American Studies

This program is designed to encourage and support the interdisciplinary study of American culture. It draws upon the expertise of faculty in various disciplines and strives to understand the institutions, values, and beliefs that have shaped the experiences of U.S. residents. Recognizing the diverse and pluralistic nature of our society, the American Studies program enables the student to construct an interdisciplinary major around topics of the student's own choice such as urban studies, ethnicity, media, religion, gender roles, environmental thought or some other aspect of the American experience. The program supports interdisciplinary courses taught by Carleton faculty and it brings to campus nationally known visiting artists and scholars under the auspices of the Fred C. Andersen Foundation.

Requirements for the American Studies Major

American Studies is an interdisciplinary major which a student constructs from offerings in two or more departments of instruction. To major in American Studies students must fill out an application form that can be obtained online at the American Studies Web site. The form asks students to specify the general topic or focus of the major and the disciplines which seem most appropriate for study of that topic.

Majors must complete 69 credits in the following general areas:

I. Core Courses: Each student must complete all of these:

  • AMST 115 Introduction to American Studies (a prerequisite for AMST 345 and AMST 396)
  • AMST 345 Theory and Practice of American Studies
  • AMST 396 Junior Research Seminar
  • AMST 399 Senior Seminar in American Studies
  • AMST 400 Colloquium and Integrative Exercise in American Studies (3 credits, to be taken in winter term of the senior year, along with AMST 399.) A senior may choose:
    • Essay or Project Option: a 35-40 page essay on an approved topic; or an approved project (e.g., a critical documentary, radio narrative, web design project, performance piece, or academic civic engagement project) accompanied by a 15-20 page essay. Open only to students who receive approval of a project prospectus. Students hoping to write an essay are advised to take a methods course in one of the social science departments.
    • Examination Option: A written examination given early in spring term

II. Survey Courses: Students must take three survey courses. Two of these courses must come from a single department. Students will also take a one-term survey course from a different department. Because the entire range of these survey courses is not offered every year, students should consult the online catalog and plan accordingly.

  • HIST 120 Rethinking the American Experience: American History, 1607-1865 (not offered in 2017-18)
  • HIST 121 Rethinking the American Experience: American Social History, 1865-1945 (not offered in 2017-18)
  • HIST 122 U.S. Women's History to 1877
  • HIST 123 U.S. Women's History Since 1877
  • HIST 125 African American History I (not offered in 2017-18)
  • HIST 126 African American History II (not offered in 2017-18)
  • POSC 271 Constitutional Law I
  • POSC 272 Constitutional Law II

Students may also, at the discretion of the Director, substitute other American history classes for the history survey, so long as one class focuses on American history up to and including the Civil War and the other class focuses on American history after 1765. These classes may not include History 100 (A and I seminars).

One-term survey courses:

  • ECON 232 American Economic History: A Cliometric Approach (not offered in 2017-18)
  • ENGL 212 Nineteenth-Century American Literature
  • ENGL 215 Modern American Literature (not offered in 2017-18)
  • HIST 181 West Africa in the Era of the Slave Trade
  • MUSC 126 America's Music
  • POSC 122 Politics in America: Liberty and Equality
  • RELG 140 Religion and American Culture (not offered in 2017-18)
  • RELG 289 Global Religions in Minnesota (not offered in 2017-18)

III. Topical Courses: Each student must take four courses that deal with elements of the American experience that he or she has determined are central to a particular focus within the major. Courses that will fulfill this requirement are listed under three groups. No more than one of these courses may be a 100-level course. (Survey courses above and beyond those used to satisfy the required one-term and two-term sequences may count as a Topical Course.) No more than two Topical Courses may be from the same group. Students must take courses from at least two groups. In order that majors acquire the research skills necessary to complete the major, one of these four courses must be a 300-level course.

