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History & Anthropology

History M.A. Program: Frequently Asked Questions

How Do I …

… Know What to Expect in a Grad Course?


Most of the courses you will take in the M.A. history program are readings seminars, meeting once a week and limited to twenty (but averaging less than fifteen) students per class. These courses are designed to immerse you in the classic and cutting-edge works in the historiography of the subject, and you should expect to read either a book or several articles in preparation for each meeting. Graduate courses feature student-driven, instructor-guided discussions not only of the historical subject itself, but of the methods and judgments of the historians who have investigated it. Typical assignments include oral presentations, book reviews, and historiographical review papers. Some other courses emphasize honing of students’ research skills.

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… Get an Advisor?

Every student has a faculty advisor in the department. If you are unsure who your advisor is, check WebAdvisor and look under your student profile. If you are a new student or selecting an advisor for the first time, try to choose an advisor whose major fields match your own interests.

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… Apply for an Assistantship?

Each year, the department awards up to three graduate assistantships. In evaluating candidates for the position, we take into account especially your track record in the program, your professionalism, and your enthusiasm. Each GA position entails a 6.5 hour per week commitment to the department. To be eligible, a student must be registered for at least three credits (otherwise you would not have enough tuition due to remit). Each assistantship has a one-semester duration. GAs may receive either one or two assistantships, depending on their performance and the department’s needs. The GAs are asked to help with professors research and teaching projects, as well as some light administrative duties as the need arises. Students who are not awarded an assistantship are encouraged to re-apply in subsequent semesters, and their applications are forwarded to other departments to see if they can get an assistantship outside the department. If you wish to apply for an assistantship, please print an application from the Registration and Records Forms page, and submit it directly to the Graduate School (2nd floor, the Great Hall).

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… Choose (or Change) My Specialization?

The M.A. program offers specializations in US, European, or World history, as well as our regular M.A. in history. If your interests lead you to take most of your courses in one of these areas, you might want to consider declaring a specialization. Having a specialization on your transcript is one more way to position yourself for further opportunities in US, European, or World history. For example, if you are a high school teacher and are applying for a world history job, it may help to have specialized in World History at Monmouth University. Or if you were applying to Ph.D. programs in European history, having the appropriate specialization might be a plus. If the courses you want to take are more wide-ranging, you do not need to specialize. Having a specialization does not constitute a higher achievement or imply that your course of study was more difficult than a regular M.A. in history.

To declare or change your specialization, simply log in to your e-FORMS account, choose the “Change Graduate Academic Program” form located in group three of the e-FORMS library. Use the drop-down box to select the course of study you want.

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… Get the Most Out of the Library?

You should keep in mind that the library’s services are benefits to which you are entitled as Monmouth students. As graduate students, you may borrow books for semester-loans. Your professors and librarians have worked to keep an up-to-date history collection, one that is especially relevant to the courses you are taking. Also, by obtaining a “VALE” form from the Library, you may check out books at other NJ academic libraries institutions (see for the list of participating institutions). The Interlibrary Loan staff can help you obtain most anything else.

Through the Library’s electronic resources, such as JSTOR, students can access past issues of dozens of historical journals, including the American Historical Review and the Journal of American History. It is especially valuable to be able to search for book reviews online, both to get a sense of the reputations of the works you are reading and to see models for your own book reviews.

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… Arrange an Independent Study?

An Independent Study is a 3.0 credit course in which a student pursues an in-depth investigation of a topic, under the guidance of a faculty member. The topic chosen must fulfill a logical need in a student’s course of study, and it must be a topic that is not covered by any of the department’s course offerings. The department will not approve an Independent Study in order to solve a scheduling difficulty.

It is up to the student to recruit a faculty advisor for the Independent Study. The student and professor should agree on a syllabus that includes regularly scheduled meetings between them, as well as a number of reading and writing assignments equal to what a student would have to do in a regular graduate history course.

After the student and professor agree on the syllabus, they should print out and complete an Independent Study application from the Registrar’s forms page and submit it to the department for approval. If the proposal is approved, the student will be registered for HS 599, Independent Study by a representative in the Registrar’s Office.

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… Join the Honors Society?

Graduate students are invited every year to join Monmouth’s chapter of the history honors society, Phi Alpha Theta. Generally, the chapter will invite M.A. students in good standing with the department who have completed 18 credits or more with a GPA of 3.7 or higher, who have demonstrated a commitment to the program. If you have any questions about the society, please contact Professor Hettie Williams, the Phi Alpha Theta advisor.

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… Choose the Thesis or Exam?

There are good reasons to choose either the thesis or the exam as the capstone of your M.A. history program. Both paths involve hard work and serious study in order to complete your degree.

