Master of Arts Portfolio

Instead of a traditional exam, the REES MA Concentration culminates in a portfolio, which consists of the items listed below. The portfolio is read by a committee of three graduate faculty and tested through a 90-minute oral examination at the end of the student’s final semester. All portfolio items must be submitted electronically according to the deadlines listed below.

The Portfolio

Three Samples of Major Scholarly Writing

(each at least 3000 words + bibliography with both English and target language sources). These samples are due in the portfolio by the end of the 8th week of the student's final semester and must include at least one original research paper and may include two of the following:

• a series of 3 policy briefs;

• a historiography paper or other synthetic essay with a critical literature review;

• an annotated literary translation;

• other lengthy, critical work approved by the student’s committee.

All three writing samples must have been completed in required REES MA Concentration courses. Each piece of work should demonstrate appropriate knowledge of the given discipline and the ability to use its methodologies and understand its current research areas.

These papers or equivalent assignments will already have been graded. The portfolio provides the opportunity to edit and adapt them, as needed. These papers/projects are the source of questions or discussion during the oral examination. Taken together, this work must demonstrate clear use of and intellectual engagement with sources in the student’s target language.


The Synthetic Essay

(approximately 3500-word text + bibliography):

The synthetic essay should be an intellectual response to the student’s work through the penultimate semester of area studies coursework. It is the student’s opportunity to reflect upon what they have learned, while drawing conclusions about the ways that various disciplinary ways of thinking intersect and inform each other

The synthetic essay addresses the following themes or questions: 

  1. Based on coursework at KU (including language courses) and the MA reading list for the student’s chosen region of specialization, what are the major regional themes or problems? 
  2. How has the study of various disciplinary approaches affected the way the student views this special area?  
  3. What are the student’s conclusions concerning the area studies degree?  


The Professional Essay

(approximately 1500-word text + bibliography): 

This essay should be viewed as an extended first draft of a future job application letter in the student’s field. If the synthetic essay looks back, the professional essay should look forward, picking up where the synthetic essay left off and should address the following questions:

  1. What is the student’s career objective?
  2. How has the KU REES MA Concentration prepared the student to move into a related career (please address, among other things, the REES curriculum, faculty, programming, resources)?  If the plans include continuation of graduate study, the student will want to discuss how the area studies degree has offered good preparation and helped to shape the student’s interests for further study at the PhD level.
  3. How will the area studies approach impact the student’s future life and work?


MA Capstone Seminar Paper 

(approximately 7500-word text + bibliography). The student deposits a full (if still rough) draft of the MA capstone seminar paper by the end of the 8th week of the student’s final semester. One week before the oral examination (or by the end of the 12th week of the semester) the student provides the MA committee with a more finished draft of the capstone paper.


The student creates the MA committee of three graduate faculty no later than the 7th week of the penultimate semester of study.



MA Reading List

By the 12th week of the penultimate semester the student together with the committee creates an MA reading list of no less than 20 readings that are crucial to understanding contemporary area studies, the student’s three main disciplines, and the student’s main region of focus.



Oral Exam

The student conducts a 90-minute presentation of the portfolio to the MA committee. Approximately 30% of questions and answers will address the 3 research papers (or equivalent projects); 40% will deal with the MA capstone seminar paper; 30% will engage with the student’s synthetic and professional essays. Following an unsuccessful performance, the student may retake the oral examination once.