Graduate Degree

The Department of African American Studies at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, with one of the most successful graduate programs in the field, offers an M.A. in a wide range of disciplines. The department’s strong emphasis on research and writing prepares students for entry into Ph.D. programs and for professional positions in education and related fields. Its faculty is committed to academic excellence and to the department’s initial objective to promote interdisciplinary study in three major areas: Culture (the arts and humanities), History, and Society (social sciences). Students are guided in using innovative as well as conventional methods of scholarship in a way that contributes to the development of African American Studies and to the diversification of academic disciplines, communities, and institutions. To achieve that goal, the Department maintains flexible models of study which can be adapted to fit individual student interests.

Students with an interest in pursuing a Ph.D. in either English or History might be interested in applying to the in English Bridge Programs or History, which allow a student who has completed an M.A. in Afro-American Studies to move directly into one of thosePh.D. programs.

Requirements for the M.A. degree

Twenty-four credits of course work and successful completion of an M.A. thesis.

1. Course Work

  • Students must take at least 12 of their 24 approved graduate coursework credits in the Department of Afro-American Studies. Because the graduate program emphasizes interdisciplinary and cross-cultural study, we encourage students, with the approval of their advisors and the Graduate Director, to take at least a portion of their remaining 12 credits in related courses in other departments. While the department encourages independent work, no more than 6 hours of directed study (AAS 699) credits may be applied toward fulfillment of the M.A. course credit requirements.
  • Sample Schedule For The Two-year Graduate Program:
    • Year 1:
      • Semester I: 9 course credits
      • Semester II: 9 course credits
    • Year 2:
      • Semester I: 6 course credits
        • Students establish their thesis committees and submit thesis proposals to the Chairs of their committees.
      • Semester II: Research and Thesis (AAS 790)
        • Students should be submitting chapters of their theses to faculty advisors and other committee members throughout the semester.

2. Maintaining Satisfactory Progress in the African American Studies Program

  • Students in the graduate program are reviewed for satisfactory progress by the Graduate Program Committee at the end of their second semester. Students who do not meet all of the following criteria face the possibilities of being placed on probation. Students who do not meet the required criteria for satisfactory progress by the end of their third semester may be dropped from the program.
    • Students need to register for a minimum of 9 graduate credits (in courses numbered 300 and above) each semester (excluding the summer semester), and must maintain a minimum overall cumulative GPA of 3.00 at all times.
    • No more than 3 credit hours of incomplete work may be carried at any time. Students must make up Incompletes by the end of the following semester during which the student is registered. Students with incompletes will not be considered for Teaching or Project Assistantships in Afro-American Studies.

3. Preparing to Write a Thesis

  • Establishing a thesis committee:
    • At the end of their first year of graduate study, each student chooses a faculty advisor to direct his or her thesis and two additional faculty members to complete the committee. One member of the committee may be a faculty expert from a department other than the Department of Afro-American Studies. Students are responsible for contacting the faculty members they wish to work with on their theses.
  • Selecting a Thesis Topic:
    • Since the Master’s thesis should build on existing scholarship, the first step that a student makes in selecting a topic is becoming well acquainted with the literature that exists in his or her area of interest. This requires the student to consult all relevant resources, including card catalogs, the most recently published bibliographies in the field, indexes to major journals, periodicals, and relevant electronic data bases before presenting the topic to her or his major advisor for approval. The advisor offers guidance on how to prepare the thesis proposal. We strongly urge students to have their thesis topics approved by the sixth week of their third semester in the program.
  • The Thesis Proposal:
    • The thesis proposal is a five to seven page document outlining in detail the thesis topic, the methodology the student will use to explore the project, and the project’s overall design, that is, its formal divisions– preface or introduction, number of chapters, conclusion, endnotes, and a preliminary working bibliography of primary and secondary sources. (For further specific details on what is required in a thesis proposal, refer to K. Turabian, A Manual for Writers of Term Papers, Theses, and Dissertations, 6th edition, University of Chicago Press). Following the approval of the student’s major adviser, the candidate submits the proposal to the other committee members for additional comments.

4. The Master’s Thesis

  • The Master’s thesis is a scholarly research project that on completion, the student submits to the Department and to the Graduate School in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the Master’s Degree. Its purpose is to demonstrate that the degree candidate has acquired the knowledge and skills to carry out scholarly writing and research in his or her discipline, and to advance knowledge in the field itself. The Master’s thesis should provide the basis for a substantial contribution to the scholarship that already exists in the candidate’s area of specialization. Students writing theses may enroll for as many as 9 credit hours for research and thesis credit (AAS 790).
  • The following general guidelines for the Master’s thesis in Afro-American Studies are applicable to each of the areas of specialization:
    • Critical position:
      • Students must demonstrate an understanding of how their critical methodology relates to current and historical trends in their areas. In most cases, this constitutes an explanation of a student’s critical position/perspective in the first chapter of the thesis. The importance of the study should also be specified in the first chapter.
    • Primary and secondary sources:
      • The thesis should reflect a thorough knowledge of the primary and secondary texts discussed in the work. Students who choose to write on a single subject or author which or who has received relatively little critical attention should be able to demonstrate detailed knowledge of the full range of critical material that exists on the topic or person. Students writing on a subject or figure which or who has attracted widespread critical attention will be expected to demonstrate detailed knowledge of the major works and criticism that focus specifically on their topic. The quantity of required secondary reading included in a thesis will be determined in a major advisor/student conference following the student’s submission of an initial working bibliography.
    • Writing:
      • Students at the thesis-writing stage in their programs should have graduate level writing skills. They should by then be attentive to such technical problems as grammar, punctuation, and spelling throughout the writing phase of the project. Should they have weaknesses in any of these areas they need to take immediate intensive steps to remedy those flaws. The staff in the Writing Center, located in the English Department, offers excellent one-to-one help to students with writing problems. Students with good writing skills also need to visit the Writing Center regularly as they proceed on their theses. Students at all levels of graduate work and in all stages of writing, from beginning thesis proposals to completing Ph.D.dissertations, benefit significantly from frequent consultations with the experts in the Writing Center.
    • Avoid plagiarism:
      • Students should pay special attention to proper quotation and citation practices to avoid charges of plagiarism. Plagiarism is a serious offense for which there are severe penalties. See Academic Misconduct: Guide for Students.
    • The Thesis Defense:
      • The thesis defense is an oral presentation of an intellectual project where students are expected to demonstrate their acquisition of in-depth knowledge of the topic on which they have written. They will also be expected to establish a context that shows the significance of their work toward advancing the field of African American Studies broadly and narrowly. Students proceeding into disciplinary Ph.D. programs should have further insights into how the knowledge they gained could affect the directions they take in their future explorations of their fields.