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Online Master’s in History Programs

Students in master’s in history degree programs have the opportunity to study theories of history and apply the tools of historical research and historiography to cultivating a deeper understanding of significant events, issues, and developments from the past. In addition, studying history at the master’s level typically involves specializing in a particular field of history, an historical era, and/or a cultural/geographical area. Some common specializations at the master’s level include American History, European History, Global History, Latin American History, African History, China and Japan, Women’s History, the 19th Century, the 20th Century, Colonialism and the Third World, and Public History. Earning a master’s degree in history, which can be done through traditional, campus-based programs or through online master’s in history programs, can be a pathway to further doctoral studies in history, teaching history at the high school or college level, and/or working in digital humanities, international relations, or law and government.

What Is a Master’s Degree in History?

A master’s degree in history is a graduate degree conferred by a college or university program in which students learn how to conduct historical research, interpret historical events and trends, craft historical narratives, and communicate the lessons of history to other academic professionals and to general audiences. Master’s in history programs generally encourage students to specialize in one of any number of broadly recognized fields within the discipline, either through a designated curricular track or through elective coursework and research in a particular historical period, region of the world, and/or theoretical framework. Some master’s in history programs require a final research project or a master’s thesis in a student’s chosen area of study. Students who successfully complete a master’s in history program can go on to pursue a doctoral degree in history, teach history, or enter the workforce in fields that require expertise in archival research and/or the history and culture of particular regions.

Online Master’s in History Programs

Online master’s in history programs are a convenient and flexible alternative to traditional, campus-based master’s in history programs. Students in an online master’s in history program take the same types of classes and receive the same kind of academic training as students enrolled in a campus-based program. However, they are able to do so without having to relocate in order to be near a university that offers a master’s in history program and without the inconvenience of having to commute to a college campus for weekly classes. Most online master’s in history programs offer all of their required coursework online, although some may have a limited number of campus-based requirements, such as summer or weekend workshops, seminars, and/or orientations sessions.

How Identifies and Classifies Online Master’s in History Programs researches master’s in history programs and classifies programs that are offered by accredited, non-profit schools based on several important criteria. To be listed on the site, a master’s in history program must offer all or most of its coursework online and not require more than two campus-based sessions per year. In addition, programs offered by for-profit schools and by schools that lack proper accreditation are not listed on the site. Finally, online master’s in history programs must offer a curriculum that provides graduate-level training in historical methodologies, historical theories, and historiography, as well as the opportunity to apply this knowledge to graduate studies in one or more historical fields or eras. While there are no formal rules regarding the designation of online master’s in history programs, most programs are designated as Master of Arts (MA) or Master of Science (MS) in History programs.

What Students Learn in an Online Master’s in History Program

There are two or three components of a typical online master’s in history program curriculum: graduate-level courses in general historical research, research methods, and historiography; advanced coursework in one or more of the field’s specialization areas, such as American or European History; and, in many programs, a final research project that may include a written paper and/or formal presentation. Among the general topics that master’s students typically study as part of an online master’s in history curriculum are historical scholarship and graduate research methodologies, major theories of history, and approaches to crafting historical narratives.

There are numerous master’s-level specializations in the field of history that may be covered by required and/or elective coursework in an online master’s program, but some of the more common include: American History; European History; Comparative World History; Public History; Colonial History; and Military History. Online master’s in history programs may also offer students the option of studying other topics in history, such as the history of the developing world, race and gender in history, legal history, the industrial revolution, pre-modern civilizations, the Cold War, World War I and World War II, and the Vietnam War.

Finally, many online master’s in history programs require or give students the option to complete a capstone project, final paper, and/or master’s thesis. This third component of an online master’s in history program challenges students to apply what they have learned in the program to researching and analyzing a specific topic or issue related to their area of scholarship.

Online Master’s in History Program Courses

The table below provides a representative overview of the types of courses that are commonly offered and/or required by online master’s in history programs. The course titles and descriptions are drawn from actual online master’s in history programs, although specific course offerings vary by program and by specialization.

