What is African American Studies?

african american studies and culture

African American studies is the systematic study of the black experience—geographically, socioeconomically, and culturally—that seeks to explore and better understand the African American experience.

Decidedly interdisciplinary, African American studies is grounded in the social sciences, the arts, humanities, and more and is part of the broader liberal arts that’s aimed at examining and scrutinizing the human condition.

Through a variety of intellectual approaches and the use of empirical evidence, African American studies explores communities of African descent around the world. From the U.S. to the Caribbean to Africa, Europe, and beyond, this liberal arts discipline is focused on gaining deeper insight at all levels – locally, nationally, transnationally, and globally.

Featured Programs:
Sponsored School(s)

“In recognizing the humanity of our fellow beings, we pay ourselves the highest tribute.”

Whether you’re looking for an opportunity to advocate for and contribute directly to the African American community, broaden your outlook of the black experience, or enrich your knowledge of the countless contributions African Americans have made to American society, exploring African American studies as a major, minor, graduate program, or as a focus of a liberal arts undergraduate or graduate degree will inspire, enlighten, and offer new perspectives on some of today’s most relevant issues.

A Uniquely American Experience

MLK I have a dream locationAfrican American studies is an engaging course of scholarship that examines a range of complex issues affecting black people around the world. It’s a study on the contemporary black experience, whether in America or elsewhere across the globe, although many programs in African American studies focus primarily on the unique experience of Black people in America – a deep dive into race, equality, and diversity within our democratic society.

African American Studies Courses at the Undergraduate and Master’s Level

Students sitting down to studyWhether at the undergraduate or graduate level, major or minor, or as focused courses within a broader liberal arts education, African American studies encourages students to explore the plight, triumphs and opportunities unique to the Black experience in American society.

Bachelor’s Degrees in Liberal Arts with a Focus in African American Studies

An undergraduate major, minor, or emphasis in African American studies prepares students with a solid liberal arts foundation and preparation for graduate work in the social sciences and the humanities, including public health, criminal justice, public administration, education, and more. Because African American Studies courses are often natural additions to a liberal arts education, students also often choose to double major or minor in this discipline.

Bachelor’s degree programs in liberal arts that incorporate coursework in African American studies, whether as part of the general curriculum or as a full concentration, provide a broad liberal arts perspective uniquely tailored to the modern world. It lays the foundation for graduate work and career preparation in

Students of these programs come away with valuable critical thinking skills, a more nuanced perspective on the world around them.

Programs in this discipline encourage critical thinking and inspire students to sharpen their analytical and communication skills. Students come away capable of conducting social science research and interpreting scientific data. It’s a meaningful way to develop appreciation for the countless contributions African Americans have made both domestically and globally, without glossing over real issues of race and the black experience.

History, culture, literature, arts, music, politics, religion, and economics are just some of the topics addressed in a bachelor’s level liberal arts program in African American studies. You’ll cover it all, examining:

And, of course, an examination of the African American diaspora isn’t complete without exploring the history of African people.

Master’s Degrees in Liberal Arts with a Concentration in African American Studies

African American studies at the graduate level are generally designed as a master’s in African American studies or a master’s degree in the liberal arts with a focus or specialization on African American studies. This liberal arts discipline compliments any well-rounded liberal arts education, making it the ideal addition to any graduate course of study. A Master of Arts (MA) in African American Studies seeks to not just cultivate knowledge but refine and advance knowledge of black people both in America and throughout the world. For scholars and researchers, the MA in African American studies is an excellent precursor to PhD work, serving as solid preparation in graduate research skills and methods. While African American studies PhD programs are highly focused on preparing future scholars and researchers, master’s programs in this discipline serve as an excellent liberal arts foundation for all kinds of meaningful careers and professions. Many times, these programs include a core set of courses and then options to choose among a host of courses. Students study the history of people of African descent from the colonial period to the present, examine racial inequality and social movements, and inspect the African American ideals and historic achievements that have shaped our modern society. You’ll find some programs that provide a general overview while others provide in-depth study in specific subfields such as culture and life, race and public policy, and global race and ethnicity. Courses in many of these programs are often aligned with other departments and programs like anthropology, American studies, art history, comparative literary studies, English, history, gender studies, political science, sociology, and more. Coursework topics often include:

African American Studies Courses are At Home at the Top Liberal Arts Colleges

A growing number of colleges and universities now offer African American studies at the bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral levels.

Most institutions aim to explore how both history and contemporary society have shaped and continues to shape politics, popular culture, and the social movements of African Americans through their African American studies programs.

Mirroring the growing importance of African American studies as part of a liberal arts education, some of the biggest names in higher learning now offer this discipline. Yale, Northwestern, Penn State University, Princeton, and Berkeley are just some of the nation’s top schools to offer both undergraduate and graduate degrees in African American studies, while many more offer it in the curriculum of their liberal arts programs.

Many of these programs are part of larger schools of African American studies that are home to outstanding study abroad opportunities and are staffed with an interdisciplinary faculty of experts who provide a multi-dimensional examination of the black experience in the United States and around the world.

“If there is no struggle, there is no progress.”