Penn State Harrisburg adding third doctoral program

September 15, 2008

Penn State Harrisburg's focus on American studies now includes doctoral study. Recently approved by the University's Board of Trustees, the doctoral degree in American studies becomes the only one of its kind in Pennsylvania and complements the campus' long-established undergraduate and master's programs in the discipline. Applications are now being accepted for the new program which will welcome its first students in the fall of 2009.

An American studies doctoral program information night will begin at 6 p.m. Oct. 6 in the Morrison Gallery of the campus library. An RSVP is not necessary and information is available by e-mailing

The introduction of the doctoral degree in American studies brings to three the number of doctoral programs available at Penn State Harrisburg, joining public administration and adult education. The campus also is home to 22 master's and 31 baccalaureate programs.

Penn State Harrisburg Chancellor Madlyn L. Hanes, in making the announcement of the new program said, "Drawing on our faculty expertise, strong research focus, and longstanding relationships with the region's cultural and historical institutions, the addition of doctoral study in American studies will further enhance Penn State Harrisburg's reputation as a national and international leader in interpreting the American experience – both past and present – and will prepare professionals who will make a difference in the way the United States is understood, shaped, and presented locally and globally."

Pointing to the high quality of the American studies program at Penn State Harrisburg, Brent Glass, director of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History and former executive director of the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, said "a doctoral program serves to enhance this well-earned reputation."

Glass said of the new program, "The interdisciplinary perspective of a program in American studies complements the research needs of museums dedicated to preserving and presenting American history and culture. Doctoral candidates in the American studies program will be in a strong position to compete for fellowship opportunities and permanent positions at the Smithsonian Institution and other history and cultural museums."

He continued, "Furthermore, there is an extensive network of historical sites, archival repositories, historical societies and museums in Pennsylvania and neighboring states that could offer a source of employment and consulting opportunities for students in the program."

Peter Seibert, president of the Heritage Center of Lancaster County, said, "As both a graduate (bachelor's and master's) from Penn State Harrisburg's American studies program and director of a museum, I am excited at the prospect of adding a doctoral program in American studies at Penn State Harrisburg. At the Heritage Center, we have consistently employed large numbers of Penn State Harrisburg American studies graduates and worked closely with the departmental faculty over the years on many projects. The addition of a Ph.D. program will surely benefit the broader public history and museum community in our region by attracting gifted students and faculty as well as providing new opportunities for community-based partnerships."

Shelley Fisher Fishkin, director of American Studies at Stanford University and past president of the American Studies Association, points to the quality of instruction in stating, "Penn State Harrisburg's new Ph.D. program is poised to make a major contribution to the field. With a stellar group of talented and productive faculty at its helm, the program’s orientation toward public practice as well as scholarship is welcome indeed! The program promises to become an important training ground for American studies scholars in the 21st century."

Stephen Miller, former executive director of the Landis Valley Museum and recently appointed director of historic sites and museums for the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, added, "The availability of an American studies Ph.D. at Penn State Harrisburg opens countless prospects for students to research the American phenomenon and boost career opportunity and advancement."

American studies represents the study of the United States -- past and present -- as an academic field with its own developed theories, methods and applications and seeks to promote understanding of the complex nature of American life and culture. Taking advantage of its location in the capital region with internationally known heritage sites such as Gettysburg, Three Mile Island, Hershey, Steelton, Harrisburg, York, the coal region and the Amish Country, the program at Penn State Harrisburg emphasizes critical cultural inquiry and the application of American studies to public heritage, public policy and cultural resource management. Those areas include government work, museums, cultural agencies, education, archives and records management, public policy and communications.

Philip J. Deloria, president of the American Studies Association and a faculty member at the University of Michigan, added, "American studies programs have been growing over the last several years, particularly in public institutions of higher education. Contemporary students value the interdisciplinary sweep of the field, which pushes them to practice the kind of quick moving, eclectic thinking about culture and society that many see as central to their lives in a rapidly changing world."

Deloria continued, "Penn State Harrisburg has long had a sterling reputation in these areas …. and we in the field are looking forward to the future faculty members who will be trained in the program and, as important, to the work of those who will use their degrees to advance the practice of American studies in a range of public settings."

"The program will cover America broadly in its national and international contexts, work with local resources and institutions, and develop a focus on cultural expression and identity, including areas of material and visual culture, folk and popular culture, race, ethnicity and gender, and literature, performance, and media," the program's coordinator, Simon Bronner points out.

To support the public heritage and material culture interests, the American studies program maintains close ties with local educational and cultural institutions, including the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, State Museum of Pennsylvania, Landis Valley Museum, National Civil War Museum, Hershey Museum and other public heritage resources.

Special features of study at Penn State Harrisburg include: internships and field-oriented courses; access to the Center for Pennsylvania Culture Studies, a research center on campus devoted to the study of Pennsylvania’s cultural heritage; the Archives of Pennsylvania Folklore and Ethnography; and the library's Alice Marshall Collection, considered by many scholars to be one of the largest privately compiled research collections on women's history in America.

Last Updated March 19, 2009