What is an Area Studies Degree?

The subject matter of area studies is wide. Whichever country or region of the globe you choose to focus on, you will study its history, geography, language, literature, society, government, politics, culture, philosophy, and economics. You will explore how change in many different societies sheds light on human rights, development, security, and governance. You will examine different viewpoints concerning world challenges, engage in debate, and make discoveries about the templates that frame our understanding of the world.

Program Options

As the name of the degree implies, area studies programs focus on an area of the world – either on a specific country or general world region. The choices available to students, therefore, are as wide as the world is vast. Below are some typical options within the major. Some schools offer combined programs in area studies and international relations or international studies. It is very common for area studies majors to include related foreign language courses in their curriculum and to spend some time studying abroad, at a destination relevant to their chosen concentration.

  • African Studies
  • American / United States Studies / Civilization
  • Asian Studies/Civilization
  • Balkans Studies
  • Baltic Studies
  • Canadian Studies
  • Caribbean Studies
  • Central and Eastern European Studies
  • Chinese Studies
  • Commonwealth Studies
  • East Asian Studies
  • European Studies / Civilization
  • French Studies
  • German Studies
  • Irish Studies
  • Italian Studies
  • Japanese Studies
  • Korean Studies
  • Latin American Studies
  • Latin American and Caribbean Studies
  • Near and Middle Eastern Studies
  • Pacific Area / Pacific Rim Studies
  • Polish Studies
  • Regional Studies (US, Canadian, Foreign)
  • Russian Studies
  • Scandinavian Studies
  • Slavic Studies
  • South Asian Studies
  • Southeast Asian Studies
  • Spanish and Iberian Studies
  • Tibetan Studies
  • Ukraine Studies
  • Ural-Altaic and Central Asian Studies
  • Western European Studies

For the sake of example, each of the degree sections below focuses on a specific area of study, to show the kinds of courses that are usually offered at that level.

Bachelor’s Degree in Area Studies – Four Year Duration
Bachelor’s degree programs in area studies are introductory in nature. They provide students with foundational knowledge through courses in history, geography, philosophy, culture, and government and politics.

Example: Asian Studies
Sample Courses:

  • Introduction to Contemporary Japanese Society and Culture
  • Beyond the Middle Kingdom: Introduction to East Asian History
  • A Passage to South Asia: Introduction to South Asian History
  • Regional Geography of East Asia
  • Regional Geography of South Asia
  • Late Imperial China
  • Japan under the Shoguns, 1600 to 1868
  • Asian Philosophy
  • Comparative Politics of Asia
  • East Asian Archaeology
  • China in the Twentieth Century: Reforms and Revolutions
  • British India 1857 to 1947
  • Indian Subcontinent since 1947
  • History of Modern Japan
  • Japanese Culture and Business
  • Japanese Culture through Film
  • Developing Intercultural Competencies in the 21st Century
  • Government and Politics of India
  • China and the West
  • Gandhi in History
  • Warriors of Japan: The Samurai
  • The Vietnam War in Historical Perspective
  • Understanding Japanese Culture through Literature

Master’s Degree in Area Studies – Two Year Duration
At the master’s level, students often choose a specialization within their specific area of study. In a European and Eurasian Studies program, this could mean specializing in subfields such as European and European Union (EU) Studies or Russian, Eurasian, and Transition Studies. The master’s program’s culminating requirement is normally a thesis based on original research. Some schools may offer a non-thesis major paper or coursework track.

Example: European and Eurasian Studies
Sample Courses:

  • Ethnography of Eurasia
  • Representations of the Holocaust
  • Gender and Nation: Women’s State in Modern Central, Eastern, and Northern European Literatures and Cultures
  • Modern Europe: Places and Borders
  • Contemporary Europe: Identity and Geopolitics
  • Britain 1750 – 1850
  • Early Twentieth Century Britain
  • Britain, 1945 – Present
  • France since the Revolution
  • Imperial Russian History, 1800 – 1917
  • The Soviet Union
  • East Central Europe in the 19th and 20th Centuries
  • Nineteenth-Century Germany
  • Twentieth-Century Germany
  • Europe During the Reformation
  • Europe in the 19th Century
  • Europe, 1900 – 1950
  • Europe since 1950
  • Politics and Culture in Europe, 1890 – 1914
  • Italian Fascism in Interdisciplinary Perspective
  • European Politics: Selected Cases
  • European Integration

Doctoral Degree in Area Studies – Four to Six Year Duration
The master’s program in area studies typically involves a lot of taught courses. It emphasizes the transition from pure subject learning to independent research. On the other hand, the doctoral degree is like a very long dissertation project. Ph.D. students have the benefit of supervision from a faculty advisor and may complete some taught classes, but their focus is on independent research, on contributing original – new – knowledge to their field. The Doctoral Degree in Area Studies is aimed at those who want to teach the discipline at the university level.

