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The Major

The American Studies major is designed to combine depth and breadth, foundations and flexibility. 

Building on the gateway seminar, AMSTUD 160: Perspectives on American Identity, and on core courses in History and Institutions, Literature and the Arts, and Race and Ethnicity, the major gives students an uncommon degree of freedom, both in choosing some of the courses to fulfill core requirements and designing their own interdisciplinary Thematic Concentration. 


Students graduating in 2025 or after must take a minimum of 14 courses for a minimum of 62 units.* These courses include:

  • AMSTUD 160: Perspectives on American Identity.
  • Three (3) courses in History and Institutions, including at least one course on the Colonial and Revolutionary period (typically AMSTUD/History 150A) and one on the 19th century (typically AMSTUD/History 150B).
  • Three (3) courses in Literature, Culture, and the Arts, including at least one course on American literature before the Civil War (typically AMSTUD 150/English 11B), and at least one course in art, drama, film, music, or translation studies.
  • One (1) course in Race and Ethnicity.
  • Five (5) courses relevant to the student's Thematic Concentration, including at least one upper-level seminar requiring a substantial research project.  
  • AMSTUD 99: Senior Colloquium (for Majors graduating in 2025 or after).  Students pursuing Honors may replace AMSTUD 99 with 2 units from Honors Workshops (AMSTUD 199A and 199B).

See below for more details and for lists of suggested courses to fulfill core areas.

(Note: Courses listed below are a guideline.  Many other courses may fulfill these requirements as well, including some courses listed under other departments and programs.  To confirm the appropriateness of a course not listed here, talk with your advisor.  Check ExploreCourses for the most up-to-date list of course offerings; not all courses are offered every year.   Please email An at antnguyn [at] (antnguyn[at]stanford[dot]edu) with any questions or concerns.) 

* Majors who declared before August 1, 2023 and/or who are graduating before 2025 may opt to comply with the prior requirement structure.  Please consult with your major advisor.

1. Gateway Seminar
  • AMSTUD 160, Perspectives on American Identity (typically offered in Autumn and Spring quarters)

Ideally taken early in the student's career as a major, this seminar explores how memory, personal experience and history inform each other; how the debates over what constitutes "Americanness" have changed over time; and how these debates have been shaped by race, ethnicity, gender, and class. Students probe the issues of "difference" and "commonality", and how ideas of self, group, and nation intersect and interact in the past and in the present. Perspectives on American Identity is the Writing in the Major (WIM) course for American Studies.

2. History and Institutions

Majors must complete three courses in history and institutions, with at least one focusing on the colonial and Revolutionary period, typically :

  • AMSTUD 150A (same as HISTORY 150A) Colonial and Revolutionary America (Aut)

and another focusing on the 19th century, typically: 

  • AMSTUD 150B (same as HISTORY 150B) 19th Century America (Win)

Options for the third required history and institutions core course include — but are not limited to — courses listed here. Students should discuss alternatives with their program advisor. 

See this year's History and Institutions courses

3. Literature, Culture, and the Arts

Majors are required to take a minimum of three courses in literature, culture, and the arts, broadly understood, including at least one course focusing on the period before the Civil War, normally 

  • AMSTUD 150/ENGLISH 11B, American Literature and Culture to 1855 (typically offered in Spring quarter)

plus two additional courses, including at least one course outside of literature that emphasizes art, drama, film, music, translation studies, or culture from a different disciplinary or interpretive perspective.  Choices include (but are not limited to): 

At least one literature, culture, and the arts core course must focus on art, drama, film, music, translation studies, or culture from a disciplinary or interpretive perspective outside of literary study. 

See this year's Literature, Culture, and the Arts courses

4. Race and Ethnicity

Majors must take at least one course that focuses on the study of race and/or ethnicity, ideally in a comparative context. (Note that this is in addition to courses taken under other requirement categories). Options for fulfilling the race and ethnicity core course include — but are not limited to — courses listed here. Students should discuss alternatives with their program advisor.

