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American Studies

NOTE: This page contains information from the 2012-2013 Catalog. It remains available for archival purposes only. For the most current WC Catalog content, please visit http://catalog.washcoll.edu and download this year’s edition.
Interdisciplinary Major

American Studies explores culture and identity from an interdisciplinary perspective to help students develop a rich understanding of the American experience. For instance, students might explore race and ethnic identity—a central theme in American Studies—in many different fields, including history classes on slavery or the Civil Rights Movement; literature classes on the Harlem Renaissance, Irish and Irish-American literature, or Jewish-American literature; music courses on jazz and American music; or a summer-session archaeology field school conducting excavations on the Eastern Shore.

Student Opportunities

American Studies students benefit from a close relationship with the C. V. Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience. The C. V. Starr Center, located in the historic Custom House on the Chester River in downtown Chestertown, supports student research, hosts special events, and brings distinguished scholars to Chestertown. The Center also provides significant funding support for undergraduate research, including Comegys Bight Fellowships, which fund summer research in American Studies, and Frederick Douglass Fellowships, which support spring-semester research in African-American studies.

The Curriculum

The major in American Studies requires twelve courses. Four of these are lower-level courses in two introductory sequences: American Culture and American History. To satisfy the sequence in American Culture, students must take one course from each of the following lists:

  • Introduction to American Culture I (AMS 201 cross-listed as ENG 211)
  • Introduction to American Literature I (AMS 209 cross-listed as ENG 209)
  • Introduction to African-American Lit I (AMS 213 cross-listed as ENG 213 and BLS 213)


  • Introduction to American Culture II (AMS 202 cross-listed as ENG 212)
  • Introduction to American Literature II (AMS 210 cross-listed as ENG 210)
  • Introduction to African-American Lit II (AMS 214 cross-listed as ENG 214 and BLS 214)

To satisfy the sequence in American History, students must take both of the following courses:

  • History of the United States to 1865 (HIS 201)
  • History of the United States since 1865 (HIS 202)

Beyond this foundation, the major consists of eight upper-level courses. Two of these are required:

  • American Studies Colloquium (AMS 300), usually offered in the fall
  • Senior Capstone Experience Seminar (AMS SCE), usually offered in the spring
  • The remaining six required upper-level courses are electives. There is a formal list of American Studies electives (see below), but students are encouraged to develop an individualized course of study reflecting their interests and goals. This individualized course of study may include additional courses (both special topics and regular offerings), as well as internships, study-abroad experiences, experiential learning, and other programs. The Program Director and other American Studies faculty will work closely with students to assist in designing their course of study and preparing them for the Capstone.

Because of the program’s interdisciplinary nature, there is no minor in American Studies.

Senior Capstone Experience

The American Studies Senior Capstone is an intensive research project guided by a faculty advisor on a topic of the student’s choice. Students complete the Capstone while enrolled in the four-credit Senior Capstone Experience (SCE) course in the spring of their senior year. The Capstone receives a mark of Pass, Fail, or Honors. Double majors are encouraged to develop Capstones that integrate their majors. Since this requires consultation and cooperation between departments and faculty advisors, double majors should discuss the possibility of an integrated capstone in their junior year.

Course Descriptions

209 (ENG 209). Introduction to American Literature I

Taught in the fall semester, the course is concerned with the establishment of American Literature as a school subject. Texts that have achieved the status of “classics” of American Literature, such as Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, Thoreau’s Walden, and Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, will be read in the context of the history and politics of their achieving this status. Texts traditionally excluded from the canon of American literature, in particular early Hispano- and Franco-American texts, will be considered in the context of their relative marginality to the project of establishing American Literature in the American academy. Other-than-written materials, such as modern cinematic representations of the period of exploration and colonization of North America, as well as British Colonial portraits and history paintings, will be studied for how they reflect on claims for the cultural independence of early America. Other-than-American materials, such as late medieval and early Renaissance Flemish and Hispanic still lifes, as well as the works of nineteenth-century European romantic poets and prose writers, will be sampled for how they reflect on claims for the exceptional character of American culture.

210 (ENG 210). Introduction to American Literature II

Taught in the spring semester, the course is concerned with the establishment of American Studies as a curriculum in post-World War II American colleges and universities. Readings will include a variety of written texts, including those not traditionally considered “literary,” as well as a variety of other-than-written materials, including popular cultural ones. Introductions to the modern phenomena of race, gender, sexual orientation, and generation in U.S. culture will be included. A comparatist perspective on the influence of American culture internationally, and a review of the international American Studies movement in foreign universities will also be introduced.

