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Ma History Dissertation Ideas Counseling

Master’s in English Thesis Topics

  • Write About a Well-Known Author’s Lesser-Known Works
  • Apply Familiar Ideas to a Contemporary Context
  • Study a New Literary Genre
  • Write About the Movie
  • Look to Other Disciplines

Of all the requirements of a Master’s program in English, the thesis is the most daunting. Georgetown University’s English department states, “theses [should] reflect original research, analysis, and writing of considerable depth and complexity appropriate to Master’s level work.” Your Master’s thesis in English is an argumentative literary analysis on a topic of your choice, and that argument must be thorough, insightful, and, most importantly, original.

Resource: Top 30 Most Affordable Online Master’s in English

The expectation of originality can seem particularly challenging. Is it possible to say something new about Dickens, whose work has inspired thousands of scholarly articles? If you’re having trouble choosing a thesis topic that feels original, consider these five approaches.

1. Write About a Well-Known Author’s Lesser-Known Works

Everybody loves Pride and Prejudice: it’s sold over 20 million copies. It’s also been fodder for plenty of academic writing. Scholars have inspected it through a feminist lens, a Marxist lens, and just about every other lens available to the literary critic. But Austen wrote other things as well. Her juvenilia, the short works she composed as a teenager, are less popular than her major novels, but they’re a fascinating insight into Austen’s early life. If your thesis topic focuses on a well-known author, consider honing in on that author’s early or less famous works.

2. Apply Familiar Ideas to a Contemporary Context

Edward Said developed the concept of Orientalism in 1978 as a way to describe attempts in nineteenth-century English literature to imagine the cultural milieus of European colonies in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. Orientalism as a literary trope is often discussed in analyses of literature from the European colonial period. But its relevance extends into contemporary American culture, where, since 9/11, an imagined “Middle East” has been a major cultural preoccupation. Said may have been writing about Mansfield Park, but if you’re interested in a Master’s thesis topic that deals with Orientalism, you can apply his ideas to contemporary works with a post-9/11 focus like The Kite Runner.

3. Study a New Literary Genre

Poetry and drama have existed for thousands of years. The novel has been around since the seventeenth century. And scholars have been writing about poetry, drama, and the novel for almost as long as those genres have been around. Graphic novels, by comparison, have only existed for a few decades. You’ll have an easier time finding an original thesis topic if you’re working with a newer genre. And if your English department is resistant to the idea that a graphic novel counts as literature, respectfully disagree (nobody thought of the novel as real literature when it was brand-new either).

4. Write About the Movie

Many great literary works have been adapted to film. While some adaptations are straightforward, others are exercises in literary analysis in their own right, providing fascinating commentary about the texts on which they’re based. Think about the way that Coppola’s Apocalypse Now uses the Vietnam war to update the concepts of civilization and violence broached in Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. A good literary adaptation, analyzed in tandem with its source material, could make for an interesting Master’s thesis topic.

5. Look to Other Disciplines

English departments are recognizing that the skills required by literary study are strengthened when combined with skills from other fields like history or even the sciences. A unique thesis topic might combine the study of English literature with ideas from other disciplines you enjoy working in–if your interests include both English and math, for example, you can attempt something like this project that conducts a statistical analysis of the language of Shakespeare.

Finding an original topic for your Master’s thesis in English doesn’t have to be a struggle. If you think outside the box, you’ll find an idea no one has come across before.

FALL 2017

Heidi Carbaugh, “Mappipng Prostitution in Gilded Age Baltimore”
!Advisor: Professor Anne Rubin

Sherry Ryan, “Farms at Gettysburg”
Advisor: Professor Anne Rubin

SUMMER 2017

Tucker Foltz, “Freedom and Total Loss:  Tensions, Identity Formation and the Back-To-The Land Movement in 1970’s Vermont
Advisor:  Professor Denise Meringolo

Sydney Jenkins, “The Arabbers: A History of Baltimore Street Peddlers From 1945 to the Present”
Advisor: Professor Denise Meringolo

Georgia Ladd, “Remembering Dixie in a Border State: Reunion and Reconciliation in Post-Civil War Maryland”
Advisor:  Professor Anne S. Rubin

Robin Martin, “Encounters Through Encroachment: 17th and 18th Century Interactions on Maryland’s Eastern Shore”
Advisor:  Professor Melissa Blair

