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Ph.D. Program

Ph.D. students students join a community of scholars engaged with teaching and research and resources designed to complement their specific interests and goals and to develop their academic skills.


Applicants to the Ph.D. program must have a bachelor’s or master’s degree appropriate to advanced interdisciplinary graduate study, show evidence of wide knowledge of American life and thought and have an interest in interdisciplinary approaches to the study of American culture and society. Many students accepted into the doctoral program have received B.A. or M.A. degrees in American studies. The admissions committee will also consider individuals with degrees in such fields as anthropology, art history, English, government and politics, history, journalism, psychology and sociology if they have had a strong emphasis in American materials. Applicants must submit an application for admission, three letters of recommendation from professors familiar with their previous work, official transcripts of all graduate and undergraduate education, results of the Graduate Record Examination, a statement of purpose and a writing sample. Applicants may wish to visit the department for an interview and to meet members of the faculty and graduate students.

Program of Study

Doctoral students entering the program with a master’s degree take a minimum of 30 hours (beyond the master’s degree), consisting of courses in American studies and related disciplines and a minimum of 12 hours of AMST899: “Doctoral Dissertation Research.” In certain cases, students may petition to receive up to six hours of credit for recently completed M.A. work that contributes directly to the doctoral program. In addition, in exceptional cases, the faculty may waive certain credit hour requirements for students with prior relevant M.A. work.

Doctoral students entering the program with a bachelor’s degree take a minimum of 42 hours, consisting of courses in American studies and related disciplines, plus a minimum of 12 hours of AMST899: “Doctoral Dissertation Research.”

In consultation with a faculty advisor, students develop individual programs of study consisting of courses in American studies and related fields such as anthropology, architecture, art history, journalism, English, government and politics, history, sociology or women’s studies. Students should design their programs focused on American studies coursework and two areas of concentration, at least one of which must be in either (a) one of the two intellectual themes of cultures of everyday life and cultural constructions of difference and identity, or (b) one of the methodologically-based areas of ethnography, literature and society, material culture, popular culture and media studies, and social policy history. Students are responsible for determining prerequisites for advanced courses in the above departments, for inquiring about independent studies in areas not specifically covered in available courses and for meeting with a faculty advisor to determine the applicability of particular courses. Individual courses of study are developed within the below guidelines.

Course Requirements

Theory and Methodology

Theory and Methodology: AMST601: “Introductory Seminar in American
Studies”* (3 hours); AMST603: “Current Approaches in American Studies,”
plus one of the following:

  • AMST639A or B: “Decorative Arts in American Civilization” (Students in material culture or historical archaeology may substitute HISP678: “Fieldwork in Historic Preservation,” HISP679: “Measured Drawings for Historic Preservation,” ANTH611: “Management and Cultural Process,” ANTH689R: “Method and Theory in Archaeology” or URSP605: “Planning and Theory”)
  • ANTH606: “Methods of Cultural Analysis I”
  • CMLT600: “Introduction to Critical Theory”
  • COMM711: “Historical Critical Methods in Communication Research”
  • ENGL601: “Bibliography and Methods”
  • ENGL602: “Critical Theory and Literary Criticism”
  • GVPT700: “Scope and Methods of Political Science”
  • HIST600: “Historiography”
  • HIST602: “General Seminar: American History”
  • JOUR600: “Research Methods in Mass Communication”
  • SOCY621: “Contemporary Sociological Theory”
  • WMST601: “Advanced Feminist Theory”
  • WMST602: “Advanced Feminist Theory II”

*Note: Students are expected to register for AMST601 in their first semester of residence.

American Studies Seminars

American Studies Seminars: 9 semester hours chosen from special topic
seminars, AMST628 and AMST629, or other AMST proseminars or research seminars taught on campus by regular AMST faculty. This includes AMST602, 603, 6xx (Popular Culture) and 650 (formerly AMST628Q), AMST801 and 851 (formerly AMST629L). Students may on rare occasions and with their advisor’s consent petition the director of graduate studies to use one course taught by an affiliate faculty member that is cross-listed under AMST628 or 629 in partial fulfillment of this requirement.

Remaining Coursework

The remaining hours of coursework develop two areas of concentration.

Normally these will be the fields in which the student is preparing for the comprehensive examinations and dissertation research.

Additional Requirements

The Dissertation Committee

After the first year of residency or its equivalent, the student should meet with his or her advisor to discuss selection of a dissertation topic and the makeup of the dissertation committee, consisting of five faculty members from American studies and related departments. The dissertation director will be a member of the department, core affiliate or affiliate faculty. In addition, one committee member must serve as the Graduate School representative and cannot be a regular American studies faculty member.

