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.

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

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 requirements can be found here. Recommended 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.
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.

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 level.
    • Taking courses at well-respected language programs (Goethe Institute, Indiana UniversitySummer Language Workshop, etc.) 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.

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. (Note: More paperwork. Students should complete the Comprehensive Exam form on the Graduate Student Intranet at least two weeks before the exam date.)

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 dissertations prospectus 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.