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African American Studies

Degree Types: PhD

African American Studies by its very nature is an interdisciplinary field. It acquaints students with myriad ways of thinking, researching, and writing about the diverse experiences of African Americans in the United States and of African descended people throughout the African Diaspora (from dispersion, colonialism, the slave trade and slavery, through emancipation, decolonization, independence, and postcolonialism). African American Studies brings together the voluminous scholarship generated by past and present historians; political scientists; sociologists; cultural, literary, and performance studies critics; and scholars working on diverse topics and constructions of class, race, ethnicity, gender, and sexuality.

The Department of African American Studies is comprised of renowned core faculty and faculty affiliates who are integrally involved in the teaching, service, and research interests of the department. Affiliated faculty members are invited, and in fact expected, to be key participants in African American Studies. Both our core and affiliated faculty have appointments in the following Northwestern University schools: Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, School of Communication, Human Development and Social Policy, Medill, the Henry and Leigh Bienen School of Music, and the Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary. This involvement of affiliates positions us well to mobilize their active support and engagement for the graduate program in African American Studies. Affiliated faculty stand poised to assist with graduate teaching by cross-listing their current graduate course offerings; serving on the examination and dissertation committees of our students; and participating on administrative committees related to the graduate program such as in-house competitive fellowships, admissions, and program governance.

The Department offers advanced graduate training through a PhD in African American Studies. Three substantive areas form the basis of this program:

  1. Expressive Arts, Literature, and Cultural Studies
  2. Politics, Society, and Culture
  3. History

Each of these areas is populated by scholars within the department who focus their research within a domestic and/or international context. The PhD program in African American Studies provides students with the historical background in the experiences of people of African descent, the analytic preparation to carry out rigorous empirical and theoretical research, and the professional development to pursue careers in academia or beyond.

Students in this program are also encouraged to participate in TGS’s Interdisciplinary Cluster Initiative program. For more information on how you can have a second intellectual “home” outside of your department or program, please visit the Interdisciplinary Cluster Initiative page.

Additional resources:

Program Statistics

Visit PhD Program Statistics for statistics such as program admissions, enrollment, student demographics and more.

Program Contact

Contact Tyla Landry
Graduate/Undergraduate Program Assistant

Degree Requirements

The following requirements are in addition to, or further elaborate upon, those requirements outlined in The Graduate School Policy Guide.


Students entering the African American Studies doctoral program are eligible for a Master of Arts degree when they complete the program’s 18-course requirement and a Second Year Paper that has been approved by the Graduate Committee. Students must have a minimum GPA of 3.0 in the required 18 courses to be eligible for the master's degree. Up to 6 courses can be transferred from other graduate institutions to count towards the 18-course degree requirement. To obtain a master's degree, students should submit the Application for Degree and a Master's Degree Completion form via TGS Forms in CAESAR by the published deadlines for degree awarding for a given quarter. Students must complete all the requirements for the master's degree within five years of the date of their initial registration in The Graduate School.


Total Units Required: 18

The track is one of the three areas of research training in the Department of African American Studies:

  1. History
  2. Expressive Arts, Literature, and Cultural Studies
  3. Politics, Society, and Culture.
The program offers a graduate curriculum that provides a range of graduate students with a firm grounding in a variety of essential texts, materials, methodologies, and traditions. We believe that graduate students in departments addressing social inequality, race, gender, sexuality, political movements, culture, and migration, among other topics, will benefit from taking classes in our graduate program (and be able to satisfy some of their course requirements). At the same time, we have built in a degree of flexibility that enables our students to achieve a higher degree of proficiency within a specific sub-field. Consequently, we require all our students to take eighteen (18) courses total over two years (an average of three courses per quarter). The specific breakdown of the 18 required courses goes as follows:
  • 6 core courses
  • 4 track courses
  • 4 courses within one’s chosen discipline of specialization
  • 3 elective courses
  • 1 research methods course

Last Updated: September 16, 2022