Q:  What’s the five-course “disciplinary focus” of the I.S. major?  What can I use? Can I use African Studies, Asian Studies, Latin American Studies, Global Health, or other fields like that?

 A:  Macalester’s I.S. major is broad by design.  Our faculty and courses cover many different places, and come from many intellectual perspectives called “disciplines.”

 What’s a discipline?  A discipline is a field of study where there’s general (though never total) agreement on what one studies, how one studies it, what counts as evidence, and how arguments are made.  For example, literary scholars will look at a book and ask questions about its style, story, author, tradition, and meaning.  But an economist might look at the same book and think about the supply and demand for it, its pricing, production, marketplace alternatives, and so on.  These are two examples of disciplinary thinking.

Since I.S. is broad, our five-course disciplinary focus provides depth.  We want our majors to be able to “think like an anthropologist,” or like a historian, geologist, political scientist, and so on, when they confront trans-national issues. Though we value all disciplines, we want you to be strong in at least one.  Thus we require five courses in one discipline within our major plan.

In most cases, this means five courses from one Mac department (and abroad). All five must be internationally oriented, or, preferably, four international plus one in theory or methods. In most cases, those five courses qualify as a minor, and put you on the road to a second major if you’d like.

But an I.S. disciplinary focus is not possible in fields which are themselves interdisciplinary.  Mac’s concentrations in African Studies and Community & Global Health, for example, draw from history, anthropology, political science, and many other fields.  They are great programs, and many I.S. majors pursue them.  But they don’t give the kind of disciplinary depth we seek in our disciplinary focuses.

Having said that, below you’ll find three lists:

  • Straightforward departments for Mac disciplinary focuses.
  • Mac interdisciplinary programs which can’t count as disciplinary focuses.
  • Special cases.

 If you have any questions after reading this, contact any core Mac I.S. professor, or the department chair.

Straightforward departments for Mac disciplinary focuses:

American Studies ****
Art and Art History
Educational Studies
Environmental Studies***
French and Francophone Studies*
German Studies*
Hispanic Studies*
Media and Cultural Studies
Political Science
Religious Studies
Russian Studies*
Theatre and Dance

* For the “language” disciplines, only one language-instruction course (for example, 306) can be counted among the five. The other four would be subject-matter courses.

** For biology and geology, see our separate note on I.S. and the sciences

*** I.S. majors with keen interests in E.S. should complete either an E.S. double major, or an E.S. minor and a second minor in any other disciplinary field.

 **** Identifying internationally focused courses in American studies can be tricky, and depends in part on the student’s own starting-point (for example, whether or not the student him/herself is a U.S. national). Consult with a department member in these cases.


Mac interdisciplinary programs which can’t count as disciplinary focuses:

African Studies
Community and Global Health
Critical Theory
Human Rights and Humanitarianism
International Development
Latin American Studies
Legal Studies
Middle Eastern Studies and Islamic Civilization
Urban Studies
Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies

Special cases

Asian Languages and Cultures
     students will need to demonstrate a clear focus within this broad field

 Literary Studies
    you may assemble a literary-studies focus from courses in multiple departments