Learning Goals and Writing in the Major

Integrated writing in American Studies

The American Studies curriculum emphasizes writing as a central part of the development of students’ intellectual and professional lives. Student writing is expected to include critical, analytical and historical dimensions, not least because all students in the major must complete a senior research thesis project.

In preparation for this project, lower-division American Studies courses and junior seminars include weekly writing assignments in the practice of making arguments and supporting them with evidence from texts read in class.  Additionally, students in these courses explore different forms of writing in multiple short genres, including museum exhibit descriptions, book introductions, etc.  Students also complete research papers that encourage them to make connections between disparate ideas, identify and utilize primary research, and make compelling arguments.  This work is facilitated through training in library research and through the use of citation formatting techniques.

In the interim between the lower-division courses and the senior thesis seminar, American Studies majors may be asked to participate in a student-led collaborative writing project.  The objective of these projects is to engage students with forms of public scholarship.  This is an opportunity for them to exercise their research and writing skills and present their work in various forms to not only fellow students and faculty, but also to alumni, parents, and a broader intellectual community.

The senior thesis seminar is organized into two courses taken sequentially in the student’s fourth year.  These courses provide the opportunity for the genesis and development of an extended project, with a research and writing process that includes the development and refinement of research questions, methodologies, literature reviews/bibliographies, and work plans.  Students are expected to have a regular habit of writing in order to digest and synthesize research insights, and do extensive draft and revision work to make clear, specific and discussion-worthy arguments.  The emphasis of this process is the intellectual maturation of students, whereby their writing practice allows them to take ownership and responsibility for their final project produced at the year’s end.

Learning Goals

The work done by majors in American Studies is guided by the program’s unifying Learning Goals, and is organized through faculty and student goals, strategies and outcomes.

Faculty seek:

  1. To expose students to theoretical, critical, analytical, and methodological approaches from diverse perspectives within the humanities and social sciences, including anthropology, cultural studies, history, literary studies, media studies, sociology, performance studies, political science, theology, etc.
  2. To have students develop a course of study that integrates academic work across a range of disciplines and to think and do research in interdisciplinary ways; to have students synthesize and critically evaluate knowledge from diverse fields; to foster student research concentrations in particular areas of American Studies that reflect their individual interests and goals.
  3. To have students work closely with faculty mentors as they develop their individualized curricula, develop integrated courses of study, and produce original thesis projects.
  4. To develop and implement innovative research and pedagogic techniques both in the classroom and through related activities and practices. Students in the American Studies major receive instruction in the use of different media for creating and sharing knowledge, such as digital portfolios, digital museums, digital stories, student-produced documentary videos, blogs, live performance, scripts, novels, poetry, and music, which are integrated into the curriculum.
  5. To have students develop innovative approaches to disseminating knowledge from their studies.  Students should graduate with the ability to use digital tools for displaying and sharing knowledge.

Students seek:

  1. To develop well-organized arguments about the knowledge produced in the research process.
  2. To organize sustained student research agendas through the writing of the required senior thesis that reflects their area of primary interest and which is the culmination of their academic program.
  3. To learn as a community and to work collaboratively through sustained conversation within the classroom and outside it, the latter through internships, study abroad experiences, program field trips, activities, and lectures.
  4. To use digital portfolios to assemble and integrate students’ coursework and related academic experiences as they progress through the major and to provide a foundation for the development of their senior thesis project.

(Revised Fall 2014)