critique their opponents' counter-arguments. Many American Studies majors become lawyers; others undertake careers in litigation support as paralegals. Others enter public service and become policymakers, serve as legislative staff at all levels of government, and become officers of granting agencies and foundations.

American Studies majors in Business:

Most people overlook the value of an American Studies major in preparing an intelligent person for a career in business. Yet, American Studies majors track historical trends, an important skill for those developing products to market or engage in corporate or financial planning. Many American Studies majors enter banking, insurance, and stock analysis. American Studies majors also learn how to write persuasively, and this training gives them an edge in advertising, communications media, and marketing. Finally, many industries depend on an intimate knowledge of government policies and historical trends; thus, American Studies majors have found their skills useful in extractive industries and in public utilities.