MA Requirements


Graduate students must take a minimum of 30 units of upper division and graduate coursework. Of these units, at least 21 must be graduate level work (i.e. courses numbered 700 and above). In addition to coursework, the student must satisfy a Culminating Experience Requirement (either a comprehensive examination or a master's thesis and oral defense of thesis) and the Professional Development Requirement.

Students entering the program as of Fall 2017 will have the degree requirements outlined below. Students entering before Fall 2017 can use the requirements in place when they entered OR the requirements below.

The MA program is designed to be completed in two years.  In their first three semesters, students usually take three courses (or 9 units) plus any language study. During their final semester, students prepare for and take comprehensive exams or write a thesis (thesis writers usually take an additional semester).

Some students who have heavy work or familial obligations choose to take longer than four semesters to complete the MA. It is also possible to take off a single semester and return to the program without reapplying. The university requires that all MA students complete their program’s requirements within seven years.


Distribution of courses for History MA Degree: 
HIST 700: 3 graduate units
HIST 705: 3 graduate units
HIST 710-850: 12 graduate units
Electives on advisement: 9 units
HIST 896EXM or 898: 3 graduate units
Total: 30 units (21 graduate units)

1.         Courses common to all history graduate students (6 units)

History 700: History as a Field of Knowledge
This course should be taken in the first or second semester of study or in the semester immediately following the successful completion of any conditions attached to admission into the graduate program. It introduces students to history and historiography as practiced by professional historians as well as the reading and writing skills necessary for historical analysis.

History 705: Approaches to History
This course should be taken in the second or third semester of study. It introduces students to a specific approach to history through the analysis of historical monographs from a variety of time periods and places. Its specific focus will change from year to year.

Whenever possible, History 700 should be taken before History 705.

2.         Graduate courses (12 units)

Students are required to take 12 additional graduate units (4 courses), generally from courses numbered History 701 to History 850 or History 899 (graduate-level proseminar/independent study). These courses should be distributed as follows:

  • At least one reading seminar
  • At least one research seminar
  • At least one seminar covering topics before 1800
  • At least one seminar covering topics after 1800
  • Seminars must cover at least two geographical fields selected among Asia, Africa, Europe, Latin America, the Middle East, and the United States.

Students may count a single course for both chronological and geographical distribution.

Students may substitute HIST 899 Independent Study for one of these requirements. This can include a proseminar (HIST 696) taken as HIST 899.

Courses may be repeated for credit provided the topic is not repeated.

3.         Electives (9 units)

Students are required to take 9 additional units, which can be drawn from upper-division, proseminar, or graduate history courses.  Under advisement, students are encouraged to design a program that best meets their academic and career goals.

4.         Courses outside the department

Students may take up to two courses (6 units) outside of the SF State Department of History to include in their 30-unit program. This includes courses in other departments (provided they have significant historical content) and at other universities. In the past, students have sometimes taken a course in departments such as International Relations, Political Science, Classics, Sexuality Studies, or Women and Gender Studies.  SF State also has an agreement with UC Berkeley that allows students to take a limited number of courses there for no additional charge.

Students who plan on including courses outside of the department in their program of study should consult with a graduate coordinator before enrolling in the course.

Any courses taken to fulfill the auxiliary skill requirement fall outside of the 6-unit maximum.

5.         History 785: College Teaching of History

The department offers a course on College Teaching of History for students who are interested in university-level teaching, either as community college instructors or in PhD programs. In this course, students are assigned teaching assistantship positions in lower- or upper-division courses while also meeting with other teaching assistants and the coordinator of the program to discuss pedagogy and methods in six required workshops.

To qualify for the program, students must have successfully completed History 700, have successfully completed 12 additional History units, and be carrying a 3.35 overall GPA.

Students may substitute HIST 785 College Teaching of History for one graduate seminar if they complete their teaching assistantship in an upper-division course.  If they complete the teaching assistantship in a lower-division course, they may substitute it for an elective course.  Alternatively, they may use HIST 785 for Professional Development credit (see below).

Professional Development

Each MA candidate is expected to have one skill to aid in her or his study of history and to prepare for future study or employment.  In many cases, this skill will be a reading knowledge of a foreign language, but the department offers some alternatives to language study, as outlined below.  The courses taken for this requirement are in addition to the 30 units of historical study.

Students must file a Completion of Specified Graduate Requirements form when they have completed their Professional Development requirement. It is the responsibility of each student to inform the graduate coordinators that he or she has satisfied this requirement (this includes students who are native speakers of a language other than English).  Once the student has done so, one of the graduate coordinators will prepare this form on behalf of the student.

The department strongly urges students planning to apply for a PhD in the future to begin their study of the appropriate languages for their field.

Professional Development course options:

1)         Two semesters (at least 3 units each) of foreign language on the intermediate level or above.  Evaluation may be by either coursework or examination.  Native speakers of a language other than English are exempt from this requirement.