Methodological Skills and Tools of Scholarship

Members of the dissertation committee will also be called upon to approve a student’s choice of methodological skills. A doctoral candidate must provide evidence, either by passing a special examination or designated courses in a relevant department, that he or she can successfully employ research methodologies or analytical tools appropriate to the area of concentration and dissertation project. These scholarly skills may be drawn from, but are not limited to, areas such as the following: a foreign language, statistics, content analysis, field work techniques or other such skills as the faculty shall agree to accept.

Comprehensive Examinations

Students are required to take three comprehensive examinations. One exam will be in American studies history, theory and method. The others will be taken in two areas of concentration supporting the student’s interdisciplinary research. Exams administered by American studies faculty are 72-hour take-home written exams, but exams administered by faculty outside the department will follow the format that the department typically uses (i.e., an oral slide exam in architectural history). Students are strongly encouraged to schedule and take their exams as soon after completing 18 credit hours as they are prepared for them. The exams need not be taken in any particular order but all three should be completed within a 12-month period.

Examination fields:

  1. The history, theory and method of American studies: An examination that includes but extends beyond material presented in AMST601 and AMST603.
  2. First Area of Concentration: (Choose either A or B)
    • A. A topic drawn from one of the thematic areas of the cultures of everyday life or cultural constructions of difference and identity
    • B. One of the methodologically-based areas of ethnography, literature & society, material culture, popular culture/media studies or social policy history
  3. Second Area of Concentration: This area may be selected from any of the areas listed above or may focus on another area drawn from a student’s work in affiliated departments.

Progress Toward the Degree

Students are expected to make steady progress in their degree programs. The time needed, of course, will depend on whether the student is full-time or part-time. To ensure that students proceed at a pace appropriate to their circumstances, the faculty meets at the end of each spring semester to conduct a review of all students in the program. Prior to that review, students must submit a brief statement describing their progress during that academic year, a plan for the next year’s work and a CV. These statements play a role in faculty decisions regarding the granting and renewing of graduate assistantships and requests for extensions of time limits for the degree. Doctoral students have up to five years to achieve candidacy and up to four years after admission to candidacy to complete all dissertation requirements. On average, however, full-time doctoral students in American studies complete all requirements, including the dissertation, in seven years.

Admission to Candidacy

Students are admitted to doctoral candidacy when they have satisfactorily completed all coursework, passed three comprehensive examinations and successfully defended their dissertation proposal in a meeting with their committee members. The dissertation proposal is developed in consultation with the student’s dissertation chair; it details the subject of the dissertation, reviews the relevant scholarly background and describes the resources to be used in conducting the research. Students must submit a completed application for admission to candidacy, including the naming of committee members, once the above requirements are met. See also Guidelines for Developing a Dissertation Prospectus.

The Dissertation

Following admission to candidacy, the student undertakes a substantial project of independent, original and interdisciplinary scholarly research. Students must be continuously registered for at least one credit of AMST899: “Dissertation Research” while completing the dissertation.

Before a completed dissertation can be formally approved, the candidate must successfully defend it in an oral examination before the dissertation committee. Reading copies of the dissertation must be distributed to members of the committee at least 10 working days prior to the oral examination and must conform to the university requirements set forth in the Thesis Manual. (Students should purchase a copy of this manual from the Media Express/Campus Reprographics, Reckord Armory.) Two copies of the completed dissertation are submitted to the Office of Graduate Studies and one to the Department of American Studies for its records.

Procedures for Graduation

No later than the first week of their final semester, students should consult with Interim Director of Graduate Studies Nancy Mirabal about the forms to be filed with the Office of Graduate Studies and Research in order to receive their degrees. These forms are available online at

Degree Worksheets

Statement of Mutual Expectations

Statement of Mutual Expectations between AMST & Ph.D. Students

Graduate students in the American studies doctoral program are expected to develop an interdisciplinary plan of study pertaining to one or both of the department’s broad areas of expertise: cultural constructions of identity and difference, and the cultures of everyday life. In addition to developing their interdisciplinary research expertise, students should gain mastery of the history, formative and current theories and interdisciplinary content of American studies literature and demonstrate an understanding of multiple dimensions of diversity. It is expected that students will work on these goals from arrival to graduation.

Satisfactory Progress toward the Ph.D. Degree 

Satisfactory Progress toward the Ph.D. Degree 

The Department of American Studies expects students to make steady progress toward the completion of their degrees; this document summarizes those expectations. In addition to using the guidelines in this document, the department strongly recommends that students meet with their program advisors a minimum of once a semester to discuss their progress and plan for the next steps. Students who have not yet selected a program advisor should meet with the director of graduate studies each semester. Note that this document has been updated as of 3/12/2009.

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