PhD Program

The PhD program in the Department of History takes up to six years to complete and requires full-time academic residency until the attainment of candidacy.

PhD Program Overview

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.

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

Program Requirements – PhD Degree:

PhD students must complete five courses.  Two of these courses are mandatory: HIST 548D (Historiography) and HIST 699 (PhD Research Seminar).  Please find below a breakdown of graduate courses to take for PhD students.

  • Historiography course (3 credits). The HIST 548D Historiography course is a mandatory course in Year 1 of the PhD Program.  Only students who have completed the graduate-level Historiography course as part of the UBC MA History Program may apply for an exemption from this course requirement.
  • The Doctoral Research Seminar (3 credits). The HIST699 Doctoral Research Seminar is a mandatory course taken in Year 2 of the PhD Program.  The course 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). The purpose of the History Department's 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 (approximately 3,000-4,000 words per course) from students as evidence of their growing mastery of secondary literature.

 

Possible Options in lieu of Area and Thematic Courses

Remaining coursework should be consistent with the student’s program and approved by the supervisor, and if applicable, the graduate advisor (see below for specific details).

  • Graduate courses (3 credits) offered from outside of the History Department. 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.  Please consult your supervisor for possible graduate courses offered outside of the History Department.  (Examples of non-history graduate seminars represent 500+ level courses from the STS department, Asian Studies, FNIS, etc.)
  • Directed Studies Course (3 credits). This course (HIST 547D) represents a one-on-one directed readings course with a professor.  When a professor (usually the supervisor) agrees to do a directed readings course with a student, the professor must submit a course syllabus to the graduate program assistant to register the student into the course. Normally, these courses are done with a supervisor and their student if there are no suitable graduate courses available for the student.
  • Graduate course (3 credits) through the Western Dean's Agreement (WDA). Students at participating Universities in Western Canada can attend partner institutions as visiting students without having to pay the host university's tuition fees through the Western Dean's Agreement. Courses taken by PhD students under the Western Deans' Agreement will not be credited to their degree programs.  If a PhD student wishes to take a graduate course through the WDA, they must also get approval from the graduate advisor for an exemption to the PhD Course requirements.

Professional Development (PD) Workshops. PhD students are required to take the Teaching and Professional Development Workshop Series within the first two years of their program. When offered, the PD workshops extend over the course of the academic year.  Examples of PD workshop topics represent:

  • Comprehensive Examinations
  • Preparing a Thesis Prospectus and Planning Research Trips
  • Presentations, Conferences, and Networking
  • Writing and Completing a Dissertation
  • Getting Published
  • Job Market 1: Fellowships, Postdocs, Academic Jobs
  • Job Market 2: Non-Academic Jobs, Internships, and Other Post-Graduate School Options
  • Professional Conduct

Teaching Preparation. The objectives of Teaching Preparation 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.

Colloquia. Additionally, graduate students are expected to attend different colloquia scheduled throughout the academic year.

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 a year (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 laptop computer.

Exemption from the language exam may be granted under certain circumstances by the graduate advisor. 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 program assistant.

PhD students are required to complete comprehensive examinations in two major fields.  Examination fields and the composition of the examination committee are determined through consultation involving the student, research supervisor, and Graduate Advisor (fields are listed below under Explanation of Major Fields).  The PhD Field Examination Committee is comprised of four field examiners and a member of the Graduate Committee. One of the four examiners will be the research supervisor.  Students must complete all of their coursework requirements before sitting their comprehensive examinations.

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 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.
Form of the examination

  • Preparation of Reading Lists. The examiners agree with the candidate in advance on a bibliography from which examination questions will be derived.  As an approximate guide to the preparation expected, candidates generally read the equivalent of 80-100 books and articles for a major field  (For sample reading lists, please contact the graduate program assistant to access to the "reading list" archive).
  • Written Examinations. PhD candidates must complete two written field examinations, one based on an area and period and the other thematic.  The examinations test the candidate's mastery of the factual knowledge, central historiographical issues and theoretical concepts of the field.  Doctoral students are required to complete two written take-home examinations, one in each field, over a two-week period.  The comprehensive exams should total no more than 10,000 words.
  • Oral Examination. 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).  A student who fails either major field must repeat the written and oral examinations in all fields.  No substitution of fields at re-examination will be permitted.  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 can be held anytime between Sept. 1st to April 1st of the second year.

