American Studies
American Studies

Doctor of Philosophy Degree


The course requirements for the PhD are as follows:

For students entering with an MA from UT American Studies:

  • 18 hours: AMS 392 reading courses for two semesters in preparation for the oral examination
  • additional hours as required by the graduate adviser

For students entering with an MA or its equivalent from a different graduate program
At least 18 hours required:

  • 6 hours: AMS 385 (Cultural History of the Unites States to 1865) and AMS 386 (Cultural History of the United States since 1865)
  • 3 hours: AMS 393 (Bibliography and Methods)
  • 3 hours: AMS 390 research seminar (topics vary)
  • 6 hours: elective courses (non-conference courses); may be AMS or outside department
    Note: Additional hours as required by the graduate adviser

Both students with an MA from UT and from a different graduate program will need to take one additional course apart from the above requirements. AMS 398T, “Supervised Teaching in American Studies,” is a three credit course required of all students who wish to teach their own course as an Assistant Instructor (AI). This course is typically taken when students are studying for orals (see below).


A student must demonstrate proficiency in one foreign language before advancing to candidacy; ideally, this should take place before the oral examination. One way to fulfill this requirement is by passing a translation test that will be evaluated by a reader proficient in the chosen language. The graduate coordinator has a list of contacts in various language departments.

The other options for the foreign language requirement include:
(Note that 301 courses mentioned below are for reading comprehension only.)

1. SPN 301 with a grade of at least a B. This course is offered on a letter grade basis only.
2. A score of at least 56 on the Spanish CLEP placement test
3. Four semesters of the conversational sequence with at least a B
average, or satisfactory completion of a translation test

1. FR 301. Since this course is offered on a credit/no credit basis only, you will need documentation from the instructor showing that you earned at least a B. Alternately, you can register for FR 310L (4th semester reading comprehension) with a grade of at least a B.
2. A score of 600 on the Princeton French Language placement test
3. Four semesters of the conversational sequence with at least a B

1. GER 301. Since this course is offered on a credit/no credit basis only, you will need documentation from the instructor showing that you earned at least a B.
2. Take 4 semesters of the conversation sequence with at least a B average.

Other Languages
Discuss with the graduate adviser.

If you have taken four semesters of a foreign language as an undergraduate, or if you are a native speaker of a foreign language, discuss this with the graduate advisor.


After completing coursework and the foreign language requirement, a student focuses on studying for the oral examination. Students should begin reading informally for orals before they have completed their coursework. Please note: Coursework is only “complete” when the graduate adviser and prospective orals committee members believe that a student is fully prepared for independent reading in relevant fields.

Students who enter the program with an MA should expect to take the oral exam no later than their fourth long semester. Students who earn the MA in this program should expect to take the oral exam by the end of their spring semester in their third year in the program. The purpose of the oral examination is to determine the depth and breadth of a student’s knowledge in three areas of study. The exam takes about two hours.

With the advice of relevant members of the Graduate Studies Committee and the written approval of the Graduate Program Committee, a student selects three fields and the appropriate three examiners. Many professors have standard oral reading lists for their fields, which should be thoroughly covered in preparation for the exam. Other professors create individual reading lists for specific students. Seventy-five books and articles is the standard limit for most fields. Note that lists are not allowed to be used during the oral exam.


1. American Studies, with a member of the American Studies core faculty serving as the orals committee chair. This field is mandatory.

2. One disciplinary or interdisciplinary fields of American content. These fields, which are both historical and disciplinary in scope, may include such diverse areas as:

Anthropology :: Education :: Material Culture :: Architecture :: Environ. Studies :: Music :: Art History :: Geography :: Philosophy :: Business :: History :: Popular Culture :: Communications :: Law :: Sociology :: Ethnic/Racial Studies :: Literature :: Women’s Studies

3. The third field will be a “Dissertation Reading” field, which would be a review of the literature relevant to the anticipated dissertation topic.


The professors administering the oral exam are usually members of the graduate faculty of UT, although on occasion adjunct UT faculty may be members, and in special circumstances an examiner may be brought in from outside UT. Two of the three members of this committee must be from the American Studies core faculty. All orals committees must be approved by the Graduate Program Committee.

Conference Course

The graduate conference course, AMS 392, is primarily designed for a student who is preparing for orals. Defined as a “reading course,” it gives a PhD student three hours of credit (on a credit/ no credit basis) for studying for the oral exam. Specific requirements must be arranged for each course with the supervising faculty member.

How to set up the oral exam

When a student and the three committee members think preparation is complete, the student can initiate the scheduling process of the exam. Once the student has confrimed the date and time of the exam with the committe members, the student should inform the graduate coordinator who will help them find a room for the exam. Once all the details of the exam are finalize, the graduate coordiantor will send out a confirmation email to the student and exam committee.  

Passing the oral exam

In order to complete the oral exam, a student must pass in American Studies and at least one of the two other fields. If the result is unsatisfactory, a student may petition the examining committee for the opportunity to retake the exam.


