Students progress through the following phases and take courses designated by their doctoral committee:


In this initial phase, the student must (1) make up any deficiencies in graduate courses in American Studies noted in the letter of acceptance; (2) complete with a grade of B or better the following courses — AM ST 500 (Theory and Method), AM ST 591 (Seminar), and TWO SECTIONS of AM ST 502 (Problems in American Studies); and (3) pass a candidacy examination based on these four courses. Admitted students who have met all course prerequisites begin the core courses with AM ST 500 (Theory and Method). Students who have already taken AM ST 500 within three years of admission may begin their program of study with AM ST 502 (Problems in American Studies).

A special committee appointed by the doctoral program director administers the candidacy examination. After passing the exam, a student advances to doctoral candidacy. A doctoral committee of four or more active Graduate Faculty members, including at least two faculty members in the major field and one outside member, provides general guidance to the candidate. The outside member’s primary responsibilities are (1) to maintain the Graduate School academic standards and (2) to assure that all procedures are carried out fairly. The outside member represents the Graduate School but need not have direct expertise in the candidate’s research area. The outside member may contribute technical expertise, but this role is subordinate to the primary responsibilities. The dissertation adviser must be a doctoral committee member and usually (but is not required to) serves as chair. If the candidate has a minor, that field must be represented on the committee. The graduate dean through the Office of Graduate Enrollment Services, upon recommendation of the head of the major program, appoints the committee soon after the student is admitted to candidacy. A person not affiliated with Penn State who has particular expertise in the candidate’s research area may be added as a special member, upon recommendation by the head of the program and approval of the graduate dean (via the Office of Graduate Enrollment Services). A special member is expected to participate fully in doctoral committee functions. If the special member is asked only to read and approve the doctoral dissertation, that person is designated a special signatory of the thesis. Special signatories may be drawn from within the Penn State faculty in particular situations.

The Comprehensive Examination

Students must be registered as a full-time or part-time degree student for the semester (excluding summer session) in which the comprehensive examination is taken. Administered by the doctoral committee, the examination consists of three parts: one in the area of Theory and Method and an additional two in subfields from a list of five areas covered in the program. The subfields are:

  1. Public Heritage, Cultural Resource Management, and Museum Studies;
  2. Culture (material and visual culture, literature and media, sports and physical culture), Arts, and Communication (language, performance, media, and music);
  3. Interdisciplinary History and Politics (history of ideas, philosophy, and politics; biography and oral history; everyday life and socioeconomic studies; government, public policy, and diplomacy)
  4. Society and Ethnography (race, ethnicity, class, gender, age; religion and belief; comparative culture and transnationalism);
  5. Regional, Environmental, Urban, and Local Studies.

Students may select additional subfields with doctoral committee approval.

Although the number of courses required in each subfield may vary, typically four are required. Doctoral committees meet with students at least once each academic year. Written and oral comprehensive examinations in the three areas are given at the end of the study period.

The Dissertation

Under doctoral committee guidance, the candidate prepares a detailed research proposal that serves as the basis for the written dissertation. The dissertation should represent a significant contribution to knowledge, show familiarity with the intellectual heritage of American Studies, be presented in a scholarly manner, reveal the candidate’s ability to do high quality, independent research, and indicate considerable experience in using various research techniques and forms of primary evidence. The dissertation contents and conclusions must be defended at the final oral examination. Once approved, the student can enroll in AM ST 600 Thesis for On-Campus Work or AM ST 610 Ph.D. Dissertation Research Off-Campus. The writing and defense of this original contribution to the theory and practice of American Studies is the program’s capstone. A student must be registered continuously for each fall and spring semester, beginning with the first semester after they have met the comprehensive examination and residency requirement until the dissertation committee accepts and approves the dissertation. To maintain continuous registration, candidates may register for noncredit AM ST 601 or 611, with payment of the special thesis preparation fee; students who want to combine course work with thesis preparation must register for AM ST 600 or 611 (not 601 which is full-time thesis preparation) plus course registration at the regular per-credit fee. For more information on academic procedures, visit the web.

The final examination is an oral examination (defense) administered and evaluated by the entire doctoral committee. This oral defense is open to the public and related in large part to the dissertation, but it may cover the candidate’s whole program of study. The committee may restrict part of the defense to its members and the candidate. The candidate must be registered as a full-time or part-time degree student for the semester in which the oral defense is held.

Grade-Point Average and Time Limit

A minimum grade-point average of 3.0 (on a 4.0 scale) for work done in the program is required for doctoral candidacy, for admission to the comprehensive examination, the final oral examination, and for graduation.

A doctoral student is required to complete the program, including acceptance of the doctoral thesis, within eight years from the date of successful completion of the candidacy examination. Extensions may be granted by the Director of Graduate Enrollment Services in appropriate circumstances.


Between admission to and completion of the Ph.D. program, the candidate must spend at least two consecutive semesters (summer sessions are not included) as a registered full-time student (9 credits per semester) at Penn State Harrisburg.

This page is not a part of the official Penn State University Bulletin.