PhD in American Studies


Graduate student Craig Allen standing in front of a white board with the words "Jazz Age centers of community" written on it, lecturing to a class


American Studies doctoral students construct a comprehensive plan of study in three fields tailored to their interests. These interdisciplinary fields pull from topics in American Studies and in related disciplines such as art history, English, history and political science.

Students develop research agendas early in their studies through participation in seminars and workshops, often drawing on Washington, D.C.-based archives and research institutes.

Graduates of our PhD program teach in a variety of academic departments at universities throughout the United States, Australia and Japan, and they work in museums, businesses and other institutions.



"My dissertation writing group still shares work with one another, and graduate students from my cohort still get together for annual reunions at the American Studies Association conference. ... I'm now a tenure-track assistant professor. "

Julie Elman

PhD '09


The Department of American Studies provides funding to all newly admitted PhD students for a period of at least five years. This funding usually takes the form of teaching assistantships, but occasionally students are assigned to research assistantships or other fellowships.

Most teaching assistants (TAs) lead two discussion sections per semester in conjunction with one of the department's undergraduate lecture courses. Some PhD students take on assistantships with other related academic departments, and nearly all TAs have the opportunity to teach a course of their own design in American Studies. Visit the Office of Graduate Student Assistantships and Fellowships to find and apply for positions.

The department offers two annually recurring TA positions:

  • TA to University Professor of Medical Humanities and Professor of American Studies Vanessa Northington Gamble, who teaches courses focused on the history of medicine and race.
  • TA and Research Assistant to Professor of Art History and American Studies David Bjelajac, who teaches Introduction to American Art.

The Department of American Studies currently provides summer research funding to all third, fourth and fifth-year PhD students. The department is sometimes able to provide partial summer funding to first and second-year students as well.

American Studies PhD students are eligible for reimbursement for expenses associated with academic conference presentations. These funds are provided jointly by the Columbian College and the Department of American Studies. Email the department to apply.

Students presenting at national or international conferences related to their academic area or dissertation may also apply to the Office of Graduate Student Assistantships and Fellowships for competitive Conference Presentation Travel Grants.

Course Requirements

PhD students complete 48 credits of coursework (16 courses) in preparation for examinations in three fields, as well as 24 credits of dissertation research. Students also complete required research seminars. All coursework, examinations, the dissertation and other requirements must be completed within eight full years.

If a student’s work to complete their exams extends beyond the 48-credit limit, he or she may take up to 12 additional credits of coursework. Dissertation research credits will be reduced accordingly.

Students entering the program with an MA or other graduate degree in American Studies or related fields may petition the department to transfer credits toward the completion of the PhD. Petitions should be submitted to the director of graduate studies at the end of the student’s first year of coursework. Any transfer credits awarded must contribute directly toward the student’s preparation for a general exam field; a maximum of 18 credits may be carried into the program, with departmental approval.

The following requirements must be fulfilled:

The general requirements stated under Columbian College of Arts and Sciences, Graduate Programs.

The requirements for the Doctor of Philosophy Program.

AMST 6100Scope and Methods in American Studies
At least two designated research seminars.
At least one course in theory approved by the advisor.

Degree candidates must pass a general examination in three areas, to be taken over the course of one month, by the end of the third year from matriculation. The three fields are elected with approval of the advisory committee and should constitute a coherent, interdisciplinary program of study; one field may be devoted to the comparative study of a non-U.S. culture.


Foreign Language Guidance

The department strongly supports the acquisition of foreign language skills, especially for students pursuing transnational American Studies. However, demonstrating reading competency in a language other than English is required only if necessary to pursue a particular dissertation project. In such cases, students may fulfill this requirement by passing a CCAS Foreign Language Tool Exam offered by a GW language department, or through some other examination approved by the Department of American Studies.