American Studies

Majoring in American Studies

Many students will find that they can take all the courses that interest them and write the thesis they wish through a regular departmental major (English, history, etc.). Indeed, students majoring in American Studies must fulfill all of the requirements in a departmental major, as well as additional requirements in American subject matter in two other departments. American Studies majors, therefore, sacrifice a certain amount of flexibility in order to complete the interdisciplinary major. Because Reed offers only the occasional course specifically designated as American Studies, most of the burden falls on the student to synthesize the coursework outside the departmental requirements. Whereas students writing a thesis in a department can take a lot for granted in terms of literature and problems, American Studies students need to think about how and why their theses are interdisciplinary.

For all these reasons, admission to the American Studies major is by application only. Since no application is guaranteed approval, the committee recommends that interested students initially declare a major in a standing department. Doing so will ensure that you have a back-up major should your application to American Studies be denied, and it will also ensure that you are meeting all the requirements for your field of concentration within American Studies. Your application must be submitted to the chair of the American Studies committee during the first semester of the junior year prior to the Committee's deadline for considering new applications, which is November 1 in fall semester or April 1 in spring. The committee will approve or deny your application, or ask for revisions to it, within two weeks after the deadline. 

Your application should:

  • Outline your major academic interests and goals, including your potential area of thesis research.
  • Explain why your academic interests cannot be fulfilled via a conventional departmental major and fit better under the framework of American Studies.
  • Verify that the coursework you have done so far and that you intend to do in your remaining semesters at Reed has put you on track to meeting the requirements for American Studies and your intended field of concentration.

If interested in majoring in American Studies, you are strongly advised to meet with the chair of American Studies or a member of the American Studies committee well in advance of the deadline to submit a petition to major in the program. You should also consult a faculty member in the department in which you expect to concentrate, to ensure that you are meeting the requirements for a major in that field and that there are faculty in that department amenable to advising an American Studies thesis. While American Studies majors with concentrations in English and history are most common, concentrating in other fields is possible but may require a bit more planning.