PhD Program

The PhD program in the Department of History is designed to take five years to complete. It requires full-time academic residency until the attainment of candidacy.

PhD Program Overview

Students in the PhD program complete their coursework in their first year; take their comprehensive exams, defend their prospectus, and advance to candidacy in their second year; spend a year and a half doing dissertation research; and a year and a half writing the dissertation.  Students should create a personal program completion timeline in conjunction with their supervisor during Term 1 of Year 1 of their program.  Students who require more than six years to complete their program can apply for and receive an extension through the Faculty of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies.

Admission to the PhD program is on a full-time basis only.  Most PhD students enter the program with a completed MA degree.

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

Program Requirements – PhD Degree:

PhD students must complete three courses.  Two of these courses are mandatory: “Professional Development for Historians” (HIST525) and “The Doctoral Research Seminar” (HIST699).  Students choose their third course in consultation with their supervisor. Note that students who have not previously taken a graduate-level historiography course must choose Historiography (HIST 548) for this third course.

Graduate courses for PhD students:

Course 1 (3 credits) : HIST 525 - Professional Development For Historians:
This is a mandatory course taken in Year 1 of the PhD program. This course introduces students to professional skills and options for historians in both academic and non-academic careers.

Course 2 (3 credits): HIST699 -  The Doctoral Research Seminar:
This is a mandatory course taken in Year 1 of the PhD Program.  The course guides students through the process of doing research for and drafting their dissertation prospectus.

Course 3 (3 credits): Choose from options below:
Students should take this course in Term 1 of Year 1.  However, where appropriate and in consultation with their supervisor, they may choose to take it as late as Term 1 of Year 2. For their third course, students choose ONE of the following:

  • HIST 548D - Historiography (3 credits)
    Students who have not previously taken a graduate-level historiography course must choose HIST 548D: Historiography.  This course is offered annually only in Term 1.
  • Area and Thematic course (3 credits)
    The History Department's readings courses 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 course offered outside of the History Department (3 credits)
    With permission of the Graduate Advisor, students may take 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.)
  • HIST 547D - Directed Studies Course (3 credits)
    This course (HIST 547D) represents a one-on-one or small group 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 contact the graduate programme assistant to set up the course and register the student into the course.
  • Graduate course through the Western Dean's Agreement (3 credits)
    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 (WDA). As per the UBC Faculty of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies (G+PS) policy, 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.

Before receiving the PhD degree, candidates must demonstrate an adequate knowledge of a language other than English. The language exam typically takes the form of a written test of reading ability, although under certain circumstances, oral proficiency can satisfy this requirement.

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 the language of their choice.

For students who will be examined on their reading ability, the department holds a language exam 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 online translation tools.

The exam is a one page translation of text testing for reading ability of the target language. The grading scale represents:

  • First class: student demonstrates professional level translation in target language.
  • Pass: student demonstrates reading ability in target language
  • Fail: student does not demonstrate reading ability in target language.


Requesting an Exemption to the Language Requirement/Exam:

Exemption from the language exam may be granted under certain circumstances, on a case by case basis, by submitting a written request to the History 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 translation exam by submitting evidence of completion of the course to the History graduate advisor.
  • Students whose projects rely on oral sources in a language other than English can make a request to be exempted from the language exam and to instead satisfy the language requirement with their demonstrated oral proficiency in the relevant research language.  In such cases, the graduate advisor will consult with the student’s supervisor to confirm their ability and determine whether this requirement has been met.
  • For all other circumstances, please contact the History graduate advisor in writing.  Exemptions may be granted on a case by case basis.

PhD students are required to complete written and oral comprehensive examinations in two major fields.  One field is geographically defined; the other is thematic Examination fields and the composition of the examination committee are determined through consultation involving the student, research supervisor, and Graduate Advisor. The major fields that will be examined are determined by the student’s research and the department’s research clusters.

