AMS Today

It has never been more important or more challenging for us to understand America’s place in the world and to grapple with the horizons and limits of its democratic aspirations.  The Princeton Program in American Studies offers a curriculum and a research home for addressing this demand in the 21st century.  We sponsor teaching, research, and public discussion about the history, literature, art, politics, society and culture of the United States in all its diversities.   

By bringing together students and faculty from the arts, the humanities, and social sciences to explore questions that cross disciplinary boundaries, the Program reflects a generative field of intellectual curiosity and creativity, a nexus of energy and engagement.  American Studies scholars share a dynamic commitment to democratic inquiry rather than a universally agreed upon canon of required methods or venerated works. The field encompasses an eclectic array of practices and pedagogies that cohere around openness to studying diverse research objects, asking a broad range of research questions, and engaging with a wide range of scholarly approaches, methods and theories. 

We strive to gain a deeper and broader perspective on issues which profoundly affect contemporary life and scholarship, including questions of migration, colonization, race, borders, and diaspora; art, culture, and language; law and public policy; and gender and sexuality.  Approaching the complex issues of race, ethnicity, and identity through the lens of American Studies also allows us to understand American liberalism and national power alongside indigeneity, slavery, racialized immigration, urbanization, war, military occupation, and globalization.  In short, we aim to understand America in the world as well as how the world lives in America. 

What American Studies does lies at the center of what is happening on our campus, which is but a reflection of what is happening out in the world.  It asks questions that no singular field or discipline on campus does, and it makes space for the kinds of inquiry generated by interdisciplinary intersections that are not possible within traditional disciplines. 

Through resources such as the University Library and archives, art museum, and campus buildings, students have a variety of ways to examine American life.  The Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library has a rich store of public policy papers, including those of alumnus and former Princeton president Woodrow Wilson; Nassau Hall, the site of the Continental Congress from June to November 1783, also bears scars from its role in the Revolutionary War Battle of Princeton; and the University Art Museum's holdings range from Charles Willson Peale's 1784 portrait of George Washington at the Battle of Princeton to works by Thomas Eakins, Winslow Homer, Georgia O'Keefe, Frank Stella, and Andy Warhol. We also encourage students to explore untraditional archives and to ask questions about what has been left out of the archive.  

Our Program is rich in conversations.  We host an annual Anschutz Fellow, a distinguished scholar whose work straddles theory and practice.  We sponsor a wealth of public programs initiated by faculty, graduate, and undergraduate students who constellate around the Program.   We foster intimate research communities through The Workshop in American Studies, the Graduate Salon, and other venues where students and faculty from the wide range of departments gather, underscoring our investment in the "in-between" disciplinary spaces.

For the past several years, the Program in American Studies has been instrumental in bringing a comparative and fuller range of race and ethnicity studies to Princeton.  Going forward, we look to expand on the progress we have made, especially in the fields of Asian American/Diasporic Studies, Jewish American Studies, and Native American/Indigenous Studies, while continuing to strengthen our ties with African American and Latinx Studies.  We aim to develop these fields in a way that integrates these inquiries into mainstream Princeton curriculum and intellectual life across the whole of the campus.  We insist on a perspective on America that struggles towards a holistic understanding of America as a global presence and as a product of global processes.  We focus on “integration” less as a normative ideal than as a methodological precept.  In this regard we go beyond conventional notions of “intersectionality” or other trendy terms.  And we acknowledge that in order to understand America as a space that integrates diverse histories and identities and processes we need to take seriously all of the social movements and processes and politics that separate and segregate and isolate groups and identities from one another within America.

We also imagine the future of American Studies at Princeton to be intersectional, interdisciplinary, self-reflexive, and collaborative.  Internationalizing American Studies will be a priority, alongside connections with other interdisciplinary programs such as Gender and Sexuality Studies, Law and Public Affairs, Latino Studies, Digital Humanities, and the Princeton Environmental Institute, and with departments across the campus such as History, History of Science, African American Studies, English, Anthropology, Sociology, Religion, Politics, Psychology, Architecture, Art and Archaeology—an array of disciplines already reflected in the membership of the Executive Committee for the current Program in American Studies.

We have faith in American Studies’ potential to reach out to the social sciences as well as the science fields.   American Studies scholars are doing cutting edge work in the field of Disability Studies partnering with scholars in Neuroscience, History of Medicine, and Gender and Sexuality; in Critical Food Studies who work with scientists, environmentalists, and economists; at the intersections of sociology and astrophysics, of performance studies and visual technology, of architecture and urbanism, of music and digital technology, of legal theory and socio-legal studies, and much more.