American Studies

Majoring in American Studies


  1. The student will fulfill the same departmental and divisional requirements as a regular divisional major with the same field of concentration. At least two courses the student takes in the field of concentration should focus on American subject matter.
  2. In addition, the student will take a minimum of two units in American subject matter in each of two fields outside the field of concentration. For students whose field of concentration is not history, at least one of these outside fields must be history.
  3. The student will take a junior qualifying exam designed by the American Studies Committee. This exam will be designed in consultation with the department corresponding to the student’s field of concentration.
  4. All majors are expected to attend American studies colloquia and other events. There are approximately three to four colloquia each semester. In addition, each American studies major will present on their thesis at a colloquium during the final semester of their senior year.

Admission to the Major

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.

All students applying to the American Studies major are required to read the following book prior to submitting an application:

Philip Deloria and Alexander Olson, American Studies: A User's Guide (Oakland: University of California Press, 2017)

You will be provided with a free copy of Deloria and Olson by the chair of the American Studies committee.

Your written 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.
  • Articulate your understanding of "interdisciplinarity" with respect to your academic interests, coursework to date, and, if possible, your preliminary thesis ideas.
  • Consider possible implications (substantive or methodological) of your reading of Deloria and Olson for your decision to pursue an American Studies major, choice of courses or academic fields, or thesis project.

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.