History and Classics

MA in Ancient Societies and Cultures

The degree is designed for students whose interests go beyond a particular region or period in the ancient world or who wish to develop a wider critical framework from which to study a subject, region, or period. Students in this program are particularly encouraged to incorporate inter- and cross-disciplinary approaches in their education and research. The scope of the program allows students to pursue, for instance, advanced comparative studies in Greek, Roman and ancient Indian historiography; cross-linguistic studies; ancient Mediterranean cross-cultural studies; research in ancient Indian and Hellenic and Roman contacts; ancient China; and comparative studies in ancient religions, societies, polities, built spaces, and visual cultures.

Students will be able to develop their personal research interests and critical skills by taking advantage of the broad range of expertise in the Department of History and Classics with respect to the ancient world. Areas of faculty expertise include Ancient History and Historiography; Classics; Ancient Religions; Late Antique and Early Medieval Europe; Archaeology and Material Culture of the Ancient World; Historical and Archaeological Theory and Methodology; and Latin, Greek, and ancient Hebrew Languages and Literatures.

For additional information contact Professor Margriet J. Haagsma

Entrance Requirements

In addition to the general Departmental admission requirements, students should hold a BA degree either in Classics or History or a suitable related field (for example, Religious Studies, Philosophy, Anthropology) and must demonstrate appropriate preparation for the desired program of study. This preparation includes a level of language proficiency to conduct research in the primary sources, as applicable to the student’s program (for example, suitable training in Greek, Hebrew, Latin, and/or Sanskrit).

Students admitted to the MA in Ancient Societies and Cultures who later wish to modify their topic so that it falls under the rubric of Classical Archaeology, Classical Languages, or History may do so only with the approval of the Graduate Committee.


The minimum residence requirement for a thesis-based MA is two four-month terms of full-time attendance at the University of Alberta. Time spent as a qualifying graduate student does not count towards the residence requirement.

Program Time Limits

University regulations set out the maximum period of time, calculated from the start of the first term in which the student registers, allowed for the completion of graduate degrees. A thesis-based MA degree must be completed within four years of the start of the student’s program. Time spent as a qualifying graduate student or, as of 2009-10, on an approved leave of absence is not counted in the time for completion.

The MA in Ancient Societies and Cultures is designed to be completed in three or four terms, depending on preparation and course selection.


From the time of entering the program, every candidate for the MA will have a supervisor. The student’s thesis topic will be defined in consultation with the supervisor and the thesis will be written under the supervisor’s direction. Supervisors (and co-supervisors where applicable) must be approved by the Faculty of Graduate Studies and Research. Any change of supervisor or fields must be approved by the Graduate Committee.

NOTE: Qualifying students will be under the supervision of the Associate Chair (Graduate Studies) until qualifications for entry are met.

Program Requirements

Students must:

  • take and pass CLASS 501 (*1), graded pass/fail.
  • take and pass a minimum of six (*18) graduate-level courses, at least two (*6) of which must be courses related to the student’s chosen area of specialization.
  • fulfill the Departmental language requirement in a modern language with French, German, or Italian, or another language appropriate to the area of specialization.
  • write a thesis, the text of which should normally be no more than 100 pages in length. This thesis must be original and consist of substantially new research.
  • in addition, students should fulfill FGSR's Ethics and PD Requirements.  Specific information on the PD Requirement can be found here.  

NOTE: Depending on the student’s preparation and chosen area of specialization, an intermediate-level language examination in a second ancient language or *6 at the senior undergraduate level with a minimum grade of B or equivalent in that language may be required.

Our fields of graduate study in Ancient Societies and Cultures include the following:


• Ancient Mediterranean (Haagsma, Harris, Hijmans, Kemezis, MacFarlane, Mackay, Nagel, Pownall, Rice, Rossiter, Stewart)
• Late Antique/early Medieval Europe (Braun, Hijmans, Kitchen)
• Ancient and early Medieval India (Wujastyk)
• Ancient and early Imperial China (Jay)


