The Interdisciplinarity of American Culture
by Daniel Hada Harianja ’18
The Program in American Studies offers an interdisciplinary study of diversity in the United States and the many ways to interpret the American experience, as reflected in everything American— popular culture, film, literature, art, history, and politics. About 60 faculty members currently contribute to the program. Affiliated faculty hail from, among others, history, government, art, music, science and technology studies, sociology, anthropology, industrial and labor relations, architecture, and electrical engineering.
“The keynote of the American Studies Program is interdisciplinarity,” says George B. Hutchinson, English, who is the acting director of the program. “The fact that so many faculty members at all ranks contribute to the program attests to the role of American Studies as a magnet for both faculty and students with interdisciplinary investments.”
The undergraduate course offerings are diverse and often large. For the major, students fulfill historical breadth, diversity, and senior seminar requirements, as well as design an individualized concentration within the major. Many students spend a semester abroad, while others take advantage of the Cornell in Washington Program, with which American Studies has had a longstanding relationship. Students can also take advantage of grants to help develop their honors theses. To enhance student engagement, the program also organizes field trips, screenings, tours of the art museum, or dinners with faculty members.
The graduate minor also draws students from a wide range of fields. Through teaching assistantships, research grants, travel funding, and the like, the program acts as a nexus for scholars making connections outside their home departments.
Furthermore, the program sponsors three major endowed lectures. The Kops Lecture discusses freedom of press and invites a major public figure or journalist. The Rabinor Lecture tackles diversity, led by a Cornell professor in conjunction with a seminar. The Krieger Lecture focuses on American political culture and is often linked with recent topics of concern. In 2016 it was about mass incarceration and race. In addition to these lectures, there is the Atkinson Forum in American Studies, which awards a grant to a department or program to organize a major arts event. The program also supports other lectures in conjunction with units across campus.