Western Washington University

Master of Arts in History
Graduate Handbook

  August 2007


Table of Contents

Purpose and Mission of Program 1
Purpose of Graduate Handbook 1

Program Degree Options


Thesis Option


Non-thesis Option 

Program Language Requirements 3
Electives 3
Full Time Status 3
Plan of Study  4
Time to Degree 4
Fields of Study 4
Independent Study 5
Undergraduate Coursework  5
Transfer Credits 5

Archives and Records Management Concentration


Program Requirements


Certification Program




Graduate Advisor


Faculty Advisor/Thesis Chair


Important Dates to Remember


Thesis Option—More Details


Thesis Writing Credits (690a, b, c)


Thesis Committee


Thesis Defense


Researching a Thesis


Writing a Thesis


Non-thesis Option—More Details


Revising Seminar Papers


Review Committee

Seminars—What to Expect 14

Graduate Teaching Assistantships


Awards and Requirements





Graders 19
Lead TA 20
History Student Organizations 21
Appendices  (Select Graduate and Departmental Forms) 22 and ff.

Program Purpose and Mission

The Department of History seeks, through its MA in History Program, to introduce students to the methodological and theoretical components of academic history in the twenty-first century.  The program serves a range of students, from those interested in pursuing a Ph.D. at another university to those wanting to experience more intensive and rigorous study than was the case in the undergraduate setting.  It offers all students an opportunity to experience first-hand the rigors of the discipline.  Students who successfully complete the program should have acquired an advanced knowledge of historiography, substantial experience working with primary documents, knowledge of the research and writing process, and an ability to communicate historical ideas effectively.

The Department recognizes that not all students will continue graduate studies after the MA but believes that the program does offer glimpses of what Ph.D. work entails.  The MA is also useful for those interested in teaching at the secondary level, though certification must be obtained through programs outside the department.  An MA in history may be widely applied in various public history settings (museums, libraries, parks programs, contract histories, and more).  Some who obtain MA degrees choose not to continue in the field but are well served by the training in research and writing in a wide range of fields.  Specialized training in Archives and Records Management remains an important and specialized avenue for Western’s History MA students.  Many of our graduates find careers in those fields.

Ultimately, the Department hopes that the program will provide a setting for scholars to explore and communicate ideas through coursework, readings, writings, and presentations by students and faculty alike.

Purpose of Graduate Handbook

Graduate students have expressed a desire to know more about the program and its policies than has generally been available through formal and informal advising.  While this handbook does not cover all aspects of the program, it introduces students to certain areas of interest and import.  This handbook does not encompass all Graduate School or Department of History policies regarding graduate studies.   Students should familiarize themselves with it and use it as the starting point for answers to questions they may have.  In the case of any conflicts with established policies in this handbook, students should defer to the Graduate School’s policies and those published in the University Bulletin.  The handbook does not contain information regarding admissions, as it is designed primarily for students currently enrolled in the program.  For admissions information, students should check with the Graduate Advisor in the Department and the Graduate School.  Students wishing to inquire about the Archives and Records Management Program should also contact that program director.

Program Degree Options

Students pursuing training in History and those obtaining training in Archives and Records management must select from one of the two options below.

Master of Arts in History—Option I (Thesis)
  • Hist 505 (4 credits) 
  • Hist 690a,b,c [thesis writing] (12 credits)
  • A written thesis prospectus is a prerequisite for 690b registration.  This should be developed in consultation with a thesis advisor.
  • Two separate fields of study.  Three courses in a primary field and two in a secondary field (approximately 20 credits)
  • Elective courses (approximately 9 credits in appropriate areas)
  • 45 total credits No more than 10 credits of independent study courses and no more than 10 credits of undergraduate coursework may be applied toward the program credits.
  • Language Requirement  (See below)
Master of Arts in History—Option II (Non-Thesis)
  • Hist 505 (4 cr.)
  • Two separate fields of study.  Three courses in one field and three courses in another with no more than one 400 level course in each area (approximately 24 credits)
  • At least four reading seminars taken among fields of study.  Reading seminars revolve around reading and discussion of special topics; shorter written exercises such as exploratory or bibliographical and/or historiographical essays may be assigned, but not major research papers involving extensive research in primary documents. Writing seminars, in contrast, are extensions of reading seminars in which students write major research papers based on previous preparation in a reading seminar.
  • Elective Courses (approximately 20 credits in appropriate areas) 
  • Submission of three revised graduate seminar papers to a committee of three department faculty no later than week seven of the final term of study.  Proposed revisions to be arranged with that committee no later than week seven in the term prior to the final term of study.
  • 48 total credits. No more than 10 credits of independent study courses and no more than 10 credits of undergraduate coursework may be applied toward the program credits.
  • Language Requirement  (See below)
Program Language Requirements

