Program Requirements - PhD Degree

Students in the PhD program can expect to spend two years completing coursework, two years doing dissertation research and one or two years writing the dissertation.  Admission to the PhD program is on a full-time basis only.  Most PhD students enter the program with a completed MA degree. Candidates must complete all degree requirements within six years of registering for the PhD program.  The program of study for the PhD program includes the following minimum requirements:

  • coursework;
  • comprehensive examinations;
  • language requirement;
  • dissertation.

Applicants and candidates for the PhD program should also review the general requirements of the Faculty of Graduate Studies ( regarding residence, coursework, examinations, and theses preparation and submission.

A total of 5 coursework including a historiography course, if not taken at the graduate level, and the Doctoral Research Seminar.  Pls. see below for breakdown of graduate courses to take for PhD students:

  • The Doctoral Research Seminar (3 credits).  The research seminar introduces students to the problems, materials, and research methods in history; candidates must demonstrate their ability to use documents and other sources, and to write and defend a primary-source research paper.
  • Area and thematic Courses (3 courses, 3 credits each).  In contrast to the Doctoral Research Seminar, the purpose of the readings courses is to introduce students to the main historiographical problems and secondary literature in their fields of specialization.  Readings and topics courses require written work (approx. 3,000-4,000 words per course) from students as evidence of their growing mastery of secondary literature.

  • Historiography Course.  Students who have completed graduate-level Historiography History courses may apply for an exemption from this course requirement.

  • With the permission of the Graduate Advisor students may take up to 3 credits of graduate coursework from outside the History Department.  Language courses may not be substituted for graduate readings courses.

  • Teaching Preparation and Professional Development.  PhD students are required to take the Teaching and Professional Development Workshop Series in their first two years of their program.  The objectives include course design, lecture fundamentals, paper presentation, and how to publish.  These workshops are designed to prepare doctoral students to teach an undergraduate course in years 3 or 4.

  • Departmental Colloquia Series.  Graduate students are expected to attend the different colloquia scheduled for the whole academic year.

Students must complete written and oral comprehensive exams in two fields. (See Explanation of Field Areas below) The PhD Field Examination Committee is comprised of four field examiners. One of the four examiners will be the research supervisor.  Students must complete all of their coursework requirements before writing their comprehensive examinations.

Comprehensive fields

PhD candidates must complete two written field examinations, one based on an area and period and the other thematic.  In exceptional cases in which one major field and two minor fields seem more appropriate, students must provide a clear justification and may develop these in consultation with their supervisor and the graduate advisor. The thematic field should be one of the departmental thematic clusters, as described on the website. Exceptions require approval from both the supervisor and the graduate advisor. The examinations test the candidate's mastery of the factual knowledge, central historiographical issues and theoretical concepts of the field.  The examiners agree with the candidate in advance on a bibliography from which examination questions will be derived. Students should consult with their committee to come up with a final list. As an approximate guide to the preparation expected, candidates generally read the equivalent of 80-100 books and articles for a major field.  Doctoral students are required to complete two written take-home examinations, one in each field, over a two-week period.  If there are three fields, students will write on their major field in one week, and on two minor fields in the other week. The comprehensive exams should total no more than 10,000 words.

  • In the week following the written examinations, candidates will take an oral examination, to be based mainly on the candidate's written field examinations.  All of the questions posed on the written exams are open to oral questioning.  Other questions relevant to the field reading lists also may be expected.  The oral examination is normally three hours in duration.  The written and oral examinations in each field will receive one grade (pass/fail). 
  • Every member of the examination committee and the chair will receive copies of and read all written answers.
  • A student who fails any field must repeat the written and oral examinations in all fields.  No substitution of fields or committee members at re-examination will be permitted, but the student will receive an entirely new exam. Students may meet with their supervisor and or committee members once to review the exam. A student may repeat the exam within two months of the first, but must complete it by the next general examination period. A student will be allowed to re-sit comprehensives only once, and will be required to withdraw from the PhD program upon a second failure in one or more fields.
  • Comprehensive doctoral examinations will be held twice a year, in September and March.  Exceptions to this schedule require approval from the supervisor and graduate advisor. Students are expected to complete their comprehensive examinations within 24 months from the date of initial registration.  A student who has not advanced to candidacy (including the prospectus defense) within 36 months from date of initial registration must withdraw from the program.  Extension of this period may be permitted by the Dean of Graduate Studies in exceptional circumstances.

