American Studies

University of California, Berkeley

About the Program

Bachelor of Arts (BA)

American Studies is an individualized interdisciplinary major that offers undergraduates a unique opportunity to take advantage of the depth and breadth of Americanist scholarship and research on the campus in order to explore and understand the United States and its place in the globalizing world. American studies courses integrate a variety of subjects, methods, and materials from many academic disciplines, including the traditional blend of history and literature, as well as the social sciences, material culture, built environment, law, technology, urbanism, ecology, economy, and arts.

Declaring the Major

In order to declare the major, students with less than 60 units must complete AMERSTD 10 and one other lower division requirement. Students beyond 60 units must be enrolled in AMERSTD 10 and speak with a faculty adviser before being allowed to declare. For details on how to declare, please see the student academic adviser at 265 Evans Hall, email:

Honors Program

Students who wish to be eligible to graduate with honors must enroll in the honors thesis seminar, AMERSTD H195. For admission to the course, students must have senior standing, an overall GPA of 3.51, and a GPA of 3.65 in the major. For further information, please contact the student academic adviser in 265 Evans Hall, email:

Declaring the Minor

Visit the American Studies Minor webpage for information about declaring the minor.

Visit Program Website

Major Requirements

In addition to the University, campus, and college requirements, listed on the College Requirements tab, students must fulfill the below requirements specific to their major program.

General Guidelines

  1. All courses taken to fulfill the major requirements below must be taken for graded credit, other than courses listed which are offered on a Pass/No Pass basis only. Other exceptions to this requirement are noted as applicable.
  2. No more than one upper division course may be used to simultaneously fulfill requirements for a student's major and minor programs, with the exception of minors offered outside of the College of Letters & Science.
  3. A minimum grade point average (GPA) of 2.0 must be maintained in both upper and lower division courses used to fulfill the major requirements.

For information regarding residence requirements and unit requirements, please see the College Requirements tab.

Summary of Degree Requirements

Lower Division Prerequisites: Four courses total
Upper Division Requirements: 30-36 units
Historical Requirement
Senior Thesis Requirement: Four units

Please see below for the specific details regarding these requirements.

Lower Division Prerequisites

The lower division prerequisites are meant to introduce the student to a variety of scholarly approaches to the study of American culture and society. In order to determine whether particular courses fulfills the prerequisites, please contact the American Studies student academic adviser in 237 Evans Hall or an American Studies faculty adviser.

AMERSTD 10Introduction to American Studies4
or AMERSTD 10AC Introduction to American Studies
Select three lower division courses that focus on the United States 1, 2

No more than three of these courses may be from the same department.


 Appropriate courses taken at other universities or community colleges may be substituted with faculty adviser approval.

Upper Division Requirements

30-36 units, distributed among the following:
Core Methods Courses: 6-8 units
Students are required to take one course each from the two methods series, "Examining US Cultures in Time" and "Examining US Cultures in Place." See the program's website for available courses every semester. It is expected that these courses will be completed during the junior year. Due to the unique interdisciplinary nature of the courses, these requirements should be satisfied at UC Berkeley.
Area of Concentration: minimum of six courses, 18-20 units 1
Upper division coursework drawn from the College of Letters & Science and the professional schools and colleges, in the student's individually articulated area of concentration. Areas of concentration may be highly individualized, depending on the student's intellectual focus, prior preparation, and the availability of courses. Students planning to declare the major should complete a four year plan, major application form and meet with a faculty adviser in their sophomore year or early in their junior year to plan their upper division program. Subsequently, this program can be revised with the approval of the faculty adviser.

The area of concentration must include courses from at least two different departments, but no more than three courses from any one discipline. The area may include courses from up to six different departments.

Historical Requirement

One of the courses taken to complete the American Studies major (either upper or lower division) must focus on US history, culture, and/or politics before 1900. Students should check with an American Studies student academic adviser to ensure that the course they take meets this requirement.

Senior Thesis Requirement

Because American Studies at UC Berkeley is an interdisciplinary program based on the major's own offerings and supplemented by individualized programs of study drawing on the resources of the whole campus, students in this major complete their work in the major with an interdisciplinary senior thesis. The thesis is intended to give students the opportunity to develop an extended analysis of a significant problem related to their area of concentration and to craft the essay into a finished piece of scholarly work. It is designed to give students a sense of competence and confidence in researching, framing, and completing an explicitly interdisciplinary project.

Select one of the following thesis course options:
Senior Thesis Seminar [4]
Senior Thesis [4]
Senior Honors Thesis Seminar [4]
A thesis course offered by another department 1

A thesis course from another department must be approved in advance by an American Studies faculty adviser. 

Minor Requirements

General Guidelines

  1. All minors must be declared before the first day of classes in your Expected Graduation Term (EGT). For summer graduates, minors must be declared prior to the first day of Summer Session A. 

