Students who arrive at UNC with a B.A. degree become M.A. students. Upon completing all the requirements for the M.A. (usually 3 semesters), they become Ph.D. students. After they have completed their coursework, passed comprehensive examinations, and defended their dissertation prospectus, students become Ph.D. candidates.

Overview of M.A. Requirements

All M.A. students must complete 27 credit hours, including three required courses (700, 900, and 901, attain basic competence in one foreign language, write an article-length M.A. thesis, and defend it in an oral examination. Students must meet all MA degree requirements by the end of the third semester in residence. In cases that require additional language training or other special circumstances, students and their advisers can petition the DGS for a one-semester extension to complete their MA by the end of the fourth semester. On successfully completing all MA requirements, a committee of three faculty members will recommend that the student become a Ph.D. student.

  • HISTORY 700
  • HISTORY 900
  • HISTORY 901
  • HISTORY 993

HIST 700 (fall, first semester): Thinking Historically. This course introduces students to the intellectual currents and schools of thought that have characterized the historical profession over time. Emphasis is placed on understanding the major historiographical dilemmas that have (re)shaped the historian’s craft. By examining such diverse conceptual frameworks, students will prepare themselves to tackle more confidently the research projects they will design and execute in History 900 and 901. Assignments will consist of discrete projects focused on developing the specific research, analytical, and writing skills needed for professional historical work in the students’ fields of interest (e.g. compiling annotated bibliographies; identifying relevant databases; crafting book reviews).

HIST 900 (spring, second semester): Crafting a Historical Project is intended to help students develop a plan of research and writing, select bibliography, develop an understanding of the secondary literature available for their topic, identify primary sources, and articulate a problem or facet of the topic to which they can contribute original research in their MA thesis. The course will be flexible in order to encourage students who want to work with primary documents they have already located to initiate this phase of their research or to craft a focused historiographical essay based primarily on the secondary literature they have identified and read for their topic.

HIST 901 (fall, third semester): Researching and Writing a Master’s Thesis. Hist 901 is the capstone to the three-course sequence, exposing students to primary research and to organizing and writing a lengthy research paper. The course also enables students to earn a master’s degree at the end of three semesters of full-time coursework. Drawing upon their work in History 900, students will conduct primary research and write a publishable-quality essay of approximately 10,000 words in length. This paper will follow proper citation methods and will include a full bibliography which will not be tabulated in the word count.

HIST 993 (fall, third semester): Master’s Thesis research and writing credit (3 hrs.) under the supervision of the student’s adviser. This is required for completing the MA degree.

FOREIGN LANGUAGE: Certification of reading proficiency in at least one foreign language.

THE M.A. THESIS should demonstrate that the student can handle the primary source material of the field, has a working knowledge of the secondary literature, and can present the results of research in a coherent, well-written essay. Each student will work closely with a faculty member advisor while writing the thesis.

ORAL DEFENSE OF THE M.A. THESIS: Each student will assemble a committee of three faculty members, one of whom will be the student’s adviser. The committee will meet in person with the student to discuss the completed MA thesis before the end of the third semester. (One member of the committee may arrange to attend remotely if necessary.) Students may, in consultation with their advisers and the DGS, submit the MA thesis at the close of the fall semester and schedule the defense for early in the following spring semester. The committee is responsible for determining whether the thesis and the oral examination are of passing quality. After passing the oral exam, students must submit the final version of their thesis to the Graduate School according to the Graduate School’s formatting specifications and deadlines.1

BECOMING A PH.D. STUDENT: The decision to allow students to proceed into the PhD program will be made at the time of the MA thesis defense. Students who successfully defend their theses and have completed all requirements for the MA will receive their diplomas the following May. For students who elect or are recommended not to continue in the program, the MA defense and submission of the thesis will conclude their course of study at UNC and departmental financial support.

OTHER ASSESSMENT: FIRST YEAR EVALUATION: At the end of a student’s first year in the graduate program at UNC-CH (whether or not entering with the MA), the student’s adviser will prepare a one page report on progress made. This report should incorporate evaluation of work in courses during both semesters, discussions of performance at the spring field meeting and, when relevant, evaluations of performance as a Teaching Assistant or Apprentice Teacher. The purpose of the report is to give students an overall sense of their performance—their strengths, their prospects, and, in particular, the specific areas in which they should concentrate on improving in the future. These reports should be approved by the field convener, and copies will be provided to the student and the DGS.