To complete the requirement through coursework, the student should take (or have taken) at least six semester units of advanced-level courses (through at least the second semester of the second year) in a given language. Comprehension of the language needs to be current; the coursework must have been completed within the last seven years. The courses do not have to be completed at SF State; community colleges usually offer the level of coursework that will satisfy the language requirement.

To complete the requirement through examination, students must pass a translation examination administered by the faculty of the Department of History once a semester (typically during the first or second week of classes.)



2)         Two semesters (at least 3 units each) drawn from the following courses:

History 303 (Introduction to Oral and Public History: The Bay Area)*

History 304 Teaching History With Comics

History 660  (Digital History)*

History 785 (College Teaching of History)*

History 880 (Historical Internship)

History 890 (Ex Post Facto): managing editors only
Relevant courses in Museum Studies, Academic Advising, Statistics, Computer Science, Geography, Linguistics (see Graduate Coordinators for list of courses)


*These courses may be included in the 30-unit history program if the Professional Development requirement is fulfilled in some other way.

Culminating Experience

Each MA student will complete a culminating experience in his or her final semester. Students must possess a minimum grade point average of 3.0 when they enroll in the Culminating Experience, and they may have no remaining Incompletes at that time.

The Culminating Experience choices are:
MA Comprehensive Examination (History 896EXM)
MA Thesis (History 898)

Whether a student chooses the comprehensive examination or the thesis option depends on his or her personal and career goals. The graduate coordinators are happy to discuss the pros and cons of each option.

Comprehensive Examination in History  (History 896EXM)

Most history MA candidates take the Comprehensive Examination. This written examination is given toward the end of each semester, the exact date varying according to the academic calendar.  In the semester prior to taking the exam, the student will select an examining committee of three members of the graduate history faculty. The members of the exam committee will be selected from faculty from whom the student has taken substantial coursework, usually at least one graduate seminar. Students should consult with the graduate coordinators as to the composition of their committee.  Once faculty members have agreed to serve on a student’s exam committee, the student must submit a Culminating Experience form.

The committee will create, read, and evaluate the exam, assigning it to one of the following categories: Pass with Distinction, Pass, or Fail. Throughout the semester the student is obliged to meet periodically with her or his examining committee to discuss readings and preparations for the exam.

Sample copies of previous examinations can be obtained from the Graduate Coordinators. At the beginning of the semester in which the exam is to be taken, the candidate must sign up for History 896EXM.

If a student initially fails the examination, he or she may repeat the exam once and only once.

Thesis Option (History 898)

Students wishing to write a thesis must first confer with one of the Graduate Coordinators. The purpose of this conference is to review the student's academic record. Students will be asked to demonstrate their capacity and preparation for writing a thesis in two ways: (1) they must possess an excellent academic record with a pattern of coursework that demonstrates not only a breadth of training but also a background for doing the proposed work; (2) they must have completed a graduate research seminar with a grade of no lower than A-. The appropriateness of the general topic in terms of available faculty and potential library and archival resources will also be considered at this first meeting.

Students who successfully pass this initial screening must then submit a well-conceived research design to proposed members of the thesis committee. This prospectus must include the following items:

  1. A clear identification of the problem to be studied.  The student should indicate the significance and importance of the problem as well as the aims and objectives of the study.  A brief review of the literature should also be appended;
  2. As precise a description as possible of the materials to be used in the thesis.  The student should indicate here why this body of material is potentially useful and what the difficulties in using this material might be;
  3. A statement of the methodology or approach to be employed in thesis;

  4. A timetable for the completion of the project.

This research design will be the basis of a one-hour oral discussion, with all members of the committee present. If the committee formally approves the research design, they will then sign the Culminating Experience Form, which the student may then file. Students must submit their ATC to the Graduate Division before they file their Culminating Experience form. After both forms have been filed and approved, the Graduate Division will allow a student to sign up for History 898.

Students must observe specific regulations in preparing and filing the thesis. Detailed format instructions are contained in the publication Guidelines for Preparation and Submission of Theses/Written Creative Works provided by the Graduate Studies Division.  Students should review these guidelines before they begin submitting draft chapters of their thesis to their committee.

Enrollment in Hist. 898 is good for a full calendar year. At the end of the first semester, the student still working on his or her thesis will receive a grade of WP--“Work in Progress.” Students writing theses do not need to pay an additional fee for the subsequent semester.  Special forms, available from the Library or from the Graduate Coordinators, will allow them to request library privileges in the second semester of thesis work.  When the thesis has been approved by the candidate’s committee and accepted by the Graduate Division, the Graduate Coordinator will submit to the Registrar’s office a grade change from a “WP” to a “CR” (credit) for the units of course 898.

Different faculty members may have varying expectations about the process of mentoring a thesis candidate, so it is important for students to find out what their committee members require. Typically, the chair of the committee may want to approve drafts of individual chapters, while the second and third readers may prefer to wait until an overall draft is complete. At any rate, students should make sure that they get their final rough draft to their committee in plenty of time for them to read and evaluate the work before returning it to them for revisions. Students who wish to graduate in December MUST have a complete draft to their committee by October 15; students who plan to graduate in May MUST have their draft to their committee by March 15.