Faculty and graduate student research in the Department of American Studies is a truly interdisciplinary enterprise that ranges across the full expanse of American history and extends beyond the borders of the United States to explore the global connections of American culture and society.  Even as individual projects may vary considerably, research in the department tends to coalesce around the core strengths enumerated below.

Students in our department benefit from an unusually large core faculty, which is centrally committed to overseeing their coursework and mentoring their research, but they can and do work with affiliated faculty in a range of GW departments.  This scholarly collaboration allows the department to offer our students an even broader pool of training and research expertise centered on our core strengths.

To learn more about these research areas and for lists of related faculty, click on any of the headings listed below.

Cultural History & Cultural Studies

Cultural history and cultural studies are integral to nearly all the research conducted in our department.  Faculty and students examine the cultural practices and lived experiences of an array of American communities, as well as the creative cultural productions of individuals and groups.  Drawing on film and visual studies, media history, popular culture, and cultural theory, our work also explores the relationship between cultural texts and US society and politics more broadly.

Race & Ethnicity

Our department has an extraordinary range of faculty and students who take up issues of race, ethnicity, and power in their work.  We have particular strengths in African American studies and the African diaspora, but our research touches on most aspects of race in the United States and our attention to this topic shapes nearly every other aspect of our program.

Transnational American Studies

Located in the global city of Washington, DC, our faculty and students are deeply embedded in conversations about the role of the United States in the world.  Our research highlights the transnational processes that have shaped the lived experiences of people within and beyond the United States, as well as the many ways that global flows of people, cultures, and power are challenging and reworking the presumed centrality of the nation.

Gender & Sexuality

Our department is a remarkable place to undertake research on gender and sexuality from a historical, sociological, or cultural studies perspective.  Borrowing insights from queer studies, women’s history, feminist theory, and the cultural history of the body, our faculty and students demonstrate that an examination of sexual and gender identities and desires is central to understanding American history and culture.

Urban Studies 

The study of space and place, especially in US cities, is a key component in much of our scholarship.  Faculty and student research highlights the workings of urban culture, US architectural history, and the role of the built environment in shaping American life.  

Religion & Politics

Our faculty is one of the strongest in the country for the study of religion in the United States and the Americas.  Our approach centers on the performance of religious identity and community, as these are constituted in a range of local and global sites.

Public Culture & Performance

The study of public culture and the politics of performance ties together many of our department’s interests in cultural history, politics, and theory.  Faculty and students work from interdisciplinary perspectives, combining ethnography, political theory, historiography, and cultural studies to explore a broad range of self-fashioning and community-making practices, as well as the ways in which the stories we tell about ourselves are conveyed through the media, museums, and a range of other public forums.  The department's commitment to this research area also finds expression through our Center for the Study of Public History and Public Culture.

Performing Piety: Making Space Sacred with the Virgin of Guadalupe

Performing Piety: Making Space Sacred with the Virgin of Guadalupe

Congratulations to Professor Elaine Peña on the publication of her first book, Performing Piety: Making Space Sacred with the Virgin of Guadalupe. Published by The University of California Press, her book focuses on "the long-standing transnational dimensions of Guadalupan worship by examining the production of sacred space in three disparate but interconnected locations—at the sacred space known as Tepeyac in Mexico City, at its replica in Des Plaines, Illinois, and at a sidewalk shrine constructed by Mexican nationals in Chicago."

Shout, Sister, Shout!

Shout, Sister, Shout! The Untold Story of Rock-and-Roll Trailblazer Sister Rosetta Tharpe

Congratulations to Professor Gayle Wald on the publication of her book, Shout, Sister, Shout! The Untold Story of Rock-and-Roll Trailblazer Sister Rosetta Tharpe. Published by Beacon Press, her book is the first biography on Rosetta Tharpe, the trailblazing performer who influenced scores of popular musicians, from Elvis Presley and Little Richard to Eric Clapton and Bonnie Raitt.

A Guide to Architecture in the Adirondacks

A Guide to Architecture in the Adirondacks

Congratulations to Professor Richard Longstreth on the publication of his book, A Guide to Architecture in the Adirondacks. Drawn from more than six years of extensive fieldwork, his book has 450 entries from nearly every Adirondack community and maps drawn specifically for this publication. It allows readers to discover and explore a wide range of buildings, structures, and human-made landscapes and includes discussion of changing settlement patterns over time and the varied, sometimes conflicting economic factors that shaped the land.

The Open Mind

The Open Mind: Cold War Politics and the Sciences of Human Nature

Congratulations to Professor Jamie Cohen-Cole on the publication of his first book, The Open Mind: Cold War Politics and the Sciences of Human Nature. Published by The University of Chicago Press, his book chronicles the development and promulgation of a scientific vision of the rational, creative, and autonomous self, demonstrating how this self became a defining feature of Cold War culture.