Overview of PhD Requirements


The Graduate School requires PhD candidates take a minimum of 15 hours beyond the MA, including six hours of dissertation research (HIST 994). In order for students to become Ph.D. Candidates, they must have 1) completed coursework, 2) passed comprehensive examinations, and 3) illustrated their ability to define a compelling research project. Together, these three elements require both depth in their scholarly focus and breadth in their historical understanding.

  • HIST 905 Dissertation Design
  • All Field-specific Course Requirements
  • Two courses in an “Additional Teaching Area”
  • Foreign Language Competence
  • Comprehensive exams
  • Dissertation prospectus hearing

Students must have completed all of these requirements by the end of their sixth semester (fourth semester for students admitted with the MA).

HISTORY 905 (fall or spring): Dissertation Design. PhD students in all fields are required to enroll in History 905, which can be taken either in the fall or spring of the first or second year. History 905 helps students learn about research strategies and project feasibility and when applicable to expand the MA into a viable PhD project. Students learn how to write an abstract, a short project statement, and a grant proposal preliminary to their dissertation prospectus, and to plan summer research to advance their projects.

FIELD-SPECIFIC COURSE REQUIREMENTS can be found in the chart in the appendix. Optional course: HIST 702 (fall): Introduction to Historical Education, the teaching practicum (recommended). This course focuses on the art of teaching and helps students understand classroom strategies and pedagogy, syllabus design, lecture preparation, and putting together a teaching portfolio. Students admitted with a BA take HIST 702 typically during their third year (fifth semester) before serving as a Master Teacher.

ADDITIONAL TEACHING AREA: The History Department requires students to broaden the scope of their historical understanding by taking two courses in a field outside the one in which they will focus, or by taking one course and serving as a TA in a related course. This is not only important for later career prospects. We know that it is essential for historians to think about how their field fits into a broader global context, how it compares with other historiographies, and how historical approaches differ from those of other disciplines. The Additional Teaching Areas, as a result, must introduce either

  • a new place
  • a new era
  • a new discipline

Please note that the Additional Teaching Area must be also distinct from the areas covered on a student’s comprehensive examinations—that is, it must not be identical to an examination topic, nor a subset of it, nor even largely inclusive of it. Courses used to fulfill this requirement may not be used to fulfill the second language substitution. Students must have their proposed Additional Teaching Area and course selection approved by their adviser in advance and noted on the appropriate worksheet that is submitted to the Department by the end of the second semester. Courses may not be double counted to fulfill requirements.

Exception: Students in the Global field who successfully take two geographical fields for their comprehensives will be considered to have completed the Additional Teaching Area requirement, and thus do not necessarily have to fulfill the two-course requirement described above.

FOREIGN LANGUAGE REQUIREMENT: The Department believes that it is important for all graduate students in history to attain at least minimal proficiency in one foreign language for the MA, and two foreign languages for the Ph.D. Knowledge of foreign languages opens the way for new research possibilities, allowing wider access to historical literatures and permitting communication with a more diverse scholarly community. Foreign language means a language other than English and may include proficiency in a modern foreign language, an ancient language like Greek or Latin, or an indigenous language like Cherokee, Nahuatl, or Maya. The Department strongly urges students, in consultation with their advisers, to consider early in their careers how they will fulfill the language requirement in order to further their development as historians. Courses taken to fulfill the language requirements above the intermediate level can count toward coursework requirements. The student must have completed all foreign language requirements before advancing to candidacy.

