Welcome to the Masters program!

The 30-credit MA program provides advanced training in the interdisciplinary study of American history, culture, and society. Students gain a broad understanding of American Studies as an academic field, including its historiography, theories, and methods. They also acquire a general knowledge of U.S. history across periods and themes training in subfields of the students’ interest, and advanced skills in research. The interdisciplinary nature of the program allows freedom and flexibility to tailor the course of study to students’ own interests and goals while also grounding them in the field of American Studies.


In the core sequence and electives, students garner an understanding of American Studies both as a stand-alone field and an interdisciplinary nexus of varied approaches to scholarship, from history to anthropology to media studies. Students also gain perspective on the historical formation of American society and culture, from the conquest and colonial period to the present. By the completion of their coursework, students will have developed professional writing and research skills, plus expertise in a specific subfield or topic area.

Required Core Courses

All master’s students are required to complete two core courses in the department:  AMST 600 and AMST 601. Plan A students are also required to take AMST 603 (and Plan B students are encouraged to take this class). The core sequence serves three purposes. First, it introduces students to American Studies as a stand-alone field, as well as the varied perspectives that have shaped its development. Secondly, it provides  an advanced and shared overview of the history of American society and culture from the conquest and colonial period to the present, with special emphasis on the eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth centuries. It develops skills in research, writing, and critical thinking, and fosters a sense of community within the cohort of incoming students.  Students are strongly advised to enroll in one core class each semester, as described on the curriculum map.

Other Notes on Required Courses:

  • All graduate students must maintain a minimum G.P.A. of 3.0
  • Only courses in which the student attains a B- or better can count toward an AMST graduate degree. 
  • No more than 3 courses taken as an unclassified student may count toward a graduate degree in American Studies.
  • Only courses taken for a grade will be counted toward a graduate degree

Degree Tracks

Graduate students can pursue either a thesis or exam track toward a master’s degree in American Studies. The Thesis Track (Plan A) allows students to complete a substantial research and writing project, while the Exam Track (Plan B) allows students to develop content knowledge in two fields of specialization. Each track requires a distinct academic plan and has its own coursework requirements.

Plan A: MA Thesis

Plan A students must complete twenty-four credits (8 regular courses) of graduate coursework, including the core sequence (AMST 600, 601, 603), at least TWO other graduate courses in American Studies, and THREE courses in either American Studies or a related field. In addition, Plan A students must take SIX credits of AMST 700 during the research and writing phase upon approval of the thesis proposal. At the end of the process, students must defend their theses before the committee.

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The MA thesis is a substantial piece of scholarship that culminates the student’s work in the MA program. The thesis should prepare the student for doctoral-level study and/or employment in a relevant professional field. It should demonstrate the student’s ability to formulate a scholarly project, conduct in-depth research, and develop an original argument. While there is no minimum or maximum length for the thesis, generally MA theses are approximately 80-120 double-spaced pages.

In order to begin the thesis, a student must first form the thesis committee and produce a thesis proposal.

The thesis committee consists of three faculty members. The committee chair must belong to the American Studies Department and be a full member of the Graduate Division faculty. If necessary to cover areas of relevant expertise, up to one member of the committee may come from outside the department. Students should consult with the Graduate Chair as well as the committee chair to form a committee that provides the range of expertise and support needed for the thesis project.

In consultation with the committee, the student must produce a thesis proposal. The content and format for the proposal vary depending on the nature of the project, but all proposals must include: (1) project overview, describing the topic, research question, argument, and significance; (2) sources and methods, identifying the key primary sources and describing the methods to be used for analysis; (3) literature review, summarizing the findings and arguments made by other scholars and writers on relevant issues and discussing what the thesis would add to existing scholarship; and (4) chapter outline, summarizing the materials to be addressed and arguments to be made in each chapter. The proposal must also include a bibliography listing both primary and secondary sources. While there is no minimum or maximum length for the proposal, typically a solid proposal is approximately 10 double-spaced pages, not including the bibliography. Once the entire committee has approved the proposal, the student must submit Student Progress Form II with the committee members’ signatures to the Graduate Program Coordinator.

Students should maintain regular contact with the committee members and work closely especially with the committee chair during the research and writing process. While each student has different ways of working with committee members, students should expect to revise each chapter several times based on the committee’s input. The thesis must conform to the Style and Policy Manual For Theses and Dissertations.

Students must give committee members ample time, usually no less than four weeks, to read the completed thesis and to determine whether it is ready for defense. When the entire committee has approved it for defense, the student must get the Graduate Chair’s approval to schedule the oral defense. The entire committee must be present at the defense. In cases where any of the committee members is out of town on the scheduled defense date, the member may participate in the defense through Zoom or another videoconferencing platform with the approval of the Graduate Division. During the defense, the student may make a brief statement about the thesis. The committee members will then ask questions and make comments on the thesis, and the student is expected to defend her work. A majority of the committee members, including the committee chair, must vote “pass” in order for the student to pass the defense. The student will be required to make revisions based on the comments made during the defense before submitting the final thesis to the Graduate Division.

Plan B: MA Exams

Plan B students must complete thirty credits (10 regular courses) of graduate coursework. At least 18 credits (6 courses) must be in American Studies and these must include AMST 600 and AMST 601. Students may also find it useful to enroll in AMST 603, a course on primary research. MA Plan B students may take up to four courses in fields related to American Studies. In addition, they must take a written and oral exam in two fields of their choice.

