Apr 13, 2010

Making history: Liberty to graduate first Masters of History students

by Melinda Zosh

Thirty-five years after the first class graduated at Lynchburg Baptist College, six people will be walking across the stage of Liberty Universitywith Master’s Degrees in history. They will be the first graduating class in the program since it started in 2008.

One of those six, Rachel Love, will be the first history graduate student from Liberty to pursue her doctoral degree. After three offers, she chose the University of South Carolina. She one of a small percentage of 250 applicants accepted into the program with funding, according to Director of the Graduate History Program Samuel Smith.
“While the faculty is committed to serving Christ, it is also passionate about preparing Christian graduates to compete in the larger secular realm of academia,” Love said.

Many students who pursue their master’s degrees in history here attended Liberty University as undergraduate students. The department requires a minimum of 18 hours of undergraduate classes before entering the program, according to Smith.

Jennifer Bolan was an exception. She did not attend Liberty University as an undergraduate, and she started her master’s degree at the University of North Florida (UNF).

“There is a lot of philosophy that goes into history such as how you approach human nature,” Bolan said. “At a secular university, it was very post-modern. I felt alone in the classroom.”

One day, she searched Liberty’s Web site and learned more about the program. She prayed about her decision and transferred, she said. She has not regretted her decision.

“The professors are personally interested in your progress and your research, which is different from a secular university where you are one of 100 students,” Bolan said. “With a Christian education, your professors see their jobs as a ministry and they personally invest in you.”

The program allows students to transfer six credits from different universities. Students can choose to specialize in European or American history with an emphasis in a thesis or non-thesis track, Smith said.

Josh Owens chose to study American history with a thesis track, which requires writing a 120-page paper in the second year of the program. The thesis track is helpful to most students who wish to pursue their doctorates, according to Smith.

“If you can understand colonial history, you can understand what is going on today,” Owens said. “Most of us (in the program) are thesis students, and in the end we have probably written close to 1,000 pages about different books.”

Writing research papers is not an option for students, it is a requirement, but one that most students see as a benefit, according to Bolan. Several students have already published their work in academic journals, she said.

History undergraduate student Brandi Hatfield thought that she wanted to pursue her master’s degree at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Va., but a week-long program at the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History in New York City changed her mind. She met students from schools like Yale and Harvard and realized that Liberty’s education was just as competitive and prestigious.

“(The program) confirmed that Liberty is very rigorous, because you are encouraged to think biblically, yet you still have to learn to make your own arguments and support it,” Hatfield said, adding that she will be starting the master’s program this summer.

Internships are optional in the program, but Love, who interned at the Massachusetts Historical Society, encourages students to take advantage of the opportunities Liberty offers including academic conferences. She hopes to teach history at a research university one day, she said.

“I look forward to seeing how the program will make a difference in the larger historical community over the years to come,” Love said.

The department also offers eight graduate assistant positions. The university pays for 21 credits per year in addition to an $8,200 stipend, according to Smith.

If students are interested in applying for the Master’s program or applying for a graduate assistant program, they can contact Dr. Smith at scsmith4@liberty.edu.

Contact Melinda Zosh at

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