The PhD Field Examination Committee is comprised of four field examiners. One of the four examiners is the research supervisor.  Regular meetings should be held with all four of the examining professors. Discussion of the types of questions likely to comprise the exam is also highly recommended.  Professors and students should agree on the number of questions and amount of choice well in advance of the exam. 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.

Students must complete all of their coursework requirements before sitting their comprehensive examinations.  Students are expected to complete their comprehensive examinations within fifteen months of the date of initial registration.

In order to advance to candidacy, students must successfully pass the written and oral comprehensive exams, and then defend their dissertation prospectus within the subsequent four months.  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.

Preparation for Comprehensive Exams

Students should have working reading lists in hand for their two fields by the end of Term 1 of Year 1.  They begin studying for comprehensive exams at the beginning of Term 2 of Year 1.

As an approximate guide to the preparation expected, students generally read the equivalent of 75 books (with 3 or 4 articles counting as the equivalent of a book) for each field.  Examiners in each field provide the candidate in advance with titles comprising 70-80% of the bibliography. Students themselves identify titles to comprise the remaining 20-30% of the list.

Important Resource: Graduate Student Repository Folder of Reading Lists

To help you prepare the reading lists for each of your fields, the History Graduate Student Association (HGSA) has prepared an online repository (using OneDrive) of compiled reading lists. To receive access to the folder:

  1. Please make sure you have a UBC student email (e.g. <CWLusername> account created to send and receive mail. This account will also grant you access to a range of UBC services, including Microsoft Teams and OneDrive. To set up a UBC student email, click here.
  2. Please send an email request to History Graduate Programme Assistant ( to ask for the weblink to the online repository folder on OneDrive.
  3. If these files were useful, please consider adding your reading lists to the online repository for the next generation of history graduate students.

Form of the examination

  • Written Examinations.  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.  Students have a week to write for each field and may choose which field they do first. The comprehensive exams should total no more than 10,000 words.
  • Oral Examination. In the week following the written examinations, candidates take an oral examination, to be based mainly on the candidate's written field examinations.  All of the questions posed in the written examinations 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 should be held between October and December of the second year.

Comprehensive Exam Checklist

  1. Assemble your committee (Term 1, Year 1)
    1a. Major Field in ___________   Professor___________; Professor_________________
    1b. Major field in ___________    Professor___________; Professor_________________
  2. Communicate this list to the Grad Advisor for final approval, and the Graduate Programme Assistant (, who will notify the graduate committee member in charge of exams  to find a chair for your oral exam.
  3. Finalize reading list. Send an electronic copy of the reading list to Graduate Programme Assistant ( along with 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 examination.)
  4. Organize the comprehensive exam date.  The comprehensive exam involves three academic weeks.  The first two weeks represent written exams for each field. The Oral exam will be held in the third week.  Set a date  and time (3 hour block) with your committee members and communicate the date and time to the Graduate Programme Assistant (

Upon receiving the confirmed "date and time", the Graduate Programme Assistant will:

  • Arrange a Room,
  • Alert the Member of the graduate committee responsible for exams, who will find a chair for your oral exam,
  • Send out a formal written schedule with a request to the committee members to submit their written comprehensive exam questions, and;
  • Update the schedule once the graduate committee member has confirmed a chair.

For reference, the Graduate Programme Assistant will be invigilating the written exams.

Roadmap to the Comps

Important Note: The "Roadmap to the Comps" document is not a statement of policy but merely serves as an outline of the general timeline for scheduling the oral component of the comprehensive exams.


Oral minus 3 months

Begin the process of coordinating a date and time (a three-hour block, typically on a Friday) for the oral part of your comprehensive examination with all examining professors.

Oral minus 2 months

Communicate the confirmed date and time (3 hour  block) to the Graduate Programme Assistant ( who will arrange a room,  alert the member of the graduate committee responsible for exams who will  find the chair of your oral exam, send out a formal schedule with a request to the committee members to submit their written comprehensive exam questions.   The schedule will be updated once a chairperson is confirmed by the graduate committee member.