Explanation of Major Fields

Major Fields. PhD 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.

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.

Click on the Button below for current Research Clusters in the History Department:

Previous 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

Comprehensive Exam Checklist

  1. Assemble your committee

1a. Major Field in ___________   Professor___________; Professor_________________
1b. Major field in ___________    Professor___________; Professor_________________

  1. Communicate this list to the Grad Advisor and Grad Program Assistant (hist.grad@ubc.ca).  The Graduate Program Assistant will set up the formal schedule and ask the graduate committee member in charge of comprehensive and prospectus exams to find a chair for your oral exam.
  2. Finalize reading list. Send an electronic copy of the reading list to Graduate Program Assistant (hist.grad@ubc.ca) and send a copy of email approval from the professors involved. Alternatively, a hard copy signed by you and the professors involved. (The final list can be submitted just prior to the commencement of the exam.)
  3. Organize the comps date: Set a date for the oral comprehensive exam (you will need a three hour block). The comps involves three academic weeks. The first two weeks represent written exams for each field. Orals will be held in the third week. Arrange a "three hour time-slot" with your comprehensive exam committee and communicate the start time and date to the graduate program assistant (hist.grad@ubc.ca).

Note on Remote Setup for Virtual Meetings: The student is responsible for setting up a skype (or zoom) virtual meeting. (Note: If the student only has a basic zoom account, there may be a time limit 40 minutes for a zoom meeting.)

Important Note about Scheduling:  The oral comprehensive exam date must be set with a minimum of 5-6 weeks in advance.  The reason is to allow enough time to find a chairperson for the exam.   Oral Exam dates set with less than 5 weeks in advance will require the supervisor to find a chairperson.


Students must complete written and oral comprehensive exams in two fields: one based on an area and period and the other thematic. The major fields that will be examined are based off the student’s research and the department’s research clusters. The examinations test the candidate's mastery of the factual knowledge, central historiographical issues and theoretical concepts of the field.

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.

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 both 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.

If you have any further questions, please don’t hesitate to contact the graduate advisor.

Candidates are required to present a dissertation proposal for approval by the Dissertation Committee.  As a guideline, 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.

The last step to advancement to candidacy is the prospectus defense (examination).

Once you are ready to defend your prospectus:

  1. Please arrange a “2 hour time slot” with your prospectus committee with atleast 5 weeks advance notice so the department can find a chairperson.
  2. Email the Date, time, and names of the prospectus committee to the graduate program assistant at hist.grad@ubc.ca.
  3. The graduate program assistant will book the room, initiate the process to find a chairperson and send out a schedule to everybody involved.

Note on Remote Setup for Virtual Meetings: The student is responsible for setting up a skype (or zoom) virtual meeting. (Note: If the student only has a basic zoom account, there may be a time limit 40 minutes for a zoom meeting.)

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.

For reference, the date for advancement to candidacy usually represents the date of the prospectus defense because the prospectus examination is usually the final requirement to be completed.

A student who is not admitted to candidacy within three years (36 months) from the date of initial registration will normally be required to withdraw from the program.

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.

 

  • Final Doctoral Examination
    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 "Dissertation and Thesis Preparation." In addition to the one original copy of the dissertation presented to the Faculty of Graduate Studies, an additional hardbound copy in maroon must be deposited at the History Department office.

https://www.grad.ubc.ca/current-students/dissertation-thesis-preparation

https://www.grad.ubc.ca/current-students/final-doctoral-exam/final-doctoral-examination-guide

 

Progress Review

All PhD students must meet both the Faculty of Graduate Studies and the History Department’s regulations:

  • Faculty of Graduate Studies: 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: 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.