The Department of African American Studies at the University of Wisconsin–Madison offers students an opportunity to study those aspects of black history, culture, and society in ideal interdisciplinary models that reconstruct African American life. It challenges students to critically examine facts and issues that are historically and contemporaneously relevant to the African American experience.

Approved by the Board of Regents in 1970, the Department of African American Studies (previously known as Afro-American Studies) is an outgrowth of  student and grassroots protests for relevance in higher education that occurred during the 1960s in Madison and on college campuses throughout the country. Today, the department offers a wide variety of courses leading to an undergraduate degree and certificate, and at the graduate level, a Master of Arts degree. It is one of this country’s most successful departments of African American Studies.

We offer undergraduate majors in five areas: literature and culture; theater, music and the visual arts; history; Black Women’s Studies; and inter-group relations. Our M.A. program is based on personalized programs of study shaped to meet the needs of individual students, many of whom participate in the “Bridge” programs which enable them to move directly into Ph.D. programs in English and History.

Faculty members and students are active in a broad range of activities, including hip-hop programs for at-risk youth, community theater, college classes for low-income adults, and various support activities for the National Voting Rights Museum in Selma, Alabama. We pride ourselves on positive working relationships with our colleagues in traditional disciplines as well as the Women’s Studies Program and the Department of African Literature & Languages. As a vibrant community of scholars and students who believe in the ideal of unity without uniformity, we welcome all those committed to the deeper understanding of race in America and the world.


The major in African American studies requires a minimum of 30 credits. 15 credits must be numbered 300 and above. Students must take 2 courses from each of the four areas listed below: 1) Literature; 2) History and Society; 3) Arts and Culture; 4) Seminars and Advanced Courses; and Electives to achieve a total of 30 credits.

1. Literature

    1) Two (2) courses selected from the following:

 Introduction to Black Women Writers
 Introduction to African American Dramatic Literature
 Masterpieces of African American Literature
 African-American Autobiography
 The Harlem Renaissance
 The Black Arts Movement
 19th Century Afro-American Literature
 Major Authors

2 History And Society

 2.) Two (2) courses selected from the following:

 Introduction to Contemporary Afro-American Society
 Introduction to Afro-American History
 Race and American Politics from the New Deal to the New Right
 Afro-American History Since 1900
 Afro-American History to 1900
 Black Women in America: Reconstruction to the Present
 Race and Gender in Post-World War II U.S. Society
 Slavery, Civil War, and Reconstruction, 1848-1877

3) Arts And Culture

      3.) Two (2) courses selected from the following:

 Hip-Hop and Contemporary American Society
 Black Music and American Cultural History
Introduction to African Art and Architecture
 Introduction to Afro-American Art
 Artistic/Cultural Images of Black Women
 Blacks, Film, and Society
 Art and Visual Culture: Women of the African Diaspora and Africa

4.) Seminars And Advanced Courses

4.) Two (2) courses selected from the following:

 Critical and Theoretical Issues in Afro-American Literature
African American Women’s Activism (19th & 20th Centuries)
Gender, Race and the Civil Rights Movement
 History of the Civil Rights Movement in the United States
 Colloquium in Afro-American History
Interdisciplinary Studies in the Arts
 Selected Topics in Afro-American History
 Selected Topics in Afro-American Literature
 Selected Topics in Afro-American Society
 Selected Topics on Afro-American Artists
 Selected Topics in Afro-American Culture
 Critical and Theoretical Perspectives in Black Women’s Writings
Modern/Contemporary Art of Nigeria and the African Diaspora
 Visual Culture, Gender and Critical Race Theory

5. Electives

     5) Two (2) courses selected from the following:

 Introduction to Comparative US Ethnic and American Indian Studies
 They: Race in American Literature
 Introduction to Black Women’s Studies
 Selected Topics in African American Culture
 African and African-American Linkages: An Introduction
Undergraduate Studies in Afro-American History
 Gender, Race and Class: Women in U.S. History
 Black Feminisms
 The Caribbean and its Diasporas
 Mutual Perceptions of Racial Minorities
 Soul Music and the African American Freedom Movement
Interdisciplinary Studies in the Arts
African American Political Theory
African American Families
 Race, American Medicine and Public Health
 History of African American Education


Residence & Quality of Work in the Major

2.000 GPA in all AFROAMER and major courses

2.000 GPA on at least 15 credits of upper-level work in the major, in residence2

15 credits in AFROAMER, taken on the UW–Madison campus

The Certificate Program in the Department of African American Studies will introduce students enrolled in degree programs in other majors and special students to new knowledge, technologies, analyses, and interpretations of African-American, African diaspora and African subjects, communities, and institutions. Certificate courses span areas of history, literature, music and culture, literature, art history and visual culture, gender and women’s studies (black women’s studies), and race and intergroup relations. This program will offer the student opportunities for understanding, practice, and collaboration that will enhance intellectual and creative participation in world citizenry.

Upon earning the Certificate in African American Studies, this emphasis is noted on the student’s official transcript. The Certificate is of value to students wishing to demonstrate their knowledge of African American Studies either to potential employers or graduate schools.

