Guide to Graduate Study in History
Updated May 2014
Terms of the Fellowship
Students admitted to the Ph.D. program are awarded fellowship packages renewable for up to five years, and they should aim to complete the Ph.D. within five years. The program is the same whether or not the student has received an M.A. degree from another institution.
Students must be in residence at the University for the first three years of the program. During this time students complete the required coursework, take the general examinations for the Ph.D., work with undergraduates as graduate teaching assistants, complete a prospectus for the Ph.D. dissertation, and begin dissertation research. During the remaining years the student will research, write, and defend the doctoral dissertation. Students do not serve as teaching assistants during their first year of study. They are expected, by the terms of their fellowships, to serve as half-time teaching assistants in six semesters, usually in years 2-4. A funded student who receives an external award that pays the cost of living for a semester in which he or she would normally be expected to serve as a teaching assistant will not be required to teach during that semester.
The graduate program in history is small, highly selective, and well supported by the University. If a student is admitted, the University will provide a competitive financial package that will include a stipend for living expenses, remission of tuition, and cover the cost of University fees and single-coverage health insurance. Continuation in the program and renewal of the fellowship is contingent on meeting standards for academic performance judged in the annual evaluations mentioned later in this Guide. The University and the Department also provide other financial support, awarded on a competitive basis for student research, including travel to archives, presentations of research at scholarly conferences, and language study at the University or at some other US or foreign institution.
Coursework and the First Two Years
Students must complete twelve graded courses of graduate-level work, equivalent to 36 graded credit hours, by the end of the second year. Students will determine a course of study with their advisors, who have broad discretion to approve a course of study that best supports the student’s preparation for exams, research, and college-level teaching. We give no credit for M.A. or Ph.D. coursework at other institutions, and no transfer course credits can be applied to these requirements except for prior graduate-level coursework at the University of Virginia, approved by the Director of Graduate Studies.
This coursework should be completed during the first four semesters (two years) of study. Thus the typical student should enroll for three graded courses in each of those four semesters. In addition to these 9 hours (36 in total), the student should have one course of non-topical research (HIST 8999), for a total of 12 hours of enrolled credit in each semester. While this course has no specific requirements, the advisor will use it to attest that the student is undertaking the necessary additional work to advance in the program by granting a grade of “satisfactory.” Some students use this slot to enroll in a language course rather than in non-topical research. Students who wish to take more than 12 hours of coursework in a semester must make an overload request to the Director of Graduate Studies.
Graded graduate-level courses fall into four categories:
Colloquia. Numbered in the 5000- or 7000-series, these are small courses with a mix of lectures, guided readings, and discussions. 5000-level courses are open to advanced undergraduates as well as graduate students.
Research Courses. We offer a single taught research course as part of our graduate curriculum. Master’s Essay Writing (HIST 8001) is a faculty-led workshop taken by first-year students in the spring semester. Students meet individually with their advisors throughout the first year as they propose, research, and write the master’s essay, an article-length work of original scholarship suitable for submission to a scholarly journal in the field of history. Before the end of the first year, the advisor assembles an ad hoc seminar in the student’s research area attended by graduate students and faculty, to which he or she presents a pre-circulated copy of the completed master’s essay for review and discussion.
Augmented undergraduate courses. Numbered as a 9960, this is an undergraduate course augmented with additional requirements, developed with the course instructor, to earn credit as graduate-level work. With the approval of the advisor, the student must petition the Director of Graduate Studies to register for this course. (Undergraduate courses taken for graduate credit outside of History must be created and approved by that department.)
Supervised reading courses. Numbered as a 9961, these courses can be developed at the initiative of students or faculty, must be supervised by a member of the faculty, and must be approved by the Director of Graduate Studies. Students typically take a section of HIST 9961 in the fall semester of the second year to revise the master’s essay for publication, undertake directed reading in the literature of the intended dissertation, or conduct other research-related work. Students typically take a section of HIST 9961 in the spring semester of the second year as a guided readings course under the direction of a member of their exam committee when they have scheduled to take exams in that semester.
Specific Course Requirements:
- In their first semester of study, all students must take HIST 7001, “Approaches to Historical Study.”
- In their second semester of study, all students must complete HIST 8001 (Master’s Essay Writing) or its equivalent and present a pre-circulated copy of the master’s essay to an ad hoc seminar meeting convened by the advisor no later than May 1 of the first year.
- Students must complete the language requirements as specified in the relevant descriptions of programs of study listed below.
