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Public Affairs

History Dept. feeds students into Ph.D. programs

July 12, 2004

Photo of Richard Hoffman, chair of historyWonder where the leading historians of tomorrow are? You don't need to look far -- many are studying here in SFSU's master's program. The University is among an elite handful of top-producing master's in history programs whose alums go on to complete doctoral studies, according to the American Historical Association's news magazine, "Perspectives."

SFSU ranks fourth in the country for awarding master's to eventual doctorates, trailing only Columbia University, the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the University of Chicago.

"This is truly a reflection of our students," said Richard Hoffman, chair of history. "We have some bright and hard-working students who choose to come to San Francisco State to become historians. And we make sure they leave here with the tools to become some of the best in the field."

One of the SFSU's graduate students headed to a Ph.D. program is 31-year-old Erika Perez of Oakland. She was pleased by the doctoral program acceptance letters that poured in last spring from the University of California campuses at Santa Cruz, Los Angeles and Davis, University of Arizona, University of New Mexico and University of Illinois-Chicago. She finally decided on UCLA and will start her coursework this fall on a five-year fellowship.

Perez, who specializes in U.S. history, said she owes much of her success to the history faculty here. "Everyone here is approachable and incredibly generous with their time. They go above and beyond to help students. They approach teaching with a great deal of humor while also providing students with a valuable foundation," said Perez, who earned her bachelor's degree in history from University of California, Berkeley. "More importantly, some professors structure their classes in such a way that it's not a matter of competing against other students for a grade, rather it is a matter of development and self-improvement over the course of a semester."

History is one of the most popular undergraduate social science majors at SFSU with 350 students studying for bachelor's degrees. With about 100 graduate students in history, the program is one of the largest of its kind in the state. Students must have an undergraduate in history with a minimum grade point average of 3.5 for entry in the graduate program.

A key reason many history grad students choose SFSU is the department's rigorous program aimed at producing top-notch historians. From the start students are taught the critical analytical tools and skills used by historians, beginning with the "boot camp" course "History as a Field of Knowledge."

Paul Longmore, professor of history and an authority on the history of people with disabilities, noted that graduate students also get to work alongside some of the top scholars in the field. For example, Christopher Waldrep, who holds the Pasker Endowed Chair in History, is a nationally recognized expert on the history of lynching in America.

"But in addition to their scholarship, my colleagues are committed to the intellectual and professional development of the graduate students. That makes our M.A. program in history a magnet for graduate study," Longmore said.

Jules Tygiel, a professor of history who has been on the faculty for more than 25 years, called the national ranking especially meaningful for a discipline that doesn't often get a chance to toot its own horn.

"We have every right to be very proud of this achievement. We provide an excellent program and an environment conducive to intellectual growth," Tygiel commented, "but the real success is in the high quality of students who enter the graduate program and their extraordinary commitment to the study of history."

-- Ted DeAdwyler


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Last modified July 27, 2004 by University Communications