Language requirements for the PhD can be met by:

  • Minimal proficiency in two foreign languages: Students may demonstrate proficiency in a foreign language by
    • passing the reading competency exam given once a semester and administered through the appropriate language departments
    • individual testing by an instructor in the chosen language
    • earning a “B” or higher in a language course at UNC-CH beyond the second semester
    • earning a “B” or higher in a graduate-level course that focuses on developing reading skills in a foreign language
    • taking courses at well-respected language programs (Goethe Institute, Indiana University Summer Language Workshop, etc.). This requires, however, prior approval from the DGS.
  • Advanced proficiency in one foreign language: A student may demonstrate advanced proficiency in a foreign language by
    • individual testing by an instructor in the chosen language
    • earning a “B” (or a graduate “P”) or better in a language course at UNC-CH beyond the fourth semester
    • Taking courses at well-respected language programs (Goethe Institute, Indiana University Summer Language Workshop, ect.) can also count toward the language requirement. This requires, however, approval of the DGS.
  • Minimal proficiency in one foreign language and successful completion of a two-course program designed to develop proficiency in a research skill: The Department recognizes that the needs of individual fields and students differ. It has, therefore, established this option for meeting the language requirement for the doctorate where knowledge of only one foreign language is considered sufficient. To obtain approval to substitute a research skill or theoretical perspective, the student must send an email to the DGS after completion of the two-course program. The email should briefly explain how the courses have developed a research skill or theoretical perspective that will further her/his career. The student must have received a P or higher in both courses in order to fulfill this requirement.

Please note: this represents a minimal requirement. Most fields and advisers expect at least minimal proficiency in two languages and a significantly higher level of proficiency in at least one of these. For example, students in all areas of European History can only fulfill the language requirements by demonstrating minimal proficiency in at least two foreign languages.

Exception for students whose first language is not English: A student whose first language is not English must only demonstrate proficiency in a foreign language that is neither English nor her/his first language. That student may also substitute a research skill or theoretical perspective for her/his language requirement. All students whose first language is not English must also demonstrate their proficiency in English. To judge sufficient proficiency in English, a student’s adviser and the convener of his/her field should review a 10-page-or-longer paper written in English by the student. If these two members of the faculty agree that the paper demonstrates the student’s ability to express him/herself clearly at the professional level, then the Department (and the Graduate School) will consider that the student has passed the English-as-a-foreign-language exam. The adviser should provide an email to this effect to the DGS. If a student whose first language is not English needs to improve written proficiency, he or she can seek help with campus resources such as ESL and the Writing Center. In all cases, should a student’s adviser consider command of the language insufficient for research purposes or if the language skill has been acquired in atypical fashion, the professor may insist upon an additional test by the Department.

COMPREHENSIVE EXAMINATIONS: The examinations confirm a student’s command of a major field of historical knowledge, laying the foundation for dissertation research and, in the longer run, for teaching and engaging in professional historical discourse. Normally the written exam will be based on a list of works that the faculty examiners, in consultation with the student, identify as critical to an advanced understanding of the particular field. Faculty examiners are cautioned against adding to reading lists at the last minute; good practice entails treating a reading list as definitive in the last month before an examination. The student’s response to the exam itself should convey a good command of that literature, a sophisticated ability to articulate key issues within a field, and a developed sense of the field’s major contours. The format and coverage of the written examinations vary from field to field, and are spelled out in guidelines found in the appendix. Students should take courses that prepare them for comprehensive exams and build relationships with faculty members who will serve as dissertation committee members.

The written examination is composed and assessed by tenured or tenure-track members of the UNC-CH Graduate Faculty. Examinations are sometimes also set by tenured or tenure-track members of the Graduate Faculty at Duke or other area universities. Any exceptions must be cleared with both the field and the DGS in advance.

Students taking comprehensive exams are expected to receive the exam questions from the Graduate Coordinator on the morning of their scheduled exam. They must submit their completed exam answers either in person or electronically to the Graduate Coordinator by the end of the exam period. Any exceptions must be cleared in advance with both the faculty examiner and the DGS. A student who fails the written examination is permitted to retake it once, but only after a lapse of at least three months.

THE DISSERTATION PROSPECTUS HEARING AND ORAL DEFENSE can continue a conversation about the ideas contained in the oral examination. The main purpose, however, is to gather the student with the committee to discuss the dissertation prospectus and suggest necessary changes and alternative approaches to the topic. The committee should be composed of the student’s adviser and four additional faculty selected by the student in consultation with the adviser. The committee may include up to two qualified faculty members from other UNC departments or from other academic institutions.

