History Graduate Program Curriculum or What Will I Study as a History Masters Student?

Answering the question is difficult. The field of history is incredibly broad and diverse, and students study an amazing range of subjects in history graduate programs.

A broad answer is that you will likely study a subject that begins where your undergraduate program ended. Some history graduate students choose to focus their degree on something that piqued their curiosity during their undergraduate studies. Perhaps they had favorite class or a professor whose research focus interested them. Or maybe they completed a group project on a subject they found fascinating or wrote their senior paper on something they’re itching to know more about.

For students who are not sure what history topic they would like to explore as a graduate student it might be helpful to start exploring potential topics of focus by first understanding that there are three primary components of history: location, era, and subject:

  • Is there a particular region of the world you find particularly fascinating? Consider that you could focus your historical lens locally, regionally, nationally, or globally, and that your focus could begin anywhere in the world from the state of Colorado, U.S.A. to Maseru, Lesotho in Sub-Saharan Africa. You could focus on one smaller region and gain knowledge of the larger region it connects to, or you could focus on the broader region and gain knowledge on smaller sub-sections. The possibilities are immense.
  • Is there are particular timeframe you’re interested in? Much of history is divided into eras: ancient, medieval, postclassical, and modern history to name a few (and, keep in mind that these are not the only categories of historical eras to study: there are numerous others including eras that span multiple eras or resist being categorized). Also, know that while historians study history, they do not necessarily spend all of their time in the past. Many historians seek to understand the events of past eras so that they have an informed lens through which to see today’s world.
  • Is there a particular subject you enjoy? Knowing that you’re interested in political, economic, social, public, agricultural, or urban history, for example, can help you determine what locations and eras you find most interesting and relevant.

Once you’ve considered location, era, and subject, you’ll want to consider what you want to do with your education. Do you want to teach? Research? Write? Share history with the public? Serve as a consultant to private or public organizations? Considering what you want to do with your education might help you determine how much education you need and what type of program would be best.

Overall, historians, no matter their specialization or focus, a History Graduate Program Curriculum may typically require courses in some common subjects including:

  • Research methodologies
  • Historiography
  • Social theory
  • Teaching methodology

History Graduate Program Curriculum begin to be more specialized when students choose tracks such as national, transnational, or comparative history, and when they choose a thematic focus which commonly includes a particular location, era, and/or subject. Within their specializations or focuses, students might take history courses that use numerous other subjects, such as anthropology, sociology, political science, or economics, for example, as lenses. They might also take numerous courses with a primary focus on history.

In addition to coursework, students in history graduate programs might be required to complete a large research paper (thesis or dissertation), a comprehensive exam (oral or written), and a teaching, research, or archival fellowship or internship (depending on the degree and program).

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