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 University 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, 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 inquiries generated by interdisciplinary intersections and 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, 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 nontraditional archives and to question what has been left out of the archive.

Our program is rich in conversations. We host an annual Anschutz Distinguished Fellow, a 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 American Studies Workshop Series, the Graduate Salon, and other venues where students and faculty from a wide range of departments gather and underscore our investment in “in-between” disciplinary spaces.

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, Latino studies, Jewish American studies, and Native American/Indigenous studies, while continuing to strengthen our ties with African American 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.” 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 imagine the future of American studies at Princeton to be intersectional, interdisciplinary, and collaborative. Internationalizing American studies will be a priority, alongside connections with other interdisciplinary programs — the Program in Gender and Sexuality Studies, Program in Law and Public Affairs, Center for Digital Humanities, and High Meadows Environmental Institute — and with departments across the campus — 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 the potential of American studies 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 the programs in neuroscience, history of medicine, and gender and sexuality; in critical food studies with scientists, environmentalists, and economists; at 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 more.