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Grad Program: American History

Basic Information

Why study American History? As Socrates said, "Know thyself." In knowing your past and those who came before you, you gain the ability to interpret what’s happening in your present. And why is that important? Today, most Americans have access to information available at a keystroke. Up-to-the-minute news, human-rights issues, health information, trends, economic issues, and other news are transmitted as it happens. With all this information, it helps to have a context. Knowing your own context – or, if American History is not your history, the context of world power – helps you to understand some of the whys of today.

In studying history, you might break up learning objectives in two ways: strategies in dealing with information and acquisition of knowledge in the content area (such as Reinterpreting Colonial Virginia or Readings in American Thought). While studying history, you’ll master the thinking verbs: interpret, critique, judge, compare, integrate, and analyze. Problem-solving skills, the ability to see patterns, and understanding meaning are essential skills that employers in any field look favorably upon.

Degree Information

A master’s degree in history can take anywhere from two to five years. Some programs emphasize research, while others simply require a certain amount of credit. Depending on the nature of the program, some kind of research project, dissertation, or extensive paper is typically required for graduation. A departmental exam may also be required. Many schools will require its graduate students to teach an undergraduate course or two before they graduate.

A Ph.D. is another option and is usually necessary if you plan to teach at the university level. Ph.D. programs typically require a written dissertation and oral defense though exact requirements will vary by school.

Joint degree programs, such as a J.D./M.A. (law degree and master’s degree), are yet another option, though they are not available at all schools.

Questions to Ask Yourself When Choosing a Degree Program
  • Does the program have career-placement statistics? Do they offer career counseling?
  • What kinds of research options are available?
  • What specialties do the faculty have?
  • Are there quality courses offered beyond American History to round out your program?

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