Graduate Curriculum and Requirements
The program is designed with three goals in mind: to orient students within American Studies as a field, to deepen their strengths in a related disciplinary practice, and to provide space for them to conceive an interdisciplinary research agenda.
The requirements are as follows:
• CSER 5000: Introduction to American Studies
• CSER 5001: Methods in American Studies
• 3 courses in a discipline traditionally associated with American Studies
• 3 courses centered on an interdisciplinary theme or idea
• CSER 4999: Supervised Individual Research (thesis)
CSER 5000 and CSER 5001 can vary in content and orientation depending on the professor. Some recent versions are visible here and here.
CSER 5000 and CSER 5001
The “Introduction to American Studies” focuses on the interpretation of primary sources, and how to write about the different genres of American culture and history. “Methods in American Studies” focuses on the history of American and Ethnic Studies as areas of academic inquiry. Here students address issues in their own practice as researchers in relation to the major debates in the field.
With these two courses as a foundation, students design their own curriculum from courses across the university with consultation from the program director.
3 Courses in a Discipline Traditionally Associated with American Studies
The three courses in a “disciplinary concentration” are chosen from one discipline related to American studies, usually corresponding to a department at Columbia. American Studies originated at the intersection of Literature and History, but is now is practiced in a wide variety of institutional contexts. Many of our students go on to Ph.D. programs in these fields, and it is crucial that they become competent in a form of disciplinary practice during their time here.
3 Courses Centered On An Interdisciplinary Theme or Idea
The three courses in an “interdisciplinary theme” allow students to pursue an idea that will form the basis of their thesis research across the disciplines. This idea should be broad enough that it will appear on course listings in multiple departments. Interdisciplinary themes should also be chosen as an opportunity to build a foundation for the thesis project. In the past these have included: “Public Housing in America,” “Drug Use and Drug Policy,” and “The U.S. and Globalization.”
Students must consult with the program director before registering for classes each term, and formulate their trajectory according to the course offerings. A minimum of 30 points and 2 full residence units is required to graduate. Occasionally students reach the required 30 points and 2 full residence units before having taken 3 classes in each of their elective distribution categories; in these instances, the requirement of 30 points and 2 full residence units supersedes the distribution requirements and the student should graduate. Students must take at least one course at the 6000 level or above and may not take courses below the 4000 level. All of these courses must be taken for letter grades (grade option “L” in SSOL).
Follow your progress with the Degree Checklist for Masters in American Studies.
Foreign language courses may not be counted toward the American Studies M.A. degree. However, given that important work in American Studies relies on research in foreign languages, students are welcome and encouraged to enroll in Columbia language courses.
At the 6000 level and above, courses may require instructor permission. Students should provide the instructor with a cogent story of their background and/or how they figure the course fits into their intellectual trajectory.
Time-to-Degree and the Residence Unit System
The MA program has traditionally accommodated students who are working full-time and getting their degrees part-time, as well as students who are working on their degrees full-time. It is possible to do the degree in a full-time academic year, but it is a very busy year, and does not leave a lot of extra time to work on research outside of the classroom. Most students, even those who are dedicating themselves substantially to their studies, take at least three terms, with the idea of devoting special attention to their thesis work in the last term. The extra time also allows people to take advantage of extracurricular and community activities around Columbia which can be so important to life as a graduate student. However you choose to approach this is your decision, but do seek the advice of your teachers and advisors about getting the most out of your time here.
The first place to begin strategizing your time as a student is the residence unit system, which is the how registration at Columbia works. This is explained at much greater length on the GSAS website here. You can also find the current fees attached to each enrollment category in that link. The relevant registration categories are as follows:
Residence Unit (less than or equal to 20 points)
Half Residence Unit (three or fewer courses)
Quarter Residence Unit (two or fewer courses)
Extended Residence Unit
Each of these has a corresponding call number which you can find in the course listings. Students register for the residence units like they would a class– the call numbers are found each semester in the course listings under the department “Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.”
You may choose to approach the program at any reasonable pace, within the parameters set by this system, and in no more than three academic years. To graduate, students must complete two full residence units and 30 points of course credit. Also, students must register for a full or partial residence unit in any semester during which they are also taking courses they intend to count towards graduation. So, for example, if you intend to do the degree program over three semesters, note that taking a full residence unit in the fall and spring of the first two semesters means you will have to enroll in an extended residence unit for the third.
International students are required by U.S. law to maintain full-time status, and so must enroll in full residence units for the whole of their time at Columbia, except in the final term during thesis research.
Some students choose to augment their studies with internships either on campus or at institutions around the city. Since students are required (by law) to receive college credit for unpaid internships, the MA program offers a course through which students can receive credit towards their degrees for relevant internships. The course number is CSER 4997 “Internship.” It is available through consultation with the director. A sample syllabus can be viewed here. Students have done internships with documentary film companies, artists, and the Wallach Art Gallery here at Columbia. If you are interested in this, please see the director.
Students must maintain an average of B (3.00 GPA) or higher to remain in good standing. Those who do not make satisfactory progress may be placed on probation or dismissed from the program.