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 (American Civilization I and II) 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. By way of example, one group is working towards the self-publication of their final papers from their American Civilization II course. They have the opportunity to develop their editorial skills and learn the rigorous practices of designing and distributing a publication.
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.