Oral minus 3 weeks

The Graduate Programme Assistant will send to you the first of your comprehensive exams.

Oral minus 2 weeks

You return the first written exam to the Graduate Programme Assistant, who will send you the second one.

Oral minus 1 week

You return the second written exam to Graduate Programme Assistant.


Note on Remote Setup for Virtual Meetings: The supervisor is responsible is responsible for setting up a skype (or zoom) virtual meetings for comprehensive and prospectus examinations .

Important Note about Scheduling: The oral comprehensive examination date should be set with a minimum of 5-6 weeks in advance in order to allow enough time to find a chairperson.   For Oral examination dates set with less than 5 weeks’ notice, the graduate committee member in charge of comprehensive and prospectus exams may require the supervisor to find a chairperson.

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.

Candidates are required to present a dissertation prospectus 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.  The examination of the dissertation prospectus can occur as early as Term 1, Year 2 and typically, no later than the end of Term 2, Year 2.

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 be presented to the Dissertation Committee and discussed at the prospectus examination.  If one of the Dissertation Committee members cannot attend the prospectus examination, another faculty member will join the committee for this purpose.

Additional Resources:

What is a Prospectus? (February 2013)

by Chris Laursen, PhD (Alumni)

  1. Just get to the heart of what you want to do with your dissertation in the prospectus.  You may not feel anywhere near ready to create a prospectus, and that's okay!  You have to start somewhere.  What you write will be critiqued.  You can't escape that, and it's fine because it's part of being a scholar.  Whatever advice you are given, remember that you will end up moving in better directions in your dissertation research and writing as a result of it.  Make the prospectus a fun exercise, one in which you use your imagination and creative thinking, as well as showing that you have something to contribute to historical studies and can defend your preliminary arguments (which will become stronger as you get into the real work of your dissertation).  Start by asking yourself, "What is my dream dissertation?"  With that, get the essential bits in there: a strong thesis, proposed chapter outline, and showing how it makes a contribution to the study of history (through a historiographical section).
  2. Once you've explained how you're making a contribution, put all of those scholars you've read aside, go back to what you've outlined, and think for yourself.  Unless your committee indicates they expect application of an existing theoretical model based on your study, I would advise being more concerned about focusing on how you are going to approach your topic.  Myself, I felt an invisible pressure after taking so many courses that focused on so many theoretical or philosophical models.  I assumed that I was expected to think about my dissertation through the lens of at least a few of these existing models.  Unless you're absolutely passionate about applying one of these models (which, honestly, I wasn't), you should start with yourself.  After writing - and fumbling in my defense - on how my project could fit existing theoretical models (what a disaster!), the advice my committee gave was liberating: worry about your own methodological development, not applying that of others.  It's not that it's easier to develop your own methodological approach.  But the prospectus is your opportunity to propose how you would do so.  You've been working on it in everything you've done up to this point.  If there's one thing I wish I had done it would have been to say to myself, "Okay, I've learned all sorts of approaches.  I've outlined how my works fits in the historiography.  Now I'm going to put others' work aside and think for myself.  How do I want to approach collecting research materials and analyse them?  How would I get what I want out of them?"  I think the ability to say this is what I want to do is crucial in a prospective defense.  My committee wanted to know how I was going to develop my own scholarly style through the dissertation process, and some of that was in my prospectus, but I spent way too much time writing about other scholars' approaches.  You've already recognized related scholars in a historiographical section.  Make the rest of the prospectus about how you want to do things.  What you produce will not be perfect, but it's a significant step toward thinking for yourself as a member of a community of scholars.
