MSt in US History

Course Structure

The programme comprises the following elements:

Core Course

This core course is taught through weekly classes, and is assessed by examination. It explores the development of American historical writing from the 1890s to the present and examines how successive generations of historians have addressed issues of method and evidence. The subject is pursued in a weekly class over two terms. For each session class members are assigned key texts relating to a particular topic; they take turns in leading the discussion.  

The first term covers the major developments in historical writing from the professionalisation of the discipline at the end of the nineteenth century through to the 1980s. Topics usually covered in this term include: 

  • Frederick Jackson Turner and the frontier thesis
  • Charles Beard and the Progressive historians
  • the consensus school; the New Left
  • history from below and the new social history
  • cliometrics and quantitative history
  • cultural approaches to political history. 

During the second term, which focuses on contemporary debates in historical writing, the topics usually covered include: 

  • the new western history
  • religion
  • the cultural turn and cold war history
  • conservatism
  • gender
  • new directions in political history
  • ethnicity, nationalism, and whiteness
  • the grass-roots struggle for racial equality.

The structure of this paper allows students to pursue their specialised interests in particular periods and themes of American history while at the same time ensuring that they get a broad grounding in American historiography. Feedback questionnaires provide evidence that, whatever their intended specialism, students find the classes relevant and rewarding.

Advanced Option

This advanced option is taught through tutorials, and is assessed by two extended essays of up to 5,000 words.

The purpose of these extended essays is to provide the student with an opportunity to master the historiography of two topics in American history, and to engage with some of the primary sources pertinent to them. The topics may be either thematically linked, or located in the same chronological period, but not both. 

Normally the student will be guided through this part of the course by her/his dissertation supervisor who will set appropriate assignments. Opportunity to make a seminar presentation will usually be given in the context of the American History Graduate Seminar.


This dissertation of up to 15,000 words will be on a topic falling within the scope of the history of the United States and its precursor colonies. Students will begin to formulate and plan their dissertation in conjunction with their supervisors from the beginning of the programme, and will submit it during Trinity (Summer) Term.

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