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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

These questions were developed by Rebecca Hossain ’05 and Erik Morales ’04. The answers were written by Prof. Karin Aguilar-San Juan. Please feel free to share your questions and insights with us.

What is American Studies?

American Studies is the academic site for the study of race at Macalester with an emphasis on race as a central dimension of U.S. history and contemporary social life. The idea for a department emerged in Spring 2003 out of a long collaborative effort between the African American Studies and Comparative North American Studies programs to meet the needs of the College regarding multiculturalism and diversity. American Studies courses will fall into one of three areas of emphasis: Racial Concepts and Theories; Cultures, Histories and Practices; and Political Activism and Social Justice.

Is American Studies an interdisciplinary major?

Yes. Understanding the construction of racial categories and racialized experiences in the United States requires an interdisciplinary approach. Our courses currently offer historical, cultural, religious, psychological, political, and sociological approaches to the study of race. Our civic engagement component encourages you to deal with real-world complexities of racial difference and inequality. AS will teach you how to build a broad, comparative, and applied framework for understanding the racial dimensions of American national identity.

What do I need to do to major in American Studies?

You will need to take Introduction to American Studies, or a course that the department approves as its equivalent. The following courses have been approved as equivalent to the introductory course.

AMST 101 – Explorations of Race and Racism

The main objectives of this introductory course are: to explore the historical construction of racial categories in the United States; to understand the systemic impact of racism on contemporary social processes; to consider popular views about race in the light of emerging scholarship in the field; and to develop an ability to connect personal experiences to larger, collective realities. We will engage several questions as a group: What are the historical and sociological foundations of racial categories? When does focusing on race make someone racist? What is white privilege, and why does it matter? All students will be asked to think and write about their own racial identity. This course, or its equivalent, is required for majors and minors.

Frequency: Every year.

AMST 103 – The Problems of Race in US Social Thought and Policy

This course has been developed as an entry-level exploration of the impact of race on contemporary U.S. public discourse. The course has two principle objectives: to create a forum that encourages individuals to articulate well-informed opinions and attitudes about race; and to locate those ideas in an analytic framework that promotes a shared understanding of race and racial inequality in the contemporary context.

AMST 110 – Introduction to African American Studies

This class will explore what it has meant to be African-American in the United States, and how this identity shaped Black community, thought, and life. This course, using a variety of disciplinary approaches, exposes students to issues and problems in the development of African-American identity, and provides students with theoretical tools and contextual sensibilities necessary for advanced courses and independent projects in African American Studies.

To declare an AS major, you must have completed or be currently enrolled in the introductory course.

The American Studies major consists of ten (10) courses which includes four (4) required courses and six (6) electives. The elective courses may include cross-listed courses, or a maximum of four credits earned from a Study Away/Study Abroad program.

We encourage you to do an internship after the civic engagement seminar, and to enroll in a Study Abroad or Study Away program in your senior year.

Is there a specific theme (race, globalization, gender, postmodernism, etc.) to American Studies?

The main theme that drives the Department is race. We see racial difference and racial inequality as foundational aspects of American national identity. We hope that our curriculum allows you to explore and analyze the inter-relationships between racialized notions of U.S. nationhood, citizenship, and community in a global context. In stressing the continuing significance of race, we take our cues from explorations of race in African American Studies, Asian American Studies, Chicano/Latino Studies, Native American Studies, Women’s and Gender Studies, Queer Studies, critical race theory, and transnationalism and diaspora studies.

As long as you can fulfill the requirements of the AS major in the sequence we have set up, you may take on other majors or minors. We expect our majors will be able: 1) to articulate some of the many ways in which racial categories and racialized experiences shape U.S. social life; 2) to identify and work with different conceptual approaches to race, including historical, sociological, literary, cultural, and others; 3) to demonstrate proficiency with a range of research tools; 4) to perform as knowledgeable interlocutors in settings of civic engagement; and 5) to demonstrate excellence in all aspects of academic life.

What are some examples of “topics” courses within American Studies?

Here are the titles of a few courses you will be able to count toward your AS major: Jazz and Social Issues, Asian American Community & Identity, Blackness and the Media, Latino Family as History, Race and Class in U.S. Feminism. American Studies courses generally fall into three themes-Racial Concepts and Theories; Cultures, Histories and Practices; and Political Activism and Social Justice. Each course addresses a specific topic within a broad, comparative framework.

What could I do for an internship within American Studies?

The Twin Cities offers many interesting possibilities for internships. In the past, majors in African American Studies and Comparative North American Studies have worked with Admissions Possible, a mentoring program for high school students; Indigenous Tourism Rights International, a nonprofit dedicated to the concerns of indigenous people regarding tourism around the world; and Breaking Free, a programs providing HIV/AIDS education to young women.

2018 Internship – Grace Clark

Could I still study abroad? What could I do for my study abroad/away program?

We do expect our majors to take advantage of study abroad and study away programs. Study in South Africa, for example, would provide a valuable and relevant international experience. Of equal relevance would be a Study in the Twin Cities program, such as that provided by HECUA.

What can I do after college if I major in American Studies?

The AS major offers an interdisciplinary curriculum and will prepare you for a wide variety of opportunities after you graduate from Macalester. Possible career paths include the legal profession, government, the media, post-secondary education, and of course, academia.