American Studies Courses

AMST 115 Introduction to American Studies This overview of the "interdisciplinary discipline" of American Studies will focus on the ways American Studies engages with and departs from other scholarly fields of inquiry. A particular emphasis will be placed on the stories of individuals who have been marginalized in the social, political, cultural, and economic life of the United States due to their class, race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, religion, citizenship, and level of ability. Students will engage with a variety of media, including academic scholarship, works of fiction, journalism, film, poetry, art, material culture, advertising, and music as they practice reading and writing about cultural artifacts from a critical perspective. Texts will include work by Diane Arbus, James Baldwin, Rajiv Chandrasekaran, Kendrick Lamar, Spike Lee, Jackson Pollock, Mae Ngai, and Bruce Springsteen. 6 credits; HI, WR2, IDS; Fall; Christopher M Elias
AMST 115 Introduction to American Studies: Immigration and American Culture This course is an introduction to the field of American Studies--its pleasures, challenges, and central questions--through the lens of immigration and migration. Using interdisciplinary readings and assignments, we will explore the richness and complexity of American culture by placing immigration and migration at the center of our investigations. Throughout the term, our study of diverse topics (Borders and Boundaries, World War II, and Sound) will model different ways of making connections and analyzing relationships between immigration, identity, and culture in the United States. 6 credits; HI, IDS, WR2; Spring; Nancy J Cho
AMST 203 Investigative Tips for the Incurably and Globally Curious  Whether you are an enterprising journalist, suspicious partner, or nosy neighbor, you'll love this introduction to the many tools used by investigative reporters. A veteran investigative journalist will demonstrate that no document is off limits, and no secret secure, from someone who is trained to dig up the dirt--and all in an ethical fashion! We'll use case studies, movie clips, and scavenger hunts in and around Northfield.  1 credit; NE; Not offered 2017-18
AMST 225 Beauty and Race in America In this class we consider the construction of American beauty historically, examining the way whiteness intersects with beauty to produce a dominant model that marginalizes women of color. We study how communities of color follow, refuse, or revise these beauty ideals through literature. We explore events like the beauty pageant, material culture such as cosmetics, places like the beauty salon, and body work like cosmetic surgery to understand how beauty is produced and negotiated. 6 credits; HI, WR2, IDS; Not offered 2017-18
AMST 228 Mean Girls: the Movie, the Phenomenon This course uses the movie Mean Girls (2004) as a hub to analyze and consider the cultural, linguistic, and representational impact of teen movies. We will work to understand why and how Mean Girls operates as a 'cult' film: what social conditions is it engaging and what historical trends does it name? We will consider the nature of teen movies in general and how race and gender and class are constructed through the text. We will assess the role of social media in generating gifs, quotes, and images that perpetuate a cultural discourse around Mean Girls. Not offered 2017-18
AMST 230 The American Sublime: Landscape, Character & National Destiny in Nineteenth Century America Focusing on the early nineteenth century struggle to create an American nation and a national culture, we will look at the ways Americans adopted and adapted European ideas, particularly the aesthetic idea of the Sublime, in their attempt to come to terms with the conquest of the new land and its native inhabitants and with the nature of their national enterprise. Writers Irving, Cooper, Emerson, Thoreau, Hawthorne, Melville, Whitman, and Dickinson and painters Cole, Bierstadt, Church, Kensett, and Lane will be included. Major themes will include attitudes towards landscape and settlement, a distinctively American character, the nature and utility of art, and ideas of American empire. 6 credits; LA, WR2; Not offered 2017-18
AMST 234 American Identities in the Twentieth Century What does it mean to be an American and how has that definition changed over time? This course examines how individual Americans have explored the relationship between their selves and their country’s recent history. We will read memoirs and autobiographies to explore American identities through a variety of lenses, including race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, class, citizenship status, region, and ability. Key texts will include works by Alison Bechdel, Audre Lorde, Malcolm X, and Mine Okubo. Not offered 2017-18
AMST 240 The Midwest and the American Imagination The history of American culture has always been shaped by a dialectic between the local and the universal, the regional and the national. The particular geography and history of the Midwest (the prairie, the plains, the old Northwest, Native Americans and white adventurers, settlers and immigrants) have shaped its livelihoods, its identities, its meanings. Focusing on the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, this course will explore literature, art history, and the social and cultural history of the Midwest. 6 credits; HI, WR2; Not offered 2017-18
AMST 247 We've Never Not Been Here: Indigenous Peoples and Places "Everything you know about Indians is wrong." Paul Chaat Smith (Comanche author) This interdisciplinary course offers an introduction to important topics in the field of Native American Studies. We will examine history, literature, art, politics, and current events to explore the complex relationship between historical and contemporary issues that indigenous peoples face in the United States. We will pay particular attention to the creative ways that indigenous communities have remained vibrant in the face of ongoing colonial struggle. Topics include histories of Indian-settler relations, American Indian sovereignties, Indigenous ecological knowledge practices, American Indian philosophical and literary traditions, and American Indian activism. 6 credits; HI, IDS, WR2; Not offered 2017-18
