Courses are listed on the department website:

Graduate courses in history are generally small seminars—with 18 students or fewer. Almost all courses are offered in the evening, usually from 7:20 – 10pm. Fall and spring courses typically meet once a week for fourteen weeks (not counting holidays and spring break), while summer classes meet twice a week for seven weeks. Almost all of our graduate courses are held at the Fairfax campus, but a few meet at the Mason Square campus or other locations. Since fall 2020, we have offered a mix of in-person and online courses in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. As of 2022, we are still considering how many online sections to offer each term.

Three classes (9 credits) is considered full-time, and recommended only for truly full-time students. If you are working or have other significant commitments, please limit yourself two or even one class. Sometimes, the adjustment to the heavy reading and writing load in history graduate classes is difficult for students who are trying to do other work at the same time. In the summer, one course, meeting twice a week, is considerable work. Only rarely should a student take two.

MA-level graduate courses are in the 500s to the 700s. The very few numbers in the 800s, and 900s are classes that apply only to the PhD program. There is no hierarchical relationship among the numbers, so 500 classes are not easier or lower level than 600 classes. We just use the 500 sequence for most of our world history classes, while the 600 sequence is mostly U.S. and Europe (and above 680 applied history). The 700 numbers are research seminars and independent studies.

Course numbers for U.S. and Europe courses do not reflect the chronological scope. To learn which courses fulfill chronological distribution requirements, please see the department website.

Some courses are designated as “topics” or “problems” courses, which allows the instructor to try out new topics without formally adding a course to the university catalog. You may take as many courses as you like under these numbers, provided the listed topics are distinct. For instance, one section of HIST 615 might concern the Antebellum South, while another might cover the Cuban Missile Crisis. While they share a course number, they function as separate courses. Concentrators in U.S. history can expect to take several sections of HIST 615, while concentrators in European history will likely take multiple sections of HIST 635.

Booklists for every course are submitted to the bookstore every semester.

HIST 610: The Study and Writing of History

HIST 610: The Study and Writing of History is our introduction to the questions posed by historians and the methods used to answer them. It is offered every fall and spring semester and is required of all students in their first 9 credits, and taking it in the first semester is a good idea for all students.

Reading Courses

Regardless of your path, most of the courses you take in the program are likely to be 500- and 600-level seminars that emphasize the reading of books and articles by scholarly historians. Learning how to read and evaluate such texts is a major component of the scholarly outlook you are expected to achieve in the program.

This genre of history may be unfamiliar to some students. Many undergraduate programs emphasize primary sources and textbooks written specifically for undergraduate students. And many of the best-known works of history, such as those by David McCullough and Doris Kearns Goodwin, are written to introduce the general public to important stories, not necessarily to advance new knowledge or interpretations. By contrast, most of the texts assigned for seminars are written by scholars seeking to inform fellow specialists. In the MA program, we hope you will learn to appreciate the value and the limits of this genre.

Another striking difference between undergraduate and graduate study is the amount of reading expected every week. Graduate seminars typically assign a book per week, and sometimes more, such as book and an article.

Getting through this much reading requires strategy. All of your professors can advise you on techniques for getting the most important points of a book without giving equal time to every word in it, and some written advice can be found below. That said, you will need to discover which techniques work best for you. And reading will become easier as both the content of the books and the methods deployed by scholars become more familiar with each course you take.

Even the best strategies are no substitute for devoting considerable time to reading, taking notes, and digesting the material. So plan to devote a considerable part of each week to the assigned readings.

Reading courses take the form of small seminars, which can be quite different from the large lectures that feature in some undergraduate programs. Students are expected to take active, constructive parts in class discussions.

For general advice, see

Research Courses

While readings courses may include a research component, you will do more intensive, original research in the required research seminar (HIST 797), and, if you choose, additional research courses. Original scholarship is particularly important to students considering doctoral study, which emphasizes the creation of new knowledge. But it is essential for all students as a way to understand how we know what we know.

HIST 797 is required of all students. Each section of these courses is designated with a specific time, place, or topic, and, it is a good idea to choose a research seminar that will allow you to build on background knowledge from a previous reading course or another source. For instance, if you have completed a reading course on the revolutionary era, you will be better prepared to conduct original research on that period. Since the topics vary each semester, it is a good idea to see what is being offered and seize the opportunity if a particularly good fit emerges. On the other hand, most students wait to take these seminars until they are well into their program and most conversant with the conventions of scholarly research and writing and the specific debates surrounding various historical questions. Students in the predoctoral concentration should take HIST 797 before their final semester, so they can take HIST 798 or HIST 799 after completing HIST 797.

Students who wish to take more than one semester of research have three options.

  1. Take a second HIST 797 (which may be repeated for a maximum of 6 credits). This offers the benefits of structured deadlines, the chance to work alongside other students, and the chance to see how another instructor conceives of the research process.
  2. HIST 798 - Directed Research and Writing in History. 
  3. HIST 799 – Thesis. 

For more information on HIST 798 and HIST 799, see the section on the predoctoral concentration on the page on MA History Concentrations

Applied Courses

Required of students on the applied path, but open to all students, these courses (HIST 680-698) teach specific skills related to the production of scholarship (such as archival management), the translation of scholarship for broad audiences (such as museum studies), or both (including many of our digital courses).


Students in the applied tracks are required to take HIST 794: Internship, unless they are already working in applied history, in which case they may substitute an additional applied course.

Students in other tracks may also take HIST 794 as an elective. This may be a particularly good choice for students in the enrichment tracks.

Courses Outside of the Mason History Program

You will take most of your courses within the Mason history program. With the graduate director’s approval, students in the enrichment concentrations may take one 3-credit course outside of History and have it count as an elective.

You can also take some courses at other local universities through the Washington Consortium, and we accept up to 6 graduate credits from other accredited universities. Please contact the graduate coordinator for details.

Other Requirements

The Information Technology proficiency can be met by taking History 696 or 697—those classes automatically fulfill that requirement. Other digital history classes may also count depending on specific content as determined by the graduate director.

Students in the predoctoral track must demonstrate intermediate proficiency in a foreign language which is the equivalent of a 200-level language class. Many students already have completed such courses as undergraduates. If you have not, you can take Mason undergraduate courses, though these will not count toward your MA.

Students on the applied tracks are required to demonstrate proficiency with a research tool, typically statistics, information technology, or a foreign language (including American Sign Language). HIST 696 and 697 both automatically fulfill the requirement, and other digital classes can count as well. Facility with specific software (e.g., PastPerfect for museum work) can count when documented by a supervisor.


Students in the MA program are expected to produce professional quality work, and their grades often reflect that. Grades in the B-range can signal work that fulfills course requirements but does not reach the standards of excellence expected of graduate students.

As of 2016-2017, University policy AP.3.2 Graduate Grading states that “Although a B- is a satisfactory grade for a course, students must maintain a 3.00 average in their degree program and present a 3.00 GPA on the courses listed on the graduation application.”

Grades below B- reflect work that is unsatisfactory for graduate study. University Policy AP.6.6.2, states that graduate students may be terminated if they “Accumulate grades of F in two graduate courses or 9 credits of unsatisfactory grades in graduate courses.”

Students considering further graduate study, especially doctoral study, should note the great weight attached to letters of recommendation. Faculty write the strongest recommendations for students who go beyond merely completing the requirements by challenging themselves and classmates. Research assignments, especially those in HIST 797 research seminars, are particularly good opportunities for ambitious students to show their ability to take on challenges.