Master of Arts in Humanities

Welcome to the Humanities M.A. program. We are a small, friendly, dedicated group of scholar-teachers who offer a flexible M.A. degree program and a unique range of interdisciplinary courses in the global humanities.

The M.A. in Humanities (30 units) includes four core courses that offer a firm grounding in the major concerns of contemporary interdisciplinary humanities scholarship, and five electives that can be taken in the Humanities program or in a related M.A. program at the university. All M.A. students complete either a Masters thesis or exam as their culminating experience.


View the Bulletin to learn more about the M.A. in Humanities

View the Course Listing

View the Advising page

Questions: For more information about the program, please email the Graduate Coordinator, Cristina Ruotolo at

Art on campus - large statues in a circle

Who are our students?

Students enter our M.A. program with a variety of goals. Many seek the opportunity to explore diverse fields in the humanities in preparation for Ph.D. programs. Others want to advance their professional skills and standing as high school teachers or in preparation for teaching at a community college. Still others fulfill a wish to return to school and to the life of the mind.

What will you study?

In the broadest terms, our curriculum offers the critical study of diverse forms of cultural expression in global contexts. Our courses give students the opportunity to explore theoretical, historical and aesthetic questions across boundaries of discipline and geography, while promoting depth of study through a series of electives selected from relevant graduate programs (including Humanities as well as Cinema Studies, Classics, Comparative Literature, Communication Studies, Design, English, History, Philosophy, Theater Arts, Women and Gender Studies). This freedom allows students to explore the approaches developed in our core in relationship to their own particular fields of interest. Students in their final semester complete a thesis or exam as a culmination of their studies.

Who are our faculty?

The core graduate faculty in Humanities come from diverse academic backgrounds (spanning literature, music, philosophy, comics, visual arts). We all remain committed in our scholarship and teaching to pursuing questions that take us beyond the boundaries of our disciplinary training. We cherish the opportunity to work with our graduate students to help them develop their own intellectual paths. Current M.A. faculty include Professors Garcia-Moreno, Pena-Guzman, Ruotolo and Sousanis. Links to their bios can be on our faculty page.

Applying for admission to the Humanities M.A. program is a two-part process, as applicants must meet University admissions standards before the Department of Humanities and Comparative World Literature can consider them for admission to the program.

The San Francisco State University Bulletin contains the information you will need to apply for admission.

  • Deadline for fall admission: June 1
  • Deadline for spring admission: November 1

Any questions regarding admission to the University should be directed to the Division of Graduate Studies office, not this department.

Part 1

This part starts at the Division of Graduate Studies website.

Fill out the online CAL State Apply ( application form and follow the directions about arranging for your transcripts to be sent to the Division of Graduate Studies. Please do not send transcripts to our department. The Division of Graduate Studies will forward them to us when it has finished processing them.

Applicants should be as precise and clear as possible in the statement of purpose included in the online application. It should be at least 500 words and give specific details about your intellectual interests, academic and other relevant experience and your reasons for applying to our program.

Part 2 

This part covers additional materials required by the Department of Humanities and Comparative World Literature. Applicants should submit PDF file of one 8 – 10 page writing sample on a humanities-related topic along with their online application. We also require PDF files of two signed, letters of recommendation, on letterhead, from former teachers that also should be submitted along with their online application. Letters should be addressed to the M.A. Coordinator. 

Recommenders should submit their letters director to the online platform. If they are not able to do so, they should alternatively email directly to the M.A. Coordinator.

Admission to the Humanities M.A. Program

The Division of Graduate Studies does a preliminary evaluation of your application to see if you meet the minimum University standard: 3.0 GPA for your last 60 units of coursework. If you meet the minimum standard, the Division of Graduate Studies sends the application along with your official transcript to the Department of Humanities and Comparative World Literature to review and to make a recommendation to the Division of Graduate Studies on admission. 

Depending on your level of preparation, successful applicants may be admitted either as classified or conditionally classified graduate students. 

Admission with classified status means that you have satisfied all the University and departmental conditions for admission, and may take any Humanities graduate seminar. 

Admission as a conditionally classified student means that you need an additional three to six units of preparatory coursework, which will be specified on your admissions documents. You may enroll in graduate seminars concurrently with this coursework and you may count it toward the degree, as a partial or complete substitution for your allotted three to six units of electives, but it must be successfully completed during your first year in the program with a grade of B+ or better. Once you have done this, you should complete and file the form for Advancement to Classified Status at the Division of Graduate Studies Office.