The foreign language requirement may be met in one of two ways:

  • By passing an examination approved or administered by the department or by earning a B grade or higher in the last course of a second-year language program.  Courses graded on a pass/no pass basis do not qualify for satisfying the language requirement.  Tests and course work taken before entry into the graduate program may be counted if completed within five years of acceptance into the graduate program.
  • Where appropriate and with departmental permission, a demonstrated competence in mathematics, statistics, or appropriate computer programs/processes, as determined by adviser and approved by the graduate program committee.

To complete a program in either Option I or II, electives may be chosen, in consultation with the graduate adviser from other seminars, readings courses, 400-level undergraduate courses (maximum of 10 credits) or Hist 500 (in rare cases, only with permission of the graduate advisor).

Full Time Status

In order for graduate students to maintain fulltime status, they must be enrolled for at least eight credits of approved coursework.  In some limited cases, certain financial aid requirements may require enrollment for 10 or more credits.  Students will generally take two seminars a quarter or some combination of seminars, undergraduate coursework (such as languages), and independent study courses.  Only those courses listed on the Plan of Study (See Appendix.) may be counted toward full time status.

Plan of Study

Students must file a Plan of Study approved by the Graduate Advisor with the Graduate School.  These should normally be completed in the first quarter of enrollment.  Changes to the plan are also approved by the Graduate Advisor and submitted to the Graduate School for final approval.  Students pursuing comparative history must obtain approval by the Graduate Advisor and may need to petition the Graduate School for final approval.  (See Appendix.)

Time to Degree

Graduate students at Western have up to five academic years to complete the program requirements.  Students petitioning for extensions must have departmental approval, typically through the graduate advisor, and a proposed timetable for completion as part of their petition.  Those students extending beyond five years may have to seek re-admission to the graduate school and department if they wish to complete their program.

Fields of Study

Students are expected to develop fields of study, which are essentially concentrations in specific areas.  Students may develop fields in any of the areas below, but when developing a comparative field, will need to petition the graduate advisor for approval of that field and should develop it in consultation with one or more professors.  The fields are:

  • National, Continental, or Regional studies
  • Ancient, Medieval, Early Modern, or Modern periods
  • Comparative History (see graduate faculty area of specialization)
  • Archives and Records Management
Independent Study

Students may take up to 10 credits of Independent Study coursework but it must be approved by the Graduate Advisor, Department Chair, and Graduate School.  (See forms in Appendix.)  Independent study courses may be taken for 2 to 6 credits, but not less than 2.  Independent study courses must not replicate current course offerings, be in areas relevant to the student’s plan of study, and supervised by a graduate faculty member with expertise in the area.  The student and faculty member must draw up a contract that provides a rationale for the independent study course and indicates work to be completed, due dates, and other evaluation criteria.

Undergraduate Coursework

Up to ten credits of undergraduate courses at the 400 level only may be applied to the MA degree with approval by the Graduate Advisor and Graduate School (done through the plan of study).  Language courses and other preparatory courses may need to be taken, but cannot count toward credits for the degree.  Only those courses listed on the plan of study may be taken to achieve full time status.

Transfer Credits

With approval from the Graduate Advisor and Graduate School , students may apply up to 9 post-baccalaureate credits (typically graduate-level coursework but in some cases 400-level coursework may be accepted) toward the MA credits.  Please see for details.

Field of Study in
Archives and Records Management (ARM)

The Department of History offers a graduate studies field in archives and records management, preparing students for rewarding professional careers applying historical understanding to the challenges of the modern information era. This two-year option within the program leads to the degree of Master of Arts in History with a concentration in Archives and Records Management and prepares our graduates for entry-level professional positions in archives, manuscript repositories, and records and information management programs.

Students may elect to emphasize either archives administration or records management, or to pursue a program equally balanced between the two specializations.  Elective courses and internships are selected to support these options.  Grounded in the study of History, the program emphasizes the value of historical knowledge and understanding to meeting the information and documentation needs of modern organizations.  Students learn basic principles of archives and records management, methods of selecting, organizing, and using recorded information, and gain practical experience in applying these techniques on the job.

