Georgetown University’s American studies program is celebrating its 50th anniversary with an exhibit in Lauinger Library to recognize the program’s history as the oldest interdisciplinary program in the College.
The exhibition, titled “American Studies: 50 Years of Interdisciplinary Connections,” is located in the Kerbs Exhibit Area on the third floor of the library and will remain on display until Jan. 31. The American studies program will also hold events this weekend, including receptions, panels and lectures by faculty and alumni to conclude its 50th-anniversary celebration.
The American studies program is an interdisciplinary major that educates students on various perspectives on power, identity and culture in American society. The program prepares students to confront complex cultural issues with both historical and contemporary perspectives through their coursework, according to American studies professor Randall Bass.
“I think American studies brings an intrinsic and critical lens to the questions of power and identity,” Bass said in an interview with The Hoya. “People that graduate from American studies often have a sense of how to bring different kinds of frameworks about the past and present to bear on almost any context to understand the many layers of cultural situations.”
Since the program’s founding in 1969, American studies has grown significantly. During the first decade, only 73 students graduated with a degree in American studies. In contrast, 237 students have declared their major in the program since 2010, according to the university’s website.
Despite the increase in students studying the discipline, the American studies program remains a small, tight-knit community, according to professor Brian Hochman, the director of the program.
“There’s a real sense of community among each class because all students take classes together,” Hochman said in a phone interview with The Hoya. “They’re all very invested to each other.”
Students in the American studies program, who are all required to write a senior thesis, are committed to investing the time needed to succeed in the program, according to American studies professor Caetlin Benson-Allott.
“I think because all of the students start the program knowing that it’s going to culminate in their own individual research project, there’s a lot of investment,” Benson-Allott said in an interview with The Hoya. “Students are always thinking about what their stake in the program is, what their thesis will be and how they’re going to make the major their own at the end of it.”
The American studies program allows students to register for cross-listed courses from related fields, such as English, history and sociology, as electives to count toward their major in addition to their core classes. The cross-listed courses provide students with the ability to create individualized degrees. The flexibility of the program is one of its best features, according to Ivan Jimenez (COL ’21), who is majoring in American studies.
“Of the best aspects, the biggest one is complete academic freedom,” Jimenez said in an interview with The Hoya. “If you have an interest within American culture that you want to pursue, you can basically take any classes that you can find connections at.”
Interdisciplinary programs like American studies will likely be the future for Georgetown academics, according to Bass.
Last month, the university promoted interdisciplinary studies with the creation of the Bachelor of Science in business and global affairs degree, a joint program with the School of Foreign Service and the McDonough School of Business. Additionally, in the spring 2015 semester, the university launched a global business major and fellowship, a joint program with the SFS and the MSB that sought to combine coursework from both schools.
In recent decades, the American studies program has adjusted its structure to offer students more choices and incorporate more disciplines, according to Bass.
“The program changed a lot in expanding the number of disciplines, giving students a bit more flexibility and bringing in more faculty to teach in the program,” Bass said. “Like any other program, the content has refreshed itself every single year.”
The program has remained stable and strong over the past 50 years and will continue to do so in the future, according to Hochman. Moving forward, the program will likely continue to tweak aspects of its curriculum to include more perspectives, according to Hochman.
“I think one of the things that the program needs to do, one of its challenges, is to retain a sense of tradition while also keeping up with the direction of the field of American studies,” Hochman said. “For me, and this is just my opinion, it is reinfusing our curriculum and our faculty population with the field of ethnic studies.”