  2. All upper-division courses must be taken for a letter grade. 

  3. A minimum of three of the upper-division courses taken to fulfill the minor requirements must be completed at UC Berkeley.

  4. A minimum grade point average (GPA) of 2.0 is required in the upper-division courses to fulfill the minor requirements.

  5. Courses used to fulfill the minor requirements may be applied toward the Seven-Course Breadth requirement, for Letters & Science students.

  6. No more than one upper division course may be used to simultaneously fulfill requirements for a student's major and minor programs.

  7. All minor requirements must be completed prior to the last day of finals during the semester in which the student plans to graduate. If students cannot finish all courses required for the minor by that time, they should see a College of Letters & Science adviser.

  8. All minor requirements must be completed within the unit ceiling. (For further information regarding the unit ceiling, please see the College Requirements tab.)


The American Studies minor allows students to take advantage of the one of largest and most diverse course curricula available anywhere in the world as well as learn about the American context that impacts and defines the issues they are learning about in their departmental majors. Open to all UC Berkeley students, the minor will introduce students to interdisciplinary modes of inquiry, foster knowledge about the culture of the U.S., and train students to write and communicate clearly about it.

To receive a minor in American Studies, students must complete 24-units as follows:

  • One lower-division Introduction to American Studies course: Introduction to American Studies (AMERSTD 10, 4 s.h.) or AMERSTD 10AC Introduction to American Studies (4 s.h.) (4 units)
  • Two upper-division courses that focus on “Time,” and two upper-division “Place” courses in American Studies (16 total units)
  • One capstone research/writing project to be completed in one of the existing seminar courses taught by American Studies affiliated faculty (4 units)

All students in the minor will have hands-on guidance and advice from American Studies faculty. For more information about the minor, please see our website and contact the American Studies Student Academic Advisor, Laura Spautz at

College Requirements

Undergraduate students must fulfill the following requirements in addition to those required by their major program.

For a detailed lists of L&S requirements, please see Overview tab to the right in this guide or visit the L&S Degree Requirements webpage. For College advising appointments, please visit the L&S Advising Pages. 

University of California Requirements

Entry Level Writing

All students who will enter the University of California as freshmen must demonstrate their command of the English language by fulfilling the Entry Level Writing requirement. Fulfillment of this requirement is also a prerequisite to enrollment in all reading and composition courses at UC Berkeley and must be taken for a letter grade. 

American History and American Institutions

The American History and American Institutions requirements are based on the principle that all U.S. residents who have graduated from an American university should have an understanding of the history and governmental institutions of the United States.

Berkeley Campus Requirement

American Cultures

All undergraduate students at Cal need to take and pass this campus requirement course in order to graduate. The requirement offers an exciting intellectual environment centered on the study of race, ethnicity and culture of the United States. AC courses are plentiful and offer students opportunities to be part of research-led, highly accomplished teaching environments, grappling with the complexity of American Culture.

College of Letters & Science Essential Skills Requirements

Quantitative Reasoning

The Quantitative Reasoning requirement is designed to ensure that students graduate with basic understanding and competency in math, statistics, or computer/data science. The requirement may be satisfied by exam or by taking an approved course taken for a letter grade.

Foreign Language

The Foreign Language requirement may be satisfied by demonstrating proficiency in reading comprehension, writing, and conversation in a foreign language equivalent to the second semester college level, either by passing an exam or by completing approved course work taken for a letter grade.

Reading and Composition

In order to provide a solid foundation in reading, writing, and critical thinking the College of Letters and Science requires two semesters of lower division work in composition in sequence. Students must complete parts A & B reading and composition courses in sequential order by the end of their fourth semester for a letter grade.

College of Letters & Science 7 Course Breadth Requirements

Breadth Requirements

The undergraduate breadth requirements provide Berkeley students with a rich and varied educational experience outside of their major program. As the foundation of a liberal arts education, breadth courses give students a view into the intellectual life of the University while introducing them to a multitude of perspectives and approaches to research and scholarship. Engaging students in new disciplines and with peers from other majors, the breadth experience strengthens interdisciplinary connections and context that prepares Berkeley graduates to understand and solve the complex issues of their day.

Unit Requirements

  • 120 total units

  • Of the 120 units, 36 must be upper division units

  • Of the 36 upper division units, 6 must be taken in courses offered outside your major department
Residence Requirements

For units to be considered in "residence," you must be registered in courses on the Berkeley campus as a student in the College of Letters & Science. Most students automatically fulfill the residence requirement by attending classes at Cal for four years, or two years for transfer students. In general, there is no need to be concerned about this requirement, unless you graduate early, go abroad for a semester or year, or want to take courses at another institution or through UC Extension during your senior year. In these cases, you should make an appointment to meet an L&S College adviser to determine how you can meet the Senior Residence Requirement.

