MIT School of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences - Great Ideas Change the World

Major Departure in American Studies

On December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks boarded a Montgomery, Alabama city bus on her way home from work. When she was told to take a seat in the back of the bus, then the custom for African-Americans, Miss Parks quietly refused. News of this incident spread quickly and led to a city-wide bus boycott led by a young Martin Luther King, Jr. This is a photograph of the bus, now restored, that Miss Parks was riding the day her courageous action helped spark the modern American civil rights movement.  — from the National Trust for Historic Preservation 

 You may be interested in American literature, folklore or popular culture; in black history and culture; in women’s studies; in American history, politics or law; in the history of science and technology; in American art, architecture or music—whatever the special focus of your interests, American Studies may be the right major for you. American Studies gives you a chance to study American society and culture through its history, literature, art, politics, science, music, etc. by constructing interdisciplinary programs, made up of subjects drawn from different disciplines, centered on your particular interests.

One aim of American Studies is to help you understand the underlying system of beliefs that informs every aspect of American culture—its myths, institutions, politics and literature, its characteristic dreams and rituals. Another is to understand the uses and limits of different methods and intellectual disciplines as tools for exploring the complexities of a culture. And a third, no less important, is to understand the American present in relation to the American past. To these you will add your own objectives.

The Major in American Studies consists of 126-162 units (11-14 subjects), including a pre-thesis, thesis, and seven remaining subjects selected from at least two of the three disciplinary areas.

Area I: Humanities and the Arts
Area II: Social Sciences and Science, Technology, and Society
Area III: Historical Studies

A maximum of 36 units may be used toward the GIRs. Thus, three subjects may be used for both the major and the GIRs, but the units from those subjects may not count toward the 180 units required beyond the GIRs. No more than one HASS Distribution class may be counted towards the major and towards the HASS Distribution Component of the GIRs.

A major in American Studies will well prepare you for further work not only in the various humanistic fields but also in LAW, URBAN PLANNING, MANAGEMENT, ARCHITECTURE, ENGINEERING, MEDICINE, TEACHING and any of the MEDIA. Consult the American Studies Field Advisor with any questions.

Below is a partial listing of American Studies subjects. Other courses may be included in your program at the American Studies advisor’s discretion.


21L.006 American Literature, HASS-H, CI-H
21L.011 The Film Experience, HASS-A, CI-H
21L.432 Understanding Television, HASS-H
21L.487 Modern Poetry, HASS-H
21L.501 The American Novel, HASS-H
21L.504J Race and Identity in American Literature [WGS.140], HASS-H
21L.512 American Authors, HASS-H
21M.215 Music of the Americas, HASS-A
21M.226 Jazz, HASS-A
21M.283 Musicals of Stage and Screen, HASS-A
21M.284 Film Music, HASS-A
21M.295 American Popular Music, HASS-A
21W.742J Writing about Race [WGS.231], HASS-H, CI-H
24.912J Black Matters: Introduction to Black Studies [21A.125, 21H.106, 21L.008, 21W.741, WGS.190], HASS-A/HASS-H, CI-H


17.20 Introduction to the American Political Process, HASS-S, CI-H
17.251 Congress and the American Political System I, HASS-S
17.261 Congress and the American Political System II, HASS-S
17.263 Electoral Politics, Public Opinion, and Democracy, HASS-S
17.265 Public Opinion and American Democracy, HASS-S
17.317 U.S. Social Policy, HASS-S
17.40 American Foreign Policy: Past, Present, and Future, HASS-S, CI-H
17.483 US Military Power, HASS-S
21A.120 American Dream: Exploring Class in the US, HASS-S
STS.001 Technology in American History, HASS-H, CI-H
STS.027J The Civil War and the Emergence of Modern America: 1861-1890 [21H.205], HASS-H
STS.046J The Science of Race, Sex, and Gender [21A.103, WGS.225], HASS-S
STS.048 African Americans in Science, Technology, and Medicine, HASS-H
STS.050 The History of MIT, HASS-H


11.013J American Urban History I [21H.217], HASS-H
11.014J American Urban History II [21H.218], HASS-H
11.026J Downtown [21H.321], HASS-H
21H.101 American History to 1865, HASS-H
21H.102 American History Since 1865, HASS-H, CI-H
21H.107J Introduction to Asian American Studies: Historical and Contemporary Issues [21F.043], HASS-H, CI-H
21H.201 The American Revolution, HASS-H
21H.204J The Civil War and Reconstruction [STS.029], HASS-H
21H.205J The Civil War and the Emergence of Modern America: 1861-1890, HASS-H
21H.209 America in Depression and War, HASS-H
21H.211 The United States in the Nuclear Age: Politics, Culture, and Society Since 1941, HASS-H
21H.213J The War at Home: American Politics and Society in Wartime, HASS-S
21H.214 War and American Society, HASS-H
21H.220J Metropolis: A Comparative History of New York City [11.150], HASS-H
21H.226J Riots, Strikes, and Conspiracies in American History [11.015], HASS-H, CI-H
21H.227 Constitutional Law in US History, HASS-S
21H.228 American Classics, HASS-H, CI-H
21H.229 The Black Radical Tradition in America, HASS-H
21H.310J Migration and Immigration in US History [11.019], HASS-S
21H.315 American Consumer Culture, HASS-H
21H.318 The Energy Crisis: Past and Present, HASS-H
21H.320J Gender and the Law in US History [WGS.161], HASS-H
21H.322 Christianity in America, HASS-H

This list is not exhaustive. Relevant subjects that are no longer offered and subjects with variable topics (such as “special subjects” or “selected topics” courses, for example) may also be counted at the discretion of the major advisor.

[ ] Jointly listed subjects

Additional information can be obtained from the Major Advisor:
Professor Meg Jacobs, E51-263, x3-7895
Or from the History Office, E51-255, x3-4965