Graduate Student Handbook

Graduate Student Handbook

What do I do first?

Your first task is to contact the History Department’s Graduate Advisor. Talking with the Graduate Advisor will help you to orient yourself in the department, think about a plan of study, select your courses during your first semester, and find an advisor in your major field. We encourage you to check in with the Graduate Advisor at least once a semester, and always several months before reaching any important stage in your program, such as planning for your comprehensive exams. The Graduate Advisor will give you a plan of study document to help you organize and keep track of your progress in the program. Your Plan of Study is not a hard and fast contract, but it is a guide to help you in fulfilling program requirements and to ensure that your course selections are appropriate to your major and minor fields as well as for your thesis or project areas. 

MA Plans of Study

Thesis  No Thesis 

Public History with a Thesis  Public History with a Project

Curriculum Development

Major and Minor Fields 

Each MA candidate selects a major and minor field of study. These are identified by geographic region and theme. We suggest you speak with the Graduate Advisor in-depth about your interests and choose your major and minor fields with their guidance.  

Select your major and minor fields from two of the following three groups. You may choose a major field in any of the following three groups.  Then, your minor field must concentrate on one of the other two groups.  Example: Major in Latin American History, with a minor in Cultural History.

  • East Asia
  • Latin America
    • Mexico
    • South America
  • Middle East
  • Europe
    • Germany
    • France Britain
  • The Mediterranean
  • United States
    • Colonial
    • Early Republic
    • Nineteenth Century U.S.
    • The West
    • Twentieth Century US Foreign Policy
    • Colorado
  • Global (See also thematic fields)
    • Atlantic World
  • Pacific World
  • ​Colonialism and Imperialism 
  • Cultural History
  • Social History
  • Foreign Policy
  • Economic and Business History
  • Environmental History
  • Gender and Sexuality
  • Citizenship and National Identity
  • War, Revolution, and Genocide
  • Globalization
  • Urban History
  • Frontiers and Borderlands
  • Race and Ethnicity
  • Science, Medicine, and Society
  • Intellectual History
  • Material Culture
  • Migration and Immigration
  • Policing and Legal History
  • Indigenous Histories
  • Note: Majors in Public History must follow the Plan of Study for Public History.

    • Memory and Community
    • Museum Studies
    • Historic Preservation

    How do I choose an advisor?
    Your major field advisor, along with the Graduate Advisor, will be your main guide in your program of study, at least through your comprehensive exams. The Graduate Advisor will provide guidance for this process, and you should select an advisor in your major field by the time you have taken 9-12 credit hours.

    What courses should I take?
    Graduate courses are numbered at the 5000 and 6000 level. The 5000 level courses usually are combined with 4000 level courses. Graduate students enrolled in 4000/5000 courses do all of the work for the 4000 level course plus additional work assigned by the professor. It is very important that you take half of your credits at the 6000 level, as these courses are for graduate students only. The 6000 level courses consist of seminars, which may be research oriented or readings seminars, which focus on subject content and historiography. All students not in Public History must take two research seminars (HIST 6989), while Public History students are required to take one research seminar. Topical 6000 level courses can usually fulfill requirements for any field, depending on the projects you develop for the courses. Please check with the Graduate Advisor if you have any questions about applicability of a particular course to your degree. All graduate students must take History 6013, Introduction to the Professional Study of History. This course introduces students to the history of the profession and the evolution of 2 important ideas, ethics, and methods in the field. For that reason, the History Department requires that you take this course within your first 12 credits. With one important exception, History 6013, your course work should focus on your major and minor fields.

    All MA candidates must take 36 credits. The specific number of courses you must take in the major and minor fields depends on which degree plan you choose to follow. Similarly, the number of seminar courses you must take depends upon your degree plan. The History Department encourages you to do all or most of your coursework in regularly scheduled classes. However, you may take up to three hours of independent studies in place of a regular course. Independent studies usually involve focused readings projects or research projects. Students will not be allowed to satisfy the research seminar requirement with an independent study, and the Graduate Advisor must approve all independent studies. We invite you to check out our course listings and review your plan of study when selecting classes.

    What are comprehensive exams?

    All MA candidates must pass a comprehensive examination (“comps”) covering their major and minor fields. Comps consist of a written exam and an oral exam. The written portion consists of essay questions in the major and minor fields provided by your major and minor field advisors. You will answer two questions in the major field and one question in the minor field. The comprehensive exam is administered and evaluated by a committee of the major advisor, the minor advisor, and an outside reader from the history faculty. Students are responsible for selecting their third reader. The department expects each answer to take the form of a carefully written essay, formatted in accordance with the department’s style guide. Because comps require you to demonstrate a high level of knowledge and skill in the subject matter and historiography of your major and minor fields, your coursework will NOT be the only basis for your exam preparations. You will be expected to demonstrate mastery of subjects and readings assigned by your major and minor field advisors in consultation with you. As part of the exam, you will be expected to sign an Honor Statement, which you can find on the Department’s website. The Department has instituted a five-day comprehensive exam, which can include a weekend. There is a limit of 1800-2100 words, plus notes, for each of the three questions. The oral exam, which lasts up to two hours, is a follow-up to the written exam. We intend it to be supportive and to allow students the opportunity to strengthen their answers in this conversational evaluation. Be sure to consult with the Graduate Advisor at the beginning of your preparations for the exam and, again, as soon as you have set a date for the exam. The sooner you begin to prepare for your comps, the better the experience will be for you. MA candidates must pass their comprehensive exams before beginning a thesis, curriculum project, or public history project. 

