Major & Concentration

The Center for American Studies at Columbia University offers students the opportunity to explore the experience and values of the people of the United States as embodied in their history, literature, politics, art, and other enduring forms of cultural expression. Students in our department take advantage of their city by working with community service organizations and participating in colloquia and public conferences with leading figures in the New York political and cultural scene. Our alumni have pursued careers in teaching, journalism, law, the arts, museum fields and other professions.

The Center seeks to prepare students for a life of active citizenship by confronting the pressing problems that face our society. As such, American Studies prioritizes discussion-based seminars with intensive reading to better develop students’ capacity for critical engagement. Several courses also develop connections between academic inquiry and real world experience by requiring regular volunteer work in an organization directly related to the course’s topic, such as tutoring underserved high school students at Columbia’s Double Discovery Center.

The American Studies Major and Concentration

Students may choose American Studies as an undergraduate major or a concentration. A minimum of 9 courses is required to complete the major, 7 courses to complete the concentration. Coursework for both consists of a combination of required courses (see degree requirements below) and an individualized program of study.

Although students generally declare their major or concentration in the spring of their sophomore year, you may want to take electives early on in areas that interest you but that will later connect with the American Studies major.

The Major

A minimum of 9 courses is required to complete the major:

Two American Studies Core courses. The following courses are ordinarily required: 

  • Introduction to American Studies
  • U.S. Intellectual History, 1865-Present or Freedom & Citizenship in the United States

Two seminars in American Studies

Four courses drawn from at least two departments, one of which must be in History and one of which must deal primarily with some aspect of the American experience before 1900 [A course on U.S. history before 1900 would fulfill both requirements].

Senior Research Project 

The final requirement for the major in American Studies is completion of a senior essay, to be submitted in the spring of senior year.

Alternatively, students may fulfill this requirement by taking an additional seminar in which a major paper is required or by writing an independent essay under the supervision of a faculty member. Seniors who wish to do a senior research project are required to take the Senior Project Colloquium the fall of the senior year. 

The Concentration

A minimum of 7 courses is required to complete the concentration: 

Two American Studies Core courses. The following are ordinarily required: 

  • Introduction to American Studies
  • U.S. Intellectual History, 1865-Present or Freedom & Citizenship in the United States

Five additional courses drawn from at least two departments, one of which must be history.

Students may choose American Studies as an undergraduate major or a concentration. A minimum of 30 points is required to complete the major, 21 points to complete the concentration. Coursework for both consists of a combination of required courses (see degree requirements below) and an individualized program of study.

Although students generally declare their major or concentration in the spring of their sophomore year, you may want to take electives early on in areas that interest you but that will later connect with the American Studies major.

The Major

A minimum of 30 points is required to complete the major:

8 points: Two Seminars in American Studies

6 points: Two American Studies Core courses.
The following two courses are ordinarily required:

  • Foundations of American Literature I: American Literature from the Puritans to the Civil War (ENGL W3267)
  • U.S. Intellectual History, 1865-Present (HIST W3478)

12 points: Four courses drawn from at least two departments, one of which must be History.

4 points: Senior Research Project

The final requirement for the major in American Studies is completion of a Senior Essay, to be written in the spring of senior year. Alternatively, students may fulfill this requirement by taking an additional seminar where a major paper is required or by writing an independent essay under the supervision of a faculty member. Seniors who wish to do a senior research project are required to take the Senior Project Colloquium in the fall of the senior year.


The Concentration

A minimum of 21 points is required to complete the concentration:

6 points: Two American Studies Core courses.
The following two courses are ordinarily required:

  • Foundations of American Literature I: American Literature from the Puritans to the Civil War (ENGL W3267)
  • U.S. Intellectual History, 1865-Present (HIST W3478)

15 points: Five additional courses drawn from at least two departments, one of which must be History.

Because The Center offers an interdisciplinary curriculum, students design their own courses of study. Majors gain foundations in American literature and intellectual history from which they develop questions for further inquiry. They then work with an advisor to choose courses in political science, sociology, anthropology, film, gender, and race and ethnicity, among others, to gain insight into their questions. Each student is assigned an academic advisor who monitors the student's progress through graduation. Advisors meet with their advisees at least twice a semester.

 

Any grade lower than a C minus cannot be counted toward a degree in American Studies. A grade of C minus can be counted only with the approval of the director or associate director of the center. Pass/fail courses will not count toward the major unless the course was taken before the student declared the major.

 

Students with a 3.6 minimum GPA in the major and an outstanding senior project will be considered for honors. By College policy, no more than 10% of majors are permitted to receive honors in a given year.

We encourage our students to study abroad and to take courses that examine America in an international context. With careful planning, you can both study abroad and fulfill all the American Studies requirements. You should consult with your advisor early on about how to integrate study abroad into your program, and you should keep in mind that syllabi from courses taken abroad must be reviewed by your advisor to determine whether they count toward American Studies requirements.

 

A major in American Studies can open doors to many careers as well as to graduate or professional school. A number of our students, for example, develop a thematic concentration centered on the media that can take them into journalism, publishing, and other related areas. An interdisciplinary major like American Studies, in combination with your general education through the Columbia Core Curriculum, can also lead to opportunities in nonprofit organizations or public affairs. Over the last few years, our majors have gone on to graduate school, law and medical school; business, government, and public-service organizations; as well as other post-college programs such asTeach for America.

Graduates of American Studies