Focusing on Undergraduate Education

American Studies at 50: Focusing on Undergraduate Education

One phrase you might see or hear as you read through the American Studies at Davis website or talk to folks in the department is that we are “focused on undergraduate education.” What does this mean? 

The department’s curriculum--from individual syllabi to the courses taught--are guided by undergraduate students’ needs and interests. The faculty in American Studies do not just teach in their field. Many of them research to teach important classes like “Objects and Everyday Life” and “Children in America” in a way that engages students’ intellects. Students in American Studies may also find strong connections to community members and organizations outside of UC Davis. As Dr. Sze said, “Our field, with many others, has long understood that intellectual work is often generated by community members, and in co-production with academic scholars (and the field is populated by many scholar-activists). American studies has a vibrant tradition of K–12 collaboration, and many of our undergraduate majors continue professionally in secondary education, the nonprofit sector, or in the public humanities.”

Because so much of the curriculum is guided by students’ needs and interests, American Studies has over the past 50 years had a number of “firsts” at UC Davis, including the following:  


  • the first women’s studies course
  • the first LGBTQ studies course
  • the first men’s studies course


  • the first comparative ethnic studies course
  • The first class on whiteness

Culture and Teaching 

  • the first American Popular Culture course
  • the first American Folklore and Folklife course 
  • the first American Corporate Cultures course
  • the first material culture course
  • the first regional studies course, Sacramento Valley Studies
  • the first interdisciplinary Food and American Culture course 

American Studies is a place on campus where all students are welcome and where faculty teach with multiple learning styles in mind. That’s what it means, for us, to be focused on undergraduate education.