Regulations for Graduate Study – Appendix A: The M.A. Exam Synthetic Essay

Appendix A: The M.A. Exam Synthetic Essay

The M.A. exam synthetic essay should respond to the following prompt:

In a synthetic essay of approximately ten pages reflecting upon course readings (from multiple classes) and the M.A. Thesis or seminar paper process, discuss which methods, historiographical fields, theoretical frameworks, specific works of history, and/or individual scholars have contributed to the development of your understanding of history and the historian’s craft. Consider the following:

  • Which works have most influenced your understanding of the discipline of history?
  • Of what it is that historians do, and how we go about doing it?
  • In what ways have these readings shaped the type of historian you would like to be?
  • How have you/will you apply these observations to your own work?

Please note that while the synthetic essay is most definitely intended to be a personal document in the sense of students having considerable discretion in selecting the material that will make its way into the essay and writing (using the first person is just fine!) about how this material has informed their own work and understandings of our field, it is also most definitely intended to be a professional document displaying a quality of thought, engagement with material, and care in making (and supporting) claims fully equivalent to that expected in more traditionally formal pieces of academic writing.

Also note what the synthetic essay is NOT supposed to be:

  • An intellectual autobiography that spends more than the tiniest amount of time and space telling us about your past before you arrived in our department, the plans you have for the future, or anything unrelated to the professional study of history. We recommend (please) against using the phrase “my journey” or mentioning your grandparents.
  • Something that reads like an application essay written after the fact where you tell us how much your time here has meant to you and how much you’ve learned and grown and how great we all are and so on. We hope all of these things will be true, but this is not the forum to regale us with them.
  • A piece of writing that takes the freedom to write in the first person as license to be rambling, sloppy, gratuitously informal, superficial in engagement with material, insufficiently analytical, etc.

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