Skip to main content

American Studies Department records

 Collection — Multiple Containers
Identifier: RG0082

Collection Scope and Content

Materials in this collection include memos, syllabi, course descriptions, student papers, reports, by-laws, correspondence, meeting minutes, comprehensive exams, newsletters, and websites. They range in date from 1953 to 2014, and were transferred to the University Archives by the Chair of the Department of American Studies. with The bulk of the materials range from 1958 to 1998. Note: Not all series are processed. Ask staff for assistance.


  • Creation: 1953-2014


Restrictions on Access

Series 3 is closed to research for 25 years from date of record creation.

Series 1, 4, and 7 contain restricted material. Access to student records is governed by the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), which protects the privacy of student education records. Student records are closed for 100 years from date of record creation.

Restrictions on Use

Some material may be copyrighted or restricted. It is the patron's obligation to determine and satisfy copyright or other case restrictions when publishing or otherwise distributing materials found in the collections.

Historical or Biographical Note

Robert W. Bolwell founded what is now known as the American Studies Department in 1938. He had an A.B. degree from Case Western University, M.A. and Ph.D. degrees from Columbia University, and was a member of Phi Beta Kappa. He was a professor of English and American Literature and taught at GW from 1920-57. In 1938 he established the American Thought and Civilization major, and for twenty-five years it resided as a special program with in the English Department. In 1968 American Studies left the English Department, to establish itself as a separate program with departmental status. In line with changing social as well as academic interests, the program's first director, Robert Walker, took the lead in recruiting the College's first black professor, J. Saunders Redding, who The New York Times once called "probably the most eminent Negro writer of nonfiction in the country." The program added affiliations with the Library of Congress and Smithsonian Institution.

In the 1970's professors Bernard Mergen, Howard Gillette, Letitia Woods Brown, and Frederick Gutheim brought with them interests in African-American studies, urban and social history, as well as popular and material culture and added courses which helped grow the program. In 1980, courses in folklore were expanded under the direction of John Vlach. The arrival of Marcus Cunliffe as University professor and the expansion of the program's journal "American Studies International" added further stature, and in the coming years both the undergraduate and graduate programs were strengthened.

The Department currently offers three degrees: B.A., M.A., and Ph.D. The faculty and students who make up the American Studies Department combine interests drawn from a variety of perspectives and methods of inquiry: history, folklife, cultural studies, literary analysis, as well as the study of art, architecture, and visual culture. However, most faculty and students find their intellectual pursuits intersecting at some point around questions of public culture and/or public history. Students at all levels develop individualized, interdisciplinary programs of study in consultation with faculty advisors.

Since 1975, George Washington University has offered a unique interdisciplinary Master's program in historic preservation through its departments of American Studies and History. The program affords a strong intellectual perspective on critical issues in the preservation and a sound practical training for the field.

The Department published the journal "American Studies International."

N.B. This history note was written in 2005


13.75 Linear Feet

Language of Materials



Collection includes memos, syllabi, course descriptions, student papers, reports, by-laws, correspondence, meeting minutes, comprehensive exams, newsletters, and websites.

Collection Organization

Organized into 10 series: American Studies program, seven series of general files, artifacts, one series of memorabilia, and one series of websites.

Acquisition Information

Materials acquired through transfers from American Studies Department.

Guide to the American Studies Department records, 1953-1998
University Archives, Special Collections Research Center, The George Washington University
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English

Repository Details

Part of the Special Collections Research Center, The George Washington University Repository

George Washington University Gelman Library
2130 H Street NW
Washington DC 20052 United States of America