Published Date

February 1, 2005

From Retrieving the Master’s Degree from the Dustbin of History (2005)

The formal outcome statements that are printed in graduate catalogues and appear on history department websites do not necessarily reflect the actual goals or accomplishments of any given graduate program. Given the banal content of many outcome and mission statements—which are written, it appears, to satisfy the demands of administrators, accreditors, and other external observers— this is probably a good thing. At their best, however, outcome statements are the product of frank self-appraisal; they serve as guides for departmental planning; they help potential students to be well-informed consumers when choosing a graduate program; and they give current students (and their teachers) a yardstick for measuring academic and personal progress.

To be sure, many history departments do provide informative, constructive outcome statements for their master’s programs. The best tend to come from departments that do not have doctoral programs as well. Here we offer three examples, without endorsing the particular content of any of them. We urge every history department to produce and disseminate an honest and practicable outcome statement that reflects its own institutional and departmental priorities, its own resources, and the interests of its own faculty and (potential) graduate students:


Illinois State University

History M.A. and M.S. Objectives1: The main object of these programs is to advance students’ knowledge and understanding of the essentials of historical study beyond what they achieved at the undergraduate level.  These programs include three core elements – the development of students’ general methodological and philosophical knowledge; their instruction in the skills necessary for historical research, composition, and presentation; and, the study of specific periods and places.

The specific objectives of these programs are to assist students to:

  • Develop understanding of the philosophy of historical study.
  • Develop knowledge of historiography, including major themes and narratives in history.
  • Develop multidisciplinary knowledge of research methods in history and the social sciences.
  • Develop knowledge at an advanced level of diverse periods, peoples, and societies.
  • Demonstrate the ability to apply their knowledge in examinations, research papers and presentations and, as appropriate to the program option, in thesis form.

State University of West Georgia

The M.A. in History at West Georgia has for its primary purpose the development of a more sophisticated understanding of the discipline of history for the post-baccalaureate student accepted into our master’s program.2

Students completing the Master of Arts Degree in History, through the completion of the thesis or non-thesis program will:

  • demonstrate the ability to undertake advanced historical research;
  • show basic familiarity with historical literature in major and minor fields of study;
  • demonstrate an understanding of historiography and its permutations over time;
  • be able to identify and describe career options in the field of history;
  • demonstrate a knowledge of the theory and ethics of public history [for Public History concentration];
  • demonstrate knowledge of the standards and practices for at least two fields in public history [for Public History concentration];
  • Apply practical skills in at least two fields of public history [for Public History concentration].

Washington College (Maryland)

The master of arts program with concentration in history offers advanced training in American and European history, with elective courses available in other social science fields.3 Courses are structured with special emphasis on those aspects of the subject likely to be useful to teachers of history and social studies in pre-college level institutions. The major has among its aims: (1) to supplement the student’s basic stock of factual and bibliographical data; (2) to bring the student abreast of the findings of recent scholarly work; (3) to encourage, by example, effective methods of dealing with controversy in historical interpretation; (4) to strengthen the student’s skills in the use of primary materials as sources for reconstruction of the past; and (5) to demonstrate the usefulness of acquiring basic competence in other social science disciplines for broadening the scope and enhancing the sophistication of historical understanding.

Next section: Appendix 5


  1. See, accessed on February 18, 2005. []
  2. See fachandbook.htm, accessed on September 4, 2003. []
  3. See, accessed on May 2, 2003. []