ARM Requirements
  • Schedule: Students in the program complete 74 quarter hours of course work and internship. The typical sequence involves enrollment in archives and records management courses during the fall and winter quarters of the first year, internship in one of the cooperating agencies or institutions during the spring and summer quarters, and a return to the campus for the second year, to complete course work in history and elective subjects and the thesis.
  • Core Courses: All students follow a core curriculum, but have options to specialize in archives, records management, or a combination. Core courses include History and Principles of Archives Administration and Records Management; Contemporary Historical Methods; Collections Management and User Services; either Arrangement and Description of Archives, or Records Management; and Advanced Seminar in Archives and Records Management.
  • Electives: Elective courses are selected in consultation with the program director, to meet the individual needs of each student. Specialized courses, such as Preservation of Archival Materials, are offered. Students may also select from a wide range of courses in history, or in other disciplines, such as business administration, economics, political science, computer science, or other areas relevant to the student’s educational and career goals.
  • Internship: An acclaimed feature of the program is its emphasis on practical experience gained through an extended internship, covering a broad range of functions and activities in archives and records management. The internship is a valuable first step towards professional employment. This project-oriented work experience is performed on-site at a cooperating agency or institution, and supervised by its professional staff. Internships have been available in recent years in a wide variety of organizations.
  • Thesis: A master’s thesis is required, although in special circumstances a field project may be substituted. Thesis topics involving the history of archives administration and records management, or an emerging problem in these disciplines, are encouraged, but topics in any field of history are also appropriate.
  • Language requirement: The foreign language requirement is the same as that for all students in the History Program.
Certificate Program in Archives and Records Management

The department also offers a program leading to a Certificate in Archives and Records Management to persons already holding a Master’s degree from an accredited institution. Requirements for the certificate include four core courses in archives and records management, and the internship. Students with a master’s degree in a field other than history should also complete the course in Contemporary Historical Methods. The certificate program can be completed in two academic quarters on campus, plus two academic quarters for the internship.

Graduate Advisor

The Graduate Advisor is the faculty member assigned to approve all plans of study, thesis cards, and other forms required by the Graduate School.  This individual will also provide suggestions to students as to appropriate faculty for fields of study, possible faculty advisors, and other general questions regarding program requirements and possible career directions.

Click on: Graduate Advisor for current advisor.

Faculty Advisor (Thesis Chair)

Students should, in their first year of graduate study, seek the advice of various professors as to a plan of study, possible fields of study, and possible thesis topics or the organization of a non-thesis option review committee.  The faculty advisor should be the individual with whom the student will work most closely on developing a plan of study and a potential thesis.  The Faculty Advisor, especially if a Thesis Chair, should be the primary expert in chosen field of study in the department.  In rare cases, students may select co-advisors, but only with the approval of all faculty involved as well as the Graduate Advisor.  Students must obtain the approval from the Thesis Advisor the composition of the Thesis Committee, which must also be approved by the Graduate Advisor.  The Thesis Chair will establish the sequence of thesis review and revision.  (For example, the Thesis Chair may wish the student to complete the entire first draft of the thesis and approve it prior to its disbursal to other committee members, or the Thesis Chair may recommend that each chapter, when completed, be distributed.  The exact nature of this process must be determined in consultation with the Thesis Chair.)

Important Deadlines for Graduate Students

(For exact dates, see:   Graduate School deadlines  )


  • Late October—Oral Defense form due (Thesis Option)
  • Late October—Language Exam Arranged
  • Mid-November—Defended Thesis/Field Project due (Thesis Option)
  • Late November—Recommendation for Degree from Department (White card) (Thesis and Non-Thesis Options)
  • Late November—Plan of Study Due (Note:  For all new students, to be completed by the end of the first quarter of enrollment)
  • Early December—All ‘K’ grades removed for students completing degree Fall Quarter
  • Early December—Application for Degree (Blue card) due for Winter Quarter
  • Mid-December—Commencement


  • Early February—Oral Defense form due (Thesis Option)
  • Mid-February—Language Exam Arranged
  • Late February—Defended Thesis/Field Project due (Thesis Option)
  • Early March—Recommendation for Degree from Department (White card) (Thesis and Non-Thesis Options)
  • Early March—All ‘K’ grades removed for students completing degree Winter Quarter
  • Mid-March—Application for Degree (Blue card) due for Spring Quarter
  • Late March—Commencement


  • Early April—TA and Scholarship Applications Due
  • Late April—Oral Defense form due (Thesis Option)
  • Early May—Language Exam Arranged.  (Note:  This should include students wishing to complete the degree during Summer Quarter.)
  • Mid-May—Defended Thesis/Field Project due (Thesis Option)
  • Late May—Recommendation for Degree from Department (White card) (Thesis and Non-Thesis Options)
  • Late May—All K’ grades removed for students completing degree Spring Quarter
  • Early June—Application for Degree (Blue card) due for Summer Quarter
  • Mid-June—Commencement


