American Studies “Comps”

AMERICAN STUDIES 396, is a Junior Research Seminar offered in the spring of junior year. It immediately follows 345 in the winter of junior year and gives majors the chance to have written a long research paper by the end of their junior year, so they can make a more informed choice in the fall of their senior year as to which Comps option they wish to pursue. While 345 and 396 will be prerequisites for Comps, neither course will involve work on specific Comps projects.  

SENIOR INTEGRATIVE EXERCISE, or “COMPS”: In order to fulfill the college’s requirement that a student complete an Integrative Exercise (cf. Carleton College Academic Catalog, p. 10), American Studies majors will be given the chance to either 1) write a 35-40 page essay OR do a project (a critical documentary, radio narrative, web design project, performance piece, or service learning project) accompanied by a 15-20 page essay; or 2) read for and take an exam. Students should begin thinking seriously about their Comps options in late winter of their junior year.  In spring, students will complete a comps topic worksheet by noon on Monday of week 4 (through Moodle), consult with potential advisers, and will then submit a comps intention form by 5:00 p.m. on Monday of week 8 (submit through Moodle). These forms must be submitted by the listed due dates in order to proceed with the comps essay process. If the forms are not submitted by the due dates, the student will be required to pursue the comps exam option.

In the fall of the senior year, students must notify the director by the end of week 6 of their intention to pursue either an exam comps or an essay/project comps.  In the latter case, this notice includes a formal proposal which must be approved by the Comps Essay Committee.  

In the fall of the senior year, all students will register for AMST 399 (6 cr.) and in the winter of the senior year, all students will register for AMST 400 (3 cr.). 

1) ESSAY/PROJECT OPTION:  We will have a meeting early in the fall term, senior year, with students interested in proposing an essay topic. Students wishing to propose an Essay/Project topic will turn in an 8-10 page proposal at the end of 6th week, fall term. This proposal (see guidelines on sidebar to the left) includes a cover sheet that must be signed by at least one faculty member willing to advise the student should the proposal be accepted. Students are encouraged to have two advisers where possible. Finding an appropriate adviser begins with the pre-proposal process in the junior year. Students should expect to engage in a series of conversations punctuated by substantive revisions of their draft proposals.  Please note that an adviser's signature is the prerequisite for consideration of a proposal; it is not a guarantee of its acceptance. The proposal must also list the relevant coursework that will provide the intellectual foundation for the essay/project.  

The project comps poses unique challenges. As with the essay comps, you must demonstrate that you have an interdisciplinary, American Studies research question.  But you must go further to provide a compelling argument that a creative or service learning/community engagement approach is the right way to answer your question.  Further still, your proposal must provide satisfactory evidence that you possess the relevant logistic, technical, artistic, theoretical, and/or ethnographic expertise to successfully complete the proposed project. Project proposals must also include a second signature: that of a Technical Advisor with an expertise in the appropriate technical details of production.

Students are especially cautioned that the proposed creative work or service project must clearly engage American Studies. Project comps include an accompanying reflective essay in which students provide more detailed consideration of their work as an American Studies enterprise, explicitly explain any embedded connections, and situate their work within American Studies questions and methods.

Proposals will be read by a Comps Essay Committee consisting of the Director, Associate Director, and other program faculty.   Proposals will be graded as either “accepted” or “not accepted.” Students whose proposals are not accepted will take the Comps exam. Students whose proposals are accepted will work with the advisers who have signed their proposals. Essays/projects are due on the last day of classes, winter term.

The director will arrange for two appropriate readers, who will remain anonymous. Essays/projects will be graded Distinction/Pass/Fail. If the essay fails on the first round, the student will be given the chance to revise during spring term. Though not a part of a student’s grade, all students doing essays/projects will be required to give a public presentation during the spring term.

2) EXAM OPTION: Students will write a take-home exam, consisting of two 8-10 page essays tied to two separate reading lists: one list emerging from A.S. 345 (“Theory and Practice of American Studies”) and the other list a Special Topics list. There will be a Special Topics list each year, (for example, "Suburbanization", “Borderlands” or “Highbrow & Lowbrow Culture”) determined by multidisciplinary groups of American Studies faculty.

Students will be given copies of all reading lists at the end of spring term of their junior year. The 345 list will consist of the texts assigned in the course. The instructor of 345 will determine which texts will be on the reading list. The Special Topics list will be composed of 10 (approx.) texts. “Texts” may be a book, an essay, a movie/documentary, or a musical composition. Students are encouraged to form reading groups for the exams.

The faculty member teaching 345 will write the question for that portion of the exam. The faculty members responsible for the Special Topics list will write one question. The students will be required to write a 8-10 page essay on each question. The exam will be taken over the weekend at the end of the first week of classes, spring term. The students will be given the questions on Friday afternoon and must turn in their essays Monday morning. Both essays must be typed. Once the questions have been handed out, students will not be allowed to work in groups.

The exams will be read anonymously by faculty evaluation committees: one committee for each question. The exams will be graded Distinction/Pass/Fail. A student would have to receive a grade of Distinction on both essays in order to receive an overall grade of Distinction on the exam.) A student could potentially fail one exam essay and pass the other. In such a case, the student would be asked to rewrite only the failing exam essay. Though not a part of a student’s grade, all exam takers will be asked to give a joint public presentation during the spring term.

NOTE ABOUT OFF-CAMPUS PROGRAMS: Students must be on campus winter and spring terms of their junior year, in order to enroll in 345 and 396. If they wish to be off campus in the fall of their senior year, they must still meet all the deadlines specified above. Students are not encouraged to go on an off-campus program winter term of their senior year. If they must take winter term off because they went on a summer program (e.g., the California Seminar), they will be allowed to do either Comps option, but they must make arrangements in the fall of their senior year with the Director of the program.