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Master's of History

The Master's of History and the History of Masters

Our MA in History can trace its lineage back to the Middle Ages when the Master of Arts became the qualification for teaching the liberal arts.  For two centuries American colleges awarded masters degrees three years after the baccalaureate degree to those who stayed out of jail, wrote a brief essay, and paid a fee.  In the late 1800s, academic standards were raised (though the character standards were lowered).

In the late 1940s, SUNY Brockport launched its first graduate program, a Master of Education for elementary school teachers.   Ten years later, Brockport added a MEd degree for secondary school teachers that, in the post-Sputnik spirit, augmented pedagogical courses with academic, thus beginning graduate study in the disciplines at Brockport.  Another decade passed before the first master's degrees in academic disciplines were approved.  By 1971, seven disciplines and five professional departments at Brockport offered graduate degrees, including the new Master of Arts in History. Brockport awarded its first MA in History in September 1972 and has since awarded about 150 more.

The Master of Arts in History presumed most candidates would be full-time students planning on continuing in doctoral studies.  Neither assumption survived the realities of the 1970s.  Much does, however, remain from the original plan.  The requirement for breadth, usually regional, has remained in the major and minor.  So has the emphasis on small, intensive seminars and a comprehensive examination.

Over the years, the program evolved toward the present two-track system in American and world history.  American history initially reflected the “new” social and political history that was “cutting-edge” in the early 1970s. SUNY Brockport was a national leader, hosting an annual conference that was cited in the American Historical Review as the leading conference in these fields.  More recently the European history track evolved into world history, an innovative development that broadened SUNY Brockport's areas of expertise.

In the 1980s, “public history” (encompassing archives and records management, museum studies, and historical society leadership) added another dimension to the program.  A combination of internships and courses in a variety of departments provided an important new minor field.

 Ever since specialized academic disciplines restructured American higher education in the late 1800s, the balance of teaching and research has been debated.  For the new comprehensive colleges of the 1970s, the mixture was particularly uncertain. SUNY Brockport was in uncharted waters; neither a research university nor a small, liberal arts college, it had no clear institutional models.  Colleges like Brockport blazed a new path, making the quality and personal attention offered by those institutions more broadly accessible.

Providing high-quality graduate work in comprehensive colleges is a juggling act for faculty, competing in a world dominated by research universities while handling the teaching demands of liberal arts colleges.  We work hard to achieve a reasonable balance. A glance at the faculty pages shows a well-published that faculty maintains distinguished teaching records.  Three members of the department published articles in the prestigious Journal of American History, while over half have received the Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Teaching. 

Clearly the MA program has fulfilled the original proposal’s commitment to educate students for “a wide variety of educational, business and public careers.”  The largest number of alumni teach social studies, most in the junior and senior high schools of the Genesee Valley, often offering curricular leadership.  Some have pursued doctoral studies at universities such as the University of Rochester, SUNY Buffalo, Yale, William and Mary, and Carnegie-Mellon, and teach at SUNY Brockport and other colleges.

Not all teach.  Most numerous are alumni in the rapidly growing “public history” professions, including the Monroe County and City of Rochester historians.  Some work in local historical societies.  Others continue in non-historical professions and write as independent scholars.  Some are in business or public service.  Our alumni even include ministers, police officers, bond traders, and urban planners.

The alumni’s professional accomplishments most clearly demonstrate the program’s quality.  The faculty look with pride to our graduates’ contributions to the history profession, to the Genesee Valley, and to the broader society. To paraphrase Daniel Webster’s praise of Dartmouth College before the Supreme Court: “It is a small program.  And yet there are those who love it.”

Last Updated 7/21/10


Our sincere congratulations to Matty Lynn Kuhar who won the 2016 School of the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences Undergraduate Award!

Dr. Alison Parker has been invited to be this year's Harriet Jacobs Lecturer at Purdue University. Her talk is entitled Mary Church Terrell, Black Women, and the Rise of the Democratic Party. 

Dr. Nishiyama has been invited to give a talk (title "Kamikaze Technology and Culture for War: Japan and the USA, 1941-2001") at the RIT.

Dr. Alison Parker facilitated significant donation of historical papers to Oberlin College and participates in its celebratory symposium on the life of racial justice advocate Mary Church Terrell (1863-1954).

Congratulations to Dr. Jose R. Torre on winning the Chancellor's Award for Excellence in Teaching!


History Forum will host Region 11&12 Meeting of the Association of Public Historians of New York State, on 4/30 (Saturday, from 9am to about 4pm) at McCue Auditorium (LAB104).

History Department Graduation Ceremony will be held in New York Room, Cooper Hall, at 10:30 am, May 14 (Saturday).