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Program Overview

The master of arts in humanities program offers a 30-credit curriculum that allows student to enrich their expertise in a particular field through both interdisciplinary exchange and specialized study. In the program's foundational proseminars, students examine the central concepts and texts that shape work in and across the core humanities disciplines of literature, history, art and music, and philosophy and religion. From this foundation, students then enrich their knowledge of a specific topic or field through elective courses and a final research project.

Courses are offered during the spring, fall, and summer terms and take place in the evening to accommodate the schedules of working students. Students can complete the degree in approximately 2 years but can also adjust the pace of their coursework to accommodate their other professional and personal commitments.

Students in the program come from all stages of life, ranging from recent college graduates to working professionals and retirees. Many of the students are secondary education teachers from the local Maryland and Virginia school systems. Other students are employed in a variety of fields unrelated to the humanities and find in the program a chance to pursue their passion for a humanities-related topic or field. Also drawn to the program are retirees from the greater Frederick and Washington, DC area with a passion for the humanities and a commitment to life-long learning.

Recent graduates and current students have applied their coursework in pursuit of a variety of professional and personal goals. Teachers select the program because of their desire for additional education in their content fields and often report applying their coursework in their own classrooms. Having examined their particular subjects in an interdisciplinary setting, teachers can both enrich their students' knowledge in a given field and help their students to draw connections across the various humanities disciplines. Non-teachers in the program have found the curriculum no less beneficial. One former student was a police officer who enrolled in the program to pursue his true passion for history and cartography and enjoyed exploring the history of exploration in his final research project. Another student enrolled in the program while working as an administrative assistant and used her coursework to explore her interests in early twentieth-century American art and literature. In a similar vein, a student employed at a local college found in the program an opportunity to pursue her life-long interest in Japanese art and cultural relations between Japan and the West. Regardless of how they apply their coursework, all students graduate with greater expertise in their field(s) of interest as a result of the opportunities for specialized research and interdisciplinary exchange offered by the program.

The curriculum for the Master of Arts in Humanities program compromises three components: introductory proseminars, elective courses, and a final research project.

Introductory Proseminars

The foundation of the program's curriculum compromises four proseminars. These courses introduce students to the central concepts, figures, and texts of the program's core fields: English, history, philosophy and religion, art and archaeology, Global Languages and Cultures, and music. Together the proseminars provide students with the foundational knowledge required for successful graduate work in any humanities field. All students must complete each of the four proseminars. No previous coursework in the various fields is required. The proseminars, which are offered on a consistent two-year cycle, are:

History 501 - History Proseminar (3 credits)
This course introduces students to the study of history at the graduate level. Examining a single theme across several societies and time periods, it addresses questions of methodology, theory, historiography, and the research and writing techniques used by historians.

PLRL 501 - Philosophy and Religious Studies Proseminar (3 credits)
This course introduces students to the study of philosophy and religion at the graduate level by examining a theme (e.g. love) that is central to philosophical and/or religious traditions from various historical periods or cultures. The seminar incorporates discussions of theory and its practical implications and addresses some of the the characteristic disciplinary concerns and research methodologies of philosophy and religious studies.

LIT 501 - Literary Studies Proseminar (3 credits)
Offered by faculty from both the English and Global Languages and Cultures departments, this course introduces graduate students to the discipline of literary studies. A central seminar "problem" will be the basis for questions related to literary history, theory, and methodology. Possible topics are "The Question of Genre: Theories of Tragedy"; "Narratology: Cervantes and Nabokov"; "Intertextuality: Shakespeare's Tempest and its Cultural Ramifications".

FA 501 - Fine Arts and Music Proseminar (3 credits)
This course is devoted to the histories and historiographies of Western music and visual art. Students not only study select canonical works of Western culture; they also study the stories and narratives that historians use to make sense of these works. The course focuses in particular on the historical categories like "Renaissance," "Enlightenment," "Romanticism," and "Modernity" to see what artistic and cultural trends those terms are thought to encapsulate. Ultimately, students examine how the stories that we tell about music and art affect what we experience in music and art.

Elective Courses

In addition to the required proseminars students take a variety of elective courses. The number of elective courses required to complete the degree is determined by each student's choice of final project options (portfolio or thesis). Students who elect to complete the portfolio option must complete 5 elective courses. Students who complete the thesis must complete 4 elective courses. The difference in course requirements reflects the different amounts of work required by the two final project options. The thesis option requires more work than the portfolio option. Therefore, students who pursue the thesis will complete less coursework in order to ensure a common workload for all students who earn the Master of Arts in Humanities.

Specific elective course offerings vary by semester according to student interest, faculty schedules, and the multi- and interdisciplinary character of the program. Specific course offerings for each semester are made available to students by the program director prior to registration. In general, the following types of courses are offered as electives:

  • HUM 560 A-H (A special topics course offered by a member of the humanities faculty and open to all students in the Master of Arts in Humanities program) (3 credits)
  • Discipline-Specific 500-level course (A 500-level course offered by any of the program's departments, e.g. HIST 5XX, ENG 5XX, and listed as open to Master of Arts in Humanities students in a given semester) (3 credits)
  • HUM 599 A - Writing for the Humanities (3 credits)

Examples of elective course topics include:

Sample Course Offerings:

  • Edible Humanities: Food, Culture, and Identity in the West
  • Native American Fictions: Three Significant Indigenous Writers
  • Art and Music - Aesthetics, Culture, and History
  • Philosophy and Religion - Myth, Symbol, and Ritual
  • Orientalism and Egyptomania - Art, History, and Literature
  • Westernization to Globalization - The Rise and Fall of the West?

Final Research Project

Upon successful completion of the four proseminars and all elective coursework, students complete a final research project: either a portfolio (HUM 594) or a thesis (HUM 580). Students may choose the project that best fits their academic and professional interests.

HUM 594 - Humanities - Portfolio (3 credits)
The student will select one substantial paper from three different completed courses and work closely with the portfolio adviser to develop and revise these papers while adding a scholarly introduction that connects the papers to each other and a student's broader area of academic interest. When the portfolio is completed, students will undergo a portfolio review by a committee of three faculty members, one of whom is the portfolio adviser.


HUM 580 - Humanities Thesis (6 credits)
This is an independent research project or a creative writing project with an academic introduction. The student will work closely with a faculty adviser and two other faculty members to develop, write and revise the project. Students will present their final projects to their adviser and committee members for a final discussion of their research and its potential future development.

Entrance requirements

Complete and submit the graduate school application available at

Grade point average (GPA)
A minimum 2.75 undergraduate GPA is required for admission to the Graduate School.

Admission to the program requires a formal essay that explains how the Master of Arts in Humanities program will help the applicant achieve his/her specific academic, professional and personal goals. Given the importance of writing in the humanities, the essay is an important component of the application and should demonstrate the quality of the applicant's formal writing skills.