Example: Middle Eastern Studies
Here are possible concentrations and courses available to Middle Eastern Studies doctoral candidates:


  • Advanced Studies in Middle Eastern History and Historiography
  • Kingship in Medieval Islamic Iran
  • Social, Cultural, and Political History of the Iranian Plateau: 7th Century – Present
  • Islamic Law and Society
  • Arab-Israeli Conflict
  • Turkey: Culture, Power, and History
  • Ottoman Empire to 1800
  • Women in Middle Eastern Society
  • Palestinian Culture and Society

Islamic Studies:

  • The Anthropology of Religion
  • Readings in Classical Arab Prose
  • Reading in Classical Arab Poetry
  • Islamic Mysticism
  • Women in Islamic History
  • The Middle Eastern City and Islamic Urbanism
  • History of Medieval India
  • Classic Persian Literature in English Translation
  • Nationalism and Islam

Linguistics of Middle Eastern Languages:

  • Sociolinguistics – Language and Society of the Middle East
  • Survey of Middle Eastern Languages
  • Structure of Iranian Languages
  • Structure of Hebrew
  • Arabic Dialects
  • Jewish Languages
  • Issues in Language Politics
  • Language and Gender
  • Philosophy of Language

Middle Eastern Literary Studies:

  • Classical Arabic Literature
  • Modern Arabic Literature
  • Classical Persian Literature
  • Modern Persian Literature
  • Modern Hebrew Literature
  • Modern Turkish Literature

Socio-Cultural Studies of the Contemporary Middle East:

  • Ethnography of the Middle East: Issues and Methods
  • Social Theory and Middle east Studies
  • Economic History of the Islamic World
  • Islamic Movements in the Contemporary Muslim World
  • North African Studies: History, Culture, and Politics
  • Iranian Cinema, Gender Issues, and Social Change
  • The Literature of Identity in the Modern Middle East

Degrees Similar to Area Studies

Students of anthropology study the evolutionary history of people, how they interact, how they adapt to various environments, how they communicate and socialize with one another, and how their bodies and cultures have changed over time. The field attempts to answer big questions on many of the fundamentals of human culture, from gender to political systems to violence, religion, race, and economics.

Ethnic Studies
This is the historical, social, and cultural study of minorities in the United States. Through coursework in history, political science, economics, sociology, literature, and art history, students examine race, racism, and forms of institutionalized violence.

Students of geography study the earth’s surface; its climate, soil, and water; and the relationship between people and the land. Some typical courses in a geography program are cartography, climatology, geology, political geography, statistics, and spatial analysis.

History is the study of change over time. Degree programs in the field examine political history, diplomatic/international relations history, cultural/ideological history, social/living standards history, economic history, intellectual/philosophical history, and military/armed conflict history.

International Business
Students of international business study business from a global perspective. They learn how to work cross-culturally, how to manage multinational businesses, and how to turn local and national companies into international corporations. Coursework often includes some foreign language studies, as well.

International Relations
Students of international relations learn about international politics and institutions and the principles of diplomacy and foreign policy. They examine interactions between governments on several levels: political, economic, cultural, and militaristic. In the current U.S. political climate, they may deliberate questions like: How has the Donald Trump presidency affected the world view of the United States? How have allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election impacted diplomatic and trade relations between the United States and Russia?

Political Science
Political science degree programs focus on the theory and practice of government and politics. ‘Poli sci’ students learn about the structures of politics and government and issues like the nature of political power, the causes of conflict, and globalization.

Skills You’ll Learn

In addition to providing students with an understanding of different regions and cultures of the world, the coursework in area studies degree programs develops several transferable skills:

  • A Multidisciplinary Approach – the study of an area or areas of the world demands the capacity to combine various disciplines and approaches to understand situations, conditions, and issues
  • Analytical, Critical Thinking, and Problem-Solving
  • Collaboration / Group Work Dynamics
  • Cross-Cultural Appreciation – appreciation for different political values and cultural expectations facilitates negotiation and collaboration
  • Oral and Written Communication and Presentation – knowing how to convey information to different kinds of audiences
  • Planning
  • Research, Data Collection, and Interpretation
  • Statistical and Computing Skills

What Can You Do with an Area Studies Degree?

An area studies degree can lay the foundation for employment in an array of sectors. However, entering some of the career fields listed below may require additional education or specialized training.

Education / Librarianship
While true ‘area studies’ is generally taught only at the college and university level, graduates in the field may also find positions as librarians or as teachers of history, social studies, or civics courses at the elementary and secondary school levels. Depending on the school system, teacher certification may also be required.

Foreign Service / Diplomacy
Potential US Foreign Service roles for area studies graduates include consular officers, economic officers, management officers, political officers, and public diplomacy officers. An ambassadorship is the highest level of diplomatic/foreign service.

Government / Politics
Government officials and legislators work at various levels of government to pass laws. They can face a vast variety of issues and problems. And while it is difficult to imagine the best way to prepare for such a job, a degree in area studies provides a solid foundation in the fundamental skills needed.

Intelligence specialists work for the various branches of the military, national security departments, and national government agencies. They collect and analyze intelligence data such as mission reports, maps, and charts.

International Business and Consulting
It is not uncommon for area studies majors to end up working in the international business / and consulting world. Many sectors – banking, marketing, advertising, communications, public relations, and human resources – appreciate the level of understanding of topics like geography, economics, politics, and cultural diversity that area studies graduates bring to the table. International consulting firms conduct research for clients on a wide range of topics and regions.

International Law
An understanding of and an appreciation for cultural diversity and different government political systems may lead area studies graduates to a career in the legal field.

Journalism / Media
The subject matter covered in area studies programs lays a solid foundation for a potential career as a foreign / international news correspondent.

Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) and Non-Profits for International Aid and Development
Specialist expertise in a particular region of the world and/or set of issues may qualify area studies graduates for roles with organizations, such as the Peace Corps, Oxfam International, World Vision International, Save the Children, Habitat for Humanity International, and WaterAid.

Political Science
Political scientists study political systems, how they came to be, how they grew, and how they work. They strive to identify trends, survey political opinions, and analyze election polls and elections. The field of area studies, which includes politics and political history, can be a stepping stone to working in this field.


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