American Studies

Academic Department Introduction

Our program studies the American nation, its internal diversity and conflicts, and its place in the world. Since the establishment of American studies in the early 20th century, the field has broadened to encompass literature, history, art history, sociology, religion, and music. It also includes film studies, queer studies, African American studies, and Asian American studies. Our courses emphasize social justice.

Majors choose a concentration that adds depth and coherence to their coursework. We offer minors in Asian American studies and Latina/o studies that examine the histories, philosophies, cultures, and intersections of these groups, within the United States and abroad.

Learning goals

  • Understand the United States’ histories and cultures.
  • Evaluate the influence and impact of America beyond its borders.
  • Examine the racial, ethnic, and religious interactions that define its identity.

Programs of Study

American studies major

Students gain skills as critical thinkers, cogent writers, and skillful researchers on a broad range of topics in American life.

Asian American studies minor

The interdisciplinary Asian American studies minor examines the lives, cultures, and histories of people of Asian descent living in the Americas. It intersects significantly with the study of other minority groups in the United States and with the study of the Asia-Pacific region.

Latina/o studies minor

The Latina/o studies minor focuses on the experiences, cultures, and politics of people of Latin American descent living in the United States. Its interdisciplinary study of social inequalities and racial dynamics overlaps with fields such as Africana studies and Asian American studies.

Course Highlights

  • From Disney films to Nickelodeon cartoons to Newberry award-winning texts, popular children's media offers us the opportunity to analyze how complex issues of identity are represented in cultural productions aimed at a young audience. This course takes as a site of analysis media aimed at children to investigate the lessons imparted and ideologies circulate in popular films and books. How is class drawn in Lady and the Tramp? What are politics of language at play in Moana? What are the sounds of masculinity in Beauty and the Beast? How does Mulan construct gender, race, and militarism? Using an intersectional frame of analysis, we will trace popular tropes, identify images of resistance, and map out the more popular messages children receive about difference in our world. (AMST 102Y and EDUC 102Y are cross-listed courses.)
  • Benito Martínez Ocasio, better known as Bad Bunny, has quickly risen through the ranks to become one of the most significant and impactful global Latin music stars in history. This course explores what analyzing Bad Bunny can teach us in Latinx Studies. We will explore his role in the 2019 protests in Puerto Rico, and what the summer of 2019 teaches us about U.S. empire and Puerto Rican politics. We will also pay particular attention to the politics of race, gender, and queerness in Bad Bunny’s performance. Finally, we will consider Bad Bunny as a Spanish-language “crossover” star in the United States to understand the place of Latinx artists in the U.S. mainstream. Overall, this course will explore these topics by closely situating Bad Bunny’s work in relation to key texts in Latinx Studies regarding race, empire, gender, and queerness.

Research highlights

  • Professor Paul Fisher stands and talks in a museum in front of two drawings on a blue wall.

    Professor Paul Fisher’s book, The Grand Affair: John Singer Sargent in His World (Macmillan, 2022), was named a Book of the Year by the New Yorker, Wall Street Journal, and Times Literary Supplement. Fisher helped organize the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum’s 2020 exhibit Boston’s Apollo: Thomas McKeller and John Singer Sargent, and contributed to its catalog, which won the George Wittenborn Memorial Book Award.

  • Professor Rivera-Rideau poses with Bad Bunny.

    The Bad Bunny Syllabus, created by Professor Petra Rivera-Rideau and Loyola Marymount University’s Professor Vanessa Diaz, is a free online resource for contextualizing the Puerto Rican reggaetón artist’s rise to superstardom. Using music, podcasts, academic articles, and other media, the syllabus explores reggaetón history and gender politics, as well as topics important to Puerto Rico, such as LGBTQ rights, the debt crisis, Hurricane María, race, and the island’s status as a commonwealth.

Beyond Wellesley

Beyond Wellesley

Careers of American studies graduates include the law, teaching grades K–12, and nonprofit work. Recent employers include Immigrant Justice Corps, BASIS Charter Schools, and Columbia University.

Department of American Studies

Pendleton Hall East
106 Central Street
Wellesley, MA 02481
Petra Rivera-Rideau
Department Chair