    The Exams are split into two parts:

    1. Students write responses to broad questions covering their major and minor field lists. Field advisors compose exam questions for individual students. The written exam is administered on a take-home basis over 5 days, which may include a weekend. Students answer two questions for their major field, which address both their core readings and their major field concentration. Students answer one question for their minor field. The department expects each answer to take the form of an essay of 1800-2100 words, not including bibliography, formatted in accordance with the department's style guide. In answering their exam questions, students are expected to construct arguments and show mastery of the historiographies, narratives, and historical contexts in their fields. The comprehensive exam is administered and evaluated by a committee of the major advisor, the minor advisor, and an outside reader from the history faculty. Students are responsible for selecting their third reader. 
    2. Once a student finishes the written portion, the comprehensive exam committee conducts an oral exam. The oral exam, which lasts up to two hours, must be held within 10 days of completing the written portion of the exam.

    The department offers comprehensive exams during two periods: October for the fall term and the last two weeks of February and the first two weeks of March for the spring term. All components of the comprehensive exam must be completed during the designated period. The written exam consists of 5 days of the student's choosing, within the exam timeframe. In the semester prior to taking the exam, students must register with the department to declare their intention to take the exam and set up a schedule for the written and oral portions of the exam with the department program assistant. Students are also responsible for coordinating the time for their oral evaluation with their major advisor, minor advisor, and third reader. All must be present for the oral portion of the exam.

    Students should expect to read 80-100 books combined, as well as significant articles, in their major and minor fields. Some of these books will come from students' completed coursework, but students should expect to read a significant number of additional texts for their core lists. Students are required to complete reading lists for their major and minor fields. Students can negotiate with their major and minor advisors about what books appear on these lists. However, some advisors have set reading lists for their fields. Students preparing for comprehensive examinations should meet regularly with their major and minor field advisors to discuss their reading lists and to evaluate their readiness for the exam. If the advisors think the student has weaknesses in any field, they may suggest further readings or delaying the exam. The major field advisor will determine when the student is ready to schedule the exam. Students not enrolled in history courses at the time of their comprehensive exam must register for Candidate for Degree (see Graduate School policies). In other words, students must be enrolled in some capacity in order to take the comprehensive exams.

    Students will be informed if they have passed the comprehenisive exams at the oral evaluation. Should the comprehensive exam committee find a student's exam unsatisfactory, the student will be asked to develop the answers in the oral exam. If the oral exam does not provide evidence of mastery in either the major or minor fields, students will be asked to write an extended essay(s) on the question(s) deemed unsatisfactory. The essay(s) will be due at the end of the semester during which the student took the comprehensive exam. At this juncture, advisors will decide whether the student has met the qualifications. You may retake all or part of the comprehensive exam only once. Failure to pass any portion of the exam on the second attempt will result in dismissal from the master’s program. 

    Students taking their comprehensive exams must confirm the following:

    • My answers are the products of my own scholarship and analysis in response to the questions asked.
    • I have not pasted in or used portions of my previous work.
    • No other person has assisted me in writing these exam answers.
    • I have not copied or otherwise used another person’s unpublished scholarship, including course notes, reading notes or papers; nor have I, without proper scholarly attribution, quoted, paraphrased, or otherwise relied on any published works in preparing my examination answers.

    What is the Master’s thesis?
    Bigger than a term paper, smaller than a book. Students pursuing the thesis plan must submit a Master’s thesis for six 6000 level credit hours. The Master’s thesis is a major, original scholarly project, based largely on primary source research. Students develop the thesis topic, design and carry out research, and write the Master’s thesis with the guidance of the major thesis advisor and two other thesis committee members. Students are responsible for putting their thesis committee together with the help of their major advisor. The form of a thesis manuscript must meet Graduate School requirements.

    How do I choose a thesis advisor and committee?
    The thesis advisor often, but not always, is your major field advisor. In any case, the thesis advisor should be a faculty member whose teaching and research specialties are related to the proposed thesis topic. It is helpful, but not as important, for the other thesis committee members to have some scholarly interest in the thesis topic.

    What is the thesis defense?
    The thesis defense is similar to the oral part of a comprehensive examination, but it focuses on the thesis itself. Usually lasting an hour or more, the defense is the student’s opportunity to present the thesis and engage in a scholarly discussion of its quality and merit.

    What is the Public History project?
    Public History majors must prepare either a thesis or a project, which is a three-credit 6000-level course. Projects, which are usually conducted in collaboration with a public history organization, may entail creating an exhibit, organizing a museum or archival collection, conducting a preservation survey, or similar activities. Students are also required to prepare a scholarly paper describing the process and results of their project.

    What is the Advanced History Curriculum Development?
    Teachers or students intending to become teachers who are enrolled in the History graduate program may choose to complete a curriculum development capstone project of three credits. Students arrange curriculum development projects with a sponsoring faculty member. Generally, students are expected to develop and submit a complete course curriculum plan for the three-credit project. Projects need to show evidence of familiarity with the relevant historiographies and primary sources.

    A couple of final points: If you encounter problems in your graduate studies, they usually will be easier to solve if you bring them to your advisors’ attention sooner rather than later. More to the point, problems rarely just go away by themselves. The faculty’s job is to help you get through your degree program. Talk to them! Graduate school is not just more college. You will find the volume and the pace of your course work to be greater and faster. Remember, too, that graduate school is professional education. Whether your professional goal is to teach, engage in research and publication, or work in the challenging fields of public history, our goal is to help you to build the intellectual tools you will need to be a successful member of the history profession and the history community. Finally, be sure to check your university email account frequently. The Department and the University will send out messages regarding requirements and other announcements, and you are responsible for any such information.