Published Date

February 1, 2005

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


Recent European Efforts


A. Dublin Descriptors

These descriptors were drafted by members of the Joint Quality Initiative task force of the European University Association, 2003–4.1

Bachelor’s degrees are awarded to students who:

  • have demonstrated knowledge and understanding in a field of study that builds upon and supersedes their general secondary education, and is typically at a level that, whilst supported by advanced textbooks, includes some aspects that will be informed by knowledge of the forefront of their field of study;
  • can apply their knowledge and understanding in a manner that indicates a professional approach to their work or vocation, and have competences typically demonstrated through devising and sustaining arguments and solving problems within their field of study;
  • have the ability to gather and interpret relevant data (usually within their field of study) to inform judgments that include reflection on relevant social, scientific or ethical issues;
  • can communicate information, ideas, problems and solutions to both specialist and non-specialist audiences;
  • have developed those learning skills that are necessary for them to continue to undertake further study with a high degree of autonomy.

Master’s degrees are awarded to students who:

  • have demonstrated knowledge and understanding that is founded upon and extends and/or enhances that typically associated with Bachelor’s level, and that provides a basis or opportunity for originality in developing and/or applying ideas, often within a research context;
  • can apply their knowledge and understanding, and problem solving abilities in new or unfamiliar environments within broader (or multidisciplinary) contexts related to their field of study;
  • have the ability to integrate knowledge and handle complexity, and formulate judgments with incomplete or limited information, but that include reflecting on social and ethical responsibilities linked to the application of their knowledge and judgments;
  • can communicate their conclusions, and the knowledge and rationale underpinning these, to specialist and non-specialist audiences clearly and unambiguously;
  • have the learning skills to allow them to continue to study in a manner that may be largely self-directed or autonomous.

Doctoral degrees are awarded to students who:

  • have demonstrated a systematic understanding of a field of study and mastery of the skills and methods of research associated with that field;
  • have demonstrated the ability to conceive, design, implement and adapt asubstantial process of research with scholarly integrity;
  • have made a contribution through original research that extends the frontier of knowledge by developing a substantial body of work, some of which merits national or international refereed publication;
  • are capable of critical analysis, evaluation and synthesis of new and complex ideas;
  • can communicate with their peers, the larger scholarly community and with society in general about their areas of expertise;
  • can be expected to be able to promote, within academic and professiona contexts, technological, social or cultural advancement in a knowledge based society.
B. Common Reference Points for History Curricula and Courses

These achievement standards and competenc(i)es for history students at various levels were proposed by the History Subject Area Group of the European Union’s Tuning Educational Structures in Europe project (2003).2

Proposed Formulation in general terms of the level of achievement which should be reached by History Students completing each level of History studies.

Type of studiesDescription of achievement
History for First Cycle History Degrees [i.e., undergraduate history majors]T]he student at the end of a first level History degree should: …
1. Possess general knowledge and orientation with respect to the methodologies, tools and issues of all the broad chronological divisions in which history is normally divided, from ancient to recent times.
2. Have specific knowledge of at least one of the above periods or of a diachronic theme.
3. Be aware of how historical interests, categories and problems change with the time and how historiographical debate is linked to political and cultural concern of each epoch.
4. Have shown his/her ability to complete and present in oral and written form—according to the statute of the discipline—a medium length piece of research which demonstrates the ability to retrieve bibliographical information and primary sources and use them to address a historiographical problem.
History for a second Cycle History Degree [i.e., master's degree in history]A student completing a second cycle degree in History should have acquired to a reasonable degree the subject specific qualities, skills and competences listed below.
He/she will have built further on the levels reached at the first cycle so as to:
1. Have specific, ample, detailed and up-to-date knowledge of at least one great chronological division of history, including different metho-
dological approaches and historiographical orientations relating to it.
2. Have acquired familiarity with comparative methods, spatial, chronological and thematic, of approaching historiographical research.
3. Have shown the ability to plan, carry out, present in oral and written form—according to the statute of the discipline—a research-based contribution to historiographical knowledge, bearing on a significant problem.


List of Subject Specific Skills and Competences

[Note: this list was used to frame the discussion that produced the achievement standards listed above]

  1. A critical awareness of the relationship between current events and processes and the past.
  2. Awareness of the differences in historiographical outlooks in various periods and contexts.
  3. Awareness of and respect for points of view deriving from other national or cultural backgrounds.
  4. Awareness of the on-going nature of historical research and debate.
  5. Knowledge of the general diachronic framework of the past.
  6. Awareness of the issues and themes of present day historiographical debate.
  7. Detailed knowledge of one or more specific periods of the human past.
  8. Ability to communicate orally in one’s own language using the terminology and techniques accepted in the historiographical profession.
  9. Ability to communicate orally in foreign languages using the terminology and techniques accepted in the historiographical profession.
  10. Ability to read historiographical texts or original documents in one’s own language; to summarize or transcribe and catalogue information as appropriate.
  11. Ability to read historiographical texts or original documents in other languages; to summarize or transcribe and catalogue information as appropriate.
  12. Ability to write in one’s own language using correctly the various types of historiographical writing.
  13. Ability to write in other languages using correctly the various types of historiographical writing.
  14. Knowledge of and ability to use information retrieval tools, such as bibliographical repertoires, archival inventories, e-references.
  15. Knowledge of and ability to use the specific tools necessary to study documents of particular periods (e.g. paleography, epigraphy).
  16. Ability to use computer and internet resources and techniques elaborating historical or related data (using statistical, cartographic methods, or creating databases, etc.).
  17. Knowledge of ancient languages.
  18. Knowledge of local history.
  19. Knowledge of one’s own national history.
  20. Knowledge of European history in a comparative perspective.
  21. Knowledge of the history of European integration.
  22. Knowledge of world history.
  23. Awareness of and ability to use tools of other human sciences (e.g., literary criticism, and history of language, art history, archaeology, anthropology, law, sociology, philosophy, etc.).
  24. Awareness of methods and issues of different branches of historical research (economic, social, political, gender related, etc.).
  25. Ability to define research topics suitable to contribute to historiographical knowledge and debate.
  26. Ability to identify and utilize appropriately sources of information (bibliography, documents, oral testimony etc.) for research project.
  27. Ability to organize complex historical information in coherent form.
  28. Ability to give narrative form to research results according to the canon of the discipline.
  29. Ability to comment, annotate or edit texts and documents correctly according to the critical canons of the discipline.
  30. Knowledge of didactics of history [i.e., subject-specific pedagogy for history].
  31. Other.


  1. Joint Quality Initiative Group, “Shared ‘Dublin’ descriptors for the Bachelor’s, Master’s and Doctoral awards” (revised March 23, 2004), online at Draft Dublin Descriptors 3 cycles.doc, accessed on June 25, 2004; an earlier version, without the doctoral descriptors, appears in the Graz Reader (prepared for the European University Association conference on “Strengthening the Role of Institutions,” convened in Graz, Austria, on May 29–31, 2003), 56–59, online at []
  2. Julia González and Rober Wagnenaar, Tuning Educational Structures in Europe: Final Report, Phase One (Bilbao and Groningen: University of Deusto and University of Groningen, 2003), 147–59, online at index.htm. []