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Department of American Studies College of Arts and Sciences


  • Students will take an exam in two parts: an examination conducted over the course of one day and an additional oral examination.
  • Students will prepare two lists for the exam. The first is a mandatory list of texts that reflects critical moments in the theories and practices of American Studies. The second list, consisting of approximately 50 works, will be put together by each student in consultation with his/her advisor. The list should reflect the interests of the student's interests and the work of American Studies scholarship. The goal of this list is to encourage students to think of the ways that the field of American Studies complements and allows them to develop their interests, and how their work, in turn, contributes to the field.
  • The oral exam will take place two weeks after completion of the written exam, and will last two hours.
  • The exam committee is composed of the student's Advisory Committee plus a representative of the student's minor concentration.
  • The exam will be offered twice a year, at the end of the fall and spring semesters (it may be repeated once, if necessary).

Before the Exam

  • Students preparing for the exam should plan on consulting the director of graduate studies about the exam and their topic-specific reading list in the semester prior to the proposed exam date.
  • All students must submit a draft of their list together with an explanatory cover letter at least THREE MONTHS in advance of the exam, in order to allow sufficient time for discussion and any needed revisions. Final versions of these documents must be submitted no later than SIX WEEKS in advance of the exam.

Exam Format

The students will take a seven-hour, written exam in which they will select and answer one question from each of the following two categories:

  • The Projects of American Studies
    Questions in this section of the exam 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
    Questions in this section of the exam will address how the student's discipline-based research both benefits from and contributes to the work of American Studies. Students should expect to formulate their research interests both topically (by reference to a particular object of study) and conceptually (by reference to the stakes in constructing/investigating such an object). Questions will ask how students are influenced in framing their object of study by the interdisciplinary and increasingly transnational context of American Studies.

Students are not allowed to consult books, notes, or any other materials during the exam.



Students will work with their advisor to form a dissertation committee of at least four faculty members total, including a representative from their doctoral minor. Upon the constitution of the dissertation committee, the student's advisor will become chair. If possible and relevant, the student will choose an additional representative from outside of IU. A member of the core faculty will chair, or co-chair, each dissertation committee. Untenured faculty members in AMST are allowed to chair dissertation committees.


The dissertation proposal shall be defended orally, as shall the dissertation itself. The proposal should be defended in the semester following the successful completion of the qualifying exam. All dissertation defenses are open to the public.

The student must have received acceptance of his or her dissertation and must submit a copy to the University Graduate School within seven years after passing the qualifying examination.