Course TitleCourse Description
Historical MethodsAn introduction to accepted methods for the study, analysis, and evaluation of historical accounts and sources, with a focus on the relationship between method, theory, and interpretation in historical research.
HistoriographyHistorical research and writing, the profession of the historian, and how historical narratives are crafted and integrated into our understanding of the world.
Historical Research Instruction in the preparation of research papers, the techniques used to research, organize, and write papers based on primary sources, and the research manuals, guides, and manuals of style used within the field.
Comparative History and ResearchHow historians identify appropriate sources, define and account for cultural and social contexts, and craft relevant narratives when comparing different historical events and periods.
20th Century AmericaAn examination of how historians have interpreted and are continuing to interpret and frame major issues in US history from the 20th century, including equality for women and minorities, the evolving relationships between the natural and built environments, and American involvement in international economics and foreign conflicts.
The Agrarian Era and the Industrial RevolutionThe Early Modern Epoch (1500-1800) is explored with a focus on the rise of global trade, the expansion of empires, the spread of new technologies, and the dawn of industrialization.
Western Legal TraditionsThe origins of the western legal tradition from the rediscovery of Roman Law in the 11th century to the Age of Revolutions in the late 18th century, with a focus on theories and practices of law and governance, and the function of legislative bodies, courts of law, and informal and formal arrangements between states and empires designed to mediate relations of war and peace.
Archival StudiesAn introduction to the technical skills and theoretical knowledge needed to systematically identify, select, protect, organize, describe, and preserve archival materials, and to engage and educate the public, write grant proposals, and use digital humanities tools.
History Capstone ProjectStudents create a digital portfolio that reflects the breadth and depth of their studies, articulates the value of their degree to potential employers or admissions committee members, and includes a personal statement and essay reflecting their interests and areas of expertise.

Admissions to Online Master’s in History Programs

The basic eligibility requirement for admission to an online master’s in history program is a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university. Some programs may also require applicants to have taken one or more prerequisite undergraduate courses, but most programs do not require applicants to have majored in history. Similarly, some programs may prefer applicants with a minimum undergraduate grade point average (GPA) of 2.5, 2.75, 3.0, or 3.25 on a four-point scale.

In addition to holding a bachelor’s degree, many programs require students to submit other materials for consideration. These may include: a professional resume; two or more letters of recommendation; a personal essay or statement of purpose; and written responses to one or more essay questions. Finally, some programs may require applicants to submit standardized test scores (typically the GRE).

Online Master’s in History Program Formats

There are several key variations in online master’s in history program formats that potential applicants should be aware of and may want to consider as they explore the options for earning a master’s degree in history online. For example, there are two distinct methods of online instruction: synchronous and asynchronous instruction. There are also different types of enrollment options, with some programs requiring full-time enrollment and others offering students the ability to enroll part time and/or flexibility in the number of courses they take per term. Finally, there are programs that offer all of their instruction online, and programs that require students to attend a limited number of campus visits. Each of these topics is addressed more thoroughly in the sections below.

Synchronous vs. Asynchronous Instruction: The primary difference between synchronous instruction and asynchronous instruction involves the way in which online lectures and virtual class sessions are delivered via a program’s learning management system (LMS). Synchronous instruction takes place in real time and requires students to be logged on to a program’s LMS at specific times in order to view streamed lectures and participate in virtual classes. In contrast, asynchronous instruction has no real-time component and allows students to view pre-recorded lectures and other digital course materials on demand at their convenience. As a result, synchronous instruction is thought to provide more structure, which may benefit students who prefer to have regularly scheduled class meeting times. Asynchronous instruction offers more overall flexibility than synchronous instruction, but it requires students to be self-motivated and have time-management skills.

Full-Time vs. Part-Time Enrollment: While many online master’s in history programs have flexible enrollment policies that allow students to choose the number of courses/credits they would like to take per term, some programs have designated full-time and/or part-time enrollment tracks. Full-time enrollment in an online master’s program typically means spending 40 or more hours per week on schoolwork when classes are in session and can lead to graduating is one to two years. Part-time students, in contrast, may spend fewer hours per week on school (typically 15 to 20 hours), but it can take two, three, or four years to earn a master’s in history degree online as a part-time student, depending on the number of credits taken per term.

Campus Visits: Some online master’s in history programs require students to attend a limited number of campus visits. Campus-based instruction can be a valuable part of an online program, as it gives students an opportunity to meet with instructors, interact with classmates, and utilize academic facilities like libraries and archives that may not be available online. Campus visits may also be used to provide students with helpful orientation sessions or as a forum for final presentations and thesis defenses. However, campus visits require travel and students may incur expenses in addition to a program’s tuition and fees in order to attend campus-based sessions. It should be noted that most online master’s in history programs do not have campus-based requirements, and does not list programs that require more than two campus visits per year.