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 ( 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 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.
  • 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.

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.

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 (  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 ( 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 (


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.


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.

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.

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.