Major Requirements

Students who choose to declare a major in African American Studies experience a fuller account of the field, preparing them for a range of professions, as well as graduate work in African American Studies.

Professor Kinohi Nishikawa serves as the Director of Undergraduate Studies for the Department of African American Studies. Administrative questions should be directed to Jana Johnson.

The steps to complete the major are as follows:

  1. Students complete two core survey courses* from the list below, and at least one must be a Pre-20th century course. To be eligible for Department funding, majors must complete both core survey courses by the end of their junior year.

    • AAS 244 Introduction to Pre-20th Century Black Diaspora Art (pre-20th century)
    • AAS 245 Introduction to 20th Century African American Art
    • AAS 353 African American Literature: Origins to 1910 (pre-20th century)
    • AAS 359 African American Literature: Harlem Renaissance to Present
    • AAS 366 African American History to 1863 (pre-20th century)
    • AAS 367 African American History Since Emancipation or AAS 268 Introduction to African American History Since Emancipation
  2. In the fall of their junior year, majors take AAS 300 Junior Seminar: Research and Writing in African American Studies. This course introduces students to theories and methods of research design in African American Studies in preparation for the junior paper.
  3. At the end of their fall semester, juniors declare a subfield track to pursue, selecting from:
  4. Four courses must be taken in the chosen subfield with two additional courses as follows, for a total of nine required courses:
    • If the chosen subfield is AACL or RPP, then two GRE courses. 
    • If the chosen subfield is GRE, then one AACL and one RPP.  

Students may choose up to two approved cognate courses in other departments. In total, nine courses are required for the major. P/D/F courses cannot be counted toward your major requirements (not including P/D/F Only courses), except during semesters of online instruction due to the pandemic. 

* The core survey courses orient students to African American Studies, and prepare majors for independent work by grounding them in the field. The Department has designed the survey courses as cornerstones of the undergraduate program, and therefore there are no replacements or exemptions from this requirement. Please note that the Department doesn’t offer all six survey courses each year; availability varies, but usually we offer at least four core survey courses per year. 


Additional Requirements

Independent Writing and Research

Majors must demonstrate proficiency by completing independent writing and research. In the spring of their junior year, students engage in independent research in order to write a junior paper in the field of African American Studies. Seniors complete independent reading and research to develop a senior thesis that reflects their chosen subfield. Seniors also take a comprehensive exam derived from the work of their thesis.

Senior Colloquium 

Majors are required to participate in the Senior Colloquium, which seeks to provide a space for seniors majoring in African American Studies to reflect upon their experiences within the Department, and upon how the understanding and insight they have gained here can and should influence their lives beyond graduation. A member of the AAS core faculty leads each colloquium meeting.

Senior Thesis

As mentioned, during the senior year, each student, with the guidance of a faculty adviser, must complete independent work, which consists of writing a thesis. The senior thesis will then serve as the basis of the senior comprehensive exam.

Senior Comprehensive Exam

The University's requirement for a senior comprehensive examination is satisfied in AAS by a formal presentation of the thesis, followed by a more open conversation. The exam will last approximately 50 minutes. Three people will be present for the entire examination: the student, the advisor, and a second reader selected in consultation with the Curriculum Committee.

Formal presentation: Students should deliver a formal 10-minute presentation. This should give a crisp articulation of the thesis's main argument. The student is encouraged to deliver a stylized selection of material rather than an overview of the entire thesis, focusing on, for example, the thesis's major finding, most original interpretation, or the best chapter. It should thoroughly respond to any questions or concerns raised in the readers' reports. It should be crafted and practiced as an oral essay, not exceeding more than 10 minutes. It will be graded for clarity, persuasiveness, and elegance in its execution.

Conversation: The adviser and second reader will then engage the student in a wide-ranging discussion of thesis research. They will then turn to the student's course of study in the Department, following up on reflections offered in the Senior Comprehensive Statement. This part of the conversation encourages self-reflection, as well as honest and potentially critical feedback for the Department.

Departmental GPA Calculation

  • Departmentals (8) = 50%
  • Junior Paper = 15%
  • Senior Thesis = 30%
  • Senior Exam = 5%

The Rule of 12

In accordance with Princeton University’s academic regulations, all students are limited to 12 one-term courses in a given department. For accounting purposes, please note that cross-listed courses should be identified with the home department, which is the first department listed in the course identification number. Please note that all AAS required courses count toward the total of 12 departmental courses; that is, there are no AAS prerequisite exclusions to the Rule of 12. AAS 300 and the core survey courses must be counted toward the departmental course limit of 12. Independent work is excluded from the count. Any student who exceeds the 31 courses required for graduation will be permitted to take extra departmentals. Exceptions to departmental course limits will be made on a case-by-case basis for students studying abroad, with the approval of the associate dean for international programs.