  • Early July—Oral Defense form due (Thesis Option)
  • Summer Exception—Language Exams not typically offered
  • Mid-July—Defended Thesis/Field Project due (Thesis Option I)
  • Early August—Recommendation for Degree from Department (White card) (Thesis and Non-Thesis Options)
  • Early August—All ‘K’ grades removed for students completing degree Summer Quarter
  • Mid-August—Application for Degree (Blue card) due for Fall Quarter
  • Late August—Commencement

Thesis Option—More Details
Thesis Writing Credits

Students will generally enroll for 690a,b,c for 4 credits per quarter in their final year of graduate work.  In future academic years, it may be possible to register for variable credits each quarter, but in no case will more than 12 credits be allowed for 690 and in all cases, a thesis proposal should be developed as part of the initial coursework.   Students arrange to take thesis writing credits with a thesis chair and must have already filed a thesis card.

Thesis Committee

The Thesis Committee consists of one Thesis Chair (generally the Faculty Advisor) and two (or more) other committee members.  Generally, the other committee members are from approved graduate faculty within the Department of History.  Other faculty within the department, from other sectors of the university, or from outside the university must be approved by special petition approved by the Graduate Advisor, Department Chair, and Graduate School.

A Thesis Committee should be constructed in a way that the individual faculty members may contribute in specific ways to the thesis.  It is expected that faculty members will represent areas of expertise in which the student has chosen to specialize and that are relevant to the thesis.

Thesis Committee members are expected to work with the Thesis Chair by providing assistance during the development of the thesis topic, meeting with the student periodically regarding the project to discuss appropriate research and readings.  Committee members are also expected to provide comment, verbal and/or written, regarding the thesis during its development, but certainly not later than the thesis defense.

Thesis Defense

Toward the end of thesis writing, the student must arrange with the Thesis Chair and Thesis Committee an appropriate Thesis Defense Date.  That date must generally be no later than approximately week six of the quarter in which the student hopes to graduate.

The Thesis Defense typically runs from two to three hours and is open to the public, though the posing of questions by individuals beyond the Thesis Committee members is left to the discretion of the Thesis Chair.  The first section is generally an introduction by the student to the thesis topic and a discussion of findings.  A second section of the Thesis Defense focusing on the specifics of the student’s thesis follows with a series of questions posed by each member of the Thesis Committee and sometimes by the Graduate School Observer (another faculty assigned to assure that the defense was fairly conducted).  Students must expect tough but fair questions regarding their methods, sources, and conclusions.  Some may have been raised by Thesis Committee members previously, but others may arise in relation to questions and concerns raised by other committee members.

The Thesis Defense concludes with a closed door meeting among the Thesis Committee led by the Thesis Chair, in which any necessary revisions are determined and a course of action regarding further evaluations, revisions, and a final grade are determined.  Generally, students should plan time for some revisions.  At the end of the closed door session, the student will be thoroughly and fully apprised of any further revisions or requirements for the completion of the thesis. 

Scheduling a Thesis Defense:

  1. Determine, with the assistance of the Thesis Chair, an appropriate quarter for completion of the thesis.
  2. Allow at least two weeks for revisions after the Thesis Defense for revisions.
  3. Distribute final draft of thesis to Thesis Committee Members for their review at least four weeks prior to the defense date.  This final draft should, at a minimum, be approved for distribution by the Thesis Chair.  WARNING:  Thesis Committee Members are not required to review, comment upon, or pass theses submitted later than four weeks prior to the defense or those theses not previously approved for distribution by the Thesis Chair.
Researching a Thesis

Research for a thesis is a time-consuming act and must be carefully planned.  In many cases it will require significant time in locations away from the university.  Students should plan research in conjunction with one or more members of the Thesis Committee and should ask for recommendations as to how to conduct the particular research necessary for a given topic.

Students doing oral history or surveys may be required to file Human Subject Testing applications with the Graduate School.  Other methodologies may require specialized training, special letters of recommendation from a faculty member or the Department Chair, or other types of documentation.  In all cases, students must be prepared to make arrangements prior to research trips.

In some instances, students may be able to obtain departmental, university, or outside funding for research trips.  Forms for the departmental applications are in the appendix to this handbook as are those for the Graduate School’s Ross Travel Fund.  In all cases, special care should be given to the application process and full details should be provided.  In the case of outside funding, please notify the Department Chair so that your awards may be appropriately recognized.