Note: Courses taken through UC Extension do not count toward residence.

Senior Residence Requirement

After you become a senior (with 90 semester units earned toward your B.A. degree), you must complete at least 24 of the remaining 30 units in residence in at least two semesters. To count as residence, a semester must consist of at least 6 passed units. Intercampus Visitor, EAP, and UC Berkeley-Washington Program (UCDC) units are excluded.

You may use a Berkeley Summer Session to satisfy one semester of the Senior Residence requirement, provided that you successfully complete 6 units of course work in the Summer Session and that you have been enrolled previously in the college.

Modified Senior Residence Requirement

Participants in the UC Education Abroad Program (EAP), Berkeley Summer Abroad, or the UC Berkeley Washington Program (UCDC) may meet a Modified Senior Residence requirement by completing 24 (excluding EAP) of their final 60 semester units in residence. At least 12 of these 24 units must be completed after you have completed 90 units.

Upper Division Residence Requirement

You must complete in residence a minimum of 18 units of upper division courses (excluding UCEAP units), 12 of which must satisfy the requirements for your major.

Student Learning Goals


The goal of the American Studies interdisciplinary major is to enable students to learn a set of research, critical thinking, and written and oral communication skills that will enable them to become self-conscious and thoughtful investigators of American society. To meet this basic goal, our courses are designed to give students a basic understanding of American history, culture, political economy, social structures, and environment (both natural and constructed), as well as to enable them to use a range of concepts and methods to define and analyze significant problems, issues, and questions relating to American life. Through a close reading of diverse texts and physical and cultural materials, American Studies students learn how to critically analyze how individuals, groups, and a wide variety of political, economic, and cultural institutions have interacted to shape and give meaning to the American experience.

Learning Goals for the Major

  1. Research Skills:
    • Students learn how to locate and evaluate primary source materials and secondary texts. These include published contemporary and historical documents, artifacts of material culture, landscape and architectural structures, visual and auditory media, oral history, and folklore.
  2. Critical Thinking Skills:
    • Students learn how to analyze and evaluate cultural texts including literature, performance, film, art, etc., and demonstrate a basic understanding of cultural theory and aesthetics (i.e., to understand and think critically about American society from a humanities perspective).
    • Students learn to critically analyze and evaluate social science arguments, demonstrating an understanding of the premises of qualitative and quantitative evidence (i.e., understand and think critically about American society from a social science perspective).
    • Students learn to analyze and understand the American past so as to gain perspective on and critical understanding of current issues and problems in American life (i.e., to understand and think critically about American society from an historical perspective, which by definition integrates humanities and social science approaches).
    • Students learn to critically analyze and interpret the meaning of American material culture and its built and natural environments (i.e., understand and think critically about American society from the perspectives of the knowledges embodied in the disciplines of geography, architecture, landscape architecture, environmental studies, and art).
  3. Written and Oral Communication Skills
    • Students learn how to communicate effectively in written form, demonstrating the ability to formulate a well organized argument supported by evidence.
    • Students learn how to communicate effectively orally, while demonstrating the ability to listen and respond to what others are saying.
  4. Specialized Knowledge
    • Time: Students gain in-depth, substantive knowledge about American life and culture in a particular year.
    • Place: Students gain in-depth, substantive knowledge about American life and culture in a particular city, region, or other place.
    • Students gain in-depth substantive knowledge about particular themes, issues, problems, and questions in American life and experience.
  5. Integrative Knowledge and Skills
    • Students demonstrate their mastery of all of the above skills by writing a Senior Thesis that is a focused interdisciplinary research project in their specialized area of concentration. 

Major Map

Major Maps help undergraduate students discover academic, co-curricular, and discovery opportunities at UC Berkeley based on intended major or field of interest. Developed by the Division of Undergraduate Education in collaboration with academic departments, these experience maps will help you:

  • Explore your major and gain a better understanding of your field of study

  • Connect with people and programs that inspire and sustain your creativity, drive, curiosity and success

  • Discover opportunities for independent inquiry, enterprise, and creative expression

  • Engage locally and globally to broaden your perspectives and change the world

  • Reflect on your academic career and prepare for life after Berkeley

Use the major map below as a guide to planning your undergraduate journey and designing your own unique Berkeley experience.

View the American Studies Major Map PDF.



American Studies

Contact Information

American Studies Program

265 Evans Hall

Visit Program Website

Program Director

Andy Shanken, PhD

Associate Program Director and Faculty Advisor

Christine Palmer, PhD

Senate Lecturer and Faculty Advisor

Michael Cohen, PhD (Department of African American Studies)

Student Academic Advisor

Laura Spautz, MPH

265 Evans Hall

Lecturer and Faculty Advisor

Sarah Gold McBride, PhD

Lecturer and Faculty Advisor

Alex Craghead, PhD

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