Explanation of Major Fields

Ph.D. candidates are responsible for two major fields for their comprehensive examinations. Candidates generally read the equivalent of 80-100 books and articles for each major field. If one major field and two minor fields seem more appropriate, students may develop these in consultation with their supervisor and the graduate advisor.

The research clusters in the department play an important role in determining the broad outline and fundamental structure of the major fields. Advisors and students are expected to add to these core readings so that the fields more accurately reflect the theoretical, methodological, and/or comparative literature relevant to the proposed area of research.

Research Clusters

• History of Science, Technology and Medicine
• Global History, Maritime History, and the History of Empire
• First Nations, Aboriginal, and Indigenous History
• Environmental History
 Ethnicity, Race, and Nationalism
• History of Religion
• Gender, Sexuality, and the Body
• International Relations
• Culture/Power/History
• History of Children and Youth
• Migration, Borderlands, and Transnational History
• Politics, Political Culture, and State Power
• Law and Society
• Communities


Before receiving the PhD degree, candidates must demonstrate an adequate reading ability in a language other than English.  Students who require a foreign language (or languages) for their dissertation research must take the language exam in that language.  In cases where the dissertation research involves only English-language sources, students may take the exam in French or another language.  The department holds language exams twice yearly (usually in November and April) in which candidates must successfully translate a passage from the language they have chosen into English, with the aid of a dictionary, but without the assistance of a lap-top computer. Exemption from the language exam may be granted under certain circumstances.  Several departments at the university offer courses to help students acquire a reading knowledge of a foreign language, such as French, German, or Russian.  Students who have successfully completed such a course at the third-year level or above, with at least a B (72%) average, can apply for exemption from the History Department's exam by submitting evidence of completion of the course to the graduate secretary.  Students who have completed the MA in History at UBC and have passed the language exam with first class (A) standing are not required to fulfill the requirement at the PhD level, unless the language(s) required for the PhD dissertation are not the same as the language examined for the MA degree.  The results from a pass/fail MA exam are not sufficient to waive this requirement. The department may also require evidence of the candidate's competence to use additional foreign languages deemed necessary for study and research in the candidate's PhD program.

Comps Checklist

  1. Assemble your committee
    1a. Major Field in ___________   Professor___________; Professor_________________
    1b. Major field in ___________    Professor___________; Professor_________________
  2. Communicate this list to the Grad Advisor (Michel Ducharme), and Grad Administrator (Jason Wu), who will begin the process of finding a chair for your oral exam.
  3. Finalize reading list. Send an electronic copy of the reading list to and submit to Jason Wu a hard copy signed by you and the professors involved. (The final list can be submitted just prior to the commencement of the exam.)
  4. Organize the comps date: The comps involves three academic weeks. Orals will be held in the third week. Approximately two months before the oral, in conjunction with your examining professors, set a date for the oral (you will need a three hour block) and communicate this to Jason Wu, who will then help book a room and find a chair for the oral examination.

It is highly recommended that regular meetings are held with all four of the examining professors.  Discussion of the types of questions likely to comprise the exam is also highly recommended.

The standard is two questions answered per field (a total of 10,000 words for all fields) from a list of questions any of which might be asked during the oral part of the examination.  Professors and students should agree on the number of questions and amount of choice well in advance of the exam.

You MUST have completed all course work prior to the exams.  In order to ascend to candidacy the comps must be successfully passed and the dissertation prospectus defended within four months after completion of the comps exams.


The doctoral dissertation must be an original contribution to historical knowledge, based upon primary sources.  The PhD candidate is strongly advised to select a dissertation topic and research supervisor as early as possible, and to begin work on the dissertation within one of the research seminars.  The dissertation must not exceed 400 pages, including footnotes, bibliography, and appendices.