Good Standing

Students must maintain a 3.0 (B) average in order to remain in good standing within the program. Any student whose cumulative GPA falls below 3.0 may be placed on probation or removed from classified graduate status by the department. Students who fail to make progress toward the degree may also be removed from classified status.

Seminars and Courses

Core Seminars (12 units)

Humanities 700  Introduction to Integrative Study OR CWL 800 Introduction to Graduate Study
  • Humanities 705  Text and Context: The Word and the World
  • Humanities 706  Image and Culture: Picturing the World
  • Humanities 720  Current Topics in the Humanities (can be taken more than once with different instructors)

Electives (15 units)

  • Fifteen units selected on advisement with the graduate coordinator and advisor. A list of suggested electives drawn from Humanities and other M.A. programs will be curated each semester.

Culminating Experience (Sponsored Study)

Pick one of the following:

Humanities 896 EXM: Directed Study in Selected Humanistic Works, to include comprehensive written and oral examinations
Humanities 898: Master’s Thesis and Oral Defense

Course descriptions are listed in the course information section of the University Bulletin. More complete descriptions of seminars are available from the graduate coordinator.

With the graduate coordinator’s approval, most upper-division undergraduate Humanities courses may be used to satisfy up to six units of the Master of Arts requirements. Consult the course instructor and the graduate coordinator about additional assignments for graduate students.

Students must make reasonable progress toward the degree, including completion of 700 or 720 in the first year and at least one Humanities course (or a substitution approved by the graduate coordinator) every semester.

The Level I English requirement will be fulfilled by a grade of B or better in Humanities 700 or 720. The 
Level II English requirement will be fulfilled by completion of the Culminating Experience.

ATC/Culminating Experience Forms

In the semester before you plan to enroll in the Culminating Experience, you must simultaneously file the ATC and the Culminating Experience Form. The ATC is a list of the courses you plan to use to meet your degree requirements, most of which you will already have completed by this time. The Culminating Experience Form is either the thesis (898) or the comprehensive examination (896). Both require the signatures of two Humanities faculty members who are willing to serve as your first and second readers, and the signature of either the graduate coordinator or the department chair. These forms are available on the Division of Graduate Studies website, along with the ATC Substitution form (for any substitutions on your ATC form) and forms for changing your Culminating Experience committee or the title of your Culminating Experience.

Thesis or Exam

The master’s thesis (HUM 898) allows you to develop an area of scholarly expertise and to demonstrate your ability to complete a fairly large-scale piece of scholarly writing and defend it orally. In recent years, the vast majority of our students have chosen to write theses. A thesis is an opportunity to work closely with members of the faculty on a subject of mutual interest and to produce a substantial piece of research and writing on a subject that is important to you. There is no fixed or required length for the thesis. Although a student may write a longer thesis if the committee members approve, the appropriate model for a thesis is a journal article — a well-organized, well-researched, thoughtful 30 – 40 page essay — rather than a book. The Division of Graduate Studies has specific requirements for thesis format, which you should observe carefully.

You may also finish the degree by comprehensive examination (HUM 896EXM). In this case, you will complete a substantial body of reading under the direction of an appropriate faculty member, in consultation with one or two additional faculty members. Your reading list will center three major works in the humanities, at least one of which must be in a medium other than written language, and a substantial range of secondary scholarship on those works. You will write three 10 – 15 page examination essays on questions set by your committee members based on your reading. You must complete these essays within one week. Then you will discuss and defend your answers orally to your committee.


Both options for completing the degree require a committee of at least two faculty members to supervise your progress through your culminating experience. The first reader takes primary responsibility for reading and directing your initial draft, which must be done in stages that respond to your first reader's comments on each section of your draft. The second reader normally responds to a complete first draft that has been approved by the first reader.

The school encourages students to ask up to three readers. At least two must be tenured or tenure-track members of the Department of Humanities & Comparative World Literature. With approval from your first reader and the graduate coordinator, the third may be a member of another department who has an appropriate area of expertise or a faculty member from another university. The student and his or her first reader will consult on whom to invite as second reader and third reader, if any. The student should meet with the second reader for their agreement and signatures on the Proposal for Culminating Experience. Lecturers may not ordinarily serve on M.A. committees. 

Defense and Graduation

Whichever culminating experience option you choose, once you have completed your work you will be required to defend it. That is, you present it in person to your committee and answer their questions about it. You may choose to have an open defense, in which anyone interested in your work is welcome, or a closed defense, with an audience limited to the members of your committee. This normally lasts about an hour and a half. Although it requires considerable effort and concentration, students are often relieved to find that the defense is nothing like the ordeal they imagined. Instead, it turns out to be an intellectually focused but informal and friendly conversation among people with a common interest.

