Skip Navigation
search: People | Departments | Penn State | Web
Penn State mark
Penn State mark

University Bulletin

Graduate Degree Programs

American Studies (AMSTD)

Program Home Page

SIMON J. BRONNER, Program Coordinator
Penn State Harrisburg
777 W. Harrisburg Pike
Middletown, PA 17057-4898
Phone: 717-948-6201
email: amstd@psu.edu

 

Degrees Conferred:

M.A., Ph.D.
Integrated B.A./M.A.

 

The Graduate Faculty

 

The M.A. Degree Program

The M.A. degree program, offered at Penn State Harrisburg, emphasizes the study of American society and culture. It serves students who want to investigate the American experience and apply their studies in a variety of professions, including education, government, communications, and museums. It is the distinguishing characteristic of the program that the large majority of its course offerings are taught by faculty trained in the discipline of American Studies and these courses have the AM ST prefix for "American Studies." The program offers a number of concentrations including folklore, cultural history (politics, popular culture, media studies), international American Studies, material and visual culture (art, architecture, craft, landscape, food, clothing, medicine), public heritage (museums, historic preservation, archiving, cultural resource management), race and ethnicity, and regional studies.

The campus is located in a rich cultural region, which includes Amish Farmlands, Gettysburg, Hershey, Steelton, Ephrata, Carlisle, York, and Harrisburg. Additionally, proximity to the major cities of Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Washington, D.C., and New York offer a host of research options for students. Strong ties with local educational and cultural institutions, including the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, State Museum of Pennsylvania, Landis Valley Musuem, Hershey Museum, National Civil War Museum, and the Dauphin County Historical Society, Cumberland County Historical Society, and other public heritage resources provide excellent learning opportunities for students.

The M.A. degree can be earned by full- or part-time study. Most 500-level courses are offered in the evening as the program strives to meet students' needs.

Admission Requirements

The M.A. degree program in American Studies accepts students from a wide array of disciplines--particularly art, history, English, sociology, and anthropology--but recommends educational preparation related to the interdisciplinary study of American culture. An applicant must hold either (1) a baccalaureate degree from a regionally accredited U.S. institution or (2) a tertiary (postsecondary) degree that is deemed comparable to a four-year bachelor’s degree from a regionally accredited U.S. institution. This degree must be from an officially recognized degree-granting institution in the country in which it operates. All applicants must submit: a completed Graduate School online application form with the application fee; two official transcripts of all colleges and universities attended (minimum of 2.75 junior/senior grade-point average on a 4.00 scale); two letters of recommendation from individuals who can attest to the student's ability to handle graduate study; a statement of intent (approximately 500 to 1,000 words outlining their preparation for study, proposed fields of study, and career goals); and a sample of written work (seminar paper or equivalent research paper) as evidence of their American research and writing skills.

Students applying for scholarships and assistantships are requested to submit general examination scores of the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) taken within five years previous to the date of application. The GRE is recommended, but not required, for admission.

The language of instruction at Penn State is English. All international applicants must take and submit scores for the TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) or the IELTS (International Language Testing System), with the exceptions noted below. The minimum acceptable score for the TOEFL is 550 for the paper-based test, or a total score of 80 with a 19 on the speaking section for the Internet-based test (iBT). Applicants with iBT speaking scores between 15 and 18 may be considered for provisional admission, which requires completion of specified remedial English courses ESL 114G (American Oral English for Academic Purposes) and/or ESL 116G (ESL/Composition for Academic Disciplines) and attainment of a grade of B or higher. The minimum acceptable composite score for the IELTS is 6.5.

International applicants are exempt from the TOEFL/IELTS requirement who have received a baccalaureate or a graduate degree from a college/university/institution in any of the following: Australia, Belize, British Caribbean and British West Indies, Canada (except Quebec), England, Guyana, Republic of Ireland, Liberia, New Zealand, Northern Ireland, Scotland, the United States, and Wales.