Writing a Thesis

The purpose of writing a thesis is to allow students to develop a sophisticated argument and sustain it through a longer piece of work than is typically the case in seminar research papers.  Sustaining an argument across several chapters mirrors what academic historians do in their research monographs, which are generally considered the foremost achievement in the field.  Furthermore, research for a thesis involves significant use of primary documents and deliberate attention to historiographical and/or theoretical debates in related fields.  Students should seek in their theses to engage a meaningful and relevant literature to accompany significant primary research.  While not every thesis may be wholly original, students should seek topics that allow them to contend with relevant issues in their respective fields.

One relatively simple way to think of a thesis is that is consists of three twenty to twenty-five page papers with an introduction and conclusion that bind them together as a whole. 

  • The introduction—Should provide a statement of the historical significance and/or context of the study, some review of the relevant historiography with an indication of which avenues of investigation and inquiry are most relevant, an initial discussion of the sources for the thesis which make the discussion possible, and potentially the rationale for the organization of the thesis.  The introduction must include a clear thesis statement (or statement of the problem).
  • Chapters—Should themselves open with a clear thesis statement for the chapter that sets up the argument for the materials covered therein, have explicit connections to the larger arguments made in the thesis as a whole, should consistently supply evidence for the arguments, and contain a conclusion that not only summarizes and reaches for conclusions, but also that sets up the transition to the subsequent chapter or chapters.  Chapters may be organized chronologically, topically, or in any other way that makes “sense” to the student so long as that approach is approved by the Thesis Chair.
  • The conclusion—Should not only summarize the findings of the thesis and wrap up any narrative threads, but should also reach for broader generalizations and connect to larger historiographical or theoretical issues.  Do not introduce new issues, for these deserve some attention in the introduction, but the conclusion is a chance for the student to let readers know that there is more to be had than simply the sum of the parts.
  • Notes and Bibliography—Students should, unless otherwise explicitly approved by the Thesis Chair, adhere to the Chicago Manual of Style for all notes (endnotes or footnotes) and the bibliography.  Notes should be thorough and appropriate.

Other Hints:

  • Consider starting with a working introduction, probably your proposal required prior to 690b.
  • Consider writing the first chapter about the material you understand best and for which you have the most material at hand.  You don’t necessarily have to start with the first chapter.  Writing the chapters out of sequence may require some additional editing, but since that is likely to be required anyway, start with a strength—it’s good for your confidence!
  • Writing exposes the “holes” in your research and arguments.  Don’t be alarmed when these arise.  Instead, ask yourself and perhaps your Thesis Chair how you might contend with them.  Will you need to do additional research?  It is possible for you to rely on the evidence and arguments of others in this particular area?  Must you rethink the whole thesis?  (Probably not!)
  • Ask others to review the chapters, especially your peers.  When they raise questions, realize that you may not have explained things as clearly as you might.  Remember, this is familiar material to you, but it is not always familiar to your readers.
  • As in all writing, point your writing to an intelligent but uninformed reader.  Explain things clearly.
  • You don’t have to tell your reader everything.  Keep asking yourself, “what is the minimum I need to explain so that this can make sense to my imaginary intelligent but uninformed reader?”
  • Proofread.  Nothing is more damning than obvious mistakes, especially those repeated again and again.  Running the spell checker is only the first step.  Re-reading carefully is critical.  In reality, there are several different types of proofreading:  for ideas and arguments (are they explicit, consistent, etc.); for evidence (is it consistently and appropriately marshaled); for organization (are things really in the right order); and for style (spelling, verb tense, subject-object agreement, passive voice and construction, and more).  Part of graduate school involves learning to do these separately and only with much practice putting them back together into a single process.
  • Don’t hand your Thesis Chair a draft that is not the best you can produce at that moment.  Students sometimes are confused about the meaning of the word “draft.”  Contrary to popular belief, a “draft” is a completed piece of writing.  Advisors do not appreciate large blank sections with cryptic notes reading:   “I’m going to cover ‘X’ here…” ; or, as was the case with one student, “Yada, yada, yada….”  This is the equivalent of a waiter handing a restaurant customer a piece of raw hamburger on a bun and claiming that it is done!
  • Likewise, incomplete notes for drafts can be equally problematic.  Be thorough and professional in all drafts.

Non-Thesis Option—More Details

For those students who select the non-thesis option, it is important to realize that further revisions of seminar papers are advisable.  These papers are submitted to a faculty committee approved by the Graduate Advisor for review.