Your committee chair will schedule a time and place for the defense in consultation with you and the other members of your committee. It is your responsibility to be aware of University deadlines and to keep in close touch with your first reader about your progress, so that neither you nor your committee members are subject to unreasonable time pressures.

Final versions of your work should be given to all committee members at least a week before the defense.

You should bring your own copy of your work to the defense which must include the top sheet for the committee’s signatures (see Division of Graduate Studies format requirements).

You should also bring the form for Completion of Culminating Experience and — if you have taken more than one semester to complete your sponsored study — a grade change form.

Petition for Graduation

You must file a separate application for graduation in the semester in which you expect to complete your degree requirements. Check the Graduate Studies website for deadlines. If you do not finish your degree work in the semester for which you filed your graduation application, you will need to submit a new application.

Time Towards the Degree

The University allows a maximum of seven years for completion of the M.A. degree, because our students often have considerable work and family responsibilities in addition to school work. Completion of the M.A. normally takes a minimum of a year and a half. The culminating experience takes at least one semester. 

If you do not enroll in courses for two consecutive semesters, you must apply for readmission to the University and the program. If you are readmitted, you will be subject to the degree requirements in effect at the time of readmission. 

If you have laid an adequate foundation for your final project in your coursework, it may be possible for you to finish in one semester, but we believe your graduate experience is richer and more satisfying if you do not try to rush through it. You may extend your registration in an 898 or 896 course over two semesters without paying additional tuition. 

HUM 700: Introduction to Integrative Study

  • Prerequisite: Consent of graduate major adviser or instructor.
  • Units: 3

Examination of the origins, traditions, and current practices of integrative humanities.

HUM 701: Fine Arts in the Humanities

  • Prerequisite: Consent of graduate major adviser or instructor.
  • Units: 3

Character and province of the fine arts; ways artistic principles and experience form relationships with other disciplines and experience.

HUM 702: Literature in the Humanities

  • Prerequisite: Consent of graduate major adviser or instructor.
  • Units: 3

Character and province of literature; ways literary principles and experiences form relationships with other disciplines and experience.

HUM 703: History in the Humanities

  • Prerequisite: Consent of graduate major adviser or instructor.
  • Units: 3

Character and province of history; the ways historical principles and experience form relationships with other disciplines and experience.

HUM 704: Philosophy in the Humanities

  • Prerequisite: Consent of graduate major adviser or instructor.
  • Units: 3

Character and province of philosophy; ways philosophical principles and experience form relationships with other disciplines and experience.

HUM 705: Text and Context: The Word and the World

  • Prerequisite: Restricted to graduate standing or consent of graduate major adviser or instructor.
  • Units: 3

Examination of the relationship between texts and the worlds that create and receive them. Develop familiarity with historical research methods and explore a diverse selection of expressive works that were made in at least two different times and places.

HUM 706Image and Culture: Picturing the World

  • Prerequisite: Graduate standing or consent of the major advisor or instructor.
  • Units: 3

Examination of visual culture in relation to other cultural forms, particularly narrative, with reference to the distinct grammar and vocabulary of visual cultural studies.

HUM 710: Seminar in European Forms and Culture

  • Prerequisite: Consent of graduate major adviser or instructor.
  • Units: 3

Relations of art and thought to society in European culture. Nature of the relationship among the arts, thought and society at selected historical moments.

HUM 711: Seminar in American Forms and Culture

  • Prerequisite: Consent of graduate major adviser or American Studies adviser or instructor.
  • Units: 3

Relations of art and thought to society in American culture. Nature of the relationship among the arts, thought and society at selected historical moments.

HUM 712: Seminar in African Forms and Culture

  • Prerequisite: Consent of graduate major adviser or instructor.
  • Units: 3

Relations of arts and thought to society in Africa. Nature of the relationship among the arts, thought, and society at selected historical moments.

HUM 713: Seminar in Asian Forms and Culture

  • Prerequisite: Consent of graduate major adviser or instructor.
  • Units: 3

Relations of art and thought to society in Asia. Nature of the relationship among the arts, thought, and society at selected historical moments.

HUM 720: Current Topics in the Humanities

  • Prerequisite: Graduate standing or consent of the instructor.
  • Units: 3

Focus on current topics and problems in interdisciplinary Humanities scholarship. Attention given to graduate-level writing, in preparation for the culminating experience. May be repeated for a total of 6 units.

HUM 721: Culture and Style

  • Prerequisite: Graduate status or consent of instructor.
  • Units: 3

Analysis and interpretation of historic cultures and the evolution of distinctive styles of expression within particular cultural settings.