Molly Ricks, “Buried Memories: The Evolving Symbolic Significance of Black and White Burial Grounds at Mount Vernon, Monticello and Montpelier ”
Advisor:  Professor Anne S. Rubin

Stephanie Smith, “The Canadian Bicentennial of the War of 1812: The Problem of Techumseh”
Advisor:  Professor Daniel Ritschel

Laquanda Walters Cooper, “Every Evidence of Our Progress”: The North Carolina Negro State Fairs, 1879-1907
Advisor:  Professor Michelle Scott

SPRING 2017

Kelly Daughtridge, “Defining Their Past to Immortalize Their Future: Women’s Monuments in Early Modern England”
Advisor:  Professor Amy Froide

Katherine Fusick, “Ladies in Rebellion: Women of the 1715 and 1745 Jacobite Risings”
Advisor:  Professor Amy Froide

Andrew Holter, “The Vanguard is Never Caught Napping: Informants and Police Inside the Black Panthers in Baltimore, 1968-1972”
Advisor: Professor Derek Musgrove

Sarah Huston, “The Lives of Enslaved and Free Black Children in Baltimore Under Apprenticeship Laws, 1790-1840”
Advisor: Professor Anne S. Rubin

Jennifer Montooth, “Bridges to Dignity”: Roy Innis, Conservative Black Power, and the Transformation of CORE, 1968-1998
Advisor: Professor Derek Musgrove

Chelsea Mueller, “Ink, Mirrors, and Capes: How Comic Books Mirrored Societal Events in American Culture From 1954-1990”
Advisor:  Professor Meredith Oyen

Fall 2016

Joshua Fertig, “Bars on the Golden Door: Post WWII Security Screenings and Their Administrations”
Advisor:  Professor Meredith Oyen

Summer 2016

Celso Baldivieso, “Irradiating Eden: The El Verde Experiment and the Atomic Energy Commission’s Nuclear Prospecting in Latin America, 1954-1970”
Advisor:  Professor Kate Brown

Spring 2016

Michael Bealefeld, “The Peculiar Fidelity of the Old Line State”
Advisor: Professor Anne S. Rubin

Jacob Benson, “City Architect, County Architect”
Advisor: Professor Melissa Blair

Conor Donan, “The Streets of Baltimore-The Irish in Baltimore City”
Advisor: Professor Anne S. Rubin

Tyler Peterson, “Bridging the Gap: Culture and Politics in Sino-American Normalization”
Advisor: Professor Meredith Oyen

Allyson Schuele, “Marrying Down: A Strategy for Aristocratic Widows in Tudor England”
Advisor: Professor Amy Froide

Michael Stone,”Understanding the Uprising”
Advisor: Professor Denise Meringolo

Coleburn Volman, “Child of Man? Child of God?: Adolescence and the Ambiguity of Parenthood in Early Modern England”
Advisor:  Professor Amy Froide

Fall 2015:

Elizabeth Cusick, “Anarchist Heaven:  Barcelona 1936-1937.”
Advisor: Prof. Daniel Ritschel

Aiden J. Faust, “Neighborhood Matters:  What Baltimore Learned from the War on Poverty.”
Advisor: Prof. Derek Musgrove

Aunaleah Gelles, “Commemorating the Defense of Baltimore, 1815-2015.”
Advisor: Prof. Denise Meringolo

 Summer 2015

Genevieve White, “Gone With Only Memory Left”: The Wartime Memoir of Emily Raine Williams
Advisor: Professor Meredith Oyen

Nichole Zang, “Holy Temples to Dark Rooms: The origins of Baltimore’s Juvenile Reform Movement of the 19th Century”
Advisor: Professor Anne S. Rubin

Spring 2015:

Jessica E. Deane, “Glory Stands Beside Our Grief:  The Maryland Division of the United Daughters of the Confederacy’s Commemoration and Memorial Efforts in Baltimore”
Advisor: Prof. Anne Sarah Rubin

Talbot A. Kuhn, “Maryland and the Moderate Conundrum:  Free Black Policy in an Antebellum Border State”
Advisor: Prof. Anne Sarah Rubin

Fall 2014:

Susan Chumley, “The United States Air Force Band:  Musical Ambassadors on a Cold War Stage”
Advisor: Prof. Denise Meringolo

