The Undergraduate Major

The major in the American Studies Program offers an interdisciplinary engagement with what America means in the United States and in a global context.  Students are encouraged to look at the meaning and reality of the evolving United States as a question still in need of answering and as an experiment still in process, not as a dream fully realized. Multiple perspectives and methodologies are used, which require students to synthesize knowledge in ways that develop the skills needed for rigorous, complex analysis. Many of our students go on to graduate study in disciplines such as law, medicine, and education and to careers in digital and broadcast media, teaching, publishing, and many other fields.

The American Studies major includes an individually-designed concentration area as well as a required distribution of courses.

Students considering the American Studies major are encourage to meet  with the Director of Undergraduate Studies or the  AMST Undergraduate Coordinator, to discuss an affiliated faculty advisor, is recommended but not required.

Coursework Requirements

  • Twelve courses (12) of 3 or 4 credits each, with a minimum of 42 credits, from the American Studies roster.
  • No more than six (6) courses from any one discipline.
  • Courses must be completed with a letter grade of C or better.
  • Six (6) courses defined in area of concentration determined in consultation with faculty advisor in the penultimate semester.

Major distribution requirements

  • Three (3) courses with substantial focus on pre-1900 material.
  • Two (2) courses must deal with American diversity.  (In American Studies, “diversity” courses are those that address social justice or inequality, with an emphasis on race, class, gender, and/or sexuality.)
  • One (1) 4000-level American Studies seminar.

Notes on course credits

  • AMST 4997 and AMST 4998, taught in Washington, D.C., does not fulfill the seminar requirement, but do count as one course for the major.
  • A single course may satisfy more than one of these requirements: e.g., a course on Native Americans in the 1800s will fulfill a pre-1900 course and an American diversity course.
  • Study Abroad: May receive up to two (2) courses towards the major for one (1) semester and up to three (3) courses for a full year abroad with DUS approval.
  • Area of concentration is determined in consultation with faculty advisor to fit the particular interests of a student, but it must include subjects in at least two disciplines.
  • Possible areas of concentration include “visual studies,” “cultural studies,” “race and ethnicity,” “legal and Constitutional studies,” “American institutions,” “class and social structure,” “the American environment, “American capitalism,” “community-engaged learning and research.”
  • Courses taken to satisfy the concentration may be used to fulfill other requirements for the major.
  • With approval from the Director of Undergraduate Studies, students may count two courses relevant to American experience that are not cross-listed with American Studies. Please contact the AMST Undergraduate Coordinator to discuss this option.

Concentrations Within the Major

Although a good bit of freedom is encouraged in the selection of courses, American Studies majors, in consultation with their advisor, must define an area of concentration and complete six courses in that area. The area of concentration can be designed to fit the particular interests of a student, but it must include subjects in at least two disciplines. We encourage students to develop their own concentration. 

Sample concentrations can be found here.

Courses taken to satisfy the concentration may be used to fulfill other requirements of the major


Students wishing to earn honors in American Studies must maintain an average of B+ in courses pertinent to the major and complete an honors thesis under the direction of an American Studies faculty member. Applications for honors must be received by May 1 of the junior year.

Recent American Studies thesis titles

For more information, contact the American Studies Program office.

Research Grants

There are two kinds of undergraduate research grants in American Studies:

  •  Research related to a student’s own research project. This could be for a senior honors thesis or other independent research.

  •  Research done as a research assistant for an American Studies faculty member.

To be eligible, students must be American Studies majors enrolled full-time and in good standing. The maximum award will be $500. For more information, contact the American Studies director or speak with the American Studies faculty member with whom you’d like to work.

Cornell in Washington and Study Abroad

Many American Studies majors participate in the Cornell in Washington program or study internationally. Recently our majors have studied in Spain, South Africa, Argentina, France, Italy, Australia, and the United Kingdom. Course credit toward the major is determined on a case-by-case basis, but typically students may receive major credit for up to two courses taken while studying abroad.