View the Guide here.


Required course work for a certificate consists of 15 credits. It must demonstrate cohesiveness and range from elementary to advanced levels.

  • Approved certificate courses must be graded. Credit/No Credit and Pass/Fail do not qualify.
  • GPA of 2.5 in certificate courses. This certificate is only for undergraduate and special students who began the certificate program as undergraduates.
  • At least 50 percent of credits applied toward the certificate must be taken in residence at UW-Madison. The study abroad program is considered resident credit. However, that study abroad must qualify as Afro-American Studies credit.
  • A student may not be awarded a major and certificate in the same subject area.
  • Substitutions for courses in a certificate program are not permitted, unless the courses are in the Afro-American Studies curriculum. The certificate program advisor can recommend an exception to the student’s Dean. For example, an equivalent substitute transfer course or a directed study constitutes an individual exception.
  • Only one course of independent study is permitted; no more than 3 credits.

To pursue a certificate in African American Studies, students must be enrolled in an undergraduate degree program in any college and school at the University of Wisconsin, or as a special student. Only special students who began the certificate program as undergraduates are allowed to complete the program. Rules regarding transfer credits, up to 50%, which apply to undergraduates, also apply to special students. Finally, all certificate students must declare their interest in the program and plan with the advisor a cohesive program consisting of 15 credits.

The cohesiveness of the certificate program will be selected from concentration areas and other core courses in the curriculum of the Department. For example, students may select courses in the areas of history, literature, black women’s studies, music and cultural history, art history and visual culture, among others to meet their specific interests. All students, however, must take Introduction to Afro-American History (106-231) 3 credits. No more than two of the other courses may be taken at the 100 or 200 level. One course must be a 500-600 level course or seminar. Collectively, the 15 selected credits will come from models and core courses that majors and graduate students take to fulfill requirements.

All certificate students must notify the African American Studies advisor while they are completing their final course in order to get approval of completion and be awarded the certificate. The certificate is not awarded automatically based on DARS. If there are questions about a DARS report, please contact the certificate advisor.

 Introduction to Afro-American History
 Race and American Politics from the New Deal to the New Right
Undergraduate Studies in Afro-American History
 Afro-American History Since 1900
 Afro-American History to 1900
 Black Women in America: Reconstruction to the Present
 Race and Gender in Post-World War II U.S. Society
 Slavery, Civil War, and Reconstruction, 1848-1877
African American Women’s Activism (19th & 20th Centuries)
Gender, Race and the Civil Rights Movement
 History of the Civil Rights Movement in the United States
 Colloquium in Afro-American History
 Selected Topics in Afro-American History

The Department of African American Studies at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, with one of the most successful graduate programs in the field, offers an M.A. in a wide range of disciplines. The department’s strong emphasis on research and writing prepares students for entry into Ph.D. programs and for professional positions in education and related fields. Its faculty is committed to academic excellence and to the department’s initial objective to promote interdisciplinary study in three major areas: Culture (the arts and humanities), History, and Society (social sciences). Students are guided in using innovative as well as conventional methods of scholarship in a way that contributes to the development of African-American Studies and to the diversification of academic disciplines, communities, and institutions. To achieve that goal, the Department maintains flexible models of study which can be adapted to fit individual student interests.

Students with an interest in pursuing a Ph.D. in either English or History might be interested in applying to the in Bridge Programs in English or History, which allow a student who has completed an M.A. in Afro-American Studies to move directly into one of those Ph.D. programs.


Twenty-four credits of course work and successful completion of an M.A. thesis.

Course Work

  • Students must take at least 12 of their 24 approved graduate coursework credits in the Department of African American Studies. Because the graduate program emphasizes interdisciplinary and cross-cultural study, we encourage students, with the approval of their advisors and the Graduate Director, to take at least a portion of their remaining 12 credits in related courses in other departments. While the department encourages independent work, no more than 6 hours of directed study (AAS 699) credits may be applied toward fulfillment of the M.A. course credit requirements.

Sample Schedule For The Two-year Graduate Program:

Year 1:
  • Semester I: 9 course credits
  • Semester II: 9 course credits
Year 2:
  • Semester I: 6 course credits
    • Students establish their thesis committees and submit thesis proposals to the Chairs of their committees.
  • Semester II: Research and Thesis (AAS 790)
    • Students should be submitting chapters of their theses to faculty advisors and other committee members throughout the semester.

Maintaining Satisfactory Progress in the African American Studies Program

Students in the graduate program are reviewed for satisfactory progress by the Graduate Program Committee at the end of their second semester. Students who do not meet all of the following criteria face the possibilities of being placed on probation. Students who do not meet the required criteria for satisfactory progress by the end of their third semester may be dropped from the program.

  • Students need to register for a minimum of 9 graduate credits (in courses numbered 300 and above) each semester (excluding the summer semester), and must maintain a minimum overall cumulative GPA of 3.00 at all times.
  • No more than 3 credit hours of incomplete work may be carried at any time. Students must make up Incompletes by the end of the following semester during which the student is registered. Students with incompletes will not be considered for Teaching or Project Assistantships in Afro-American Studies.