Sarah Hammersley, “The Family Bond: Benevolent Black Slaveholding in Early National Maryland”
Advisor: Professor Terry Bouton

Heather M. Steven, “The Use of Gender During the E. G. Wharton Trial”
Advisor: Prof. Michelle Scott

Summer 2014:

Megan C. Maxwell, “Black Faces in Blue Uniforms:  Integrating the Baltimore Police Department, 1920-1950”
Advisor: Prof. Michelle Scott

Nancy Watts, “The History of Kindergarten in Baltimore City, Maryland”
Advisor: Prof. Anne Sarah Rubin

Zachary Garceau, “Johnny Unitas: Baltimore’s Cold Warrior”                                                                                                                                                     Advisor: Professor Derek Musgrove

Spring 2014:

Christopher Brown, “The Writing on the Walls and Other Places: American Civil War Graffiti”
Advisor: Prof. Anne Sarah Rubin

Katherine Dufresne, “Images and Reality: War Brides and Media Representation”
Advisor: Prof. Meredith Oyen

Steve Flint, “The Vietnam War: Communist Mass Mobilization at the Local Level”
Advisor: Prof. Ka-che Yip

Courtney Hobson, “A Mother’s Inheritance: Women, Interracial Identity, and Emancipation in Maryland, 1664-1820″
Advisor: Prof. Marjoleine Kars

Jacob Hutton,”The Other Side of the Riots”
Advisor: Prof. Derek Musgrove

Colin Leach, “Waiting for Supertrain: Trains, Technocracy, and the Great Society”
Advisor: Prof. Christy Chapin

Caitlin McGeever, “’That Which is Spirit is Spirit’: Male and Female Quaker Perspectives in Political Context”
Advisor: Prof. Amy Froide

David Warner, “Executive Privilege and the Spirit of Republicanism in the Washington Administration”
Advisor: Prof. Marjoleine Kars

Fall 2013:

Shae Adams, “Identity in Black and White: Indian Boarding School Postcards”
Advisor: Prof. Terry Bouton

Dorothy Alexander, “Hilltop:  A Historic African-American Community”
Advisor: Prof. Denise Meringolo

William J Carroll, “Beer Wars:  The Fight for Independent Brewing in Baltimore”
Advisor: Prof. Denise Meringolo

Theresa Donnelly, “George Washington’s Laboring Women:  The Work and Lives of the Enslaved Female Field Workers at Mount Vernon, 1785-1787”
Advisor: Prof. Marjoleine Kars

Karl Dotterweich, “’And the Hand of the Lord Was With Them’:  The Effects of Planters’ Socioeconomic Status on the Capital Trials of Enslaved Africans in Colonial Maryland, 1729-1775”
Advisor: Prof. Marjoleine Kars

Gary McMullin, “Country First:  African Colonization and the Role of Southern Unionists, 1817-1862”
Advisor: Prof. Anne Sarah Rubin

Summer 2013:

Christy Gretsinger, “Oblivion: An Analysis of the Decline of Feminism Within the Owenite Movement”
Advisor: Prof. Daniel Ritschel

James Reaves, “Making Down: The Life of a Pullman Porter”
Advisor: Prof. Denise Meringolo

John J. Soos, “Jacob Beser: The Forgotten Hiroshima and Nagasaki Crewmember and the Construction of Atomic Memory”
Advisor: Prof. Joe Tatarewitz

Spring 2013:

Mia Brown, “Lyndon Johnson and the Race for Peace: The 1967 Outer Space Treaty”
Advisor: Prof. Joseph Tatarewicz

Dominique L. Covino,  “‘In Great Danger of Perishing Through Poverty’: Kinship, Charity and Public Poor Relief in Somerset County, Maryland, 1665-1760”
Advisor: Prof. Marjoleine Kars

Jenny Lee Hansen, “Genocide: What Genocide?”
Advisor: Prof. Meredith Oyen

Elizabeth Pente – “Death for Dishonor in Danville”
Advisor: Prof. Michelle Scott

Johanna Schein – “Heeding Hetch Hetchy: A Public History Project”
Advisor: Prof. Denise Meringolo

Amy Zanoni – “‘Working on Many Levels’: A History of Second-Wave Feminism in Baltimore”
Advisor: Prof. Michelle Scott

