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American Studies

“America” is vast. The “United States” is non-unified. These words name a geographical place (with borders that shift over time), a nexus of power, a set conjunction of cultures, an idea, and an ever-changing, ever-moving group of people. Because “America” exceeds standard categories of evidence, American Studies approaches it in interdisciplinary ways. Scholars in American Studies integrate disciplinary methods to grapple with big issues: environment and climate, labor, democracy, colonialism and empire, religion, capitalism, carcerality, indigeneity and migration, race and ethnicity, gender and sexuality, and much more. American Studies is problem-based: we train students to ask bold questions, to identify the right evidence to answer those questions, and to develop the methodological skills needed to analyze the evidence. American Studies cultivates a “both/and” perspective: we are capacious, nimble, politically engaged, sometimes contentious, often quirky, and always in process. We consider the U.S. in global context, and global forces within the U.S. In Harvard’s American Studies doctoral program—the second-oldest in the nation—we unite around the goal of understanding how historical events and cultural acts of meaning-making affect each other. 

The resources available to students in American Studies are as broad as Harvard University itself. Our program is guided by a core committee of 15 to 20 faculty members and about 40 additional affiliated faculty members drawn from across the Faculty of Arts and Sciences and several professional schools. Our students are free to take courses and pursue dissertation projects with virtually any combination of mentors on campus, creating new constellations of expertise and new approaches to scholarship as they do so. The students come together in the American Studies Colloquium (two core courses, one taken in each of the first two years), in a required seminar on professional development in the third year, and in twice-annual gatherings for the presentation of prospectuses and dissertation chapters. A common study space provides a welcoming home base for mutual support and collegiality. 

Given our large and diverse affiliated faculty, we are able to support an uncommonly broad array of projects. We have distinctive strengths in such areas as the study of early America, African American studies, Latinx studies, indigenous studies, gender studies, performance studies, carceral studies, visual and material culture, food studies, environmental history, literary history, music history, religious studies, and the history of capitalism. 

Additional information on the graduate program is available from the program in American Studies and requirements for the degree are detailed in Policies

Admissions Requirements

Please review admissions requirements and other information before applying. You can find degree program-specific admissions requirements below and access additional guidance on applying from the program in American Studies.

Writing Sample

A writing sample is required as part of the application and can be a term paper, senior thesis, master’s essay, or a collection containing several examples of written work. There is no page limit.

Statement of Purpose

Applicants should indicate their research interests and potential advisors in the Statement of Purpose.

Standardized Tests

GRE: Optional

Theses & Dissertations

Theses & Dissertations for American Studies


See list of American Studies faculty


Degrees Offered


Questions about the Program?

Tamira Stephens
Program Administrator