The M.A. Program in Humanities offers several scholarships every semester after your first semester, and encourages all of our graduate students to apply. The University through its major departments also provides a number of enrolled graduate students with part-time employment offering practical teaching experience related to their advanced study.


Edward B. Kaufmann Scholarship for M.A. students

The Kaufmann Scholarship provides several scholarships for SF State graduate students currently pursuing an M.A. degree in the School of Humanities & Liberal Studies. Amount of award: $2,000 or more according to need.

U.S. citizens, permanent residents and international students may apply. Applicants must be enrolled at SF State in at least three units at the time of application and at least three units at the time of receipt of the award. Applicants must have already completed at least 6 units toward the Humanities M.A. degree by the time of application and must have a minimum 3.0 GPA.

Please note that federal and state regulations require that any scholarship, award, prize, or loan must be coordinated with the student’s financial aid awards.

Applications are usually due in November (for the following Spring semester) and April (for the following Fall semester).

The Magalios Family Scholarship

This is for a graduate student, providing a $1,000 award for merit and/or need. Applications are usually due in mid-November.

The Humanities Symposium Club

The Department of Humanities and Comparative World Literature provides annual funding for the Humanities Symposium, a one-day event organized by M.A. students in Humanities and featuring presentations by College of Liberal & Creative Arts students and faculty. The papers are edited and published every year. You can learn more about attending and participating in the symposium from Symposium Club officers, whose names may be obtained from the graduate coordinator.

Graduate Teaching Associate Positions

The appointments usually involve teaching regular classroom and/or laboratory courses, making assignments to undergraduate students, preparing course materials, administering examinations, assessing student performance, tutoring students and determining course grades. 

Individuals interested in being considered for such an appointment should contact the graduate coordinator or the school director.

Recent and Current M.A. Humanities Seminars

Fall 2018

Humanities 700: Introduction to Integrative Study

Professor Laura Garcia-Moreno

(Note: students who have already taken CWL 800 as a substitute are encouraged to take HUM 700, which we will count as an elective)

This course is the gateway to graduate study in the Humanities and is meant to familiarize you with some of the approaches, theories and methodologies that have changed the way literature and other fields in the Humanities are read, studied, and analyzed since the 1960s. The seminar offers an introduction to some foundational texts, ideas, critical practices, and research methods in the Humanities. We will consider Marxist, poststructuralist, feminist, and postcolonial perspectives, among others, and focus on their distinct contributions to the field. Practice in close reading of prose and research methods is a key component of the seminar. 

Humanities 720: Current Topics in the Humanities 

Professor David Peña-Guzman

Posthuman Studies

Arguably, every humanistic discipline orbits a single question: What does it mean to be human? Although we tend to assume that the answer to it is self-evident (“we all know what it means to be human because we are human”), recent developments in animal studies, science and technology studies, comparative cognition, and environmental humanities have called into question the stability of this answer. These developments indicate that it may be impossible to draw a clear line in the sand separating the human from the nonhuman. Posthuman studies is a recent academic field that explores the scientific, technological, philosophical, and political implications of this unsettling new reality. 

The ‘post’ in ‘posthuman studies’ has a double meaning. It refers to that which is beyond human reach (such as the experience of nonhuman entities, such as nonhuman animals and AI). But it also refers that which comes after humans. According to numerous scholars, we are approaching a new era—the posthuman era—that is defined not only by a growing recognition of the porosity of the boundary between the human and the nonhuman, but also by the increasingly likely possibility of human extinction due to ecological catastrophe (the so-called "Anthropocene").  Drawing specifically on animal studies, technology studies, and recent work on the Anthropocene, this course will introduce students to posthuman studies and encourage them to rethink in radical ways iwhat humans are, what our place in the world might be, and what (if anything) separates us from the rest of nature.

Spring 2018

Humanities 712: Seminar in African Cultural Forms

Professor Steier

Until fairly recently a course on African Culture would have been, though revelatory, narrower than this one will be. Some traditional materials and a few modern classics is what you would have encountered, but things have changed. A new generation of writers have become visible, and though many of them were born and raised in Africa, they now live in London, Paris, Brooklyn, Brussels and other cities in which appointments at a number of European and American universities are their reason for leaving Africa. Some of them are first and second generation abroad, others live in both places and some live primarily on the African continent. In short, variety is the defining characteristic and we will be trying to determine how this global community identifies itself as African. We will be reading literature and criticism, watching films, and listening to music and examining visual art and theater. The works we will examine are exciting in and of themselves e.g. African post-modernism and post-colonialism. You’ll do an in class presentation, a short essay, and a long research paper. We will try to articulate what it means today to “be African”. Whether we succeed or not, the course ought to be fun.

