Comprehensive exams for M.A. students

Before the exams

During your time in the M.A. program, but before taking comprehensive examinations, the following must be completed:

Credit requirements

The M.A. program requires a total of 32 semester credits, including a six-credit thesis and at least 18 credits in 700-level courses; written comprehensive examinations (one credit total) in three fields (after 25 credits of course work); reading knowledge of one foreign language; a public prospectus colloquium; and a final oral examination (thesis colloquium).

Specific course work requirements

In addition to History 600 (Proseminar), all M.A. candidates are required to take at least one of the following: History 700 (Cultural Studies and History), History 701 (Philosophy of History), History 780 (Methodology), History 781 (Historiography: The Americas), History 783 (Historiography), or History 785 (U.S. Historiography).

Seminar requirement

Ordinarily all graduate students working toward the M.A. will complete at least three seminars, including one in the major field of concentration, one in a non-major field, and one as described in specific course requirements.

If there is an examination field in which the student cannot complete a seminar, he or she should complete a directed readings course instead (History 703 or 705). Students should not take directed readings courses in lieu of available seminars. Also note: there is a maximum number of credits that may be taken under each directed readings course number (nine in History 698, six in History 697, six in History 703, nine in History 705). Students should keep track of their credit hours in these courses, so as not to exceed the maximums. Any course taken under such an arrangement should be documented in writing before the beginning of the semester and at the completion of the course. Completion of this form, signed by the supervising professor, is required for enrollment in independent-readings courses.

Foreign language requirement

Reading knowledge of one foreign language other than the student's native language is required, the selection to be determined by the committee. Students undertaking thesis research which focuses on a foreign culture should expect to be examined in the principal language of that culture. The language requirement may be satisfied by: (1) two years of successful college work in one language, the fourth semester to be completed with at least the grade of "C"; (2) passing the foreign language placement test given at the University of Nevada, Reno (by the Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures) at the second-year college level. This requirement must be satisfied before taking comprehensive examinations.

Changes in committee members/examination fields

A student may change his or her examination fields or committee members only with the approval of his or her committee chair and the graduate advisor. Such changes may require the student to take additional courses. If the chair and graduate advisor determine that the resulting change in the student's program warrants a new program-of-study meeting, the student will arrange that meeting. A change in the student's major field and/or committee chair will ordinarily require a new program-of-study meeting. If the change does not warrant a new meeting, the student should complete the "Change in Advisory Committee" form and obtain the requisite signatures of the outgoing and incoming committee members and submit the form to the graduate advisor for processing.

Comprehensive examinations information

  • The examinations take the form of Historiographical or Methodological essays - as determined by the student's committee at the program of study meeting - that students are to undertake in the context of their normal course work in seminars and/or independent study courses.
    • If the student's essays are evaluated at the end of the course work at the A or A- level they will be deemed to have met the requirement.
    • If after two submissions to the faculty member supervising that field, an essay has not received an A -, it then goes to a second reader.
  • Form of the essays in each field.
    • Thesis field: students and advisors will choose any two of the following three options, commenced in two different courses. The total number of pages might be 30-35.
      • Historiographical or Methodological essay on the general area of the thesis (as preparation for the thesis proposal).
      • Historiographical or Methodological essay on the content of an imagined general survey course in the field. The student should discuss what themes the course would focus on, which works would inform their lectures, and which works they might assign to students. They are expected to demonstrate a sound grasp of the major themes and important scholarly works in the field.
      • Research essay drawing on both the secondary literature and primary sources in the field (as preparation for thesis research and possibly a publishable journal article).

Format of the essays: instead of one discrete essay, the faculty member supervising the field might opt to assign two or three discrete essays which could include two ancillary fields. In each of these fields students will write a Historiographical or Methodological essay of around 25-30 pages in length around major themes. The overall themes are selected in consultation with the instructor, and the student is to decide what works to discuss based upon their reading lists.

In the appropriate semester (ideally but not necessarily in the third semester of study) students are to enroll in HIST 795R.

  • They will receive a pass once the essays have been accepted respectively by each of the faculty members supervising their fields according to the standard.
  • The students must also submit the accepted essays in the form of a portfolio to the graduate advisor.

After the exams

Prospectus/seminar paper colloquium

Students will prepare and present to their committees a prospectus colloquium on the topic of their research. In advance of the colloquium, the student will submit to his or her committee a written thesis prospectus. The colloquium is a public event of roughly 90 minutes, to which the history faculty and graduate students are invited. Ordinarily the candidate will make a brief (15-20 minute) presentation on his or her research, followed by questions from the committee and others assembled. At the conclusion of the question-and-answer period, the committee will discuss the plans for further work (thesis or seminar papers) and will make recommendations to the candidate.


The following are the expectations for successful completion of the thesis:

  1. Writing a good thesis begins with the formulation of a critical or analytical question or questions.
  2. A thesis should demonstrate understanding of the historiography of the issue or question.
  3. A thesis should demonstrate the student's use and understanding of primary resources, as appropriate and possible in the chosen thesis field.
  4. A thesis should be the well-written product of critical analysis.
  5. Given the differences among fields of study, the precise nature and length of an acceptable thesis ranges widely and ultimately must be determined in consultation with the student's committee and chair. As a rule of thumb, M.A. theses should be no longer than 100 pages.
  6. The thesis should be submitted in the form prescribed in the Chicago Manual of Style, latest edition, and in accordance with the guidelines provided by the Graduate School. Students should obtain those guidelines at the beginning of the thesis process, in order to avoid reformatting later.

Graduation application

Students must purchase and complete an online application for graduation in each semester when they wish to graduate. Applications are due March 1 for May Graduation; June 1 for August Graduation; and October 1 for December Graduation.

Change in program of study

The application for graduation provides a final list of all courses the student has taken in order to complete the program. If that list in any way deviates from the one on the program of study form, the student must attach a "Change in Program of Study" form detailing the changes. If the student's committee has changed, he or she must attach the "Change of Advisory Committee" form.

Final oral examination (thesis colloquium)

A final oral examination (60-90 minutes) will be conducted in which candidates will be expected to display a thorough and detailed understanding in the area of their thesis research. The thesis must be submitted to the committee members no later than one week before the oral examination (earlier if so directed by the committee chair). The final oral exam is a public event, to which the history faculty and graduate students are invited. Upon passage of the oral exam and acceptance of the thesis or seminar papers, the committee members sign the "Master's Degree - Notice of Completion."

Note: The Notice of Completion form and the approved thesis are generally due to the Graduate School 10 days before the end of the semester in which the student intends to graduate. Deadlines are published on the Graduate School's website and in each semester's course schedule. It is the student's responsibility to plan his or her work so as to meet these various deadlines.