You might want to opt for the comprehensive exam if…

  • speed is of the essence. Taking two courses and the three-hour exam is a more predictable route to the finish line than six credits of thesis work. A thesis can be completed in the same amount of time, but thesis authors sometimes take sustaining credits in order to complete a project that grew beyond their initial expectations.
  • there is no topic that compels you, or if your greatest pleasures in the program are interaction with colleagues and encountering a variety of new subjects. If you feel no great desire to focus on a single topic, and the in-class experience is what you enjoy, the option of two more regular courses may be better for you.

You might want to opt for the thesis if…

  • there is a issue about history that especially intrigues you. If you feel compelled to keep thinking about a question to which none of your readings seemed to provide an answer in sufficient depth, then you may have a good thesis topic on your hands.
  • if you want to be a historian. If you want a taste of conceiving your own project, doing research with primary sources, and writing your own analysis, then the thesis provides you with an opportunity to do so. If you wish to apply to a Ph.D. program in history, it is essential to write a thesis, both to produce a major writing sample you can include in your applications, and to see for yourself if you enjoy doing the work of a historian.

Before choosing the thesis, think carefully about whether you are sufficiently intrigued by a topic and self-motivated enough for some solitary work. Whatever you do, do not choose the thesis because you are apprehensive about the comprehensive exam. That would be a costly mistake in terms of your time and your happiness. Both the exam and the thesis end in an oral defense of your ideas and interpretations before your professors, so choose the path that is most satisfying to you.

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… Arrange My Comprehensive Exam?

The comprehensive exam is the culmination of a student’s study in history at the master’s level. It has a written and an oral component.

Setting Up the Exam

The first job is to arrange for three exam questions to be written by at least two professors who teach courses in the graduate program. You should do this early in the semester in which you will complete 30 credits. The student may ask for questions from three different professors, or may ask one professor to write two of the questions.

The student must have the professor’s approval of a reading list for each question. As a guideline, the reading list should be about the size of graduate course syllabus (i.e. approximately ten works). The reading list for an exam should address a coherent historical field or subfield, and should include at least some works beyond the syllabus from the student’s course(s) with the professor. The specific exam question is up to the professor, and need not be disclosed to the student in advance.

Once you have the questions lined up, contact the program director to register you for “HS CPE.”

Expectations for Exam Questions

The student should expect a topic for exposition and analysis, specific or more general at the discretion of the faculty person. The examiners expect the student to demonstrate good judgment in selecting and organizing both generalizations and supporting details to illustrate compelling points and their connections.

The student essay should include at least two examples of competing or complementary interpretations in the field.

The student essay should make explicit reference to important examples of primary and/or secondary literature bearing on the topic.

Evaluation of the Written Portion of the Exam

Once the questions are written, the professors submit them to the Department Coordinator. The program director will announce the common time when all students will sit for the exam. (If you absolutely cannot make that time, speak to the program director). The student will write in blue books for one hour on each question. The completed exams are returned to the professors, who then assign one of four grades for the questions they wrote: high pass, pass, low pass, or fail.

The professors submit the grades to the program director, who determines if, overall, the student has passed high, passed, passed low, or failed the exam.

The Oral Exam

A student who earns a passing grade on the written portion of the exam proceeds to the oral portion of the exam. The student will meet with the exam committee (the question-writing professors and the program director) for 45 minutes to answer questions about his or her essays. Scheduling the oral exam is a student responsibility—be sure to do it as early as possible!

Any historical topic relevant to the student’s studies is eligible for discussion, but students should expect to defend or amend the arguments they made in writing. Unlike prospectus and thesis defenses, the oral exam is not a public event, and the student need not prepare a formal presentation.

At the conclusion of 45 minutes, the student will leave the room and the exam committee will agree on a final grade for the M.A. exam: pass with distinction, pass, or fail. Note that there is no “low pass” grade for the exam as a whole. Once the student is informed of the grading decision, the graduate director enters the grade for HS CPE, notifying the Registrar.

In the Event of Failure

A student who has failed the written exam, or the overall exam, may retake it the next semester. The student must have reading lists re-approved. The examiners are not obligated to repeat the same lists or the same questions from the failed exam. Students have only one chance to retake the comprehensive exam.

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… Get Started on My Thesis?

Once you have a topic that intrigues you enough to spend a year with it, ask yourself some basic questions: Is this topic manageable in terms of sources? Do I have something new, valuable, and interesting to say about this topic that has not been said before? It is a good idea to make a preliminary search for available sources before recruiting your professors to your thesis committee.

In the last semester of your regular coursework, you will assemble a thesis committee consisting of a 1st reader and a 2nd reader. Try to recruit an advisor (i.e. 1st reader) with whom you work well, and one whose own teaching and research interests are germane to your topic. Remember that it is you who are supplying the topic and the impetus for the project, not them! It is a good idea to ask your thesis advisor about other theses they admired. The department’s past M.A. theses are bound and shelved in the Monmouth Library and the adjunct office in the department. Check a few out so you can have an idea of the scale of the project.