Degree Requirements

The student is required to take a minimum of 30 credits (non-thesis)-33 (thesis) in American Studies, including at least 18 credits in the 500 series; AM ST 500, 591, and AM ST 580 or 600 are required. AM ST 500 should be taken within the first two semesters of study; AM ST 591 should be taken in the last two semesters of study. Usually in the last semester of study, students are required to complete their program with a major paper by taking AM ST 580 (Project) or thesis, in which case AM ST 600 is taken. The choice of AM ST 580 to fulfill graduation requirements is for an original scholarly master's paper or project. One to 6 credits in AM ST 580 can be earned; the typical number of credits for the culminating project is 3. The choice of AM ST 600 is for a thesis and is taken for 6 credits. The thesis must follow the guidelines established by the Thesis Office of the Graduate School (see http://www.gradsch.psu.edu/current/thesis.html).

Advanced undergraduate courses (400-level) that have not counted toward a student's undergraduate degree may be considered for transfer into the graduate student's requirement of 30 credits of American Studies with permission of the program and approval of the Graduate School. At least 20 of the 30 credits must be earned at the Harrisburg location where the program is offered. Courses not having an American Studies designation but which are relevant to American Studies may be considered for inclusion in the student's requirement of 30 credits of American Studies with permission of the program.

Integrated B.A./M.A. in American Studies

The American Studies Program offers an integrated B.A./M.A. program that is designed to allow academically superior baccalaureate students enrolled in the American Studies major to obtain both the B.A. and the M.A. degrees in American Studies within five years of study. The first two years of undergraduate coursework typically include the University General Education requirements and lower-level courses. In the third year, students typically take upper-division coursework in American Studies and define areas of interest. The fourth year involves graduate-level American Studies coursework including required courses in American Studies Theory and Methods (AM ST 500). The fifth and final year of the program typically consists of graduate coursework in American Studies including Seminar (AM ST 591) and identification of a research project that will culminate in the completion of a M.A. project (AM ST 580) or thesis (AM ST 600).

By encouraging greater depth and focus in the course of study beginning in the third undergraduate year, this program will help the student more clearly define his/her area of interest and expertise in the broad field of American Studies. As a result, long-range academic planning for exceptional students pursuing doctoral degrees or other professional goals after leaving Penn State will be greatly enhanced. For most students, the total time required to reach completion of the higher degree will be shortened by about a year. The student will have earlier contact with the rigors of graduate study and with graduate faculty. The resources of the Graduate School are accessible to students accepted into the IUG program. Students in their third and fourth year of study with IUG status benefit from their association with graduate students whose level of work parallel their own.

For the IUG American Studies B.A./M.A. degree, a minimum of 123 credits are required for the B.A. and a minimum of 30–33 credits for the M.A. (30 for non-thesis; 33 for thesis). Twelve credits at the 400 level or higher, in consultation with the adviser, can apply to both the B.A. and M.A. degrees; at least 6 of these 12 credits must be at the 500 level.

If for any reason a student admitted to the B.A./M.A. program is unable to complete the requirement for the Master of Arts degree program in American Studies, the student will be permitted to receive the B.A. degree assuming all degree requirements have been satisfactorily completed.

Admission Requirements

The number of openings in the integrated B.A./M.A. program is limited. Admission will be selective based on specific criteria and the unqualified recommendation of faculty. Applicants to the integrated program:

  1. Must be enrolled in the American Studies B.A. program and meet the admission requirements of the American Studies M.A. program.
  2. Must apply and be admitted to the Graduate School.
  3. Shall be admitted no earlier than the beginning of the third semester of undergraduate study at Penn State (regardless of transfer or AP credits accumulated prior to enrollment) and no later than the end of the second week of the semester preceding the semester of expected conferral of the undergraduate degree, as specified in the proposed IUG plan of study.
  4. Must have completed at least one 400-level American Studies course (AM ST prefix) with a grade of A.
  5. Must submit transcript(s) of previous undergraduate work, recommendations from two faculty members, writing sample, and statement of goals.
  6. Must have an overall GPA at or above 3.3 (on a 4.0 scale) in undergraduate coursework and a GPA at or above 3.5 in all coursework completed for the American Studies major.
  7. Must present a plan of study approved by the student’s adviser in the application process.

