WMU News

Revamped WMU American studies program enters new frontier

Aug. 31, 1999

KALAMAZOO -- With coursework as diverse as the landscape of the country it will study, a restructured program in American studies enters a new frontier this fall at Western Michigan University.

WMU's newly configured American Studies Program will offer an undergraduate major and a minor and is the latest in interdisciplinary initiatives undertaken by the University.

Bringing together faculty from a variety of departments within the university's College of Arts and Sciences, the program will explore United States history and culture from three perspectives ­ regional, national and global. The program will combine American studies courses with those from other departments. Those courses will cover topics including the exploration and settlement, religion, government, literature, popular culture, archaeology, environmental history, and language of America. Among the departments with participating faculty will be anthropology, black Americana studies, English, history, political science, comparative religion, communication, sociology and women's studies.

"'Americanists' don't come from just one discipline, " explains Dr. Katherine Joslin, director of the program. "Many, many fields involve American issues. This program has grown out of the mutual interests, goodwill and energies of seemingly disparate people. It's an interweaving of those faculty members and their areas of expertise."

Originally a program administered through the WMU's Department of History, American studies has changed because of faculty desire to have a comprehensive, interdisciplinary program. Another reason for reconfiguring the program, according to Joslin, was increasing interest by undergraduate students in interdisciplinary study.

The program will offer two sections of its introductory course, AMS 200 "Introduction to American Studies," this fall. At the same time, the program is introducing a lecture series, "Emerging Scholars in American Studies," which will feature the work of WMU faculty members who specialize in various aspects of American culture. Sponsored by the Office of the Provost, the American Studies Program and the College of Arts and Sciences, the lecture series will take place every other Friday during the semester from 3-5 in the Meader Rare Book Room in Waldo Library.

"The lecture series will allow us to introduce the new program and feature the talents of many of WMU's faculty members. This way students, faculty and staff can get to know each other's work and see the variety and depth of the current research being done in American studies," Joslin says.

The revamped program had a trial run of sorts this past summer when Joslin, Brian C. Wilson, assistant professor of comparative religion, and John Saillant, assistant professor of English, conducted an institute on American studies at WMU for foreign educators from 18 different countries. The structure and content of the institute, funded by a $170,000 grant from the United States Information Agency, laid the foundation for much of the coursework of the new program.

"What appealed to the USIA about our proposal was its interdisciplinary nature, which is the critical central element in the American Studies Program," says Joslin. "The success of that institute showed us the strength of the approach we are taking."

The new American Studies Program is the latest in initiatives undertaken by WMU to increase the interdisciplinary nature of its academic activities. Earlier initiatives include the establishment of the Environmental Institute, which will combine the research efforts of a number of science programs, and the completion of Haenicke Hall, which houses faculty researchers in labs grouped by the content of the research, rather than divided along departmental lines.

For more information about the American Studies Program, contact Joslin at (616) 387-2086 or visit the program Web site at <http: wmich.edu/american-studies/programs.html>.

Media contact: Marie Lee, 616 387-8400, marie.lee@wmich.edu

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