  • Dissertation Supervisor and Dissertation Committee
    When a student has completed all coursework and the comprehensive examinations, the candidate and Graduate Advisor establish a Dissertation Committee.  This Committee is composed of a minimum of three faculty members including the Dissertation Supervisor and is presided over by the Dissertation Supervisor.  Although the supervisory work is largely done by the Dissertation Supervisor, the final responsibility for supervision, for approving the dissertation proposal, for judging the acceptability of the dissertation, and for recommending its submission to the University Thesis Examining Committee rests with the Dissertation Committee.

  • Dissertation Prospectus
    Candidates are required to present a dissertation proposal for approval by the Dissertation Committee. The dissertation prospectus is usually presented between one month to no later than four months after completion of the PhD comprehensive examinations. Candidates should first present to the Dissertation Supervisor a 10-12 page prospectus indicating the nature of the problem the candidate plans to investigate, the body of literature relevant to the problem and the candidate's expected contribution to that literature, the specific research methods and plans to be followed in the study, the availability and accessibility of the relevant materials including specific archival collections and other sources, and a tentative schedule for research and writing. After consultation with the Dissertation Supervisor, the prospectus must then be presented to the Dissertation Committee for their suggestions and approval. If one of the Dissertation Committee members cannot attend this presentation, another faculty member will join the committee for the discussion of the prospectus. A student who is not admitted to candidacy within a period of three years from the date of initial registration will be required to withdraw from the program.

  • Admission to Candidacy
    Once candidates have completed their residency period, completed all required coursework, passed their comprehensive examinations, and the dissertation proposal has been approved by the Dissertation Committee, the student is admitted to candidacy and may proceed with the dissertation. A student who is not admitted to candidacy within three years from the date of initial registration will normally be required to withdraw from the program.

  • Progress Reports and the Role of the Dissertation Committee
    There should be frequent contact between candidates and thesis supervisors to facilitate the giving of advice and the reporting of research progress. The Dissertation Supervisor should be available, even when on leave. The Faculty of Graduate Studies suggests that there be contact between students and supervisors at least every three months. The Dissertation Committee may also request progress reports from a candidate. If research prevents the candidate from being in Vancouver, such reports may be submitted by arrangement with the supervisor and/or Dissertation Committee by mail or e-mail. While the Dissertation Committee should be an important source of advice and aid to the student, it is not responsible for the final quality of the dissertation. Its responsibility is to see that the candidate does the best possible job within a reasonable period of time, and then to decide, after discussions with the candidate, whether the dissertation should be laid before a University Committee for evaluation. The dissertation committee must be convinced of the quality and acceptability of the dissertation before approving its submission to the External Examiner, which begins the process of its submission for public examination to the University Thesis Examining Committee. The final examination of the dissertation by the University Thesis Examining Committee is not a mere formality. Candidates may be asked to undertake revisions, or the dissertation may be rejected at this stage. For further information on the composition of the University Thesis Examining Committee and the results of examinations see the Faculty of Graduate Studies document "The Final Oral Examination: Guide for Doctoral Candidates." Candidates should acquaint themselves with the submission procedures and technical requirements for formatting of theses. These requirements are listed in the Faculty of Graduate Studies document "Instructions for the Preparation of Graduate Theses."

  • Faculty of Graduate Studies Regulations 
    The progress of all students working for the PhD degree is reviewed in the spring of each year, and the Executive Committee of the Faculty of Graduate Studies, after consultation with the student's committee and the department concerned, may require any candidate to withdraw if the candidate's work is deemed unsatisfactory.
  • History Department Regulations 
    Twice a year, in January and April, the department reviews each candidate's progress. Reviews are undertaken by the Graduate Advisor, who gathers the opinions of department members teaching graduate courses. Please note that while the Faculty of Graduate Studies minimum for passing a graduate course at the doctoral level is 68%, the History Department requires a minimum average of 76% (B+) in required coursework. Candidates whose average falls below 76% will normally be asked to withdraw from the program.

If you have any further questions, please don’t hesitate to contact Michel Ducharme.