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Plan B students culminate their studies with written and oral exams in two specialized fields of the student’s choice. Each field should be focused enough to have depth and coherence and broad enough to cover a subfield of American Studies. The two fields should not overlap too closely. The student should define the fields by working closely with two advisors, one for each field. Examples of fields might include: U.S. Women’s History, Sexuality Studies, Asian American Studies, Historic Preservation, U.S.-Native American Relations, African American Literature, Hawaiʻi  History, American Arts, American Cinema, American Environmental History, Life Writing and Comparative Diasporas.

For each field, the student must prepare a reading list in consultation with the field advisor. Each reading list should include no fewer than twenty books. Once the two field advisors have approved the reading lists, the Graduate Chair must approve the fields. Students should work closely with the field advisors in the course of reading for the exam. Once the field advisors have agreed that the student is ready for the exam, the student must schedule the written and oral exams with the Graduate Program Coordinator.

The student is examined in the two fields simultaneously. For the written portion, each field advisor will prepare one question for the student. At the designated starting time, the student will receive the questions electronically or pick them up at the department office. A typed, double-spaced copy of the completed exam is due electronically or in the Department office forty-eight hours (2 days) later. No extensions can be permitted.

The student’s answers should be clearly written, analytically sophisticated, organizationally cohesive, and carefully edited. There is no minimum or maximum length for the written exams, but successful students generally write approximately 1,750 words per question. The submission package should be delivered in hard copy or in PDF format (unless otherwise instructed) and should include three components:

  • Final version of the reading lists
  • Questions posed by the field advisors
  • Student’s answers to the questions

Each faculty advisor assesses whether the student has passed the written exam. If the student has passed, the oral exam will take place on the designated date, usually within two weeks of the submission of the written exam. During the oral exam, the student may be asked to clarify or elaborate on their written exam and/or asked to discuss other issues covered by the reading lists. The oral exam typically lasts 90-120 minutes. The two field advisors determine the student’s performance on the basis of “Fail,” “Low Pass,” “Pass,” or “Pass with Distinction.”

Maintaining Enrollment Status

Students who have completed their required coursework but have not yet completed all degree requirements, can maintain their registration status by enrolling for ONE credit of graduate coursework (AMST 500 for MA students) on a CR/NC basis with the Graduate Chair, subject to the restrictions and guidelines listed below.

Continuing to PhD

American Studies students who wish to continue their graduate study in our American Studies PhD program after they complete their MA at UHM must submit to the faculty a statement of intent with a discussion of their future research and two recent letters of recommendation from American Studies faculty members at UHM, as well as a Petition (Petition for Admission to a Doctoral Program in Same Discipline) to the Graduate Division. MA students should understand that admission to the PhD program is by no means automatic. MA students who are considering pursuit of a PhD first discuss their plans with their faculty and with the Graduate Chair. The application deadline for fall admission is June 15 and for spring admission is November 15. If admitted, all 30 credits of coursework taken to complete degree requirements for the MA will be applied toward the 45 credits required for PhD work.

Curriculum Map


PLAN A: MA Thesis

Required courses

AMST 600, AMST 601, AMST 603 (9 credits)


2 graduate-level AMST courses (6 credits)

3 graduate-level courses in AMST or other disciplines (9 credits)


AMST 700, Thesis (6 credits)

Note: Students must enroll in AMST 700 in the semester they intend to graduate.

If the student has already fulfilled 6 credits of AMST 700 prior to the semester in which they are graduating, they must get permission to register for one credit of AMST 700F in their final semester.  Please contact our Graduate Program Coordinator.

Total Credits

30 credits

PLAN B: MA Exams

Required courses

AMST 600, 601, & 603 or substitute* (9 credits)


3 graduate-level AMST courses (9 credits)

4 graduate-level courses in AMST or other disciplines (12 credits)


Field Exams

Total Credits

30 credits

*Students in Plan B (non-thesis) may waive AMST 603 with the permission of the graduate chair, and substitute a course in an appropriate area of specializati

Recommended Timeline

PLAN A: MA Thesis

First Year

Fall: AMST 600 & 2 AMST or electives (9 credits)

Spring: AMST 601 & 2 AMST or electives (9 credits)

Second Year

Fall: AMST 603 & 1 AMST or elective (6 credits)

Spring: Thesis

PLAN B: MA Exams

First Year

Fall: AMST 600 & 2 AMST or electives (9 credits)

Spring: AMST 601 & 2 AMST or electives (9 credits)

Second Year

Fall: AMST 603 or substitute* & 1 AMST or elective

Spring: 2 AMST or electives Field Exams

All MA students may take one 400-level course for credit with the permission of the Graduate Chair.

Dual MA Degree

MA students in American Studies may simultaneously pursue a Master’s degree with the School of Library and Information Studies.  Whether the primary degree is in American Studies or in LIS, the dual degree can be completed with a total of 60 credits.

If the student’s primary degree is American Studies, of the 30 credits required for this MA, LIS counts 9 credits at the 600 level. Thus only 30 LIS credits for the MLISc are needed instead of 39, for a total of 60 credits for both degrees.

If the student’s primary degree is LIS, of the 39 credits required for the MLISc, the Department of American Studies accepts 9 credits from the following so the MA requires 21 American Studies credits:

  • LIS 612 – History of Information
  • LIS 631 – Introduction to Hawaiʻi and Pacific Librarianship
  • LIS 635 – Traditional Literature & Oral Narration
  • LIS 648 – Government Documents
  • LIS 693 – Special Topics in Librarianship
  • LIS 699 – Directed Reading and/or Research
Primary Degree MA MLISc Total
American Studies 30 30 60
Library / Information Science 21 39 60
If obtained separately 30 39 69

Students must apply directly to the School of Library and Information Studies for admission to its Master’s program.