What is American Culture Studies?
American Culture Studies (AMCS) is an interdepartmental program that provides both a broader context for study in different fields and a deeper understanding of American culture in all of its complexities.
AMCS majors and minors explore cultural issues that demand multiple perspectives and methods. They also consider the relevance of various disciplines to any single object of study in American culture—a place, an event, a work of art, a political institution, etc.—while developing the knowledge and skills necessary to study a wide array of such objects.
The AMCS approach is inclusive, emphasizing the enormous diversity within American society and the many models of cultural study. While the AMCS major may be taken alone, the program works closely with students to ensure that double-majoring is an especially enriching experience.
AMCS gives students considerable freedom in defining their course of study, inviting them to define areas of concentration and develop Capstone projects that are suited to their specific interests. Established concentrations within the AMCS curriculum reflect areas of long-standing student interest; majors are welcome to tailor them or to propose new concentrations. Currently, the approved concentrations include:
- 20th Century America
- A Sense of Place: Community, Region, and Landscape
- Early America
- Policy-Making in American Society
- Popular Culture
- Social Thought & Social Problems
- The Construction of Race and ethnicity in American Life (formerly Ethnic America)
- Visual, Material, and Digital Cultures in the United States
- War & Peace
AMCS students study a wide array of objects and issues, learning to think critically and creatively about how these objects relate to the larger world and culture. Many of them also major in other programs within Arts & Sciences (for example, History, Political Science, Education, English, and Anthropology), as well as the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts, the Engineering School, the George Warren Brown School of Social Work, and the Olin Business School. They are committed scholars, athletes, leaders, and volunteers—individuals who are interested in viewing culture and community from many angles. Such intellectual diversity is particularly appropriate for a program whose overall purpose is to explore the many facets of American culture.
Students who major in AMCS develop vital skills that serve them after graduation. They learn how to think and research independently, how to work on projects collaboratively, how to understand the cultural connections and implications of artistic, social, and political events, institutions, and objects as cultural phenomena, and how to build (as well as to critique) various forms of cultural knowledge and practice.
AMCS students excel in their chosen life paths. Our alumni have gone on to be attorneys, journalists, researchers, engineers, political staffers, business people, teachers, graphic and web designers, museum curators, archivists, advertising and public relations associates, and marketing specialists.
Multidisciplinary study and fieldwork in AMCS not only facilitate a broader understanding of American culture past and present, but also help students to develop the skills necessary to succeed in today’s world and workplace. Ultimately, the program equips students for careers in which they draw upon their varied academic experiences as well as other important forms of cultural knowledge and training.
Our faculty is drawn from across the campus, representing a wide variety of humanities, sciences, and social sciences disciplines as well as the various schools at the university. These individuals engage with the methods and issues that are important in their specific field of scholarship, but they also participate in larger multidisciplinary discussions that allow them to learn from one another and to collaborate on teaching and research projects.
We are a small program with caring and committed faculty and attentive advising—a great place for students to get to know their professors, seek mentorship, pursue projects of particular interest to them, and for some, write multi-disciplinary honors theses.
On Location: Exploring America
One of the truly unique learning opportunities in AMCS is “On Location: Exploring America” (AMCS/L98 479), a travel-based seminar that is open to both undergraduates and graduates from across fields and schools. The topic changes every summer, but the course is always multidisciplinary and location-specific, and involves travel to a wide range of cultural sites in the U.S.
The “On Location” model is both interactive and collaborative, focusing on objects that cannot be fully grasped without conversation with different faculty, experts in the field, and others, including those with a local perspective. In effect, students become in-the-field observers—and sometimes participants—as they seek to understand not only complex cultural phenomena but the many ways they have been interpreted in specific times and places.
Past topics and sites of study have included Exploring the Landscape of Memory and Memorialization in Washington, D.C., and New York City; Exploring Asian-American Experiences of Americanization in San Francisco, CA and Hawaii; Exploring the American Exotic Cities in Charleston, SC, and New Orleans, LA, and how their history and memory have been impacted by slavery, tourism and ecological factors. Our most recent course was in Summer 2016, “We’ll Have Manhattan”: New York City and the Geographies of Popular Culture. For more information please visit http://amcs.wustl.edu/academics/onlocation.php
Fieldwork is an immersive and multidisciplinary experience that allows you to explore a cultural issue or topic in a “real world” context while developing vital research and analytical skills that are relevant to the rest of the major, as well as providing an opportunity to gain experience for future careers.
Students complete their Fieldwork requirement through enrollment in an approved Fieldwork course such as L98 479: On Location: Exploring America or completion of a field-based independent project under the guidance of AMCS faculty (in most cases under the course number
The Capstone Project is a process that allows you to explore a topic of special interest in American culture, drawing upon more than one disciplinary approach or methodology (“multidisciplinary”), and will yield a final project that can take any number of forms: a standard research paper or honors thesis; proposals; multimedia projects (websites, blogs, films, etc.); and other creative forms are all appropriate. Recent examples have included websites, blogs, films or other digital projects; ethnographic analysis; a museum exhibit; and a case study of Disneyland.
Capstone projects are proposed at the end of the junior year and completed during the senior year. The Capstone requirement is fulfilled through one of the following three scenarios:
- a one-semester independent research project pursued with guidance from an advisor.
- a two-semester honors thesis (for those eligible for honors work).
- a one-semester project completed in the context of an approved 400- or 500-level seminar.
Students pursuing the one-semester independent project or the honors thesis participate in the AMCS Capstone Seminar, a preparatory workshop style course that provides support and structure for the Capstone. Students choosing the seminar-based Capstone carry out their project with guidance from the faculty instructor, and support from their AMCS Major Advisor. In all cases, students present their Capstone to the AMCS community in a research colloquium, or, on the AMCS website, at the end of the fall or spring semester.
AMCS offers its own unique home-based courses, and cross-lists courses in various departments, providing opportunities to study American culture in many ways. Recent courses have included:
- The Immigrant Experience
- Images of Disability: Portrayal in Film and Literature
- The History of Popular Culture in the United States
- Rediscovering the Child: Interdisciplinary Workshops in an Urban Middle School
- “Reading” Culture: The Cultural Life of Things
- Sociological Approaches to American Health
- Music of the 1960s
- Global Energy and the American Dream
- Americans & Their Presidents
- The American School
- Comics, Graphic Novels, and Sequential Art
- Popular Music in American Culture
- Understanding the Evidence: Provocative Topics of Contemporary Women’s Health and Reproduction
- Banned Books
See our website for a complete list of courses that count toward the AMCS degree: http://amcs.wustl.edu/listing.php?pri_sel=ug
In their own words: Alumni on their AMCS Experience
Brian Hamman (’02), Deputy Editor, Interactive News at New York Times Digital, Amanda Henry (’08), Special Education Teacher, Jefferson Elementary, St. Louis Public Schools, and James Mosbacher (’10), Developing Leaders Program, Brown Shoe Company, credit their AMCS experience with “learning to look at one question or problem from a variety of perspectives,” (Brian), developing “skills...through independent study...that provided a strong baseline with which to begin my career,” (Amanda), and with abilities to “develop the critical and innovative approaches that I bring to problem-solving at Brown Shoe,” (James).