History PhD Program

For essential information about admission and program requirements for the Doctor of Philosophy in History, refer to the department’s official calendar entry and read the General Graduate Regulations.

Detailed PhD Program Information and Timeline

Upon entering the PhD program in History, each student will be assigned a Senior Supervisor, enrol in at least one graduate seminar, and begin reading for comprehensive examinations. The Supervisory Committee and the student shall determine three fields of study. The student and each field supervisor will agree as soon as possible upon a general list of readings of approximately forty to forty-five books (or the equivalent) in each field. Copies of these reading lists must be submitted to the Graduate Secretary by the end of the first semester. The GPC will approve these lists and they will be placed in the student’s file. Students are expected to cover the material on these lists, preferably by means of a structured reading and writing program with their field supervisors. Comprehensive examinations will be based on the reading lists.

PhD students must successfully complete at least one graduate seminar course for credit, normally History 814 (Historical Methods), if a methodology course has not already been taken in a master’s program. Coursework must be completed before sitting for comprehensive exams; therefore PhD candidates must successfully complete a course in their first or second term.

Within one semester of the successful completion of the comprehensive examinations and formal admission to candidacy, the student will submit a thesis prospectus on a topic agreed upon with his/ her Supervisory Committee. Through his/her thesis, the student must demonstrate an ability to make an original contribution to knowledge through the discovery and analysis of new information and through the exercise of independent critical thinking.

The progress expected by the History Department is as follows:

Semesters 1 - 3
Successful completion of at least one graduate course; preparation for comprehensive examinations

Semester 4
Successful completion of comprehensive field examinations; preparation of thesis prospectus (where applicable, approval of the University Research Ethics Committee should be sought in this semester.)

Semester 5
Defence of thesis prospectus, language examination, and thesis

Semesters 6 - 9
Thesis research and writing

Semesters 10-15
Thesis defence

Potential PhD Fields

Based on the strengths of the Department, potential PhD fields include, but are not limited to:

Britain and Ireland
Byzantine Greece
Canadian History
Colonialism and Postcolonialism
Early Modern Europe
Gender and Sexuality
Indigenous Histories
Labour and Left History
Latin America
Military and Diplomatic History
Modern China
Modern Europe
Modern France
Modern Greece
Modern Italy
Modern Middle East
Modern Russian
South Asia
United States
World History

Comprehensive Field Examinations

Comprehensive field examinations consist of written and oral components and will be based on the reading lists which were submitted to the Graduate Secretary in the student’s first semester in the program.

The written component of the examinations must take one of two forms for each field, to be determined by the field supervisor:

1. the PhD candidate shall write a three-hour examination, consisting of two or three questions, to be completed in the Department of History. All examination questions must be submitted to the Graduate Chair at least a week prior to the date of the examination;


2. the PhD candidate shall write an essay of no more than 5,000 words. This essay shall be based on a question or questions submitted to the candidate by the examiner at least one week in advance of the essay due date, and submitted to the Graduate Chair at least one week prior to submission to the student.

Students are expected to complete their exams in their fourth semester. Whether the student writes essays, exams, or a combination of the two, the written components for each of the three fields must be submitted in the same week.

Every written examination or essay will have a second reader, normally chosen from within the History Department, and each will evaluate the written comprehensive exam without reference to the other reader’s evaluation. However, upon completing
their evaluation, both readers of each written examination/essay must agree that the student has passed before the oral component can take place. If there is disagreement between the two readers, a third reader may be asked to read the exam/essay. A student who fails one of the written examinations, and one only, will have one
additional chance for re-examination. Students who fail more than one exam will not be given the opportunity to rewrite any of the exams nor will they proceed to the oral examination.

The oral component of the examinations consists of an oral examination that must be sat in the week immediately following the successfully completed written component of the examinations. The oral examination will be conducted by the three field
supervisors and will last three hours. During the oral examination, students will be asked to clarify or expand on their written answers and to demonstrate a broader knowledge of their fields. All examination questions must be submitted to the Graduate Chair at least a week prior to the date of the examination. Oral examination
questions shall concern only the question(s) posed in the written components. In cases where students are given a choice of questions in the written exam, examiners may ask the candidates to respond to those questions not answered in the written component. A pass with distinction, pass, or fail will be assigned by the field supervisors after
the completion of the oral examination. A student who fails at this stage will not be allowed to continue in the program.