AMST 261 Unwritten America This course is an examination of the hidden/excluded/silenced narratives in American literature and culture. We will read books, watch films, and draw from community resources in our exploration of groups that have been marginalized from the mainstream. The course will center around the stories of communities such as the Hmong, the Karen, and the Eritreans, among others. Be prepared to engage in conversations about power, privilege, and the underlying structures that govern exposure and understanding. 6 credits; LA, IDS; Not offered 2017-18
AMST 265 Scandal!: Gossip and Misinformation in American Politics from Yellow Journalism to Fake News This course explores the relationship between gossip, the news media, and American politics. How have falsehoods and misinformation influenced American politics? How has gossip journalism impacted political journalism, and vice-versa? What is the relationship between the mass media and the “truth”? How has propaganda circulated in the United States and played a role in public discourse? Just how free and fair is the American press? Our chronological examination will address topics and events such as yellow journalism, the birth of celebrity culture, the rise of gossip magazines, McCarthyism, the Pentagon Papers, Watergate, the role of the 24-hour news cycle, the Clinton impeachment, Steven Colbert’s concept of “truthiness,” and the rise of “fake news.” Though our focus will be on the long twentieth century, we will also look more deeply into the American past to help contextualize recent developments. We will investigate the underbelly of the American news media, trace the circulation of information (especially information that some would prefer to keep secret), and scrutinize the creation of political personas. The course will prioritize classroom discussion and writing assignments. Students will also perform a critical analysis of how current supermarket tabloids and gossip blogs report on American politics. 6 credits; HI; Fall; Christopher M Elias
AMST 267 Utopia, Dystopia, and Myopia: Suburbia in Fiction and Scholarship This course peers through the picture window of suburban life in the United States. Our primary text will be film. To what extent do fictional accounts reflect the scholarly concerns and analytical conclusions of historians and social scientists? What themes are common in film and/or literature but get little attention from scholars? Students will be obligated to view films on their own if designated show times are inconvenient. Some films may be R-rated. Prerequisite: American Studies 115 or sophomore standing. 6 credits; SI, IDS; Not offered 2017-18
AMST 287 California Program: California Art and Visual Culture An in-depth exploration of the dynamic relationship between the arts and popular conceptions of California: whether as bountiful utopia, suburban paradise, or multicultural frontier. We will meet with California artists and art historians, and visit museums and galleries. Art and artists studied will range from native American art, the Arts and Crafts movement and California Impressionism to the photography of Ansel Adams, urban murals and the imagery of commercial culture (such as lithographs, tourist brochures, and orange-crate labels). 6 credits; LA; Not offered 2017-18
AMST 289 California Program: California Field Studies Students will participate in a number of field trips dealing with California's history, literature, and environment. Sites visited will include Sutter's Fort, the Modoc Lava Beds, the California Indian Museum, Teatro Campesino, and Hearst Castle. Students will also complete an Oral Culture Project. 4 credits; NE; Not offered 2017-18
AMST 345 Theory and Practice of American Studies Introduction to some of the animating debates within American Studies from the 1930s to the present. We will study select themes, theories, and methodologies in the writings of a number of scholars and try to understand 1) the often highly contested nature of debates about how best to study American culture; and 2) how various theories and forms of analysis in American Studies have evolved and transformed themselves over the last seventy years. Not designed to be a fine-grained institutional history of American Studies, but a vigorous exploration of some of the central questions of interpretation in the field. Normally taken by majors in their junior year. Prerequisite: American Studies 115 or instructor permission. 6 credits; NE, IDS; Winter; Serena R Zabin
AMST 396 "Invisible Domain": Religion and American Studies Though evidently a crucial organizer of “American” experience and identities, religion remains paradoxical within U.S. culture and, for some recent scholars, an undertheorized “invisible domain” in American Studies. Shoving off from familiar religious narratives of U.S. origins, meaning, and destiny, we will consider alternatives grounded in three themes recurrent in historical experience and popular culture: captivity, violence, and prophetic authority. Early attention to major trends of American Studies scholarship will lead in the course’s second half to students’ production and public sharing of an extended research essay. Required for juniors in the American Studies major. Prerequisite: American Studies major or instructor permission. 6 credits; HI, WR2; Spring; Peter J Balaam
AMST 399 Senior Seminar in American Studies This seminar focuses on advanced skills in American Studies research, critical reading, writing, and presentation. Engagement with one scholarly talk, keyed to the current year's comps exam theme, will be part of the course. Through a combination of class discussion, small group work and presentations, and one-on-one interactions with the professor, majors learn the process of crafting and supporting independent interdisciplinary arguments, no matter which option for comps they are pursuing. Students also will learn effective strategies for peer review and oral presentation. Prerequisite: American Studies 396. 6 credits; NE; Fall; Elizabeth McKinsey
AMST 400 Integrative Exercise: Exam and Essay Exam: Students read selected works and view films in the field of American Studies and in a special topic area designated by the program. For integrative exercise examination students only.

