PhD in American Studies

PhD student GJ Sevillano sits in front of a library during a recent research trip in California
PhD student GJ Sevillano sitting in front of the LA Central Library during a recent research trip in California.

Students in GW’s American Studies PhD program receive rigorous training in the interdisciplinary study of American culture, society, and politics, as part of a course of study that is comprehensive yet personally tailored to the student’s specific interests.

The program is distinguished by its diversity, creativity, and flexibility. In particular:

  • Students have the opportunity to work with a world-class faculty, whose teaching and research make our department one of the most respected in the country. Students take courses from a range of faculty and are also encouraged to begin developing their areas of research early in the program.
  • The flexibility of the program allows students to craft their own specific agendas while engaging in interdisciplinary conversations with students and faculty in and beyond American Studies. Our current PhD students are working in fields ranging from the history of sexuality to race and popular culture; food studies to environmental politics; the history the US in the world to the politics of music.
  • The remarkable resources of Washington, DC – its museums, archives, and non-profit organizations, provide research and training opportunities. The city itself is an exciting place to live, with outstanding theater, food, and cultural resources, as well as the intellectual life provided by having a university-rich region.
  • Our program offers five years of support to all admitted PhD students, which includes a year for dissertation research, free of teaching or other responsibilities.
  • Summer funding is available to pursue research travel, study for comprehensive exams, or work on dissertation writing.
  • A wonderful cohort of graduate students, MA and PhD, who work together and with faculty to create a friendly, yet serious learning environment.



How to Apply

Interested students are encouraged to contact a core faculty member to discuss their interests and learn more about the curriculum and resources. Find the complete application requirements on GW's Graduate Program Finder.

The five-year PhD program offers fully funded fellowship opportunities, including a stipend and teaching assistant salary. The GRE general exam will no longer be required for the Fall 2023 application cycle.


Program Goals

The PhD in American Studies degree program strives to provide students with the skills to:

  • Demonstrate command of key academic debates in American Studies
  • Demonstrate command of key academic debates in one related disciplinary field
  • Demonstrate ability to analyze theoretical frameworks and research methodologies central to the study of American culture and history
  • Conduct sustained, original research analyzing a range of primary sources, situating analysis in ongoing scholarly debates, & making a significant contribution to field of American Studies
  • Design and teach courses in American Studies or related fields




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 of American Studies currently provides summer research funding to all first through fifth-year PhD students. 

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.