Courses of Study: Themes, Approaches and Focus

Four Themes — What We Study

American Studies at Brown is concerned with four broad themes:

Social Structures and the Practices of Identity: How do communities and individuals come to define themselves, and how do others define them, in terms of, among other categories, nation, region, class, race, ethnicity, gender, sex, religion, age and sexuality? How do organizations and institutions function socially and culturally? What are the roles of social movements, economic structures, politics and government?

Space and Place: How is space organized, and how do people make place? This includes the study of natural and built environments; local, regional, national and transnational communities; and international and inter-regional flows of people, goods, and ideas.

Production and Consumption of Culture: How do people represent their experiences and ideas as culture? How is culture transmitted, appropriated and consumed? What is the role of artists and the expressive arts, including literature, visual arts and performance.

Science, Technology, and Everyday Life: How does work and the deployment of science and technology shape American culture? How do everyday social practices of work, leisure and consumption provide agency for people?

 Four Approaches—How We Study

 American Studies at Brown emphasizes four intersecting approaches that are critical tools for understanding these themes:

Cultural and Social Analysis: Reading and analyzing different kinds of texts, including literary, visual, aural, oral, material objects and landscapes. Examining ethnic and racial groups, institutions, organizations and social movements.

Global/International Contextualization: Comprehending the United States as a society and culture that has been shaped by the historical and contemporary flows of people, goods and ideas from around the world and in turn, learning about the various ways in which America has shaped the world.

New Media Understandings: Understanding the creation of new forms of discourse, new ways of knowing and new modes of social organization made possible by succeeding media revolutions. Using new media as a critical tool for scholarship.

Publicly Engaged Scholarship: Connecting the theory and the practice of publicly-engaged research, understanding and presentation, from community-based scholarship to ethnography, oral history, and museum exhibits. Civic engagement might include structured and reflective participation in a local community or communities or the application of general theoretical knowledge to understanding social issues.

 The Focus

 Each concentrator must choose one of the themes or approaches described above as the basis of their focus. The student in consultation with the concentration advisor will further define the individual focus by adding a subtitle. For example:

Space and Place: Urban Renewal
Space and Place: Public Memorials
Cultural Production and Consumption: African American Music
Cultural Production and Consumption: Photography and American Culture
Global/International Contextualization: Transnational Late Capitalism and Media
Global/International Contextualization: Asian American Immigration
Public Engagement: Narrative and Material Culture