Essay: Seniors working on approved essays or projects in American Studies with the support of their advisers, will work independently to complete their theses, performances or projects to satisfy the college "comps" requirement. Students will be required to give a public presentation on their papers or projects during the spring term. Prerequisite: American Studies 396. 6 credits; S/NC; Winter


Topical Courses:

Group I

  • AMST 230 The American Sublime: Landscape, Character & National Destiny in Nineteenth Century America (not offered in 2017-18)
  • AMST 240 The Midwest and the American Imagination (not offered in 2017-18)
  • AMST 261 Unwritten America (not offered in 2017-18)
  • AMST 265 Scandal!: Gossip and Misinformation in American Politics from Yellow Journalism to Fake News
  • AMST 287 California Program: California Art and Visual Culture (not offered in 2017-18)
  • ARTH 171 History of Photography
  • ARTH 240 Art Since 1945 (not offered in 2017-18)
  • ARTH 245 Modern Architecture (not offered in 2017-18)
  • ARTH 247 Architecture Since 1950 (not offered in 2017-18)
  • ARTH 333 Visual Culture and the Civil War (not offered in 2017-18)
  • CAMS 186 Film Genres (not offered in 2017-18)
  • CAMS 188 Rock 'n' Roll in Cinema (not offered in 2017-18)
  • CAMS 225 Film Noir: The Dark Side of the American Dream
  • DANC 266 Reading The Dancing Body: Topics in Dance History
  • ENGL 117 African American Literature
  • ENGL 119 Introduction to U.S. Latino/a Literature (not offered in 2017-18)
  • ENGL 215 Modern American Literature (not offered in 2017-18)
  • ENGL 221 "Moby-Dick" & Its Contexts
  • ENGL 223 American Transcendentalism (not offered in 2017-18)
  • ENGL 234 Literature of the American South
  • ENGL 235 Asian American Literature
  • ENGL 236 American Nature Writing
  • ENGL 247 The American West (not offered in 2017-18)
  • ENGL 248 Visions of California
  • ENGL 258 Contemporary American Playwrights of Color (not offered in 2017-18)
  • ENGL 261 Telling Your American Story (not offered in 2017-18)
  • ENGL 272 Telling True Stories: A Journey in Journalism (not offered in 2017-18)
  • ENGL 288 California Program: The Literature of California (not offered in 2017-18)
  • ENGL 329 The City in American Literature (not offered in 2017-18)
  • ENGL 332 Studies in American Literature: Faulkner, Hemingway, and Fitzgerald
  • ENGL 334 Postmodern American Fiction (not offered in 2017-18)
  • ENGL 352 Toni Morrison: Novelist
  • HIST 310 Black Women Intellectuals (not offered in 2017-18)
  • MUSC 115 Music and Film (not offered in 2017-18)
  • MUSC 130 The History of Jazz
  • MUSC 131 The Blues From the Delta to Chicago
  • MUSC 132 Golden Age of R and B (not offered in 2017-18)
  • MUSC 136 History of Rock (not offered in 2017-18)
  • MUSC 247 1950s/60s American Folk Music Revival
  • MUSC 332 Motown
  • MUSC 337 Music in Social Movements
  • THEA 242 Modern American Drama

