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Matthew Guterl
American Studies Program

Last modified: Thursday, March 29, 2007

New degree at IU takes a broad look at U.S. in the world

March 29, 2007

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- For much of the last half century, the field of American Studies at many universities has focused on the culture, issues and happenings within the 50 states. Students in a new bachelor's degree program at Indiana University will learn in a field that has gone beyond its original borders.

"American Studies originally was conceived as a national character assessment and its fundamental purpose, at least to start, was to investigate the positive and negative characteristics of the American experience," said Matthew Guterl, director of the IU American Studies Program.

But much recent American Studies scholarship reflects our increasing domestic diversity, new international immigration patterns and expanded networks of global communication -- all of which strengthen the links between the United States and the world.

"It's clearer now than it was ever before that this country's national experience is international and always has been," Guterl said. "Since we're a field engaged in auto-critique or national autobiography, we're also at the forefront of an effort not just to make sense of the United States in the world, but also to make that exploration the very center of what we do, and not just one aspect of our field among many."

Starting this fall, IU Bloomington will offer an honors-style bachelor's degree in American Studies. The new degree, created through support from IU's Commitment to Excellence program, will include faculty from throughout the campus, including those in the departments of history, religious studies, English, African American studies and communications and culture.

The degree is imagined as an intellectually challenging major, with smaller classes, closer working relationships between students and faculty and intensive course requirements. The new bachelor's degree also will require an additional year of language studies and a senior seminar.

IU Bloomington has been home to nationally respected masters and doctoral programs in American Studies since the 1970s. It currently has 30 combined doctoral students enrolled. The goal for the new bachelor's degree is to have 50 majors within five years.

On many university campuses, American Studies functions as a chief interdisciplinary program in the arts and humanities. With all of IU's many other area studies programs and interdisciplinary degrees, creating a new B.A. degree that enables students to study America within a global context seemed a natural progression for the campus, Guterl said, but it also meant that IU's degree had to be different.

"Here we have so many interdisciplinary units on campus -- especially those associated with language programs -- that we decided to take advantage of that strength and partner with those other like-minded departments and programs," he said. "And we're focusing the program not just on the United States, but on the Americas at large. Students will receive and create interdisciplinary knowledge of the history, culture and experience of the United States, all within a hemispheric context."

For instance, students will read Jack Kerouac's On the Road, featuring a portrait of disaffected bohemian drifters, alongside a viewing of Che Guevara's The Motorcycle Diaries (Diarios de motocicleta), focusing on the famous revolutionary's Pan-American sojourns.

"Our job, in the end, is to educate and enable informed citizens of the United States who are also citizens of the world," Guterl said. "We imagine ourselves helping students to find their inner drive to be whatever they want to be in the world. We think that the broadest possible knowledge brought from all possible disciplinary corners gives students that foundation."