American Studies


American Studies is an interdisciplinary field of study, rooted in the comprehensive analysis of national and transnational political and popular culture.

Dating back to the 1940s, the work of American Studies bridges discipline-bound departments and divisions in the modern university. Our scholarship and our teaching extend beyond campuses to communities of all sorts, and beyond nations to transnational populations, here in the United States and elsewhere. 

Main Themes

American Studies at Brown is concerned with four broad themes.

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?

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.

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.

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?


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

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.

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.

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.

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.