  3. How one of your PhD colleagues or faculty members does something does not mean you have to do it the same way.  First of all, remember to consult with your committee as you develop these approaches before you get to prospectus defense.  This will be a big help.  As your prepare, when you look at sample prospecti, read dissertations, or published works, concern yourself with how they're organized and consider how strong their thesis is.  Apply structures and content that strongly benefits what you want to say in your dissertation.  Ultimately, you are going to build an idea for a dissertation in the way you want to do it. From there, your committee is going to give advice, some of which you won't implement, much of which will completely lift you up in terms of strengthening your scholarship.  I thought of my defense more as a formal brainstorming session.  I loved hearing what my committee members and defense chair had to say.  Nothing went as I imagined, and really, life is like that anyway.  Defend your ideas as carefully as you can, but be open to all critiques and advice.  Be thankful for it.  This is really an opportunity to grow.  It's a forum where you walk in with a document and walk out with new ways of thinking about your research, writing, and scholarly style.
  4. Start early, gather your sources, and set yourself a tight schedule with milestones to complete your prospectus after passing comps.  For those preparing for comps, insert key scholarly works to read that you'll be using in your dissertation research.  This is so important.  For those starting grad school, collect as many key sources as you can well ahead of time.  If you haven't already started doing that by the time you begin your PhD, you'd better get going on that!  (I had been gradually collecting sources since 2006, two years before commencing my MA, and defended my prospectus in January 2012, two months after my comps exam; writing the prospectus was a quick process because I already had key sources read and ready to consider in my prospectus.)  Once you are ready to write the prospectus, make it an efficient process.  In my opinion, you can probably write it, get outlines and drafts reviewed by committee members over a month or two, then refine it and defend.  Set your defense date early to motivate getting it done.  With candidacy, you can get to the real work of research and writing your dissertation. Don't draw the prospectus process out too long.
  5. It's a defense; that's nerve wracking, and that's okay.  It's part of being a scholar.  The prospectus defense is probably not going to feel smooth.  You're early on in your dissertation.  Your ideas are just forming.  Write as strong of a document as you can in a limited time.  Consult with your committee members ahead of the defense to see what they think of an outline of it, and then on a draft of it.  They'll catch the early weaknesses that you can work on. Expect to hear questions and ideas that hadn't been mentioned earlier in your defense - things you'd hadn't considered before.
  6. Myself, I'm writing a succinct reimagined prospectus one year after defending.  The first prospectus felt like a beginning, a way of getting feedback, and a way of showing that I can carry on with my dissertation work.  The second one - only a revised working thesis, succinct overview of methodology and argument, and a more developed chapter outline - is an opportunity to truly shape the dissertation.  The prospectus you write to achieve candidacy will be a useful tool to develop your methodology, analysis, and research travel strategies. As a candidate, I have put a lot of thought into those three elements over the past year.  I also consulted a lot with people knowledgeable about my research topic - invaluable!  Now the content seems all the more concrete, although I fully expect my committee to have a variety of new ideas and directions based on this revised prospectus.  It's an ongoing process - and one that should be both as delightful and challenging as you can make it.
  7. So what is a prospectus really? It is an essential step for you and your committee to feel that you are ready to do the real work of the dissertation - so make this a time to show them and yourself that you're ready to proceed with that.  It's an exercise in imagining what you would really enjoy doing, getting your key sources lined up, assessing the contribution your work with make to historical studies, and above all an opportunity to say, "This is how I want to be a historian.  This is the approach I'm thinking about.  What do you think, colleagues?"

The last step to advancement to candidacy is the prospectus defence (examination). Once you are ready to defend your prospectus:

  1. Please arrange a “2 hour time slot” with your prospectus committee.  This should be done with at least five week's notice in order to leave ample time to find a chairperson.
  2. Email the Date, time, and names of the prospectus committee to Graduate Programme Assistant at
  3. The Graduate Programme Assistant will book the room, notify the graduate committee member responsible for comprehensive and prospectus examinations to find a chairperson, and send out a schedule to everybody involved.


Roadmap to the Prospectus Oral Exam

Important Note: The "Roadmap to the Prospectus Oral Exam" document is not a statement of policy but merely serves as an outline of the general timeline for scheduling the oral component of the comprehensive exams.

