Examining America

A First-Year Ampersand Program

Examining America

Examining America is a two-semester course sequence that introduces students to the multidisciplinary and critical study of American culture, history, politics, and society. In both semesters students gain a foundational understanding of course concepts, frameworks, and topics related to the formation of identities in the United States and across American imperialism, including issues of race and ethnicity, arts and performance, media and popular culture, and inequalities that shape the experiences, works, and lives of diverse populations.

Students who complete this Ampersand program will have special access to unique courses and experiences in the American Culture Studies Program in their sophomore year, including preference for enrollment in the new course "Current Affairs and Critical Issues in America" and opportunities to pursue creative, independent projects under the mentorship of program directors and staff.

How to Apply

The application process for first-year programs and seminars opens in mid-May. You will need your WUSTL Key to apply, so please be sure to sign up for your WUSTL Key at least 24 hours in advance to activate. There will be a link to the application webform on the First-Year Programs homepage during this time for you to sign up. A statement of interest (no more than 500 words) is required when you submit your application online.

First-Year Programs homepage

Our Courses


American Dreams: Art, Culture, Performance and Politics (L61 1100) 

Rooted in Jeffersonian ideals of "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness," the notion of the "American Dream" actually has a complicated history and its meanings are diverse and contested. This Ampersand course investigates how perceptions, representations, and meanings of the American Dream have changed throughout history-and how they live on in the contemporary United States. Rather than seeking definitive definitions or answers, we carefully and thoughtfully examine case studies of American culture and the arts-literature, theatre, film and painting-as the lens for understanding images of nation and identity. Utilizing an intimate seminar format to facilitate close reading and discussion of works in various media, this Ampersand course emphasizes both critical thinking and writing-and also requires students to execute a creative project of their own making as well. We also visit a variety of exciting performances and exhibits, both on and off-campus. Our primary goal is a compelling, interdisciplinary perspective on the American Dream, one that synthesizes the arts, performance and politics.




American Landscapes: Identity, Power, Place, and Meaning (L61 110A) 

Look around at the landscapes you inhabit. Are they created by chance and happenstance? Or were they made for particular reasons and in particular ways? This course examines landscapes in American history and society. We look at landscapes as both literal and figurative--not only physical environments, but also cultural and artistic landscapes, the social, political, and historical formations where identities are shaped and lived. This Ampersand course introduces students to a wide range of interdisciplinary methods and theories to interpret physical and cultural landscapes in America. Students develop critical thinking skills to look at such topics as nationhood, ecology and natural resources, cities and urban life, conflicts over territory and contested spaces, the spatial dimensions of subcultures, the relationship of technology to landscapes, and the meanings of home. With case studies of the landscapes of Ferguson, political struggles over landscapes of gender and sexual identities, the rise of highways and automobiles, histories of immigration and contested borders, and the powerful role of the United States in a global world, this course fosters an appreciation for the complexities and contradictions implicit within the meanings of "America."  

Special Opportunities
for Ampersand Students 

Students who complete Ampersand: Examining America have special access to unique courses and experiences in the American Culture Studies Program (AMCS) in their sophomore year. Ampersand students are invited to enroll in “Current Affairs and Critical Issues in America,” a course distinctive on campus for its analysis of current affairs as they unfold week by week. See here for a full course description.

Ampersand students also have special consideration if they apply to our program’s signature "On Location: Exploring America," an immersive, three-week course located in a different setting every other summer. Past immersions have included Broadway, New Orleans, Charleston, and Portland, Oregon. Participants deepen their critical exploration of fundamental questions of identity, place, culture, history, and diversity through the site-based study of particular locales. For descriptions of previous courses visit our website here


Interested in pursuing creative, independent projects under the guidance of American Culture Studies program directors and staff? Seeking campus or community outreach options?

Special mentorship opportunities are available to students who complete Examining America Ampersand courses.  We welcome Ampersand students proposing projects that align academic and extra-curricular, intellectual, and professional aspirations. And our AMCS directors and staff facilitate the connections and support necessary for their success.