Humanities 713: Asian Form & Culture

Professor Scott

We will explore questions of national and cultural identity in modern East Asian colonialism that arise in novels, short stories, films, essays, memoirs, and non-fiction from Japan, China, Korea, and Taiwan. Readings will include works by Sōseki, Tanizaki, Lu Xun, Xiao Hong, Wu Zhuoliu, Richard Kim, and others. The historical epicenter is the puppet state of Manchukuo (1932-1945), one piece of Japan’s East Asian colonial empire. There will be room in the course for you to read and write about your own favorite modern East Asian writers if you already have some--- and if you don’t have any yet, you will by the end.

Humanities 721: Culture and Style

Professor Augsburg

In this course we will consider how certain key concepts in the humanities “travel,” and in so doing, influence contemporary visual culture and style. We will begin by reading Mieke Bal’s Traveling Concepts in the Humanities (2002). We will then turn to examining concepts such as performance, gender, performativity, the gaze, and ars erotica. We will read several key texts theorizing performance and gender performativity, including Diana Taylor’s Performance (2016); Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble (1990); Jack Halberstam’s Female Masculinity (1998); Diane Torr and Stephen Bottoms’s Sex, Drag, and Male Roles (2010); Paul B. Preciado’s Testojunkie (2013); and Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts (2015). We will read additional shorter texts pertaining to feminist visual culture, the gaze, and ars erotica. Each student will write weekly reading responses, do a class presentation, and write a paper exploring at least one travel​ing concept related to one’s own research interests.

Spring 2017

Humanities 703: History in the Humanities

Professor Scott

This course is a somewhat idiosyncratic introduction to the field of cultural history. We’ll be reading some of my favorite modern historians, including--but not limited to-- historians of modern China. I've chosen the texts for their impact on their field, philosophical or methodological interest, and readability. You may write your paper on a course-related historical event or topic or on the work of a particular historian.

Humanities 711: American Form and Culture

Professor Garcia-Moreno

Fall 2015

Humanities 700: Introduction to Integrative Studies

Professor Garcia-Moreno

An introduction to some of the foundational and current texts, ideas, theories, debates, critical practices and research methods in the humanities. Practice in close reading of textual and visual materials; in research methods; in writing a prospectus and a theoretically informed essay.

Humanities 703: History in the Humanities

Professor Luft

The philosophical conception of history dominant in the west in the modern age has been the optimistic view of history as infinitely progressive and perfectible. That view culminated in the nineteenth century in two very different conceptions of the ultimate “end” to progressive history, those of Hegel and Marx. Starting with Nietzsche the assumptions that ground the Western conception of history as progressive, or even linear, were undermined, and Nietzsche's critique was "radicalized" by contemporary post-modern writers who deny that history is either orderly or purposeful. Our readings this semester follow the development of the progressive view of history in the writings of Hegel, Marx, Nietzsche, Foucault, and Walter Benjamin.

Besides this focus on the theme of progressive history, we will be concerned with an even more important and equally fascinating issue, that of the role of interpretation in the reading and writing of history. Our last two readings explore this issue in two very different ways. For Derrida, all reading and writing is inherently dynamic, interactive and, always informed by one’s previous readings and writings, intertextual. Derrida thematizes that interaction in his reading of Hegel and Marx in Specters of Marx: The State of the Debt, the Work of Mourning, and the New International, insisting on the need to retain the “ghost” of the liberatory goals of Marxism. Hayden White develops an even more explicit challenge to the epistemological claims of history by deconstructing those claims to reveal the inherently narrative and literary nature of history writing. We evaluate this interpretive view of history as we read White’s literary interpretations of Hegel, Marx and Nietzsche.

Humanities 713: Asian Forms and Culture

Professor Scott

This course is about how modern Chinese writers and artists respond to what they refer to as traditional Chinese culture. To use the term “tradition” is to express a feeling of rupture with the past. The use of the term is thus paradoxically a symptom of modernity. One may use the word positively, with nostalgia for a quality of experience that one has lost, or negatively, with a sense of having fortunately made a clean break with the past. Either way, one assumes that “now” is somehow decisively different from “then.” The past is not directly accessible to us; it must be reconstructed, and the border between “now” and “then” may be drawn differently by different observers, or even partially erased. The overarching question in this course is: how have modern Chinese writers and artists decided where to draw the line between past and present, how have they constructed a usable past, and what do their depictions of the Chinese past tell us about the Chinese present?