American Studies

The First Two Years


  • The interdepartmental nature and purposes of the program require that students cut across departments in selecting courses. However, to ensure a coherent program of study, they should plan their schedules in consultation with the program chair. Their program of study must include:
  • A minimum of two years of full-time study (sixteen four-credit courses or equivalent).
  • The “Colloquium in American Studies” during the fall term of their first and second years.
  • Two graduate seminars. These seminars should be taken from among the offerings of two different departments. Normally the student will take one seminar in each term of the first year of residence.
  • Two courses in a coherent field from outside the United States (e.g., English literature; Latin American history; comparative gender).
  • The remainder of the student’s program (lecture courses, reading courses, and, with the approval of the chair, TIME) will consist of work in fields appropriate to the student’s general examination. (See under “Examinations.”) Reading courses and TIME are ordinarily not part of a student’s program until the second term of the second year. If such courses are taken earlier, eleven four-credit courses (lectures, conference courses, and seminars) must be completed by the end of the fourth term.
  • All programs must be approved by the chair.
  • All coursework and language requirements must be met before taking the oral examination.
  • In the third year: American Studies 314, a course covering topics in pedagogy and professional development. 

Incomplete Grades

Students may have only one Incomplete when they register for their next term.

The Graduate School of Arts and Sciences rules must be followed: A graduate student who receives a grade of INC (Incomplete), which is granted only at the discretion of the instructor, must complete the work of the incomplete course before the end of the term following that in which the course was taken, or request an extension of time for the Incomplete at the GSAS Dean’s Office (see Chapter V, “Grade and Examination Requirements”).

All Incompletes must be resolved before taking the general examination.

Language Requirement

Candidates for the degree must have fluent reading knowledge of one language other than English, chosen as relevant to the student's interests in consultation with advisor(s) and the Chair.

No student may take the general examination until the language requirement has been met.

The student will ordinarily fulfill the language requirement by passing with high marks an examination given by the History department, the English department, or in the case of languages not offered in History or English, a specially-arranged examination. The grade received must indicate fluency (e.g. proficient in History, high pass in English). Fellowships for developing language fluency are available for the summer between the first and second year. Students are also encouraged to enroll in at least one course for credit in which advanced work with texts in other languages is undertaken.

Students who have the language requirement unfulfilled at the beginning of their second year of residence must ordinarily pass a language examination in September of their second year. If they do not pass the language examination, they should enroll in an approved language course and pass a language examination in January.


In a small program such as American Studies, the chair, who is also the director of graduate studies, generally advises students in the pre-generals period. However, students are encouraged to form relationships with faculty members, who may eventually serve as an advisor.

Students ordinarily choose their own advisors after generals.

For some students the members of the examination committee also become dissertation advisors. Others choose their dissertation advisors between the general examinations and acceptance of the dissertation prospectus.

During the dissertation stage, each graduate student forms a dissertation advisory committee:

1) The first model involves a committee of three, all of whom advise and sign off on the dissertation, and take roughly equal responsibility in its direction.

2) The second model calls for a principal director who takes primary charge of advising the dissertation, with a second and third reader involved to a greater or lesser degree according to the wishes of the student and the faculty members involved.

3) The third model involves two co-directors, both of whom are involved equally and continually with the project, with a third reader to be brought in at some later stage.

The advising mode chosen will be formally indicated to the department at the time the prospectus is submitted. It will bear the signatures of the advisors and note their status. At least two of the advisors must be members of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences in any of the three models.

A faculty member not on the American Studies committee may serve as a member of a dissertation committee or as a third reader.

The History of American Studies Committee is responsible for resolving potential issues between the advisors and the students.

Grade Requirements

Students must maintain a grade average of B+ or better in each year of graduate work. Each student must do work of an A or A- level in at least one seminar.

General Examination

Students must pass a two-hour oral examination conducted by four members of the faculty no later than the end of September in their third year.

One hour of that examination will be devoted to the student’s major field, and one half-hour each to two minor fields.

The major field must cover the full chronological sweep in a single discipline such as history, literature, law, or musicology. Normally, there will be two examiners in the major field. They may divide the field chronologically or thematically as long as there is full coverage of themes central to teaching and scholarship in the discipline.