Revising Seminar Papers

Program requirements call for three papers written by the student in seminars to be evaluated by a three-person faculty committee.  Students should revise the papers based on the original faculty members’ comments.  Papers generated in the process of a ten-week seminar can often be rushed and preliminary.  The revised paper should be polished and professional, meriting consideration for partial fulfillment of the MA in History degree (department standards).

Non-Thesis Review Committee

Students should select a committee of three faculty members who will read all the papers submitted for the non-thesis option and who will determine if the final papers merit consideration.  These faculty may be those with whom the papers were written originally.  The student must obtain the permission of the Graduate Advisor for the composition of the committee and must, in coordination with the committee members and Graduate Advisor, appoint a nominal head of the committee.  The Non-thesis Review Committee will meet with the student to ask questions regarding the papers and then, in a closed door session without the student present, will determine if the papers meet departmental standards for the non-thesis option.  Faculty may ask for additional revisions or may elect not to pass the papers if they have not been sufficiently revised and do not meet departmental standards.

Seminars—What to Expect

Most graduate classes are readings seminars.  That is, they are designed to introduce students to key debates and methodologies in specific topical or chronological areas.  Most meet only once or twice a week and students must be thoroughly prepared having read and thought about the relationships among all assigned materials.  Most seminars offered in the department are reading seminars, which means that the instructor is concerned with introducing students to key aspects of the published literature on the topic.  A few seminars are writing seminars, which means that the students will be primarily engaged in producing a research paper based on primary sources with attention to relevant published secondary literature.  While professors will spell out their expectations in course syllabi, the following provides at least a rough guide as to what one might expect:


Students can expect the equivalent of at least one book a week, sometimes a book and several articles.  In some weeks, especially if the student is involved in presenting materials, the reading load may be heavier.  Students need to be aware that graduate students must read for several different purposes:

  • Reading for Content and Detail—Sometimes graduate students will find that they know very little about a particular topic.  Reading for content provides a basic introduction to the events and historical context for a particular topic, but it can be very, very slow and particularly unproductive if content is to be obtained only through the reading of research monographs (specialized books on relatively narrow topics often with much detail) and journal articles (typically tightly focused investigations of very, very specific topics).  Students may find it helpful and necessary to read, independently, one or more general textbook covering the area of a particular seminar.  Students may ask a professor for recommendations, but should expect that such reading generally falls outside the assigned readings for a graduate seminar.  Still, it is probably worth your time to undertake the reading because most (new) graduate students get hopelessly lost in the details of monographic studies without a sufficient mastery of the content.
  • Reading for Interpretation and Argument—Most often, graduate students are expected to identify an author’s interpretive positions.  This is why some people recommend reading introductions, first paragraphs, etc.  While this type of skimming will give you some idea of what the work is about, it will not always “carry” a graduate student through a discussion session let alone an entire seminar.  Students should skim a book to see what the author’s main points are, but then go back through sections to see what clarifications and variations are investigated.  Remember, you may also be required to ascertain how a particular author is responding to the arguments of others.  Sometimes this will require the careful reading of notes along with the text of the chapter.  Outside book reviews and review essays (historiographical essays) can help, but again, cannot be a substitute for actually reading the book itself.  Be prepared to read through a book several times, to think about it over several sessions, in order to be fully prepared for a discussion.

Class discussions

These will vary from seminar to seminar, professor to professor, but in general, students are expected to make substantial contributions to the discussion.  This does not mean simply filling “air time” with one’s voice any more than it means never saying anything until asked.  Well prepared students have a basic knowledge of the historical context, the specifics of an author’s arguments, and the relationship of this particular author’s interpretations to others in the field.  When engaging other students, an individual should strive to engage in constructive discussions.  This is not a setting to prove “how much smarter you are than everyone else” but instead a setting in which you discuss and compare ideas with colleagues.  There is no substitution for being prepared.


There are a variety of approaches to writing for seminars.  Some professors will require short, concise writings each week.  Others will request longer comparisons of several works at once but may only ask for them every few weeks.  Some professors also ask for longer essays, often historiographical, that are on a topic only partially covered by the common assigned readings.  Exactly how much writing is expected depends on the nature of the writing.  Graduate students should expect to write a minimum of five pages a week, though the amount may vary from week to week or be slightly higher or lower depending on circumstances.  Briefly, the general types of writings are:

  • Concise book reviews—In two or three pages, students must identify the author’s main arguments, evaluate the evidence and method utilized to support those arguments, and make connections to the arguments of others.
  • Short essays—In five to seven pages compare the works of several authors or multiple works of a single author with special attention to the interpretation and use of evidence, often with an assessment of the effectiveness of a particular line of argument.  These essays may focus on a specific “problem” or debate in the field.
  • Longer essays—In nine to twelve or fifteen pages, develop an essay examining in some detail a particular debate across several scholars.  Generally, students will be investigating the relationships among differing interpretations and providing some assessment of the effectiveness of one or more lines of argument, methodology, etc.  These are essentially historiographical essays You may have heard historiography defined as “the history of history,” but for most students this statement seems to make little sense.  It may be helpful for you to think of historiography as the study of the relationships among different interpretations that may arise in different historical, social, cultural, and political contexts.  It is the assessment of the “interpretive landscape” in which a particular topic is situated.  Often, good historiographical essays point to what the next productive direction in research might be.  Such statements are models of what students might produce as part of the introduction to a masters thesis.
  • Research papers—Most often in research seminars, as opposed to readings seminars, the papers produced by students are the result of significant research in primary and secondary sources.  While these papers are highly interpretive, the student seeks to develop a synthesis or narrative as part of the process of explaining the topic.

Graduate Teaching Assistantships (TA's)

Graduate teaching assistantships (TA's) are available in limited number and are awarded within the department on the basis of merit.  This is the highest academic honor the department is able to offer students, but it should not be taken as a sinecure.  Faculty evaluate TA performance quarterly and those evaluations are utilized to determine renewal of a second year’s award as well as quarter to quarter continuation.

TA's are at the center of the graduate student contingent in the Department and should seek to develop a “culture” of cooperation with each other and their fellow graduate students, not an exclusive “club.”

Teaching Assistantships—Awards, Requirements
  • Are competitive, merit-based awards, which are available in limited number and applications must be made to the Graduate School no later than April 15 for the following academic year.
  • For eligibility, students must meet or exceed all criteria for maintaining graduate status.
  • The total appointment is limited to no more than the equivalent of six full-time quarters of service as graduate teaching assistants.
  • A full-time assistantship does not allow for additional salary or employment from the University.
  • Duties and responsibilities vary according to the needs of the department faculty and the student’s graduate plan of study.  Those include, but are not limited to:
    • Satisfactory progress toward the degree.
    • Satisfactory performance of assigned tasks including in-class work as well as grading and office hours.
    • Satisfactory performance as evaluated quarterly by supervising faculty.
  • Faculty may, with appropriate warning, request the reassignment or dismissal of a Teaching Assistant.  This process should involve consultation with the Graduate Advisor, Graduate Committee, and Department Chair.  The student may present his or her case to the Graduate Committee.  Doing so initiates a formal grievance process, which will follow that stated in the University Bulletin, “Appendix F: Student Academic Grievance Policy and Procedures.”
  • TA's may request reassignment and should forward such a request with an extensive rationale to the Lead TA and the Graduate Advisor or the Department Chair.  Assignments will generally be made only in subsequent quarters.
  • Faculty evaluations of TA performance will be completed at the end of each quarter and available to TA's in the following quarter.  These evaluations will be used to determine potential second-year awards and continuation from quarter to quarter.
  • The Department of History will appoint a Lead TA, whose responsibilities shall be the same as other TA's with the additional responsibility of acting as an ombudsman between TA's and faculty, assisting the Graduate Advisor and Chair in making quarterly assignments, ensuring that faculty evaluations are distributed to TA's, and providing workshops and other instruction-related leadership for TA's
Expectations for Teaching Assistants
  • A full time Teaching Assistant works an average of just under twenty hours per week.  Teaching Assistants may be assigned to one course for those hours or to several courses so long as the total hours do not exceed twenty per week.
  • Teaching Assistants may be asked to perform the following tasks: grading papers, exams or quizzes; leading sections; holding regular office hours; administering exams; and managing discussion lists, among others.
  • Teaching Assistants should be prepared to attend lectures, discussions and complete the reading assigned in the class to which he/she is assigned.  Time spent in class and in preparation for class and section counts towards the number of hours a Teaching Assistant is expected to work per week.  In some cases, the supervising faculty may not require attendance, but this is left to the discretion of the supervising faculty.
  • Teaching Assistants are expected to grade and evaluate student performance to the satisfaction of the supervising faculty.
  • Teaching Assistants who are asked to work more than an average of twenty hours per week should speak with the faculty in charge of the course(s) to which he/she is assigned.  If accommodations cannot be made then the Teaching Assistant should approach the Lead TA and/or Graduate Advisor or Department Chair for mediation.
  • Assignments of Teaching Assistants to individual courses is based on enrollment needs that vary with each quarter.  It is not always possible to meet preferences of Teaching Assistants for individual courses.  Besides enrollment, individual fields, faculty preference and efforts to evenly distribute more difficult Teaching Assignments (split load and teaching outside one’s field of specialty) affect the assignments of Teaching Assistants.
  • Teaching Assistants must be professional in their interactions with students and faculty.  Teaching Assistants should treat students with respect in both their oral and written communications.  If a Teaching Assistant develops or has a conflict of interest with a student, inform the faculty member in charge of the course immediately.  At no time, should Teaching Assistants accept abusive behavior from students.
  • As Teaching Assistants you perform an essential role in the educational experience of undergraduates.  Undergraduates often prefer to interact with Teaching Assistants.  We look forward to working with you to make our large courses a successful experience.
  • Generally, no third-year teaching assistantship will be awarded to a student if she/he was awarded a teaching assistantship while in her/his second year in the program.
Graduate Teaching Assistant Evaluation

