Mission Statement

The Center for American Studies offers students the opportunity to explore the experiences and values of the people of the United States as embodied in their history, literature, politics, art, and other enduring forms of cultural expression. The Center views civic education as its primary mission, sponsoring seminars and public programs that enhance students’ understanding of the fundamental ideas and vocabulary of public discourse in American culture, history, and politics. In its curriculum and public programming, the Center seeks to prepare students to confront with historical awareness the most pressing problems that face our society. American Studies takes its inspiration from the great Columbia philosopher John Dewey, who insisted that “Democracy has to be born anew every generation, and education is its midwife.” The Center is the institutional home of the American Studies program, which offers an interdisciplinary, seminar-based curriculum designed to be open and flexible while preparing students for a life of active citizenship. American Studies students draw on the intellectual resources of the entire Columbia curriculum in crafting a program of study that allows them to explore major themes in American history and culture from different perspectives. The program encourages students to build on their engagement through the Core Curriculum with enduring social, aesthetic, and ethical questions as they confront the most urgent issues of contemporary public life. American Studies takes advantage of its location by involving students with the life of the city, working with community service organizations such as the Roger Lehecka Double Discovery Center, and by inviting leading figures on the New York political and cultural scene to participate in colloquia, public conferences, and classroom activities.