Oral minus 6-7 weeks

Begin the process of coordinating a date and time (a two-hour block, typically on a Friday) for the oral prospectus  examination with all examining professors.

Oral minus 5 weeks

Communicate the confirmed date and time (2 hour block) to the Graduate Programme Assistant ( who will arrange a room, alert the member of the graduate committee responsible for exams who will find the chair of your oral prospectus exam, send out a formal schedule to everyone involved. The schedule will be updated once a chairperson is confirmed by the graduate committee member.


Note on Remote Setup for Virtual Meetings: The supervisor is responsible is responsible for setting up a skype (or zoom) virtual meetings for comprehensive and prospectus examinations .

Important Note about Scheduling: The oral prospectus examination date should be set with a minimum of 5 weeks in advance in order to allow enough time to find a chairperson.   For Oral examination dates set with less than 5 weeks’ notice, the graduate committee member in charge of comprehensive and prospectus exams may require the supervisor to find a chairperson.

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.  Advancement to candidacy can occur as early as Term 1, Year 2 and typically no later than the end of Term 2, Year 2.

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.  Where extenuating circumstances exist, students can apply to G&PS for an extension. 

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
    The Dissertation 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.
  • 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. A full committee meeting with the candidate must occur once a year.  Students should plan to submit their work-in-progress at a department colloquium in Year 3 or 4.  Students who plan to complete by the end of Year 5 should have a full dissertation draft ready for the entire committee to review by the end of Year 4. 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."

After you have successfully completed your Final Defense, the final step is to submit your thesis to the Faculty of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies (GPS) to close your program.

Step 1:
Read the overview of the submission process:

Step 2:
Carefully follow the steps in the link below to submit your thesis to the Faculty of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies to close your program:

Once the student has all of the forms in step 1, they can email them to the Graduate Programme Assistant ( to verify the signatures and forward the forms to GPS on behalf of the student.

Dissertation/Thesis Submission Deadlines:
Check deadlines for dissertation/thesis submission dates:
(Under Deadline Type -->Select Option: Thesis Final Submission --> Click: Filter)

Thesis approval deadlines are for having your thesis fully approved in cIRcle, not just submitted. You are expected to submit at least five days ahead of any deadline in order to allow yourself time to make any needed corrections.

For Reference:

Every candidate for a degree must make formal application for graduation. Students apply through Student Workday. Login with your Campus-wide Login (CWL). Please check the Deadlines section of this website or contact your program to find out when the Application to Graduate is open.

If your application to graduate is not approved, then you must re-apply for the next graduation season.

Doctoral Students
Doctoral students must also complete a 350-character doctoral citation. For details and information on how to submit this, please see Doctoral Citations for Graduation.

Not attending the graduation ceremony?
You must apply to graduate regardless of whether or not you plan to participate in the scheduled ceremonies.

For questions about applying to graduate, please contact


Conference Travel Funding

Graduate students are now eligible to receive travel funding to attend a conference at which they are presenting a paper. Over the course of a graduate career, each PhD student will have access to $3,000 to attend conferences. Eligibility continues for up to four months after completion of the degree. As per University guidelines, payments will be made via reimbursement.


PhD Co-op (Optional)

Co-operative education is an optional program that allows you to gain work experience as you work on your doctoral degree. You will have access to various resources to help support your job search and build career skills.

Research on co-op programs has shown that students typically return to their studies after co-op terms highly motivated and increasingly successful in their studies (marks, completion rates, etc.).


You are eligible to apply to the UBC History PhD Co-op Program if you have achieved candidacy (or are expecting to achieve candidacy by the time you begin your co-op term, typically in January of your third year in the PhD program). You also must have two years of PhD study left, in which to schedule three, 4-month work terms. You cannot enrol in the Co-op Program without advancing to candidacy first: that is, Co-op students must be ABD (all but dissertation).

SSHRC-holders and international students are both eligible to apply and go through the same application process.