Preparing to Write a Thesis

Establishing a thesis committee: At the end of their first year of graduate study, each student chooses a faculty advisor to direct his or her thesis and two additional faculty members to complete the committee. One member of the committee may be a faculty expert from a department other than the Department of African American Studies. Students are responsible for contacting the faculty members they wish to work with on their theses.

Selecting a Thesis Topic: Since the Master’s thesis should build on existing scholarship, the first step that a student makes in selecting a topic is becoming well acquainted with the literature that exists in his or her area of interest. This requires the student to consult all relevant resources, including card catalogs, the most recently published bibliographies in the field, indexes to major journals, periodicals, and relevant electronic data bases before presenting the topic to her or his major advisor for approval. The advisor offers guidance on how to prepare the thesis proposal. We strongly urge students to have their thesis topics approved by the sixth week of their third semester in the program.

The Thesis Proposal: The thesis proposal is a five to seven page document outlining in detail the thesis topic, the methodology the student will use to explore the project, and the project’s overall design, that is, its formal divisions– preface or introduction, number of chapters, conclusion, endnotes, and a preliminary working bibliography of primary and secondary sources. (For further specific details on what is required in a thesis proposal, refer to K. Turabian, A Manual for Writers of Term Papers, Theses, and Dissertations, 6th edition, University of Chicago Press). Following the approval of the student’s major adviser, the candidate submits the proposal to the other committee members for additional comments.

The Master’s Thesis

The Master’s thesis is a scholarly research project that on completion, the student submits to the Department and to the Graduate School in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the Master’s Degree. Its purpose is to demonstrate that the degree candidate has acquired the knowledge and skills to carry out scholarly writing and research in his or her discipline, and to advance knowledge in the field itself. The Master’s thesis should provide the basis for a substantial contribution to the scholarship that already exists in the candidate’s area of specialization. Students writing theses may enroll for as many as 9 credit hours for research and thesis credit (AAS 790).

The following general guidelines for the Master’s thesis in African American Studies are applicable to each of the areas of specialization:

  • Critical position: Students must demonstrate an understanding of how their critical methodology relates to current and historical trends in their areas. In most cases, this constitutes an explanation of a student’s critical position/perspective in the first chapter of the thesis. The importance of the study should also be specified in the first chapter.
  • Primary and secondary sources: The thesis should reflect a thorough knowledge of the primary and secondary texts discussed in the work. Students who choose to write on a single subject or author which or who has received relatively little critical attention should be able to demonstrate detailed knowledge of the full range of critical material that exists on the topic or person. Students writing on a subject or figure which or who has attracted widespread critical attention will be expected to demonstrate detailed knowledge of the major works and criticism that focus specifically on their topic. The quantity of required secondary reading included in a thesis will be determined in a major advisor/student conference following the student’s submission of an initial working bibliography.
  • Writing: Students at the thesis-writing stage in their programs should have graduate level writing skills. They should by then be attentive to such technical problems as grammar, punctuation, and spelling throughout the writing phase of the project. Should they have weaknesses in any of these areas they need to take immediate intensive steps to remedy those flaws. The staff in the Writing Center, located in the English Department, offers excellent one-to-one help to students with writing problems. Students with good writing skills also need to visit the Writing Center regularly as they proceed on their theses. Students at all levels of graduate work and in all stages of writing, from beginning thesis proposals to completing Ph.D. dissertations, benefit significantly from frequent consultations with the experts in the Writing Center.
  • Avoid plagiarism: Students should pay special attention to proper quotation and citation practices to avoid charges of plagiarism. Plagiarism is a serious offense for which there are severe penalties. See Academic Misconduct: Guide for Students.
  • The Thesis Defense: The thesis defense is an oral presentation of an intellectual project where students are expected to demonstrate their acquisition of in-depth knowledge of the topic on which they have written. They will also be expected to establish a context that shows the significance of their work toward advancing the field of African American Studies broadly and narrowly. Students proceeding into disciplinary Ph.D. programs should have further insights into how the knowledge they gained could affect the directions they take in their future explorations of their fields.

The department does not offer a Ph.D. at this time. Candidates for the Ph.D. in other departments may obtain a Ph.D. minor in African American Studies by completing a minimum of 12 graduate credits in the department, of which only 3 may be directed study credits. Three of the 12 credits must be a seminar course. Advance approval by the candidate’s departmental major advisor is required for the Ph.D. minor.

The department does offer minors for Ph.D. students in disciplinary graduate programs including African Languages and Literature, Art History, Comparative Literature, Education, Psychology, English, History, Music, Political Science, Social Work and Sociology. For students who specialize in literature or history and who wish to remain at UW–Madison to pursue a Ph.D., the Bridge Program, linking the departments, offers them the opportunity to make that transition following successful completion of the M.A. in African American Studies. The Department continues to explore possibilities of similar cross-departmental bridges with other UW–Madison Ph.D. programs.