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PhD in African American Studies: Program Summary

Doctoral degree programs in African American studies allow students to study and research many realms of life and experiences that specifically impact people of African descent.

Essential Information

Ph.D. programs in African American Studies can generally be completed in five years. Applicants to these programs may be required to have a master's degree, although a few programs integrate master's degree studies into the Ph.D. program and will accept applicants who have only a bachelor's degree, preferably in African American studies. Students who did not major in African American studies may instead have undergraduate background in ethnic studies or geographical area studies. Letters of recommendation are also typically required for admission.

Ph.D. programs often train students in conceptual methodologies and research methods. Additionally, Ph.D. students must pass qualifying exams and compose and defend a dissertation.


Doctor of Philosophy in African American Studies

African American studies is an interdisciplinary field focused on the culture, history, literature, and lives of persons of African descent living in the United States or in the global African diaspora. Studies in this program may draw upon research in anthropology, political science, history, cultural studies, national languages and literatures, sociology, and art history. Courses vary depending on the student's main focus and can include topics as diverse as African American LGBT studies, poetry, the African diaspora, African American music, and the slave trade.

In addition to African Americans, many programs also examine Caribbean cultures or cultures in Latin America. Study of such national and/or regional cultures may lead to a combined Ph.D. degree that synthesizes African American studies with Spanish or Portuguese studies. Other common combined Ph.D. options may integrate English classes for comparative literary study or sociology coursework for analysis of race and class.

Common courses in African American studies programs may include:

  • African American poetry
  • Black LGBT studies
  • Caribbean history and art
  • Diaspora theory
  • Slavery and abolition
  • The West Atlantic slave trade

Popular Career Options

A Ph.D. in African American Studies prepares students for careers in academia and research. Possible jobs include:

  • Professor
  • Research associate
  • Journalist
  • Publisher

A PhD in African American Studies allows students with at least a bachelor's degree to investigate art and literature as well as the social and political factors affecting persons of African descent and prepares graduates for a variety of positions related to research, writing or teaching.

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