Vernon Louis Parrington is often cited as the founder of American studies for his Pulitzer Prize-winning Main Currents in American Thought, which combines the methodologies of literary criticism and historical research. In the introduction to Main Currents in American Thought, Parrington described his field:
I have undertaken to give some account of the genesis and development in American letters of certain germinal ideas that have come to be reckoned traditionally American--how they came into being here, how they were opposed, and what influence they have exerted in determining the form and scope of our characteristic ideals and institutions. In pursuing such a task, I have chosen to follow the broad path of our political, economic, and social development, rather than the narrower belletristic.
The "broad path" that Parrington describes formed a scholastic course of study for Henry Nash Smith, who received a Ph.D. from Harvard's interdisciplinary program in "History and American Civilization" in 1940, setting an academic precedent for present-day American Studies programs.
The first signature methodology of American studies was the "myth and symbol" approach, developed in such foundational texts as Smith's Virgin Land and Leo Marx's The Machine in the Garden. Myth and symbol scholars claimed to find certain recurring themes throughout American texts that served to illuminate a unique American culture. Later scholars such as Annette Kolodny and Alan Trachtenberg re-imagined the myth and symbol approach in light of multicultural studies. In recent years American Studies scholars have focused on issues of race, ethnicity, gender and sexuality, and transnational concerns.
This transformation in approach, with a renewed emphasis on the perceived failure of America to live up to its purported ideals, has led to criticism within some quarters of the academic community, especially among scholars who feel that the de-emphasis of American exceptionalism, and corresponding robust critique of American progress, has gradually, but inexorably, morphed into an equally unrealistic, and at times obsessive, scrutiny of the perceived flaws of the American experience.
 American Studies outside of the U.S.
Following World War II and during the Cold War, the U.S. government promoted the study of the United States in several European countries, helping to endow chairs in universities and institutes in American history, politics and literature in the interests of cultural diplomacy. Many scholars and governments in Europe also recognized the need to study the U.S. The field has become especially prominent in Britain and Germany. Richard Pells, a historian, concludes that 'the American Studies movement in Europe... did not result in a transplantation of American values. Instead, European scholars used American Studies for their own purposes, reinterpreting American history and literature in terms that were relevant to European problems. In the end, American Studies became a lens through which Europeans could more clearly see and understand themselves'.
See American Studies in Britain and American Studies in Germany.
European centres for American studies include the Center for American Studies in Brussels, Belgium and most notably the John F. Kennedy-Institute in Berlin, Germany. Other centers for American Studies in Germany include the Bavarian America-Academy, the Heidelberg Center for American Studies (HCA) and the Zentrum für Nordamerikaforschung in Frankfurt (ZENAF). Most recently the Rijksuniversiteit Groningen in The Netherlands also offered an American Studies program.
 Further reading
Locating American Studies: The Evolution of a Discipline, edited by Lucy Maddox, Johns Hopkins University Press 1998, ISBN 0-8018-6056-3
The Futures of American Studies, edited by Donald E. Pease and Robyn Wiegman, Duke University Press 2002, ISBN 0-8223-2965-4
 Associations and scholarly journals
The American Studies Association was founded in 1950. It publishes American Quarterly, which has been the primary outlet of American Studies scholarship since 1949. The British Association for American Studies supports American Studies in Britain and publishes the Journal of American Studies. [American Studies http://www2.ku.edu/~amerstud/],
sponsored by the Mid-America American Studies Association, is, alongside American Quarterly, the second major American Studies journal