Elements of the evaluation are:

  • How was the TA utilized during the quarter? (grading, leading discussion, etc.)
  • Comments on the performance of the TA regarding
    • Reliability:
    • Ability to follow grading criteria:
    • Ability to work independently:
    • Effectiveness as a discussion leader (if relevant):
    • Perceived overall effectiveness as a teaching assistant:
  • Recommendation regarding re-hiring
  • Additional comments regarding
    • Areas of Strength
    • Areas for Improvement
  • TA comments/response as an attachment if necessary
Graders or Readers

On an occasional basis, the Department may offer select opportunities for students to serve as graders or readers who are generally paid on an hourly basis.  In general terms, graders are seen as part of the overall TA cohort during the span of their assignment and are accountable to the same standards and expectations, with certain exceptions such as hours, as TA's  Graders assist faculty members in grading for specific courses.  The selection of graders will be based in part on academic merit and in part on the particular training and expertise of the graduate student.  The Department Chair or Graduate Advisor consults with supervising faculty and the Department Chair appoints graders.  In all instances, the terms of the job should be in written form.  Graders are expected to conduct themselves in the same manner as Teaching Assistants in terms of professionalism and their general conduct in relation to the class to which they are assigned.  Evaluation of graders is conducted in the same fashion and with the same criteria as that for TA's

Lead Teaching Assistant

In order to foster a greater sense professionalism, collegiality, and responsibility among the teaching assistants and to provide better avenues of communication between faculty and teaching assistants, the department appoints a Lead Teaching Assistant each year and offers a small stipend for the work involved.

Lead TA Responsibilities are:

  • Fulfill all standard requirements for History Department Teaching Assistants.
  • Assist the Chair and/or Graduate Advisor with the Teaching Assistant Orientation program prior to the commencement of fall quarter each year.
  • Organize and run Teaching Assistant Workshops as necessary.
  • Organize and run additional workshops, no more than two per quarter, in Winter Quarter and Spring Quarter.  The necessity and content of these workshops are to be determined in consultation with the Department Chair and/or Graduate Advisor.
  • Be available as needed and by appointment to discuss concerns of the other Teaching Assistants and to assist them in carrying significant concerns forward to the Department Chair and/or Graduate Advisor.
  • Assist the Chair and/or Graduate Advisor, in an advisory capacity and as a graduate student representative, in the assignment of Teaching Assistants to various courses prior to the beginning of each quarter and in doing so, to be candid in the assessment of the performance of faculty and teaching assistants alike.
Student Organizations

Graduate students in the Department of History have two options for involvement in student organizations within the department.  These are:

History Graduate Student Association—This is an Associated Student approved organization for all History Graduate Students in the department.  Its activities include social functions, workshops for undergraduates (writing, test taking, etc.), participation in departmental affairs (through representatives at faculty meetings and through communication with the Chair of the Department and the Graduate Committee).  All students are encouraged to participate in this organization that is run by students for students.

Phi Alpha Theta History Honors Society—Western’s Chapter of PAT is very active and includes undergraduates and graduates.  PAT regularly sponsors social events, speakers, films, and other activities related to the enhancement of the programs at Western.  PAT students also have an opportunity to present scholarly papers at the regional conference each spring, which is typically funded in whole or in part by the Department of History through its Western Foundation funds (money obtained through donations by History Alumni).

Society of American Archivists Student Chapter—The SAA student chapter at Western Washington University brings specialists in the archival profession to Western to share their knowledge and insight with students and the public.  The chapter is also a forum for the presentation of students’ work and a social setting in which they can learn more about professional opportunities.


Select Forms for Graduate Students

Page Updated 05.17.2012