American Studies Celebrates 50th Anniversary

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October 25, 2019 – The American Studies Program (AMST) is deeply invested in educating a cohort of students so that they will go into the world thinking critically about power, identity, and American culture.

Participants in this program have fueled its growth since its founding 50 years ago. American Studies faculty and students alike have created a lasting impact in and out of the classroom for the last half of a century, and the program shows no signs of stopping.

Origin Story

American Studies started as a small program, with a dedicated group of faculty and small cohorts of students. In its first decade, 73 students graduated with a degree in American Studies. Fifty years later, the program has grown considerably. Since 2010, 237 have declared their major in AMST.

This steady growth can partly be attributed to its faculty’s commitment to actively engage with their students and challenge their preconceptions about America. A strong sense of community also contributes to the program’s success.

Faculty Involvement, Then and Now

First Director of American Studies, Dorothy Brown, 1972-1973

Fifty years ago, the program did not have any faculty specifically assigned to teaching American Studies. During its first year, director Dorothy Brown, said “I gathered enough cooperating faculty to make a go of it.” Today, American Studies has hired its first full-time faculty member, Erika Seamon, and over 50 faculty have been actively involved. They come from a variety of departments including English, History, Art, Music, Sociology, African-American Studies, and Film and Media Studies.

This versatile group of professors enables AMST students to gain a more comprehensive understanding of their topic of focus and allows them to build several meaningful relationships with a diverse group of faculty members.

Dorothy Brown saw this as the mission of the program when it began. “Our students have a wonderful menu spread out before them,” she said. “It’s our job to help them see what’s on the table.”

Fifty years later, and students of the program are still feeling the impact of this idea.

“American Studies’ interdisciplinary course of study challenged me to think critically and synthesize large amounts of data to arrive at a thoughtful and succinct analysis,” says Tim Annick (C’16). “As an American Studies student, I benefited from an involved and dedicated network of faculty who built mentoring relationships and cross-generational friendships with me.”

Community Oriented

Part of the draw of American Studies is its emphasis on community. The program encourages collaboration between the students and its faculty through activities outside of the classroom. In recent years, students have gone to places like Mt. Vernon, New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, or stayed together on-campus for programs like the Richardson Lecture.

AMST Field Trip with Abe Lincoln
AMST Field Trip to the Abe Lincoln Statue, Lincoln’s Cottage

No one student comes equipped with the same knowledge or background as another. The extracurricular activities and time spent together in seminars expose each student to new ways of thinking and empower them to learn and grow from one another.  

“American Studies at Georgetown is a really special community for me. It’s the kind of place for people who feel their classes are a highlight of their day and not just an accumulation of hours that will get them a diploma,” says Julia Pinney (C’20). “I’ve had to grow into a student and person who is more confident in my own decisions and interests. This major has made me a better writer, given me a strong sense of what interests me, made me a bit less scared of confusion, and given me a more critical eye when I’m watching movies or meeting new people.”

Looking Back, Looking Ahead

Due to the interdisciplinary nature of the program, American Studies has a rigorous course load that is complemented by a thesis requirement.

American Studies 50th Celebration Exhibit, Lauinger Library

Students emerge from this program well equipped to tackle problems beyond the classroom. Though it is a relatively young program, the accomplishments of the students and faculty who have participated in it are many.

An exhibit in Lauinger Library pays tribute to the achievements of alumni, faculty, and students as part of the American Studies 50th Celebration.

“A lot of people have heard about the American Studies Program, but they might not know the history or all the ways this program supports and challenges students,” says Sherry Linkon, former director of the American Studies Program. “The exhibit gives us a chance to make all that visible. We have a copy of the original proposal, photos of some of the faculty who’ve been involved over the years, and objects and images about our field trips, thesis projects, and the legacies our students leave in the contributions to the Durkin Collection of American Studies books.”

AMST is concluding its 50th Celebration with a capstone weekend that will include opening remarks by Dean Chris Celenza, a reception, lectures by faculty and alumni, and more. This celebration marks an important milestone for a program that inspires inquisitiveness and enthusiasm from its students.

“There is more than one way to do research and tell stories,” writes Clara A. Mejia Orta (C’19) in Latino U.S.A.: A Cartoon History, the book she chose for the American Studies Durkin Collection at Lauinger. “Be creative, seek the truth, discover, and approach your research with a never-ending curiosity for the world.”

– Shelby Roller


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