The Third Year and Preliminary Examinations
Students are required to specify their three examination fields by the end of the first year of study. The student will indicate the field in which his/her dissertation will be written, which will be the major field; the others will be the minor fields. No more than two fields may be in the history of the same national culture. Normally, all three examiners will be members of the History Department, and the fields will be chosen from the list provided in another part of this document.
The boundaries of each field should be clearly understood by both the student and the examiner. Acceptable ways of defining the boundaries and content of a field typically include the compilation of a reading list (or the designation of relevant course reading lists) or the initialing of a statement defining the precise focus of the field and the topics to be covered. This statement may be placed in the student's file at his or her request.
As part of the process of preparing for exams, students are expected to take relevant core seminars in their first four semesters. In the fifth semester, the student will take two field preparation courses, generally one with their primary advisor and one with another faculty member. These courses allow the student to engage in focused reading and analysis, and to meet regularly with his or her examiners.
Before the beginning of the sixth semester of full-time study, students will be expected to take the preliminary examination in the chosen three fields. The customary date of the examination is December of the fifth semester. This examination will be in two parts, written and oral. Students who have not passed the preliminary examination by the beginning of their sixth semester shall be considered not in good standing, and may be ineligible for further financial aid from the Department.
Exceptions and Adjustments
No later than the second semester of study, a student may petition the department for presentation of a field not included in the primary departmental list. A student may also petition the Department (again no later than the second semester of study) for permission to prepare one field in another department or program. All three examiners must inform the Director of Graduate Studies (DGS) in writing of their willingness to supervise these fields.
Students must petition the department in writing for any postponement of the examination beyond the beginning of the sixth semester. Petitions must be accompanied by a recommendation of the student's examining committee. Grounds for such an extension include protracted illness, or the student's performance (at the department's request) of teaching duties beyond those normally expected of second-year and third-year students. The department also recognizes that students specializing in certain fields requiring extensive language or methodological training may need additional time.
Written examinations in each field shall be three hours long. All three fields must be completed within a five-day period. The oral examination shall be held as soon as practicable (and not more than one month) after the written examinations. It may begin, at the discretion of the candidate, with a statement prepared by the candidate, of not more than 20 minutes in length setting out the most important problems of the minor fields as they relate to the candidate's scholarly interests. The candidate will then be questioned by each examiner in the respective field for approximately thirty minutes (and slightly longer, if necessary, on the major field).
The student's performance in the examinations will be judged as a whole, the written and oral portions being combined in the evaluation. Within two weeks after the examination, the examiners will provide the candidate with written evaluations of his or her performance. Copies will be retained in the department's files.
If the examining committee judges that the candidate has failed all or part of the examination, it will recommend to the department either:
- A second opportunity after an interval of time to be determined by the committee (normally one semester) for the candidate to attempt the failed portion of the examination, or
- Termination of the student's study for the Ph.D. degree.
If the candidate should fail the examination a second time, the Department will normally recommend termination of candidacy for the Ph.D.
The capstone, and most critical, project of the PhD program is the doctoral dissertation. The series of courses within the department dealing with professional development concludes with the dissertation prospectus seminar, which students take in the sixth semester, if they have passed their examination.
The dissertation prospectus seminar provides a shared structure for the process of identifying viable dissertation projects, selecting a dissertation committee, articulating his/her project in the form of a prospectus, and, where appropriate, developing grant proposals based on the prospectus. The dissertation committee, the selection of which is a requirement of the course, consists of a director and two additional members. The Director of Graduate Studies (DGS) will verify that the thesis director, who will normally also have been the supervisor of the student's major field examination, accepts the role of the student's major professor and dissertation advisor.
At the same time the DGS shall nominate, with their written approval, two other professors who have been agreed upon between the dissertation director and student. In case of disagreement, the choice will be made by the department. With the consent of the dissertation director and DGS, the dissertation committee may include a person from outside the Department. This committee will be responsible for evaluating the student's detailed written proposal, to be presented no later than the end of the sixth semester, and for approving the final version of the student's dissertation.
A dissertation prospectus should be divided into the following four sections:
- historiography -- setting the proposed study in the context of the relevant historical literature
- methodology -- outlining the approach the student proposes to take
- types of sources to be examined
- significance -- the historical importance of the work and why we need such a study.
In addition, there should also be a bibliography of primary and secondary sources. If deemed unsatisfactory, the proposal may be referred back for resubmission by the end of the summer following the sixth semester. Students who have not presented their thesis proposal to their dissertation committee by the end of the summer following the sixth semester shall be considered not in good standing and may be ineligible for further financial aid from the department.
Students must petition the department in writing for any postponement of the submission of their thesis proposal beyond the end of the sixth semester. Petitions must be accompanied by a recommendation of the student's dissertation advisor. Grounds for such an extension include protracted illness, teaching duties beyond those normally expected of second year and fifth semester students, or the discovery of unexpected difficulties with his/her thesis topic (e.g. a recently completed dissertation or book on the same subject).
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