MA Thesis

A Guide to ARTH 799, the optional M.A. Thesis in Art History

If you wish to write a thesis, it will count toward 3 of your 15 elective credits in the M.A. The thesis is often related to a previous seminar paper that a student wishes to develop into a longer study.  It should range between 40 and no more than 60 pages in length.

Thesis Proposal Guidelines:

The thesis process typically takes three semesters.

Semester 1:     Submit proposal, speak with faculty

Semester 2:     Register for ARTH 799, research and write

Semester 3:     Ask for extension, if needed - Allowing a third semester helps ensure that the thesis won’t delay graduation       

All MA students wishing to write a Master's thesis this academic year must inform the Graduate Director, Dr. DeCaroli (, of your intention to do so at least two semesters prior to graduation. Because this is a policy change, those admitted to the MA program prior to fall 2017 may apply one semester in advance.

As part of this process you will be expected to name the professor you hope will serve as an adviser for the project. Please consult with the professor before submitting any names.

Once the Graduate Director has been informed, you must submit a thesis proposal. The details of this process will be distributed in an email at the beginning of each semester.

The proposals will be reviewed and voted on by the Art History faculty. Rejected proposals can be revised and re-submitted only once.  

We ask that students write a 5-page prospectus with a comprehensive bibliography. The 5-page length does not include the bibliography.

Thesis prospectus: It should outline the proposed topic, the working thesis, provide a brief review of literature on the subject, and resources the student will use. A section outline should also be provided, highlighting the key topics or themes of the study.

Bibliography: This should include no fewer than 20 annotated sources relevant to the project.

Approval to write a thesis is not guaranteed. The prospectus, as well as the student’s previous coursework, writing ability, and work ethic will be taken into consideration. Once the prospectus has been approved, the student may then register for ARTH 799. The Graduate Coordinator or the Graduate Director can assist the student with this.

Thesis adviser/second reader: In addition to the thesis adviser the student should have a second reader. This faculty member reads the completed (and adviser-approved) draft and makes additional suggestions for revision. 

Semester Timetable:  Ideally before the semester begins, the student needs to work out an appropriate timetable for submission of the draft to the advisor, allowing enough time for reading of the draft by both faculty members, and for the student’s revisions and final submission.

Mason’s formatting deadlines are generally very early. The formatting review deadline is typically a month or more before the end of the semester. This means that all revision from both readers needs to be completed and approved before this date. Students should check the date that applies to them and work backward to ensure they complete their work in a timely fashion. This early deadline is why we require an extra semester.

Please note: Master's students must maintain continuous enrollment in 799 while writing and submitting a thesis. Students registered in 799 are graded IP until work is complete; at that time, they are graded S/NC and previous IP grades are updated by the Office of the University Registrar to reflect the final S or NC grade. Graduation candidates who miss the library deadline for thesis submission but do submit officially before the next semester begins do not have to register for 799 in that next semester, but must stay active to graduate.

Presentation: When the student has completed the thesis, s/he will give a presentation for the faculty and other students. This is usually scheduled during the last week of the semester as a 35-40 minute presentation with PowerPoint and time for questions.

Formatting/filing the thesis:  Students must follow the university protocols and timetable.  There are formatting workshops offered every semester announced via the listserv, and there is a deadline for filing the thesis, usually the last day of class.

The first link explains registration procedures.  You must register for 3 credits of ARTH 799 during your first semester of thesis preparation.  Then, should you not complete it, you register for an additional credit in the coming semester.  Only 3 credits of 799 may count toward the degree.  In addition, should you be VERY close, but need just a little more time (i.e. about 3 weeks), there is a less-expensive special registration with a deadline very early in the following semester.  Graduate Coordinator, Emily Gibson (, can help you with this registration. 

The second link (see section AP.6.9) contains sections on thesis and thesis submission.  Please note that we do a two rather than a three-person committee. It also provides information on thesis submission.

Art History Masters Thesis Funding

On most years the Art History Program can provide funding for Master's students working on a Master’s Thesis. Typically, this is a competitive research grant of $500. 

This funding must be used in support of your research project. Travel to site-specific fieldwork, visiting archives, or interviewing subjects are all acceptable; as are other expenses associated with acquiring research materials. 

To apply please include a Curriculum Vitae (resume) and a one page explanation of your project. Give special attention to clarifying the way you plan to use these funds in advancing your Thesis. 

One award will be granted each year. An email announcement is typically circulated at the beginning of the semester. Funding decisions will be made by a committee of faculty members.