Master of Arts Program

The three major areas in the Master of Arts program and corresponding fields are:

  • European History – Medieval, Early Modern or Modern
  • United States History – Early U.S. or Modern U.S.
  • Global Studies 

MA Expectations

Candidates for the MA degree must demonstrate mastery of the two fields of study that they select for examination in the master's degree examinations. That field mastery must surpass the level of simple factual knowledge and must include familiarity with the salient issues of historical interpretation in the student's fields of study and a working knowledge of the secondary literature pertinent to those issues. In addition, all candidates for the degree must, in the context of their examinations and course work, give evidence of their ability to assess and employ the primary source material in their fields and their capacity to present, in coherent and well-written form, the results of their research in both seminar papers and the MA essay.

MA Requirements

All master’s students must complete 30 credit hours of course work, a master’s essay and a comprehensive examination. At least 18 credit hours must be in history courses numbered 6000 or above, and at least six of those credits must be in research seminars. There is no foreign language requirement, although students wanting to go on for a doctoral degree are encouraged to work on their linguistic skills. A typical sequence of classes for a full-time MA student will look something like what is shown in the table below.

  • First Semester
  • Second Semester
  • Third Semester
  •  Fourth  Semester
  • 6100: Art and Craft of History
  • Colloquium
  • Studies course or field-focused course; Public History
  • First seminar
  • Colloquium
  • Studies course or field-focused course; Applied History
  • Second seminar
  • Colloquium or readings course
  • (Optional third class)
  • Colloquium or readings course; Applied History
  • (Second class if only six classes taken in fall)
  • MA comprehensive exams

For an extensive history master's course work guide, please visit the Marquette Bulletin.

MA Resources

MA Comprehensive Exams

MA students take comprehensive essay exams in their major and minor fields of study. These exams generally are offered only once per year, usually in the second full week of February.

The director of graduate studies will appoint examiners for each field and communicate this information no later than the start of the fall semester of the student's second year, and generally by the end of the spring semester of their first year. It is the responsibility of students to get in touch with the examiners for guidance. 

The major field exam includes two sessions of three hours each over one day and the minor field is one three-hour session on an adjacent day. Any student requiring accommodations for a disability needs to work with the Office of Disability Services to determine the nature of the accommodation no later than the start of their third semester. 

A 2.0 vote is required to pass (major and minor field examiners will read both parts of each exam). A student who fails the MA comprehensive exam will be given one opportunity to retake the written exam within six months of the first examination. In addition to a written component, students who are re-examined will be required to take a one-hour oral examination. A 2.0 vote, on both written and oral exams, is required to pass.

MA Reading Lists and Comprehensive Exams

While comprehensive exams come toward the end of the MA degree, preparation  should begin from the time of matriculation. To aid this preparation, history faculty have prepared representative lists for each field, which can be found below:

MA History Reading Lists

These lists must be understood as a starting point, as indeed should syllabi from relevant colloquia. The comprehensive exams are not limited to these lists or a particular class and, in fact, any question on a book from one of these lists would not be limited to its content but rather would ask for the arguments to be contextualized more broadly in terms of major debates within the field. In sum, the lists are not prescriptive and any student should expect to understand a range of interpretations in order to demonstrate mastery of critical events and themes, as well as significant historiographical debates in the field.       

MA Essays

MA students also must complete a master's essay, which is normally a seminar paper that has been revised.  For instance, essays will often include more historiographical background than contained in the original papers. They should be at least 30 pages long, exclusive of bibliographies and other end matter. The "Master's Essay Approval Form" must be signed by a primary reader (usually the faculty member in whose seminar the paper was written, although the students also can ask a faculty member in their field to serve as primary reader). The DGS is the second reader of all essays.

A student must make a draft of his or her essay available to the primary reader at least one month before the due date set by the Graduate School in order to give the reader adequate time to read and make suggestions for improving the essay. The student is responsible for delivering the completed essay and cover sheet to the Graduate School prior to the deadline (generally a month before the end of the semester). A list of MA forms is available on the Graduate School's website.


  • Students opting for Medieval Europe as their major field are not required to take a separate minor field, although their complete exam still consists of nine hours (i.e. medieval is both major and minor fields). The minor field may concentrate on a medieval focus outside Europe such as Byzantium, medieval Islamicate societies, or medieval East Asia as determined in conjunction with the examiners.
  • Minor fields may be taken in Atlantic World, African, Asian or Latin American history, in which case readings lists are developed with the examining professor.  These minor fields are options only for students who opt for Global as their major field.