Ph.D. Candidacy

Once admitted to Ph.D. candidacy (aka becoming ABD—all but dissertation), the student focuses all attention on completing a dissertation.

HIST 994 (Doctoral Dissertation). Students register for HIST 994 once they have passed their comprehensive exams and prospectus defense. HIST 994 registration allows students to conduct dissertation research on or away from campus. A minimum of six hours are required and cannot be taken simultaneously during one semester.

Review: Between twelve and eighteen months after achieving ABD status, students must schedule and complete a formal progress review with their examining committees.

Dissertation defense: Upon completion, all degree candidates must successfully defend their dissertations before a committee composed of their adviser and four additional faculty members, two of whom may be qualified faculty members from outside the UNC History department.

Appendix: Field Requirements at a Glance



Field of Study

Required Courses Add’l Language Requirements  

Comprehensive Exams










·         Three exams: (1) modern African History, (2) pre-modern African history, (3) thematic or geographic field determined by the student

·         24 hour period per exam with 8 hours of writing time

·         Page Limit: 10 double-spaced pages

·         Two-week examination period

·         Student should secure approval of an individual exam schedule with the participating faculty

·         May use books, notes, and aids

·         Sign an honor pledge











·         Four exams: (1) primary field in recognized field of Asian history, (2) additional teaching area decided with adviser, (3) thematic field, (4) “outside” field (either outside of Asia or in another discipline)

·         8 hours per exam

·         Page Limit: 10-15 double-spaced pages

·         May take all four exams in one semester or over two consecutive semesters

·         Student should secure adviser approval of entire examination schedule at the beginning of the semester; student should secure approval of an individual exam schedule with the participating faculty








Advanced Proficiency in 2

·         Three exams: (1) geographical, (2) methodological, (3) chronological

·         8 hours per exam

·         All three exams should be taken in a single semester in a one- week period on three separate days

·         Sign an honor pledge














Advanced Proficiency in 2

·         Four exams (Primary area, plus three additional geographical or chronological areas)

·         8 hours per exam

·         Limit of 10-15 double-spaced typed pages

·         May take all four exams in one semester or over two consecutive semesters

·         Student should secure adviser approval of entire examination schedule at the beginning of the semester; student should secure approval of an individual exam schedule with the participating faculty






Latin American






·         Three exams: (1) colonial, (2) national, (3) thematic

·         Each exam will have 2 questions. Student must answer both.

·         Three separate days

·         Student should secure field convenor and DGS approval of entire examination schedule; student should secure approval of an individual exam schedule with the participating faculty

·         May use books, notes, and aids

·         Additionally, student prepares a syllabus for a colonial or national period survey course and an accompanying essay describing pedagogical goals of the course. This is turned in before the prospectus defense.






717, 951

·         Students normally take examinations in their geographic, temporal, or topical major field and then take topical exam for military history

·         Follow examination rules of other field

·         Student should secure adviser approval of entire examination schedule at the beginning of the semester; student should secure approval of an individual exam schedule with the participating faculty.



Russian and East European






·         Four exams: one must be in the chronological period of the student’s dissertation topic

·         Students will take two exams per week over a two week period

·         24 hour period per exam, with 8 hours of writing time

·         Limited to 10 double-spaced pages

·         May use books, notes, and aids

·         Sign an honor pledge





United States





726, 727, 728


·         Four exams: (1-3) Three chronological areas; (4) thematic specialty

·         8 hours per exam

·         Length should be 10-15 double-spaced pages

·         Student may take all four examinations in one semester or over two consecutive semesters

·         Student should secure adviser approval of entire examination schedule at the beginning of the semester; student should secure approval of an individual exam schedule with the participating faculty





Women and Gender





725, 975


·         Three exams: (1) geographical, (2) comparative/global, (3) specialization

·         8 hours per exam

·         May use books, notes, aids

·         2,500 word limit

·         Sign an honor pledge

·         Complete all three examinations within one semester

·         Student should secure adviser approval of entire examination schedule in the first two weeks of the semester; student should secure approval of an individual exam schedule with the participating faculty