Ph.D. Overview

The Department seeks to promote understanding of the complex nature of American life and culture through examining how individual experience intersects with local, national, and global contexts. In investigating issues such as identity, difference, representation, power, and cultural and historical change, the Department encourages the study of national, regional, and local communities, and supports research focused within both contemporary and historical contexts.

The Department offers students the opportunity to apply American Studies theory and method to their own areas of research, while encouraging them to draw on the approaches of related disciplines in order to inform and enrich their work. In addition to twelve American Studies Department faculty, the Department also provides students with access to a network of four Core Affiliate faculty and approximately seventy Affiliate Faculty from departments such as Afro-American Studies, Anthropology, Architecture, English, History, Sociology, and Women’s Studies. Regular Departmental, Core Affiliate and Affiliate faculty members are all eligible to direct dissertations and theses and to serve as advisors to graduate students in American Studies.

Our connections with a wide variety of faculty from departments across campus offer American Studies students a chance to take part in projects such as the Consortium on Race, Gender, and Ethnicity (CRGE) or the Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities (MITH), attend joint-sponsored lecture series and polyseminars, and engage in a dialogue with the broader community of Americanists on campus. The American Studies Department also offers students the opportunity to receive certificates in programs such as Digital Studies, Historic Preservation, Museum Scholarship and Material Culture, and Women’s Studies. Students can also make use of the extensive resources housed in the Smithsonian Institution, the National Archives, the Library of Congress, and other Washington-Baltimore area museums, libraries, and government agencies.

The Department is committed to supporting excellence and originality in scholarly research. It also seeks to foster community and professional relationships, and encourage regional and national scholarly exchange through student and faculty participation in conferences, projects, and workshops, and through the publication of scholarly work.

Graduate students enter the program with a variety of skills, research interests, backgrounds, and professional experience. Whether focused on careers in the academy, advocacy and public policy, government, media, or cultural resource management, students find in the Department 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 PhD 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 BA or MA 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.

Course Requirements

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 AMST 899 (Doctoral Dissertation Research). In certain cases, students may petition to receive up to six hours of credit for recently completed MA 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 MA 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 AMST 899 (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 course work 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 area s 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 following guidelines:

1) Theory and Methodology: AMST 601, Introductory Seminar in American
Studies* (3 hours); AMST 603 (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 HISP 678: Fieldwork in Historic Preservation, HISP 679: Measured Drawings for Historic Preservation, ANTH 611: Management and Cultural Process, ANTH 689R: Method and Theory in Archaeology, or URSP 605: Planning and Theory)
  • ANTH 606: Methods of Cultural Analysis I
  • CMLT 600: Introduction to Critical Theory
  • COMM 711: Historical Critical Methods in Communication Research
  • ENGL 601: Bibliography and Methods
  • ENGL602: Critical Theory and Literary Criticism
  • GVPT 700: Scope and Methods of Political Science
  • HIST 600: Historiography
  • HIST 602: General Seminar: American History
  • JOUR 600: Research Methods in Mass Communication
  • SOCY 621: Contemporary Sociological Theory
  • WMST 601: Advanced Feminist Theory
  • WMST 602: Advanced Feminist Theory II

*Note: Students are expected to register for AMST 601 in their first semester of residence.

2) American Studies seminars: 9 semester hours chosen from special topic
seminars, AMST 628 and AMST 629, or other AMST proseminars or research seminars taught on campus by regular AMST faculty. This includes AMST 602, 603, 6xx (Popular Culture), and 650 (formerly AMST 628Q), AMST 801 and 851 (formerly AMST 629L). 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 AMST 628 or 629 in partial fulfillment of this requirement.

3) The remaining hours of course work develop two areas of concentration.
Normally these will be the fields in which the student is preparing for the comprehensive examinations and dissertation research.

Other Requirements

1) 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.

2) 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 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 AMST 601 and AMST

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 insure 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 c.v. 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 course work, 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 AMST 899: 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 ten 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 American Studies Department for its records.

Procedures for Graduation:

No later than the first week of their final semester, students should consult with the Director of Graduate Studies 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