Course Load

As many as 12 of the credits required for the master’s degree may be applied to both undergraduate and graduate degree programs. The courses to be double counted are:

AM ST 491W (two seminars on different topics)—6 credits during the student’s fourth (senior) year
AM ST 500 –3 credits during the student’s fourth (senior) year
AM ST 591—3 credits during the student’s fifth year

With the approval of the student’s adviser, students may take American Studies courses from the 100 to 400 levels at Penn State campuses other than Harrisburg, but 500-level courses must be taken at the Harrisburg campus.

Sample Sequence of Course Work

A typical sequence of coursework for the integrated program would appear as follows (AM ST 491W, AM ST 500, and AM ST 591 are applied to both undergraduate and graduate degree programs):

YEAR

FALL

SPRING

 

3rd (Junior)

AM ST 100

3

AM ST supporting course

3

 

AM ST supporting course

3

400-level AM ST course

3

 

BA Requirement: Other Cultures

3

400-level AM ST course

3

 

BA Requirement: Knowledge Domain

3

Elective

3

 

Elective

3

Elective

 

 

Total

15

Total

15

4th (Senior)

AM ST 491W*

3

AM ST 491W*

3

 

400-level AM ST course

3

400 level AM ST course

3

 

400-level AM ST supporting course

3

AM ST 500*

3

 

Elective

3

500 level AM ST course

3

 

Elective

3

Elective

3

 

Total

15

Total

15

5th (Graduate)

500-level AM ST course

3

500-level AM ST course

3

 

500-level AM ST course

3

AM ST 580 or AM ST 600

3-6

 

500-level AM ST course

3

AM ST 591*

3

 

Total

9

Total

9-12

*Satisfies requirements for both the undergraduate and graduate program for a total of 12 credits

As stated in the Graduate Bulletin, a minimum grade-point average of 3.00 for work done at the University is required for graduation and to maintain good academic standing. See http://bulletins.psu.edu/bulletins/whitebook/degree_requirements.cfm?section=masters.

The Ph.D. Program

The Doctor of Philosophy Program in American Studies represents the study of the United States as an academic field with its own developed theories, methods, and applications. Taking advantage of its location in a capital region with internationally known heritage sites and American Studies resources such as the Gettysburg Battlefield, Three-Mile Island, Hershey, Steelton, Anthracite Coal Region, and Amish Country, it emphasizes critical cultural inquiry and the application of American Studies to public heritage, public policy, and cultural resource management--including governmental work, museums, cultural agencies, education, archives and records management, public policy, and communications. A foundation for this application is an understanding of the American experience developed within the intellectual legacy of American Studies.

Graduates of the program are typically oriented toward public practice as well as scholarship in American Studies--integrating perspectives on United States history, culture, and society. Students have opportunities for internships and field experiences outside the classroom. In addition to preparation for academic teaching and writing, the program is distinctively concerned among other doctoral departments of American Studies with the production of public scholars and leadership careers outside of academe. The program strives to cover America broadly in its national and international contexts, work with local resources and institutions, and to develop a focus on cultural expression and identity, including areas of material and visual culture; folk and popular culture; race, ethnicity, and gender; and literature, performance, and media.

The program requires enrollment as a full-time student for at least two consecutive semesters--9 credits per semester (summer sessions not included). A doctoral student is required to complete the program, including defense and acceptance of the doctoral dissertation, within eight years after admission to candidacy.

Admission Requirements

Applicants for the Doctor of Philosophy in American Studies must hold a master's degree in American Studies, or a related field emphasizing American cultural scholarship and public heritage work such as history, English, sociology, political science, folklore, cultural studies, performance studies, ethnic studies, gender studies, communications, art history, museum and library studies, education, and cultural resource management.