Group II

  • AMST 225 Beauty and Race in America (not offered in 2017-18)
  • AMST 228 Mean Girls: the Movie, the Phenomenon (not offered in 2017-18)
  • AMST 247 We've Never Not Been Here: Indigenous Peoples and Places (not offered in 2017-18)
  • CAMS 216 American Cinema of the 1970s
  • ENGL 286 Eat the Story (not offered in 2017-18)
  • HIST 120 Rethinking the American Experience: American History, 1607-1865 (not offered in 2017-18)
  • HIST 121 Rethinking the American Experience: American Social History, 1865-1945 (not offered in 2017-18)
  • HIST 122 U.S. Women's History to 1877
  • HIST 123 U.S. Women's History Since 1877
  • HIST 124 History of the City in the United States (not offered in 2017-18)
  • HIST 125 African American History I (not offered in 2017-18)
  • HIST 126 African American History II (not offered in 2017-18)
  • HIST 194 The Making of the "Pacific World" (not offered in 2017-18)
  • HIST 205 American Environmental History
  • HIST 211 Puritans, Sex and Slavery
  • HIST 212 The Era of the American Revolution (not offered in 2017-18)
  • HIST 213 The Age of Hamilton
  • HIST 214 Rethinking the American Civil War (not offered in 2017-18)
  • HIST 216 History Beyond the Walls (not offered in 2017-18)
  • HIST 219 Is Obama Black?: American Mixed Race History (not offered in 2017-18)
  • HIST 224 Divercities: Exclusion and Inequality in Urban America (not offered in 2017-18)
  • HIST 225 James Baldwin and Black Lives Matter (not offered in 2017-18)
  • HIST 226 U.S. Consumer Culture
  • HIST 227 The American West (not offered in 2017-18)
  • HIST 228 Civil Rights and Black Power (not offered in 2017-18)
  • HIST 229 Working with Gender in U.S. History (not offered in 2017-18)
  • HIST 306 American Wilderness
  • HIST 307 Wilderness Field Studies: Grand Canyon
  • HIST 308 American Cities and Nature (not offered in 2017-18)
  • HIST 316 History, Nature & Smartphones (not offered in 2017-18)
  • HIST 324 The Concord Intellectuals (not offered in 2017-18)
  • MUSC 215 Music Theater in America (not offered in 2017-18)
  • RELG 130 Native American Religions (not offered in 2017-18)
  • RELG 140 Religion and American Culture (not offered in 2017-18)
  • RELG 223 Religion, Madness, and Modern Psychology
  • RELG 238 The Sacred Body
  • RELG 240 Investing in God: American Religion and Economic Life
  • RELG 243 Native American Religious Freedom (not offered in 2017-18)
  • RELG 277 Buddhism and the Beats (not offered in 2017-18)
  • RELG 289 Global Religions in Minnesota (not offered in 2017-18)
  • RELG 344 Lived Religion in America (not offered in 2017-18)
  • SOAN 283 Immigration and Immigrants in Europe and the United States (not offered in 2017-18)
  • SPAN 224 Latin American Authors Write the U.S.
  • WGST 220 LGBTQ Movements in the U.S. (not offered in 2017-18)