Minor fields should be chosen from two areas of study distinct from the major field. A minor field may be defined chronologically or thematically as long as it covers a significant range of material, minimally a century. For example, a student whose major field is American literature, and whose primary area of interest is nineteenth-century fiction, might prepare one minor field in nineteenth-century US history and another in nineteenth-century music. Or, a student whose major field is US history, and who plans to write a dissertation on race relations in the 1930s, might prepare a minor field in American protest literature over time and another in African-American Studies.

Field preparation should be seen as laying a broad foundation for future teaching and scholarship rather than as specific preparation for writing a dissertation. Although the program will supply guidelines, students should work closely with individual faculty in selecting courses appropriate to their fields and in designing reading lists for oral examinations. In the term before taking examinations, students should submit their reading lists to the committee for approval.

If a student fails the oral examination, and the examining committee agrees that the student may retake it, the committee will set a date (not earlier than six months after the date of the first examination) by which the second examination must be taken. Ordinarily, students may not teach until the general examination is passed.

The Dissertation

After the general examination has been passed, the student will select a dissertation topic and arrange for dissertation advisors. The choice of a topic and advisors must be submitted to the committee for approval. Students must also submit a draft of the dissertation prospectus to their primary advisor no later than April 1 in their third year. The dissertation should be characterized by a familiarity with the historical treatment of two or more fields in the program. Before the end of May of their third year the student will present at a conference at which a discussion of the prospectus will take place before faculty and students in the program. Upon completion of two substantial chapters and upon recommendation of the advisors, students defend the finished part of the work as well as an outline for the completion of the dissertation in front of an audience consisting of faculty and students in the program as well as a broader academic public.

At least one month before the date set by the Graduate School for the deposit of the dissertation for the award of the degree in November, March, or May, the candidate must submit to the dissertation advisors a completed draft of the dissertation for final approval. Ordinarily the course of studies can be completed within six years. Any candidate for the degree who has not submitted a completed dissertation within five years after passing the general examination will be withdrawn unless, prior to the deadline, the candidate presents evidence that the dissertation can be finished within a specified extension and therefore receives an extension from the committee. See The Form of the PhD Dissertation.

Dissertation Review

  • Students entering the program will defend their dissertation. The review committee will consist of the student’s dissertation committee plus one additional member drawn from the American Studies program, a Harvard department, or from outside the university.
  • The student should submit the final draft of the dissertation to her/his committee no later than two months before the Registrar’s deadline for final submission. The student will inform the American Studies administrator that the draft has been submitted, and the administrator will gain the approval of the dissertation director before scheduling the review. The dissertation review will normally occur not later than April 15 for a May degree, not later than September 15 for a November degree, and not later than December 15 for a March degree.
  • The review will last for ninety minutes. It will begin with a five-to-ten-minute presentation, in which the student will offer an overview of the dissertation’s thesis, method, argument, and findings. The candidate will also offer her/his assessment of the work’s contributions to scholarship and indicate areas in which feedback is sought. Following this brief presentation, each committee member will offer approximately five to ten minutes of comment, during or after which a conversation will ensue, the objective of which is to indicate the dissertation’s strengths and weaknesses and provide advice for publication. The committee may require minor revisions that can be completed quickly, before the Registrar’s submission deadline.
  • Once the dissertation has been successfully defended, members of the dissertation committee will sign the dissertation acceptance certificate. The dissertation director will then write a report, ranging from a paragraph to a few pages, which summarizes the discussions of the review committee. The report shall be sent to the student with a copy to the American Studies administrator, ideally no later than two weeks after the review.
  • Upon successful defense of the dissertation, the student must submit the dissertation according to the FAS Registrar’s procedures, and arrange for one bound copy to be sent to the American Studies Program office. It is additionally suggested that an inexpensively bound copy of the final version be given to the dissertation director.
  • This requirement is for all students in the program filing for the PhD degree after June 2009. A student may petition to have the dissertation review waived for reasons of hardship.


Arthur Patton-Hock
Administrative Director of the American Studies Program