A small letter in the Review section of the Sunday Times this week discussed a matter pertinent to Americanists. A parent wrote in asking whether a History degree or an American Studies degree would be the most useful for their child to pursue at university.
The reply explained that, in general, the more traditional the subject, the better the degree. It also rubbished many degrees with the name ‘Studies’, and challenged the assumption in academia that interdisciplinary degrees were a good thing. So, the parent was advised in no uncertain terms, to avoid American Studies and stick with History.
The picture from inside universities is an uncertain one. Rumours have abounded in the last few years about the decline of American Studies departments and the fear of redundancies, but for the most part, these fears have been unfounded. And in fact, some of the most vigorous hiring in the field has taken place at American Studies rather than History departments: such as at the University of East Anglia.
As an Americanist I feel rather aggrieved at the belittling of the American Studies branch of our field (which offers such exciting and valuable ways of studying the topic), but I do also acknowledge that parents will increasingly want to know what skills, knowledge and experience their child’s degree will provide. It will be up to Americanists in American Studies departments to sell themselves and their degrees, just as we will all have to.