213 (ENG 213). Introduction to African American Literature I

This course is a survey of African American literature produced from the late 1700s to the Harlem Renaissance. It is designed to introduce students to the writers, texts, themes, conventions and tropes that have shaped the African American literary tradition. Authors studied in this course include Phillis Wheatley, Frederick Douglass, Harriet Jacobs, William Wells Brown, Frances E. W. Harper, Paul Laurence Dunbar, Nella Larsen and Langston Hughes.

214 (ENG 214). Introduction to African American Literature II

This course surveys African American authors from the Harlem Renaissance to the present. It is designed to expose students to the writers, texts, themes, and literary conventions that have shaped the African American literary canon since the Harlem Renaissance. Authors studied in this course include Zora Neale Hurston, Richard Wright, Ralph Ellison, Gwendolyn Brooks, James Baldwin, and Toni Morrison.

300. American Studies Colloquium

Topics vary. The colloquium is often taught as a film course. Usually taught in the fall.


190, 290, 390, 490. Internships

194, 294, 394, 494. Special Topics

195, 295, 395, 495. On-campus Research

196, 296, 396, 496. Off-campus Research

197, 297, 397, 497. Independent Study

SCE. Senior Capstone Experience

The Senior Capstone Experience (SCE) is a spring seminar for seniors completing their capstones. It includes sessions on research methods, organization, visual display of information, writing, and electronic publication.

American Studies Electives In The Humanities

  • ART 322. The Arts in America
  • ART 421. Early American Modernisms
  • DRA 306. Theater and Drama: American Musical Theater
  • DRA 308. After Angels: American Theater since 1992
  • ENG 341. Native American Literature
  • ENG 343. American Short Story
  • ENG 344. The American Novel
  • ENG 345. The African-American Novel
  • ENG 346. The Postmodern American Novel
  • ENG 347. American Environmental Writing
  • ENG 360. The Literature of the European Colonies of North America and of the Early U.S.
  • ENG 361. Literary Romanticism in the U.S. I
  • ENG 362. Literary Romanticism in the U.S. II
  • ENG 363. The Gilded Age and American Realism
  • ENG 370. The Harlem Renaissance
  • ENG 371. Faulkner and Modernism in the United States
  • ENG 372. American Poetry Since 1945
  • ENG 373. American Fiction Since 1945
  • ENG 374. Main Divisions in American Culture: Race, Gender, Sexual Preference, Generation, Class
  • ENG 375. Body Language: Representation and Transgression from Dreiser and Chopin through Baker and Easton Ellis
  • ENG 376. Culture of the Old/Cultures of the Young
  • ENG 377. 2PACalypse Now! The Cult of Heart of Darkness among White Male Anglophone Intellectuals
  • ENG 409, 410. Special Topics in American Literature
  • MUS 303. American Music
  • MUS 305. History of Jazz
  • * Additional “special topics” courses offered regularly by these departments

American Studies Electives In The Social Sciences

  • ANT 137. Cultures and Environments of the Chesapeake
  • ANT 208. Doing Anthropology
  • ANT 296. Archaeological Field School
  • ANT 474. Historic Preservation and Cultural Resource Management
  • ECN 312. Public Finance: Theory and Policy
  • EDU 301. Principles of Education
  • EDU 354. Literature for Children, K-8
  • HIS 313. Seventeenth- and Eighteenth-Century America
  • HIS 315. The Early Republic
  • HIS 319. African-American History to 1865
  • HIS 320. African-American History from 1865
  • HIS 334. American Civil War
  • HIS 335. Reconstruction and the Gilded Age
  • HIS 336. Progressivism and the Twenties
  • HIS 337. The New Deal and World War II
  • HIS 338. The United States Since 1945
  • HIS 340. American Intellectual History
  • HIS 342. Victorian America
  • HIS 343. History of American Women
  • HIS 344. Hollywood Films in the Depression and World War II
  • HIS 492. Selected Topics in American History
  • POL 311. Congress and the Legislative Process
  • POL 312. The American Presidency
  • POL 313. Elections and the Political Process
  • POL 317. State and Local Politics
  • POL 320. Law and Society
  • POL 321. Women and Politics
  • POL 323. Constitutional Law
  • POL 324. American Political Thought
  • POL 334. Media and Politics
  • POL 380. American Foreign Policy
  • SOC 344. White Collar Crime
  • SOC 351. Religion in the United States
  • * Additional “special topics” courses offered regularly by these departments

American Studies Electives In The Natural Sciences

  • ENV 109. Introduction to GIS
  • ENV 490. GIS Internship

Other courses, including special topics and regular catalog offerings, may also be used as electives. Students should consult with the program director to plan their course of study.