Comprehensive Exams in History

PhD students take two written comprehensive exams, in primary and secondary fields, and a follow-up oral comprehensive exam. The requirement for the third (outside) field, is normally met by taking two courses in the field and submitting a paper demonstrating grasp of both the theoretical foundation of the field and practical application (see below for details). 

Early in the PhD program, students should identify their field supervisors and develop reading lists in close consultation with these supervisors. Lists can vary in length depending on the type of books and articles included. As a rough guide, major fields generally include 50-100 books and minor fields 35-70 books, plus articles. The field supervisors then become the examiners. Students may opt to enroll in HIST 690 Independent Study Project in History in the semester before their examinations in order to work closely with their examiners to prepare for their exams. 

The student will be given 12 hours to write each field exam. The exam will be take-home and you may use notes, but must cite your sources. The two written exams must be taken within a seven-day period. If both exams pass, the student then proceeds to the oral comprehensive, which must be taken within 21 days of the first written exam. The oral exam is given by the two field supervisors, with a third examiner added primarily to observe and contribute a vote on the outcome of the oral exam. The third examiner is chosen by the student in consultation with his or her advisor and will ideally be someone with expertise in one or both of the fields. Each field supervisor is given 30 minutes to test the candidate’s knowledge of the field, understanding of the books in the lists submitted by the candidate, and, chiefly, to follow up on issues raised in the written exams. At the end of the exam, a majority vote of the examiners determines a grade of satisfactory, distinction, or failure. Distinction will only be awarded for extraordinary performances on the written and oral components and requires a unanimous vote of the examiners.

A failed written comprehensive must be retaken within four months. A second failure is terminal.

Examination Fields

Standard Fields

Fields chosen from the following list must conform to graduate program planning procedures but do not require detailed description or approval by the examining faculty. A field composed of two or more fields from the list will be identified by combining appropriate numbers, e.g., 29.056/057, History of the British Isles since 1688. Because a master's level field must meet minimum requirements for chronological coverage (see p. 6), not all standard fields qualify as master's level examinations.

Europe (including the British Isles and Russia)

HIST-010 History of Modern Europe Since 1789
HIST-011 History of Modern Europe Since 1500 (offered only if department resources allow)
HIST-012 History of Modern Europe, 1500-1815 (offered only if department resources allow)
HIST-014 History of Europe, 1815-1914 (Ph.D. only)
HIST-015 History of Europe, Since 1914 (Ph.D. only)
HIST-016 European Diplomatic History (Ph.D. only)
HIST-017 European Intellectual History (Ph.D. only)
HIST-018 European Social History (Ph.D. only)

United States

HIST-020 History of the United States (including Colonial)
HIST-021 History of the United States, 1607-1865
HIST-022 Recent United States History Since 1865
HIST-023 The United States: Colonial Period, Revolution and Constitution (Ph.D. only)
HIST-024 The Middle Period in United States History, 1789-1877 (Ph.D. only)
HIST-025 United States Diplomatic History (Ph.D. only)
HIST-026 United States Intellectual History (Ph.D. only)

Latin America (available only as outside fields at Ph.D. level)

HIST-030 History of Latin America
HIST-031 The Colonial Origins of Latin America and the Achievement of Independence
HIST-032 Latin America Since Independence
HIST-033 Latin American Diplomatic History
HIST-034 Latin American Intellectual History

Russia (normally available only as outside fields at Ph.D. level)

HIST-040 History of Russia, 1462-1964
HIST-041 History of Russia Prior to Peter the Great
HIST-042 History of Imperial Russia
HIST-043 History of Russia in the Twentieth Century
HIST-044 Russian Intellectual History Since 1700
HIST-045 Russian Social History

British Isles (available only at Ph.D. level)

HIST-050 History of the British Isles to 1689
HIST-051 History of the British Isles Since 1689
HIST-052 History of Britain and the Empire to 1783
HIST-053 History of Britain, the Empire, and Commonwealth Since 1783
HIST-054 History of the British Isles to 1485
HIST-055 History of the British Isles, 1485-1688
HIST-056 History of the British Isles, 1688-1815
HIST-057 History of the British Isles Since 1815

Asia (available only at Ph.D. level)

HIST-060 History of Modern Asia Since 1815
HIST-061 History of South Asia Since 1815

Ancient (available only as outside fields at Ph.D. level)

HIST-070 Classical History
HIST-071 Greek History
HIST-072 Roman History

Individually Defined Fields

Individually defined fields must comply in full with the program planning procedures stated above. The student may select from:

HIST-100 Individual Field in the History of Modern Europe
HIST-200 Individual Field in the History of the United States
HIST-300 Individual Field in the History of Latin America
HIST-400 Individual Field in the History of Russia
HIST-500 Individual Field in the History of Britain and Empire
HIST-600 Individual Field in the History of Asia
HIST-700 Individual Field in Ancient History
HIST-800 Individual Field in the History of a Single Country
HIST-900 Individual Field in Comparative History
HIST-1000 Individual Field in Interdisciplinary Study