Students are required to submit the following:

  • a completed Graduate School online application with the application fee;
  • two transcripts of all undergraduate and graduate course work;
  • scores from the Graduate Record Examination (GRE);
  • three letters of reference attesting to both academic and professional capabilities. (At least two of these letters should be from academic sources, such as professors or academic advisers);
  • a letter of 500 to 1000 words outlining significant scholarly and applied experience, career goals, commitment to American Studies as a field, and academic objectives;
  • a recent personal curriculum vitae;
  • a paper from a graduate course taken previously or publication demonstrating research and compositional skills.

Admission is highly competitive and the best-qualified students will be admitted subject to space availability and compatibility of the student with the program's research mission. Successful applicants with an M.A. typically have a GPA of 3.5 or above (on a 4.0 scale) in their graduate work.

International Students

International applicants must hold the equivalent of an American master's degree. They must submit official or attested university records, with certified translations if the records are not in English. Notarized copies are not sufficient.

The language of instruction at Penn State is English. All international applicants must take and submit scores for the TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) or the IELTS (International Language Testing System), with the exceptions noted below. The minimum acceptable score for the TOEFL is 500 for the paper-based test, or a total score of 80 with a 19 on the speaking section for the Internet-based test (iBT). Applicants with iBT speaking scores between 15 and 18 may be considered for provisional admission, which requires completion of specified remedial English courses ESL 114G (American Oral English for Academic Purposes) and/or ESL 116G (ESL/Composition for Academic Disciplines) and attainment of a grade of B or higher. The minimum acceptable composite score for the IELTS is 6.5.

International applicants are exempt from the TOEFL/IELTS requirement who have received a baccalaureate or a graduate degree from a college/university/institution in any of the following: Australia, Belize, British Caribbean and British West Indies, Canada (except Quebec), England, Guyana, Republic of Ireland, Liberia, New Zealand, Northern Ireland, Scotland, the United States, and Wales.

Residency

Over some twelve-month period during the interval between admission to the Ph.D. program and completion of the Ph.D. program, the candidate must spend at least two semesters (summer sessions are not included) as a registered full-time student (9 credits per semester) engaged in academic work at Penn State Harrisburg.

The Curriculum

Students progress through the following phases and take courses designated by their doctoral committee as part of their study for the Ph.D.

Candidacy

In this initial phase, the student must (1) make up any deficiencies in graduate courses in American Studies noted in the letter of acceptance, and (2) complete with a grade of B or better the following courses--AM ST 500 (Theory and Method), two sections of AM ST 502 (Problems in American Studies) on different topics, AM ST 591 (Seminar), and (3) pass a candidacy examination. Admitted students who have met all course prerequisites begin the core courses with AM ST 500 (Theory and Method). Students who have already taken AM ST 500 within three years of admission may begin their program of study with AM ST 502 (Problems in American Studies).

The candidacy examination is administered by a special committee appointed by the director of the doctoral program. After the exam is passed, a student is advanced to doctoral candidacy. General guidance of a doctoral candidate is the responsibility of a doctoral committee consisting of four or more active members of the Graduate Faculty, which includes at least two faculty members in the major field of American Studies. The dissertation adviser must be a member of the doctoral committee. The dissertation adviser usually serves as chair, but this is not required. If the candidate is also pursuing a dual-title field of study, a co-chair representing the dual-title field must be appointed. In most cases, the same individual (e.g., dissertation adviser) is a member of the Graduate Faculty in both the major and dual-title fields, and in such cases may serve as sole chair.

At least one regular member of the doctoral committee must represent a field outside the candidate’s major field of study in order to provide a broader range of disciplinary perspectives and expertise. This committee member is referred to as the “Outside Field Member.” In cases where the candidate is also pursuing a dual-title field of study, the dual-title representative to the committee may serve as the Outside Field Member.

Additionally, in order to avoid potential conflicts of interest, the primary appointment of at least one regular member of the doctoral committee must be in an administrative unit that is outside the unit in which the dissertation adviser's primary appointment is held (i.e., the adviser's administrative home; in the case of tenure-line faculty, this is the individual's tenure home). This committee member is referred to as the “Outside Unit Member.” In the case of co-advisers, the Outside Unit Member must be from outside the administrative home(s) of both co-advisers. In some cases, an individual may have a primary appointment outside the administrative home of the student’s dissertation adviser and also represent a field outside the student’s major field of study; in such cases, the same individual may serve as both the Outside Field Member and the Outside Unit Member.