• Archaeology and material culture (Haagsma, Hijmans, Rice, Rossiter)
• History/Historiography (Braun, Jay, Kemezis, Kitchen, MacFarlane, Mackay, Pownall. Wujastyk)
• Religion (Braun, Haagsma, Hijmans, Kitchen, Wujastyk)
• Language and literature (Harris, Jay, Kemezis, MacFarlane, Mackay, Nagel, Pownall, Stewart, Wujastyk)
• Cultural and intellectual history (Ben Zvi, Braun, Harris, Hijmans, Jay, Kemezis, Kitchen, MacFarlane, Mackay, Pownall, Wujastyk)
• Economic and social history (Haagsma, Rossiter)
• Historical linguistics (Mackay, Stewart)
• Gender  

Research Infrastructure:

In addition to regular graduate courses, the program regularly offers a team taught-course (CLASS 499/599 and HIST 494/699) in which most of the faculty involved in the program participate. It tackles a broad theme encompassing the great variety of research approaches present in our Department. The theme for the 2016/17 academic year is ‘Secrecy and Concealment in the Ancient World’.

Our excellent research library, regularly ranked second in Canada (Maclean’s) and in the top 25 in North America, is a strong attraction for students and faculty alike. Both language training (Latin, ancient Greek, biblical Hebrew, Sanskrit, classical Chinese) and courses in reading a variety of ancient scripts are available on campus, taught by faculty in the Department of History and Classics or other departments.

Faculty members’ areas of research and graduate supervision:

Willi Braun (Ph.D. Toronto)
Early Christian thought, social formation of early Christian associations

Margriet Haagsma (Ph.D. Groningen)
Greek archaeology, archaeology of domestic space, social and economic history of Hellenistic Greece

John Harris (Ph.D. Illinois)
Greek language, literature, and philosophy

Steven Hijmans (Ph.D. Groningen)
Roman art and archaeology, Roman religion

Jennifer Jay (Ph.D. Australian National)
Ancient and early Imperial China

Adam Kemezis (Ph.D. Michigan)
Roman literature and history, ancient historiography, Greek literature of the Roman Empire

John Kitchen (Ph.D. Toronto)
Christianity in Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages, Latin hagiographic literature, biblical interpretation

Kelly MacFarlane (Ph.D. Alberta)
Greek and Latin literature, Greek music, Persian wars

Christopher Mackay (Ph.D. Harvard)
Greek and Latin literature, Roman history and historiography, witchcraft

Rebecca Nagel (Ph.D. Harvard)
Latin literature, the Classical tradition in England

Frances Pownall (Ph.D. Toronto)
Greek history and historiography, Greek language and literature

Candace Rice (DPhil Oxford)

Jeremy Rossiter (Ph.D. Alberta)
Archaeology of the Roman provinces

Selina Stewart (Ph.D. Cornell)
Greek literature Greek science, historical linguistics, queer theory

Dominik Wujastyk (DPhil Oxford)
History and culture of pre-modern India, Sanskrit language and literature, Indian knowledge systems

Fictional examples of possible paths to an MA in Ancient Societies and Cultures:

Corinna received a BA in Classical studies. During her undergraduate years she had training in Classical languages and literature, ancient history, and archaeology of the Mediterranean. Her minor was in Near Eastern cultural history. Corinna became interested in the relationship between ancient agriculture (especially animal husbandry and pastoralism) and urban formation processes, and wrote her thesis on “Agricultural strategies and the development of ‘citizen states’ in Archaic Thessaly.” As part of her MA requirement in Ancient Societies and Cultures, Corinna plans to further explore her interest in the underlying social and economic processes of developing urban environments. She will compare the role of pastoralism in territory formation in Archaic Boeotia in ancient Greece with the “cattle raid” strategies of nomadic tribes and settling the land in ancient India. In preparation for this study, Corinna has taken Sanskrit, courses in ancient Indian history and archaeology, and advanced courses in ancient Greek and archaeological theory and method.

James received an BA in Religious Studies. His main area of interest was the Hebrew Bible. As he learned about these texts within their historical context, he noticed that he needed to develop a comparative social and cultural framework to better understand ancient Israelite history, the construction of its memories, how and why these books emerged, and ancient cultural poetics. He also understood that he needed that framework to better understand what some seemingly simple concepts in biblical texts (monotheism, for example) may have actually meant in ancient Israel. That is why he decided to earn his MA in Ancient Societies and Cultures. He plans to take courses in comparative ancient historiography and in Greek, Hellenistic, Near Eastern and Indian ancient societies, while continuing his studies in ancient Israelite history.