Guide to Studying American Studies

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American Studies is strongly
interdisciplinary

By Dr Thomas Ruys Smith, Head of Department of American Studies, University of East Anglia (UEA)

What is American Studies?

  • In the twenty-first century America remains the world’s pre-eminent global force. Our morning coffee comes from Starbucks, our evening’s entertainment comes from HBO or Hollywood, and in between, like it or not, American culture, companies and geopolitical decisions dominate our lives.
  • The motivating force behind American Studies as a discipline is to dissect, decipher and delve into the inner workings of this profoundly significant world power in all of its possible dimensions.
  • The hallmark of the subject is its interdisciplinarity: instead of being confined by traditional disciplinary boundaries, Americanists range widely across literature, history, politics and popular culture, and are concerned with the interplay of those and many other areas.
  • Increasingly, too, American Studies looks beyond the boundaries of the United States themselves, and incorporates the wider Americas, the Caribbean, the Transatlantic, the Transpacific, and beyond.
  • Though rooted in the geographic United States, it is a truly global subject.

Specific or general skills developed

  • The interdisciplinary nature of the subject has benefits beyond the intellectual. American Studies students gain a comprehensive and, as they progress in their studies, increasingly specialised understanding of America and its cultures; they also develop the analytical and rhetorical skills common to all humanities students.
  • But more than this, they develop an ability to synthesise a variety of perspectives and bring a range of original approaches and methodologies to bear on a question, making connections where more conventional thinkers draw lines. These are attributes that are highly valued by twenty-first century employers.
  • Most American Studies degrees will include a semester or year abroad at an American university, and, as well as a unique adventure, this is also an experience that has a significant effect on a student’s employability after their degree, demonstrating independence, maturity, and an ability to thrive in other cultures.

Examples of area of study

  • American history.
  • American literature.
  • American political culture.
  • American music.
  • Photography and Visual Culture in the USA.
  • American Material Culture.
  • African-American history.
  • American slavery.

Why Study American Studies

  • For students of American Studies, this means that they enrol in a subject that is uniquely open, exciting and challenging. It has been described as the ultimate liberal arts degree.
  • On a basic level, students who might otherwise feel torn between, say, literature and history degrees are liberated from that traditional disciplinary choice. And they can build on those interests by exploring the history of American music, or American art, or American politics – or all three and more. Within an American Studies degree, you are at liberty to develop your intellectual passions.
  • Throughout, you will encounter a rich diversity of subjects and approaches that span the gamut, chronologically and thematically, from the time before European colonization up to the contemporary moment. Accordingly, however you approach them, you will engage with the issues that have been at the heart of the American experience – ethnicity, class, gender, and sexuality – and explore crucial themes like civil rights, the idea of freedom, migrant and immigrant experiences, conformism and rebellion, and American foreign relations. You will also reflect on the interdisciplinary skills that you develop, and think about why America might elicit these kinds of multifaceted engagements.  
  • Whether you’re interested in the Great Gatsby or the Great Depression, the West Wing or Kanye West, Agent Orange or Orange is the New Black, the Cold War or Frozen, Moby Dick or the New York Knicks – or perhaps more particularly, if all of those subjects have the potential to pique your interest – then American Studies might well be the degree for you.

What Degree Can I Get? 

  • BA (Hons) in American Studies.
  • Examples of joint courses include Film and American Studies, American and Canadian Studies and English Literature, History and American Studies.

What Qualifications do I Need?

  • Some universities may look for minimum grades in certain subjects, e.g. English Language or English Literature at grade B.
  • Always check the entry requirements for courses you are particularly interested in.

Use our Course Chooser to search through American Studies courses.

What are the Postgraduate Opportunities?

  • Postgraduate taught and research programmes in American Studies (or related areas such as Film and American Studies, American History, American Literature and Culture) are offered both full- and part-time.
  • Some UK universities offer collaborative research programmes with American universities.

What are the Job Opportunities?

  • Popular career choices for American Studies graduates include journalism, publishing, finance, marketing, advertising and the creative industries, the media, and the culture and heritage sectors.
  • Many students also go on to further study, and pursue careers in teaching and law.