American Studies (available to Class of 2013 and beyond)
The concentration in American Studies offers its students an array of
analytical tools, knowledge and experiences to understand American society
and cultures as products of historical, cultural and contemporary processes
that are local, national and global. American Studies at Brown is predicated
on the ideal of a scholarly engagement with the public that enables its
graduates to, as Brown’s 1764 University Charter demands, "discharge the
offices of life with usefulness and reputation." Drawing deeply from the
traditions of the liberal arts, an American Studies concentration introduces
students to a range of methods and a variety of evidence, while helping
them frame a coherent understanding of the American experience.
A concentrator in American Studies will be able to:
Analyze texts, contexts, and data from multiple disciplinary and
Synthesize research as verbal, visual and/or digital presentations
Explore the theory and/or practice of the engagement of
scholarship with a broader public
Understand how American society and cultures have been and
are being shaped by global flows of people, goods and ideas
Experiment with new media as critical tools for scholarship
Concentrators have gone on to a vast variety of careers, including
law, public humanities, politics, public service, academics, business, creative
arts, and medicine.
Each concentrator will take 10 courses including a Junior Seminar as
one of four seminars. Courses are organized by the four themes and four
approaches that define America Studies at Brown. Each concentrator will
use this framework to create an individual focus in consultation with the
The focus is the flexible core of the concentration. Here each student
builds a coherent and dynamic interdisciplinary structure of related courses
that develops his or her compelling interest in some aspect of American
experience. The four themes and four approaches provide the
foundation on which each student builds a unique concentration in American
All seniors in the class of 2013 forward will be required to do a
capstone electronic portfolio.
Some concentrators may elect to do an Honors Thesis.
Study abroad is supported and encouraged.
Four Themes and Four Approaches
American Studies at Brown is concerned with four broad themes:
- Social Structures and the Practices of Identity: How do
communities and individuals come to define themselves, and how do others
define them, in terms of, among other categories, nation, region, class,
race, ethnicity, gender, sex, religion, age and sexuality? How do
organizations and institutions function socially and culturally? What are
the roles of social movements, economic structures, politics and
- Space and Place: How is space organized, and how do people make
place? This includes the study of natural and built environments; local,
regional, national and transnational communities; and international and
inter-regional flows of people, goods, and ideas.
- Production and Consumption of Culture: How do people represent
their experiences and ideas as culture? How is culture transmitted,
appropriated and consumed? What is the role of artists and the
expressive arts, including literature, visual arts and performance.
- Science, Technology, and Everyday Life: How does work and the
deployment of science and technology shape American culture? How do
everyday social practices of work, leisure and consumption provide agency
How we study
American Studies at Brown emphasizes four intersecting approaches that
are critical tools for understanding these themes:
- Cultural and Social Analysis: Reading and analyzing different kinds of
texts, including literary, visual, aural, oral, material objects and landscapes.
Examining ethnic and racial groups, institutions, organizations and social
- Global/International Contextualization: Comprehending the United
States as a society and culture that has been shaped by the historical and
contemporary flows of people, goods and ideas from around the world and
in turn, learning about the various ways in which America has shaped the
- New Media Understandings: Understanding the creation of new forms
of discourse, new ways of knowing and new modes of social organization
made possible by succeeding media revolutions. Using new media as a
critical tool for scholarship.
- Publicly Engaged Scholarship: Connecting the theory and the practice
of publicly-engaged research, understanding and presentation, from
community-based scholarship to ethnography, oral history, and museum
exhibits. Civic engagement might include structured and reflective
participation in a local community or communities or the application of
general theoretical knowledge to understanding social issues.
Page last reviewed in October, 2010.
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