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School of Languages, Cultures, and Race College of Arts and Sciences

Doctorate in American Studies


The doctor of philosophy degree (Ph.D.) in the American studies program at Washington State University requires a previous bachelor’s degree in American studies or a related discipline in the social sciences or the humanities. The degree aims to achieve both breadth of knowledge in U.S. cultural history and depth of knowledge in an interdisciplinary area of specialization.

The Graduate School requires that the Ph.D. program include a total of 72 credit hours beyond the B.A., including transfer, research, and dissertation credits. The American studies program requires a minimum total of 33 graded credit hours in graduate courses. The distribution of required courses and all other requirements are indicated below. An additional three graded credit hours are required in either an AMST elective or Area of Specialization as part of the total 33 graded credit hours.

Core Requirements

Ph.D. students in American studies will take the following 9 graded credit hours of core requirements in the first year of their graduate course work:

  • Am St 505: Proseminar in American Cultural Studies (3cr)
    Provides an introduction to critical theoretical engagement within an interdisciplinary field. Emphasizes the professionalization of students into the academy.
  • Am St 506: Frameworks in American Cultural Studies (3cr)
    Provides a critical framework for the varied intellectual, theoretical, and political genealogies within American cultural studies.
  • Am St 507: Contemporary Practices in American Cultural Studies (3cr)
    Provides overview of contemporary practices in American cultural studies. Identifies important concepts and major insights within the field.


Ph.D. students in American studies will also take 12 graded credit hours of interdisciplinary electives from the following set of courses:

  • Am St 520: Colonization, Globalization, and Decolonization (3cr)
    Topics in the history of Western colonization and resistance to it.
  • Am St 521: Critical Studies in Sexuality (3cr)
    Topics in queer theory and les/bi/gay/trans/queer studies.
  • Am St 522: Digital Cultures, Digital Divides (3cr)
    Critical social and cultural analysis of the impacts of various digital (sub) cultures and new media.
  • Am St 523: Environmental Justice Cultural Studies (3cr)
    Analysis of critical issues and social action at the intersection of race, class, gender, empire, and the environment.
  • Am St 524: Critical Studies in Popular Culture (3cr)
    Interdisciplinary approaches to historical and contemporary trends and issues in U.S. popular culture.
  • Am St 525: Social Movements in American Studies (3cr)
    Interdisciplinary analysis of historical and current social movements as a product of and contributor to U.S. culture.
  • Am St 526: Contemporary Theories of Race and Ethnicity (3cr)
    Major theoretical readings and key recent texts in United States and transnational ethnic studies scholarship.
  • Am St 527: Contemporary Feminist Theories and Practices (3cr)
    Major theoretical readings and key recent texts in United States and transnational feminist studies scholarship.
  • Am St 590: Seminar in American Studies (3cr) (R)
    May be repeated for credit; cumulative maximum 9 hours. Interdisciplinary topics in American culture arranged to match current student and faculty interests and expertise.
  • Am St 596: Topics in American Studies (3cr) (R)
    May be repeated for credit; cumulative maximum 9 hours. Interdisciplinary topics in American culture arranged to match current student and faculty interests and expertise.

Area of Specialization

In addition to the core and elective requirements, all Ph.D. students take 9 graded credits in an area of specialization. Areas of specialization serve to delineate a professionally recognizable sub-specialty within American studies and to prepare students broadly in intellectual areas germane to their dissertation. The area of specialization should show significant historical depth and topical breadth. Each student constructs her/his own coherent course of study within an area of specialization of their own choosing with the approval of their committee chair and the director of American studies.

Preliminary Examination

The preliminary examination consists of the following elements:

  • Two (2) written essays that respond to questions produced by the student and the graduate degree committee.
  • A dissertation prospectus.
  • An oral defense.

During the fourth semester, a preliminary examination meeting (between the student, the student’s graduate committee chair, and the faculty members of the student’s graduate degree committee) is required to clarify expectations of the specific readings to be considered, the general framework and content of the exam questions, and the direction of the prospectus. Two (2) reading lists (one for each exam question) should be agreed upon and developed by the end of spring semester, giving the student the summer to prepare.

Early in the fall semester, the student’s graduate degree committee will construct the two (2) preliminary exam questions, drawing significantly but not exclusively on the reading lists. Once the student receives the questions from the committee chair, the student will be given two (2) weeks to prepare the essays and dissertation prospectus.

The preliminary examination must be defended no later than the end of the sixth semester.

Preliminary Examination Essay Questions

The Project of American Studies: One of the questions should demonstrate the student’s readiness for advanced teaching, research, and writing in the field of American studies. Questions in this area will address the institutional contexts and intellectual history of American studies with emphasis on the salient shifts in the understanding of the “field,” its objects, aims, and methodologies.

Critical Problems in Dissertation Research: Questions in this area of the exam will focus on the student’s interdisciplinary-based research and preparation and should reflect both the benefits of and contributions to their knowledge of American studies. Students should expect to formulate their research interests both topically and conceptually.

Dissertation Prospectus

Typically 10–15 pages (including the bibliography), the prospectus describes the dissertation topic more fully, including how it will contribute to the field of knowledge in which it is focused, an outline of the component parts of the dissertation (chapter by chapter), and a bibliography. It should also include some discussion of the research methods to be employed, key questions to be addressed, and the projected development of the argument. As part of the preliminary exam, the student’s chair and members of the graduate committee may provide suggestions and guidance for revising the prospectus, if needed. The prospectus must be approved by the student’s committee chair and the members of the graduate degree committee during the preliminary oral exam.

Oral Defense of the Preliminary Examination

Once the two essays and the prospectus have been approved by the student’s graduate degree committee, the student must schedule a time for the oral defense. The preliminary oral defense may be held anytime during the same semester except finals week.

Recommended Preliminary Examination Timeline

Fall (3rd) Semester

  • Submit Program of Study to the Graduate School.

Spring (4th) Semester

  • Meet with graduate degree committee.
  • Discuss and formalize reading lists for the two (2) essay questions and the dissertation prospectus.


  • Student prepares for the exam and writes the dissertation prospectus.

Fall (5th) Semester

  • Essay questions are developed by the graduate degree committee in consultation with the student.
  • Chair of the graduate degree committee forwards the finalized essay questions to the student.
  • Student submits essays and dissertation prospectus to the graduate degree committee within two (2) weeks of receiving the exam questions.
  • If revision is needed, the student has 1–3 weeks to revise and resubmit the exam to the graduate degree committee depending on the needs of the committee.
  • Once the preliminary exam is approved, the student schedules the Oral Defense of the Preliminary Exam.


Following the preliminary examination, the candidate will prepare a dissertation under the supervision of a committee approved by the director of American studies. The dissertation committee must have at least three (3) WSU tenure-track faculty who hold a graduate doctoral degree comparable to the degree sought by the student. Often this committee includes some or all members of the student’s previous degree committee.

The dissertation consists of a written manuscript (typically 200–300 pages) demonstrating in-depth command of original research on a topic chosen by the student in consultation with their committee.

The Graduate School requires completion of the dissertation within three years after passing the preliminary examination.

Dissertation Defense

The final examination is an oral examination, conducted by the student’s graduate degree committee. The candidate is expected to show the significance of her or his dissertation as a contribution to published research in their area(s) of expertise and to demonstrate mastery of interdisciplinary methods in the study of U.S., global, and/or transnational culture.


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Learn more

Visit the WSU Graduate School website for
prospective student information


Contact the American Studies graduate program director:

Mary Bloodsworth-Lugo
Phone: 509-335-8825