PhD Thesis Prospectus, Thesis, and Defence

PhD Thesis Prospectus

All PhD students must write and defend a thesis prospectus. A thesis prospectus should present a coherent thesis topic and place such a topic within the framework of existing work in this area. The thesis prospectus will be 10 - 15 pages in length. It should contain:

• A precise definition of the topic.
• A demonstration of critical awareness of scholarly literature.
• A statement of the significance of the topic in relation to existing knowledge and theory in the area.
• A discussion of principal sources and a rationale for the chosen methodology.
• Where applicable, a discussion of research ethics.

All students proposing research involving human subjects, including oral history, whether funded or unfunded, must have their research approved in advance by the Office of Research Ethics. The approval normally should be sought prior to the prospectus defence. We advise students to take the Tri-Council Course on Research Ethics and to work closely with their Senior Supervisor to craft their application for ethics approval.

The thesis prospectus defence consists of a brief presentation (no
more than 20 minutes) on the prospectus followed by two rounds of questions by the Supervisory Committee

One of three recommendations can be made by the prospectus examining committee to the GPC:

• That the student proceeds to work on the thesis.
• That the student revises the thesis prospectus as specified by the prospectus
examining committee and then proceed to work on the thesis.
• That the student be required to submit a revised proposal for another

The total number of revised proposals will be limited to a
maximum of two.

PhD Thesis and Defence

See the University’s Thesis Assistance page and Graduate General Regulations for detailed information about thesis preparation, formatting, and defence.

The History Department has adopted the Chicago Manual of Style as its style manual, but the Manual for Writers of Term Papers, Theses and Dissertations by Kate L. Turabian will be adequate for most purposes.

Before a defence date can be set, the Supervisory Committee must have read a complete draft of the thesis and agreed that it is ready to be defended. Such agreement does not mean that the thesis is perfect; merely that it is defensible. The Supervisory Committee may raise questions and challenge key aspects of the thesis during the oral


  • Read the General Graduate Regulations and the History Department website
  • Contact your Senior Supervisor to discuss course selection
  • Begin to discuss the selection of comprehensive fields with your Senior Supervisor
  • Register for courses

First Semester:

  • Attend orientation
  • Meet with Senior Supervisor
  • PhD students take 814 or another course
  • Attend teaching, grant-writing, and professional development workshops
  • Discuss the composition of your committee with your Senior Supervisor who will submit the Approval of Supervisory Committee form to the Graduate Secretary by the end of the semester
  • Apply for SSHRC (for Canadian students with the minimum GPA of 3.67)
  • Set up reading lists with comprehensive field supervisors and deposit a copy of each list with the Graduate Secretary by the end of the semester

Second and Third Semesters:

  • Meet regularly with field supervisors and prepare for their comprehensive exams

Fourth Semester:

  • Progress Reports:
  • By September 15 (and annually hereafter) submit Report of Progress Through the Graduate Program to Senior Supervisor
  • Meet with Senior Supervisor to discuss and sign off on your report and his/her assessment made on the Evaluation of Progress report
  • Both signed reports submitted by Senior Supervisor to Graduate Secretary by Oct 6
  • Write comprehensive exams

Fifth Semester:

  • Write and defend thesis prospectus
  • Write language exam

Subsequent Research Semesters

  • Meet at least once a semester with Senior Supervisor to discuss progress.

Semester of Thesis Defence

  • Decide with your Senior Supervisor when your thesis is ready to defend
  • When the date has been set, your Senior Supervisor will notify the Graduate Secretary of the intention to proceed to the defence
  • Make an appointment with Graduate Secretary to go over details on preparing for defence
  • Recommendation of Examining Committee form is prepared by Graduate Secretary and forwarded to Dean of Graduate Studies office
  • Format your thesis in accordance with the University’s specifications.
  • Read the Dean of Graduate Studies’ Examination Best Practices.
  • After the defence and when all revisions are approved by Senior Supervisor make a second appointment with the Graduate Secretary for final details on submitting thesis to the library