If the candidate has a minor, that field must be represented on the committee by a “Minor Field Member.” The doctoral committee is appointed by the Graduate School dean through the Office of Graduate Enrollment Services, upon recommendation of the head of the major program, soon after the student is admitted to candidacy. The dean may on occasion appoint one or more members of the committee in addition to those recommended by the head of the program.

A person who is not a member of the Graduate Faculty (and may not be affiliated with Penn State) who is otherwise qualified and has particular expertise in the candidate's research area may be added as a “Special Member,” upon recommendation by the head of the program and approval of the dean of the Graduate School (via the Office of Graduate Enrollment Services). A Special Member is expected to participate fully in the functions of the doctoral committee. If the Special Member is asked only to read and approve the doctoral dissertation, that person is designated a Special Signatory. Occasionally, Special Signatories may be drawn from within the Penn State faculty in particular situations.

Graduate Faculty officially appointed by the Graduate School to a doctoral committee who then leave Penn State may maintain that committee appointment for up to one year if the student's graduate program and the Graduate School dean, through the Office of Graduate Enrollment Services, approve the request for this exception. A retired or emeritus faculty member may serve as a doctoral committee chair if, and only if, he/she was officially appointed and began chairing the committee prior to retirement and has the continuing approval of the program head and the Graduate School dean, through the Office of Graduate Enrollment Services. Otherwise, the committee must be revised to either remove the faculty member from the committee or change the individual's appointment to a Special Member.

The membership of doctoral committees should be periodically reviewed by the head of the program to ensure that all members continue to qualify for service on the committee in their designated roles. For example, if type of appointments, employment at the University, etc., have changed since initial appointment to the committee, changes to the committee membership may be necessary. If changes are warranted, they should be made as soon as possible to prevent future problems that may delay academic progress for the student (e.g., ability to conduct the comprehensive or final examinations).

The graduate program head must also periodically review the Graduate Faculty listing for his/her program on both the Graduate School's website and the graduate program's listing in the Graduate Bulletin to ensure that those listings are accurate.

The chair or at least one co-chair must be a member of the graduate faculty of the specific doctoral program in which the candidate is enrolled. A retired or emeritus faculty member may chair a doctoral committee if he/she was officially appointed and began chairing the committee prior to retirement and has the continuing approval of the head of the graduate program. The primary duties of the chair are to: (1) maintain the academic standards of the doctoral program and the Graduate School and assure that all procedures are carried out fairly, (2) ensure that the comprehensive and final examinations are conducted in a timely fashion, (3) arrange and conduct all meetings, and (4) ensure that requirements set forth by the committee are implemented in the final version of the dissertation.

The doctoral committee is responsible for approving the broad outline of the student’s program and should review the program as soon as possible after the student’s admission to candidacy. Moreover, continuing communication among the student, the committee chair, the research supervisor, and the members of the committee is strongly recommended, to preclude misunderstandings and to develop a collegial relation between the candidate and the committee.

The Comprehensive Examination

Students must be registered as a full-time or part-time degree student for the semester (excluding summer session) in which the comprehensive examination is taken. The timing of the examination is after coursework in subfields is completed. The written examination consists of three parts and is administered by the student's doctoral committee. One is in the area of Theory and Method and an additional two subfields of study from a list of five areas covered in the program. The five subfields of specialization are:

  1. Public Heritage, Cultural Resource Management, and Museum Studies;
  2. Folk and Popular Culture (material and visual culture, literature and media, language, performance, media, and music);
  3. Interdisciplinary History and Politics (history of ideas, philosophy, and politics; biography and oral history; everyday life and socioeconomic studies; government, public policy, and diplomacy);
  4. Society and Ethnography (race, ethnicity, class, gender, age; religion and belief; comparative culture and transnationalism);
  5. Regional, Environmental, Urban, and Local Studies.