A common question is: how long is a thesis supposed to be? There is no simple answer; a thesis must be long enough to make your case convincingly. Past theses have ranged from 50 to 150 pages. As a broad rule of thumb, a thesis that you might wish to include in an application to a Ph.D. program ought to be in the neighborhood of 65 pages. Much less than that would be suspect, and very much more might strain the patience of an admissions committee.

After getting advice from your readers, you will write and defend a prospectus, and register for thesis credit. In general, the department recommends that you break up the thesis over two semesters (3 credits each), but you may register for all six at once if you wish. By its nature, thesis writing is solitary work, but you should check in with your advisors from time to time. It is far better to turn in sections of your thesis and receive advice as you go than to try to turn it in all at once. Handing a thesis to your advisors in one lump could set yourself up for complicated and cumbersome revisions that might have been avoided with better communication.

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… Defend My Thesis?

As you write your thesis, make sure to document your sources as you go. It will save you a lot of grief at the end if you keep good records along the way. It is helpful to try to write every day, even if some days yield little. With the use of outlines, try to break your project into smaller, manageable parts. This practice can help keep the project from becoming overwhelming.

If it takes longer to finish the thesis than you expected, you may take a single “sustaining credit” to keep yourself enrolled each semester until you are finished. It is important to do your very best work on your M.A. thesis—it will become part of the Monmouth Library’s permanent collection, and hence the legacy of your graduate education. Some theses have made significant contributions to their fields. At the same time, you should set realistic limits on your thesis. You cannot put everything there is to know about a topic in a single document. The answers you give to your research questions will in turn inspire rejoinders, and the conversation will continue.

When you and your readers agree that you have a completed, defensible thesis, contact the graduate director to set up a thesis defense. The open defense will last about 90 minutes and be publicized to your colleagues from the program and the full faculty. At this meeting, you will present your major findings for about 25 minutes. The balance of the time is devoted to fielding questions, first from your committee members, then from the rest of the assembled guests. It is important to stick to the 25-minute limit on opening remarks, as the essence of a good defense is how you handle the challenges your readers pose to your thesis.

After you have defended your thesis, you must now make whatever revisions your readers require. Please then print three copies of your final revised thesis on bonded paper and deliver it to your advisor. The department will have the three copies bound (one for the Monmouth Library, one for the department library, and one for you). It may take a couple of months to get the bound copies back from the bindery.

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… Review My Audit Before Graduation?

Sometime before you intend to graduate, it is a good idea run another academic audit on yourself (available from WebAdvisor) to make sure all the courses you have taken are in the correct slots. Sometimes you will find that courses you meant to satisfy a requirement is instead appearing at the bottom of the audit as an extra course. To shift an “extra” course into its proper slot, you need to fill out an Etrieve Forms, “Substitution of GR Program Requirement.”  This e-FORM is located in Group 7 of the e-FORMS library. On the substitution form, note the requirement you are fulfilling and the specific course (number and semester) you mean to shift there. If this course was a HS 598 Special Topics course or an Independent Study, please indicate the title of the course so the department knows that it is a legitimate substitution. For your reference, I am pleased to note that the “course types” each course satisfies are now listed in the Course Descriptions section of WebAdvisor For your reference, please also note that the Registrar’s Office has provided an Academic Audit Tutorial which explains how to properly read your individual audit.

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… Take a Leave of Absence?

It is important that you maintain your status as an enrolled student throughout your studies at Monmouth. Sometimes, however, circumstances in your life may dictate that you need to take a semester off. If your are taking time off, it is important that you take an official Leave of Absence. If you do not register for anything in a given semester, and are not officially on leave, the computer will automatically wash you out of the system, and you will have to re-apply to Monmouth.

Not only is it a hassle to go through the application process again, but you when you do so, you will be subjected to whatever the requirements are at the time of your re-admittance—any old program options for which you were grandfathered will be unavailable. That could mean that your plan to graduate is delayed and you might even have to take an extra course you had not planned on taking.

Therefore, if you do not intend to register for anything in a given semester, please go to Etrieve Formse, fill out a Leave of Absence form, and submit it electronically. That will protect your status as an active student. Please note that there is a Leave of Absence deadline each semester. Please consult the academic calendar to determine the deadline for the semester that you plan to take a leave.  Also note that a Leave of Absence is reserved for students who are following a program of study.

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… Keep in Touch After I Graduate?

We love to hear from former students. Please drop us a line to tell us what you are doing, and send us your contact information so we can let you know about any events sponsored by the program!

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… Find Out More About Policies?

The best place to look more information about policies and procedures is in the Graduate Catalog.

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