Doctor of Philosophy in American Studies

The Doctor of Philosophy program in American studies requires a minimum of 72 s.h. of graduate credit. Students may focus in American studies or choose the sport studies subprogram.

The Ph.D. program in American Studies at the University of Iowa is among the oldest in the United States, and supports its students for all five years of study. The program also offers a subprogram in Sport Studies the cultural study of sport and media in historical, domestic and global contexts. Students in the Ph.D. program are admitted with an M.A. in American Studies or a related field: recent examples include prior M.A.'s in Performance Studies, Ethnic Studies, English, Public History, Sociology. Since the 1970s, the Department has a been allied with the Department of Gender, Women and Sexuality Studies; the program in African-American Studies; the Native American and Indigenous Studies program (NAIS); since 2010 the American Studies Ph.D. program has been integrated with the Ph.D. subprogram in Sport Studies.

American Studies Ph.D. students design their own plans of study with the support of the Department; while the degree requires that students take four graduate courses taken in American Studies, they also pursue coursework in keeping with their interests in such fields as Communication Studies, Cinema, Anthropology, Sociology, English, Information Science, and the History Department. In addition to courses in the American Studies Department, Ph.D. students regularly pursue graduate certificates, if they wish, through University of Iowa programs Digital Humanities, African American Studies and Gender, Women and Sexuality Studies.

While the majority of our Ph.D. graduates pursue a career in colleges or university teaching, the American Studies Department is strongly committed to supporting a variety of student career goals through individual development plans that integrate American Studies research with social justice, public engagement and public service goals, or with non-traditional or digital presentation formats. In addition, through the Office of Teaching and Learning and CIRTL, the Center for the Integration of Teaching and Learning the University of Iowa offers a variety of opportunities for training and certificates in the field of college teaching.

Listed below are the general categories of coursework required to earn the degree (some course requirements are different for American studies and sport studies); for more specific information on courses, curriculum, and requirements of the Doctor of Philosophy in American studies, visit the UI General Catalog.

Degree Requirements
Title Hours
Interdisciplinary Research in American studies (taken twice in consecutive years) 6
Area Foundation Courses* 6
First Field of Concentration* 18
Second Field of Concentration* 18
Research Skills* 3
Comprehensive Examination (see below) -
Dissertation work and electives (see below) 21
Total Hours 72

* Course requirements vary depending on degree focus.

Important Deadlines

Application Deadline: January 1st (for all programs)

Admission to Ph.D. Candidacy

Admission to Ph.D. candidacy signifies that the department judges a doctoral student qualified to take the comprehensive examination. Doctoral students advance to Ph.D. candidacy based on a review conducted during their second year in the Ph.D. program (typically during fall semester); the review assesses a student’s readiness to complete studies through the comprehensive examination and the dissertation, which is an original work of scholarship. In addition to judging a student's readiness for Ph.D. candidacy, the review provides a progress report on the student's work and a tentative prognosis for future prospects in the field.

Students work with their faculty advisor to map out a coherent plan of study that reflects their particular interests. Students are permitted considerable flexibility in constructing their study plan, but they must meet certain basic requirements, which include foundation courses, area foundation courses, two interdisciplinary fields of concentration, a research skills course, elective coursework, and a dissertation.

The two fields of concentration may be defined to correspond with a student's strongest intellectual interests, but they must be interdisciplinary in concept and multidisciplinary in scope. Each must include coursework from more than one of the University's departments and programs. The two concentration areas may, and usually should, have an intellectual relationship with each other.

Formal application, instructions and questions regarding the graduate application may be obtained directly from the American Studies Director of Graduate Studies or the Graduate Admissions Process.

Comprehensive Examination

The comprehensive examination comprises three written exams and one oral exam:

  • The first exam is taken under the supervision of an American Studies faculty member, who also chairs the comprehensive examination. The candidate takes a timed, take-home written exam of no less than four hours and no longer than two days. The exam details the candidate’s approach to American Studies (methods and models), including the student's position and critical engagement with models of American Studies scholarship.
  • The remaining two written exams explore the candidate's major fields; these are at least four hours long and may be given on a take-home basis at the examiner's discretion.
  • The oral exam covers material from the written exams.


The final requirement for the Ph.D. is the dissertation. A dissertation in American Studies is a substantive work of scholarship that involves interdisciplinary research and analysis, and represents an original contribution to knowledge. In most cases, the dissertation takes the form of a book-length manuscript. However, students may propose alternatives to the traditional form, provided they have the dissertation committee’s approval and complete a memorandum of understanding with the director of graduate studies in American studies. All dissertations must be approved by a committee of five faculty members, including at least two from the Department of American Studies.