Additional subfields of study within American Studies may be selected with the approval of the student's doctoral committee. An oral defense of the comprehensive examination is scheduled after the written examination, at which time it is customary for the candidate to present the dissertation proposal.

Although the exact number of courses required in each subfield may vary among students, typically four per subfield are required. Doctoral committees meet with students at least once each academic year. Written and oral comprehensive examinations in the three areas are given at the end of the study period.

The Dissertation

Under guidance from the doctoral committee, the candidate prepares a detailed research proposal that serves as the basis for the written dissertation covering an aspect of American Studies. The dissertation should represent a significant contribution to knowledge, show familiarity with the intellectual heritage of American Studies, be presented in a scholarly manner, reveal an ability on the part of the candidate to do independent research of high quality, and indicate considerable experience in using a variety of research techniques and forms of primary evidence. The contents and conclusions of the dissertation must be defended at the time of the final oral examination. Once the research proposal is approved, the student can enroll in AM ST 600 (Thesis in American Studies) for on-campus work or AM ST 610 (Thesis Research Off-Campus). The writing and defense of this original contribution to the theory and practice of American Studies is the capstone to the Ph.D. program. A student must be registered continuously for each Fall and Spring semester, beginning with the first semester after the comprehensive examination requirement and residency requirement have been met, until the dissertation is accepted and approved by the dissertation committee. To maintain continuous registration, candidates may register for noncredit AM ST 601 (Ph.D. Dissertation Full-Time) or 611 (Ph.D. Dissertation Part-Time), with payment of the special dissertation preparation fee; students who want to combine course work with dissertation preparation must register for AM ST 600 or 611 (not 601 which is for full-time dissertation preparation) plus course registration at the regular per-credit fee. For more information on academic procedures, see http://bulletins.psu.edu/bulletins/whitebook/academic_procedures.cfm

The final examination of the doctoral candidate is an oral examination (defense) administered and evaluated by the entire doctoral committee. This oral defense is open to the public and related in large part to the dissertation, but it may cover the candidate's whole program of study. The Committee may restrict part of the defense to its members and the candidate. The candidate must be registered as a full-time or part-time degree student for the semester in which the oral defense is held.

Grade-Point Average and Time Limit

A minimum grade-point average of 3.0 (on a 4.0 scale) for work done in the American Studies doctoral program at the University is required for doctoral candidacy, for admission to the comprehensive examination, the final oral examination, and for graduation.

A doctoral student is required to complete the program, including acceptance of the doctoral dissertation, within eight years from the date of successful completion of the candidacy examination. Extensions may be granted by the Director of Graduate Enrollment Services in appropriate circumstances.

Financial Aid

A limited number of scholarships, loans, and grants are available from the University. In many cases, employers have a tuition-reimbursement plan paying for partial or full tuition. To find available options from the University, contact the Financial Aid Office at 717-948-6307. For more information, see php.scripts.psu.edu/dept/iit/hbg/academics/gradaid.php

Graduate School Funding Programs

Full-time incoming doctoral students starting in the fall semester with a record of scholarly excellence may qualify for a University Graduate Fellowship, Bunton-Waller Graduate Scholar Awards, and other programs. Interested students should contact the program chair, who is responsible for nominating students. For more information, see www.gradsch.psu.edu/prospective/funding/programs.html

Capital College Funding Programs

Full-time incoming graduate students may qualify for a Capital College Assistantship and other programs. Students must be nominated for an assistantship by the program chair. For more information, see php.scripts.psu.edu/dept/iit/hbg/academics/gradaid.php

Courses

Graduate courses carry numbers from 500 to 699 and 800 to 899. Advanced undergraduate courses numbered between 400 and 499 may be used to meet some graduate degree requirements when taken by graduate students. Courses below the 400 level may not. A graduate student may register for or audit these courses in order to make up deficiencies or to fill in gaps in previous education but not to meet requirements for an advanced degree.

AMERICAN STUDIES (AM ST) course list

 

Last Revised by the Department: Spring Semester 2013

Blue Sheet Item #: 42-01-121

Review Date: 08/20/13

Faculty linked: 8/14/14