See this year's Comparative Race and Ethnicity courses

5. Thematic Concentration and Capstone Experience

All students must design a thematic concentration of at least 5 courses. The courses, taken together, must give the student in-depth knowledge and understanding of a coherent topic in American culture, history, and institutions. A list of sample thematic concentrations can be found below; some of the courses that might go toward a thematic concentration can be found under Courses on this website and on the American Studies Bulletin page.  (N.b., courses listed under other departments and programs may also be possible.  Check with your advisor to confirm appropriateness.)  At least one of the thematic concentration courses must be an upper-division seminar requiring a significant research project.  

Students may choose to spend a quarter or two in the Stanford-in-Washington program taking courses that complement their thematic concentrations. Seminars taken under the aegis of the Stanford-in-Washington Program often fulfill the above seminar requirement.

We also encourage students to explore Bing Overseas Studies. Courses that view American culture and institutions from a transnational perspective often provide comparative frameworks for students' thematic concentrations.

To complete the capstone requirement, majors graduating in 2025 or later must do one of the following:

AMSTUD 99: Senior Colloquium: Required for majors graduating in 2025 or later. In this 2-unit colloquium, taken in winter of senior year, majors develop a capstone project and presentation. In this, students may opt to build on an essay or project from their thematic concentration seminar or other course or, with approval, may develop another essay or project related to their thematic concentration. Students will present their capstone research in winter or spring of senior year.  

(Note: Majors who declared before August 1, 2023 or are graduating before 2025 are not required to take AMSTUD 99 but are required to designate and take a “capstone seminar” within their thematic concentration— an advanced seminar approved by their advisor and requiring a substantial research project.)


Honors Thesis: Qualified majors may apply to pursue an honors thesis in their senior year for 10-15 units total, including three units from required pre-honors and honors workshops (AMSTUD 198, 199A, and 199B), plus 7-12 units of AMSTUD 250: Senior Research, divided across Senior year. Honors students are exempt from the Senior Colloquium and may instead use two units of the required honors workshop units (e.g., from 199A and 199B) to replace the 2-unit Senior Colloquium. The additional 8-13 thesis units do not count toward major course and unit minimums. Honors students present their projects, typically in spring of the senior year. (See details under Honors.)

Declaring the Major

First, apply for the Major through AXESS.  (Please do not choose "honors" at the time of application.  Students wishing to write honors theses will add that designation at the end of the junior year.) 

After meeting with the Director or one of the Program Coordinators (see Advising tab for contact information), who provide assistance in course planning and approve the study plan, the application process is completed when you submit your approved tentative study plan to the  American Studies office (Building 460, Room 219), or via e-mail to Academic Services Administrator, An Nguyen,antnguyn [at] ( antnguyn[at]stanford[dot]edu).

You may download the American Studies Major Plan, or pick up a hard copy at the office. 

Examples of Thematic Concentrations

These examples are meant to be suggestive. There are innumerable other possibilities. You are invited to design a unique thematic concentration that fits YOUR interests.  Use this list to spark your imagination.

  • Borders and Boundaries in American Culture
  • Religion in American Life
  • Native American Cultures
  • Education in America
  • American Moderns
  • Inequality and Democracy in America
  • The Politics of War and Peace in the U.S.
  • Debating Democracy in America
  • Hollywood and American Culture
  • Ethics and the Professions in America
  • Global Perspectives on America’s Role in the World
  • Gender and American Popular Culture
  • Inequality and Social Policy in America
  • The Arts of the Harlem Renaissance
  • Women’s Reproduction in American Culture and Society
  • The West in American Art and Culture
  • The Legacies of the Cold War in the U.S.
  • Race and Racism in American Culture & Society
  • Constructions of Female Identity in America
  • Health Policy in America
  • The Artist in American Society
  • Nature & the Environment in American Culture
  • Technology and Culture in America
  • Urban Politics and Education in the U.S.
  • Politics and the Media in America
  • The African Diaspora in America
  • The Politics of Poverty in America
  • The History and Culture of Early America
  • Art and Culture in the 19th C
  • America and the Global Economy
  • Technology in American Life and Thought
  • Dissent and Democracy
  • Race and the Law in America