The dissertation prospectus meeting

After passing the oral exam, and before applying for doctoral candidacy, a student must write a dissertation prospectus and meet with their dissertation committee members. The prospectus meeting is not an exam, a defense, or another orals but rather, an opportunity to discuss the proposed research plan. A student spends a couple of months doing preliminary research, compiling a listing of manuscript archives and a bibliography of primary and secondary sources, and thinking about the questions the research is intended to address, and what sort of book it might yield. Then the student writes a proposal outlining the topic, suggesting major research questions, describing a possible list of topics or table of contents, and discussing the strategies, methods, and sources to be employed. There is no particular length requirement, however the prospectus typically runs 20 pages. This is then circulated among the proposed dissertation committee members.

The meeting itself is usually a relatively informal setting, in which the student briefly describes the project, and then all present engage in a discussion of the topic. The meeting, which lasts approximately 1-2 hours, should be a brainstorming session that yields much for the student in the way of archival and bibliographical suggestions, possible problems that might arise, and interpretations from many different perspectives. It is required that the student schedule the meeting within the long semester following the completion of the oral exam.

An American Studies dissertation must, at a minimum, involve interdisciplinary research and constitute an original contribution to knowledge. Any student contemplating an academic career should conceive of the dissertation as a publishable book manuscript.

The dissertation committee

A dissertation committee must have at least four members, at least three of whom, including the supervisor, must be from the American Studies core faculty or the AMS GSC. One member must be from outside both the core faculty and the GSC. With the permission from the student's supervisor, a student may elect to have a fifth member appointed to the committee. A dissertation committee is not necessarily composed of the same professors who served on the qualifying orals committee. In conjunction with the supervisor and the graduate adviser, a student should choose individuals who will bring varying sets of perspectives and specialties to the project. Committees must be approved by the Graduate Program Committee.

The purpose of the supervising committee is to assist the student and supervise the research and construction of the dissertation, as well as judge the final outcome, but the substantial work is the student’s.

Here’s the list of requirements for a dissertation committee:

  • 3 AMS core faculty or GSC
  • 1 non AMS core faculty or GSC
  • Optional 5th member with permission of supervisor

How to apply for PhD candidacy

Once the prospectus meeting has taken place, a student can apply for candidacy on-line through UT Direct. Read over the directions at and assemble documentation before logging on to to submit the application. Student must be currently registered in order to submit the application.

Each student is responsible for compiling a dissertation committee that meets the approval of the department’s Graduate Program Committee. Students are also required to submit a brief (under 60 lines) description of the dissertation project in the on-line form. Your supervisor must approve the description.

A “Program of Work” (list of courses taken toward the PhD) must be submitted to the Chair of the Graduate Studies Committee, who must approve the Certification of Academic Credentials. The Program of Work must meet all of the requirements established by the Graduate Studies Committee and the Graduate School, must include coursework that is sufficient in academic breadth/ depth, and all work must have been completed within the past six years.

Dissertation Courses

After the candidacy application is approved by the Graduate School, the student is officially “admitted to PhD candidacy” and may then register for the dissertation course. The student should register for an X99W course each long semester. Note that students in candidacy must be continuously enrolled each long semester until graduation. If a student is planning to graduate during the summer, he/she must register for a dissertation course for the summer semester.

The Graduate School requires students to register for nine hours if appointed as a TA, AI, or Graduate Research Assistant. Others, such as international students, students with a University Fellowship, or those with financial aid will have a required number of hours for registration as well. Students with no such requirements or concerns may register only for 399W.

NOTE: A student who does not complete the doctoral degree within three years of admission to candidacy will be reviewed by the AMS Graduate Program Committee and the chair of the dissertation committee. The Graduate School sets a provisional three-year time limit on dissertations, but as long as a student continues to make progress in the opinion of the dissertation director and committee, the Department will typically recommend to the Graduate School that the student be permitted to continue to work toward the degree. If a student has not completed his/her dissertation within seven years of enrollment in the graduate program, he/she will be subject to a review by the GSC and possible termination from the doctoral program. Remember, also, that graduate students may be employed in student titles for up to 14 long semesters only.

Scheduling the dissertation defense 

The dissertation should be scheduled no later than two weeks prior to the end of the semester. The student must provide the dissertation to their full committee at least one month prior to their defense date.


  1. Pass the qualifying orals.

  2. Write the dissertation prospectus and convene prospectus meeting (within one semester of passing orals).

  3. Apply for doctoral candidacy.

  4. Research and write the dissertation.

  5. Submit the dissertation to the supervising committee for final reading at least 4 weeks before defense. 

  6. Submit the Doctoral Graduation Application form by the deadline. 
  7. Submit the Request for Final Oral Examination Form at least two weeks prior to the defense. 

  8. Upload .pdf of final approved version to UMI by the deadline.

  9. Submit Report of Dissertation Committee form.  

  10. Submit the required documents to the Office of Graduate Studies by the deadline.