Group III

  • AMST 267 Utopia, Dystopia, and Myopia: Suburbia in Fiction and Scholarship (not offered in 2017-18)
  • CGSC 386 Adolescent Cognitive Development: Developing an Identity and Life Plans
  • ECON 232 American Economic History: A Cliometric Approach (not offered in 2017-18)
  • ECON 262 The Economics of Sports (not offered in 2017-18)
  • ECON 264 Health Care Economics
  • ECON 270 Economics of the Public Sector (not offered in 2017-18)
  • ECON 271 Economics of Natural Resources and the Environment
  • ECON 273 Water and Western Economic Development
  • ECON 274 Labor Economics
  • ECON 275 Law and Economics (not offered in 2017-18)
  • EDUC 225 Issues in Urban Education (not offered in 2017-18)
  • EDUC 245 The History of American School Reform
  • EDUC 338 Multicultural Education
  • EDUC 340 Race, Immigration, and Schools
  • EDUC 344 Teenage Wasteland: Adolescence and the American High School (not offered in 2017-18)
  • EDUC 353 Schooling and Opportunity in American Society (not offered in 2017-18)
  • MUSC 126 America's Music
  • POSC 122 Politics in America: Liberty and Equality
  • POSC 180 Global Politics & Local Communities
  • POSC 201 Lobbyists, Wonks and Social Media: Public Policy Making in Democracy (not offered in 2017-18)
  • POSC 202 Parties, Interest Groups and Elections (not offered in 2017-18)
  • POSC 204 Media and Electoral Politics: 2016 United States Election (not offered in 2017-18)
  • POSC 207 Global Decline of Democracy: Urban Revanchism and Popular Resistance
  • POSC 208 Presidential Elections, Gridlock and Policy Strategy
  • POSC 212 Environmental Justice
  • POSC 218 Schools, Scholarship and Policy in the United States (not offered in 2017-18)
  • POSC 219 Poverty and Public Policy in the U.S.
  • POSC 220 Politics and Political History in Film
  • POSC 224 Measuring and Evaluating Social and Ecological Systems
  • POSC 225 Global-Local Commons: Sustainability, Diversity & Self-Gov't in Complex Social-Ecological Systems (not offered in 2017-18)
  • POSC 231 American Foreign Policy
  • POSC 271 Constitutional Law I
  • POSC 272 Constitutional Law II
  • POSC 273 Race and Politics in the U.S.
  • POSC 302 Subordinated Politics and Intergroup Relations*
  • POSC 351 Political Theory of Martin Luther King, Jr.
  • POSC 352 Political Theory of Alexis de Tocqueville* (not offered in 2017-18)
  • POSC 355 Identity, Culture and Rights* (not offered in 2017-18)
  • PSYC 384 Psychology of Prejudice (not offered in 2017-18)
  • SOAN 114 Modern Families: An Introduction to the Sociology of the Family
  • SOAN 115 Inequality in American Society (not offered in 2017-18)
  • SOAN 150 Who Cares and Who Gets Care? Women and Health (not offered in 2017-18)
  • SOAN 151 Global Minnesota: An Anthropology of Our State
  • SOAN 202 Girls Gone Bad: Women, Crime, and Criminal Justice (not offered in 2017-18)
  • SOAN 218 Asians in the United States (not offered in 2017-18)
  • SOAN 221 Law and Society (not offered in 2017-18)
  • SOAN 223 Sport and Society (not offered in 2017-18)
  • SOAN 225 Social Movements (not offered in 2017-18)
  • SOAN 259 Comparative Issues in Native North America (not offered in 2017-18)
  • SOAN 272 Race and Ethnicity in the United States (not offered in 2017-18)
  • SOAN 302 Anthropology and Indigenous Rights (not offered in 2017-18)
  • WGST 205 The Politics of Women's Health (not offered in 2017-18)