View Full Version : UK History masters' degree

07-07-2016, 05:07 PM
Greetings! My character is in the dissertation phase of a taught masters' degree in pre-modern history, with a particular interest in folklore and how various civilizations' pre-Classical myths and legends compared across regions. I myself did a taught masters' in Computer Science in the UK, so I'm familiar with the general structure and the dissertation-writing process. What I don't have a feel for at all is what sort of scope the dissertation would have in history (should she focus on a single legend across many cultures? a variety of legends across a few cultures? is this even a viable subject to study?).

Also, what sort of future would she be looking forward to after graduation? What is the career path from here? Or rather, what options would she have to consider, I guess?

07-07-2016, 09:56 PM
Former historian here -- Folklore and legends would not be good topics for a history degree. An exception might be made for someone studying links between a particular myth/legend and specific historical events, more probable for someone studying the way a myth/legend was used in a particular historical context (e.g. the role of Arthurian legends in the context of 15c English culture/politics). The purpose of a dissertation is to demonstrate mastery of the tools and methodologies of a discipline, and for history that means dealing with historical sources around a specific, well-defined time & place. Comparing myths & legends across cultures sounds very much NOT like a history dissertation, much more suitable for something in the literature/comp lit/anthropology areas.

As for career paths... I'm not sure about the situation in the UK, but in the US a terminal master's degree in history is directly useful mainly for people in secondary education. Outside of that, you're basically in the general job pool with everyone else who does or doesn't have a liberal arts MA. She can go into all sorts of work--business looks favorably on people who have demonstrated an ability to communicate and to complete a course of study -- but there's not a career path where her masters' degree gives her a particular advantage over everyone else. And for things where a history degree might conceivably be desirable, she's competing with all the history PhDs who can't get work in academia.

07-08-2016, 05:54 PM
Thanks! So maybe an Anthropology degree would make more sense, or I can change the dissertation topic. And an anthropology degree would let her be an anthropologist, which I can wrap my head around a bit more I think.

07-08-2016, 09:06 PM
I had to create a similar (supporting) character in a mash-up series, a cultural anthropologist/author who specialized in cross-culture similarities and/or recurrent anomalies in folklore/myth/legends and subsequent analysis. In my research I had occasion to interview a number of folks associated with cultural anthropology. In the vast majority of those so engaged, consistent employment was almost always found within the realm of academia (teaching, or associated support roles). However, there were instances wherein an accepted/acclaimed expert was temporarily engaged as a consultant for an ad hoc project (think educational films, archaeological digs/investigations, etc.).

Susannah Shepherd
07-20-2016, 11:32 AM
Sorry to be late to the party, but as another former professional historian with a degree from the UK, I concur with benbenberi. Your character's research topic is definitely not history, and is probably anthropology. If her work was entirely UK-based, it might be able to be fitted into a 'local studies' curriculum but it sounds like you want a more global focus.

Studying a single legend across many cultures feels like the most viable option. She may have to do a bit of work and build up wider knowledge before identifying what legend her dissertation should focus on, unless she has a supervisor who has suggested a topic to her, so it's viable that she has a much wider grasp of the subject than ends up in her dissertation.

Depending on how much she studies local legends/folklore and how much her research is based on original written accounts of the legends in question, working in local studies (museums, libraries, archives etc.) might be a career option beyond academia. It would probably require further specialist postgrad training.

07-20-2016, 01:59 PM
Researcher for a TV production company would be a viable career pathway

07-24-2016, 10:23 AM
From the perspective of someone who got a Master's in English in the U.S., it was popular when I got my degree to study "postcolonial" literature. In my case, I was writing about Irish Women's Postcolonial Literature. (I dearly wanted to subtitle the thesis "would you like fries with your order?" but my advisor for some reason said "no.") To write about the postcolonial literature in Ireland, I had to contrast it with the precolonial literature, e.g. the Tain Bo. (Pardon the spelling, I can't see how to get the accents right for that term.) Precolonial literature was considered "folklore" because it was not written down until the colonists came.

As for career path, I find that once I tell people that I have an MA in English, they are convinced I would make an absolutely spiffing editor. (In reality, an MA degree does not train you to be an editor. But don't tell my employer.)

Susannah Shepherd
07-24-2016, 01:58 PM
I should also add that someone with a good master's degree in history, anthropology or literature has potentially a wide range of career options beyond the strictly vocational ones (such as academic, teacher, librarian or researcher). Plenty of people I went to university with got jobs in the City or civil service. For most of my career my research background has been of secondary importance compared to the more general skills of drawing insights from ambiguous and conflicting evidence, and writing well.