The thesis and capstone project serve the same purpose. They allow a student to demonstrate mastery of both a specific topic and the relation of this topic to the broader subject of American history and government. The thesis or capstone project should also demonstrate the student's analytic and interpretive skills. Both the thesis and the capstone project serve as a summative expression of what a student has learned in the MA program.
The thesis and capstone differ in the way they serve their common purpose. A thesis is a written work stating a claim or interpretation and supporting it with data and argument. For example, a thesis might claim that a certain type of protestant theology is responsible for political reform movements in the United States and support that claim by examining the civil rights movement of the 1960s. A thesis must be no more than 30,000 words.
A capstone project combines different kinds of practical experience (e.g., as a docent) or other written work (e.g., historical fiction) with analytical and interpretive writing in the form of one or more essays. A capstone project, for example, might examine the civil rights movement by developing interpretive materials for an historical site connected to the civil rights movement.
Capstone projects might also include:
- Selection of materials (e.g., primary documents) to enhance a curriculum, with essays providing justification of the selections and analysis and interpretation to assist in their use. (N.B. The program would not assess the merits of the curricular proposal but of the analysis and interpretation supporting the selection of the primary documents.)
- A series of lesson plans.
- Participation in a Civil War battle reenactment, with interpretive essays explaining the significance of the battle in the military and political outcome of the Civil War.
- Development of an exhibition at a school or library, along with analytical and interpretive essays explaining the significance of the exhibition.
Both the thesis and the capstone project require approval of the student's thesis or capstone committee, which will review proposals to make sure that they meet substantive and methodological requirements of the MAHG program.
The Thesis and Capstone Project Process
Students considering the thesis or capstone project tracks should be thinking of a topic for their project from the moment they begin work in the program. This is particularly important for those doing capstone projects, since their completion may depend on events or activities whose schedule the student does not control.
The Research Methods Course
The formal thesis or capstone process begins when a student enrolls in AHG 690 (Research Methods), usually after completing 20 credits. For more information about AHG 690, please contact Professor David Tucker, the program's Thesis and Capstone Project coordinator.
The Research Methods course has two purposes. The first is to make sure that by the time each student finishes the course he or she has a thesis or capstone proposal signed by a thesis/capstone advisor and a second reader. This will signify that the student is ready to begin working on the thesis or capstone project. The second purpose is to introduce students to the methods of academic research and the analytical and interpretive techniques necessary to complete the thesis or capstone.
Students should register and pay for AHG 690 during the semester in which they will start work on the course and their proposal.
The Thesis or Capstone Project Proposal
During the Research Methods course, the student and the Research Methods instructor will discuss a possible Thesis/Capstone advisor, as part of the process of selecting a topic and developing a proposal. The instructor will then contact the potential advisor. If the individual agrees to be the advisor, then the student and the advisor will finish working up the Thesis/Capstone proposal. The student, the advisor, and the instructor should then select a potential second reader. The advisor should be a faculty member in the MAHG program; the second reader need not be. The second reader needs to approve the proposal, once the advisor has approved it.
Candidates for the thesis option should submit to the Research Methods instructor a paper they have written of 20 or more pages. The paper may be an undergraduate paper or a graduate paper done in the MAHG or in another graduate program. If the Research Methods instructor does not judge that the paper qualifies the student for the thesis, the student may request that another MAHG instructor read the paper. In the event that the two readers disagree in their assesment of the paper, a third reader from among the program faculty may be consulted.
Proposals should be submitted using these templates:
When the thesis/capstone advisor and second reader sign the proposal they are attesting that the scope of the project is suitable for a masters degree, that the student is prepared to undertake the work, has sufficient research resources available to complete it, and that the thesis or project is of a quality sufficient for a masters degree. It is the responsibility of the thesis/capstone advisor to notify the Chair of any changes to the students thesis plan as work progresses. A change of advisor requires that the proposal be approved again. Once the thesis/capstone advisor and the second reader have signed the proposal, the director and the chair review it. The chair will judge the proposal on its academic merits, while the director will verify that the student is in academic and financial good standing with the university and the program.
Once all signatures are obtained and the student completes AHG 690, the student should register for AHG 691 (Thesis) or AHG 692 (Capstone Project) and begin work. Please note that this is a four credit hour course. Thesis work may be done concurrently with the student's final course work or after the course work is complete.
Completing the Thesis or Capstone Project
At the outset, the student and the advisor should establish a schedule for progress reports and advising. Additionally, they should also agree on a timeline for drafts. It is the student's responsibility to follow through with the established schedule and to maintain regular contact with his or her advisor during the writing process.
When the thesis/capstone project is completed, the student shall produce a Cover Page . The student should sign and date the cover page, and forward it along with their project to their thesis/capstone advisor. Please use the following Cover Page templates:
When the thesis/capstone advisor and second reader sign the thesis or capstone project they are attesting that it is of sufficient quality and scope for the MA degree. Once the thesis/capstone advisor and the second reader approve the finished thesis, they sign the thesis approval form and submit it along with the thesis to the chair for his approval. The director must also sign to verify the student's good standing. The signatures of the chair and the director signal that the student has completed the thesis/capstone requirement.
A student has two years from the completion of AHG 690 to finish the thesis or capstone project. The chair may grant a one year extension. A further extension of one year requires the approval of the Faculty Committee. All requirements for the degree must be completed within ten years from first enrollment.