Fall 2012

Brigette N. Cascio, “The More Personal Civil War: The Impact of the Civil War on Marriages”
Advisor: Dr. Anne Rubin

Meghan Colabella, “Beyond its Southern Border: An Examination of U.S. Immigration Policies (IRLA) and Mexican Migration”
Advisor: Dr. Meredith Oyen

Summer 2012:

Kellian Kennedy, “The Civil Rights and Social Justice Movement in Baltimore, Maryland”
Advisor: Dr. Michelle Scott

Spring 2012:

Vicki Heath,” Harris’ List as a Source for the Diverse and Entrepreneurial Nature of Prostitution in Eighteenth-Century London”
Advisor: Dr. Amy Froide

Jessica Keene, “Elite Women’s Protestant Networks in Mid-Tudor England”
Advisor: Dr. Amy Froide

Owen Lourie, “A Revolution Without Change:  The Limited Effects of Suffrage Reform in Maryland, 1803-1813”
Advisor: Dr. Terry Bouton

Trisha Okine, “Real vs Real:  How the Concept of Authenticity Has Influenced Hip Hop”
Advisor: Dr. Michelle Scott

Douglas Oppenheimer, “America’s Revolutionary War”
Advisor: Dr. Terry Bouton

Tarin Rudloff, “Regulating Identities:  Governing Women’s Appearance in Early Modern England”
Advisor: Dr. Amy Froide

Allison Seylor, “In Defense of Slavery:  An Exploration of Queen Anne’s County Slave Owners, 1820-1840”
Advisor: Dr. Anne Rubin

Andrew Young, “Lexington’s Grandsons:  The Northern Response to the Pratt Street Riots”
Advisor: Dr. Anne Rubin

Summer 2011

Erin Estep, “A Chesapeake Childhood:  Childhood in the Colonial Chesapeake”
Advisor: Dr. Denise Meringolo

Laura Rice, “The Experience of an Enlisted U.S. Army Soldier During and After the Punitive Expedition and World War I:  Thomas F. Cunningham, A Case Study”
Advisor: Dr. Denise Meringolo

Coleen Walter, “Conserving Memory:  The Civilian Conservation Corps in Western Maryland”
Advisor: Dr  Kriste Lindenmeyer

Spring 2011

Bailey Ball, “Never Again:  The Impulse to Commemorate the Holocaust in the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and the British Imperial War Museum”
Advisor: Dr. Rebecca Boehling

Bethany Bemis, “The People’s House?  Public Access to the White House”
Advisor: Dr. Denise Meringolo

Daniel Burge, “Manifest or Murky? A Reexamination of the Popularity of Manifest Destiny in the Antebellum Era”
Advisor: Dr. Terry Bouton

Martin Cullen, “Nation Building and Insurgency in Southeast Asia”
Advisor: Dr. Daniel Ritschel

Teresa Foster, “The Passengers of the Ship Gilbert in 1721:  British Female Convict Transportation From London to Annapolis”
Advisor: Dr. Marjoleine Kars

James Furgol, “An Analysis of Discourse and Disagreement:  The British and American Medical Associations Following WWII”
Advisor: Dr. Daniel Ritschel

Jacob Levin, “Blacks and Jews in the Black Power Movement and its Subsequent Scholarship”
Advisor: Dr. Michelle Scott

Laura Marshallsay, “WAC Voices:  The Transition of the Women’s Army Corps to the Integrated Army, 1973-1978”
Advisor: Dr. Denise Meringolo

Homira Pashai, “For the Sake of Power, Prestige or Oil:  Did Cooperation Among the Governments of the United States and Great Britain Contribute to the 1953 Coup of Iran?”
Advisor: Dr. Kriste Lindenmeyer

James Risk, “Ship to Shore:  Infrastructure and the Growth of American Seaports”
Advisor: Dr. Anne Rubin

Carol Van Natta, “Slavery and Free Black Labor in Northern Maryland, 1762 to 1864:  Rethinking the Focus at Hampton National Historic Site”
Advisor: Dr. Denise Meringolo

Fall 2010

Peter Bunten, “A Vigil Strange:  The Civil War and the Creation of Memory in Ulster and Greene Counties, New York”
Advisor: Dr. Denise Meringolo

Jessica Ding, “Political Prophecy in Tudor England”
Advisor: Dr. Amy Froide