Programs and Fields of Study
Graduate students in History are admitted to work within a particular program that defines a broad temporal and geographic area. The faculty supports a number of more specific fields of study within and across these programs. A field corresponds to a segment of history encompassing a variety of problems and with a body of literature rich enough to nurture the development of a professional historian. It is an area that, at the conclusion of his or her studies, the student should be prepared to teach. Students will be examined in three fields of study whose breadth and content will be determined by the advisor and two other examiners.
Ph.D. students focusing on colonial, revolutionary, early republic, antebellum, Civil War, and Reconstruction history join an intellectual community anchored by ongoing research seminars. They undertake coursework as well as independent reading to support two common fields of study: Early American History, 1584-1815 and United States History, 1815-1877. They also prepare for a third field that they define in consultation with their advisors. Such a field typically examines subjects outside of American history, involves work in another discipline, or develops a comparative or thematic focus. (Examples of such fields have included Early Modern England, Environmental History, the Global Economy, Atlantic World, Modern European War and Society, Enlightenment Intellectual History, Women’s and Gender History, and Material Culture Studies.) Faculty and students at all levels of study—from first-years to doctoral candidates completing their dissertations—meet regularly during term to present and discuss original research. Those specializing in colonial, revolutionary, and early republic history meet as the Early American Seminar at the Robert H. Smith International Center for Jefferson Studies at Monticello (and attend the Transatlantic Seminar via video conference with our counterparts at the University of Edinburgh). Those whose focus in on antebellum, Civil War, and Reconstruction history meet as the Civil War Studies Seminar in Nau Hall. Every year, we convene several special joint sessions of these seminars to discuss works-in-progress presented by visiting scholars, UVa faculty, and advanced graduate students. There is no mandatory foreign language requirement for students in the Early America program. Advisors and students will agree upon a plan for language study suited to the student’s research needs. Students in Early America often serve as research assistants for projects such as the Papers of George Washington, the Papers of James Madison, Documents Compass, Backstory, and MapScholar.
Faculty: S. Max Edelson (Colonial British America, History of Cartography, Slavery and Plantation Societies, Digital Humanities), Gary W. Gallagher (U.S. Civil War, Memory, American Military to 1900), Andrew O’Shaughnessy (Eighteenth Century Atlantic World, British Empire), J.C.A. Stagg (Early American Republic), Alan Taylor (Colonial North America, American Revolution, Early Republic, Pre-Confederation Canada, American West), Elizabeth Varon (American South, Civil War Era, Women’s and Gender History, Intellectual and Cultural History)
Students who choose to develop a research focus in international history may draw from strong faculty resources in the History Department. International history is a capacious field of study that has developed a rich historiography in recent years. Historians working in this area tend to examine subjects that cross borders and are unmoored from a purely national historical context. For example, international history includes the history of imperialism and colonization, economic and financial arrangements among states, diplomacy and statecraft, comparative ideologies, human rights, the cultural dimensions of international relations, war and its impact upon society, migration and refugees, genocide, epidemics and public health, cross-border movements of ideas, goods, and people, and the place of non-governmental organizations in the modern world.
In preparation for the Ph.D. qualifying examinations, international history students will be expected to develop competence in at least three historiographical areas. These areas should be identified in the first few months of the first year in the program, and will be designed in consultation with the faculty advisor. These areas might include readings in national/regional literatures, such as modern U.S., Latin American, Middle Eastern, East Asian and European history; and be supplemented by readings in such international fields as The Cold War; War and Society in the 20th Century; Human Rights in the Modern Age; Comparative Empires; The United States in the World; Globalization in History; and so on. The possibilities for combining national and international fields are almost limitless. What is therefore crucial is to define the areas of inquiry early in the program with the Ph.D. advisor.
Students who study international history will usually find it advantageous to possess foreign language skills for conducting research. Depending on the chosen field of research, additional language training may be required.
The resources at the University for the study of international history are rich, and include not only a first-class library system but active research centers such as the Center for Global Inquiry and Innovation, the Miller Center (which offers pre-doctoral fellowships for the study of modern politics and foreign affairs), the Center for Global Health, the Center for Russian and East European Studies, the Center for South Asian Studies, the East Asia Center, the Middle East Studies Program, among others.
One of the first programs to train historians of South Asia in the United States, the Corcoran Department of History has produced some of the leading historians in the country today. [click here for a list of alumni]
Students of South Asia are expected to enter the doctoral program with a well-defined idea of their proposed field of study. This will be located in both space (region / locality) and time (chronology). We also encourage work that is comparative, trans-regional, as well as transnational. Professor Richard Barnett will supervise dissertations in medieval and early modern South Asian history, and Professor Neeti Nair in modern South Asian history. By the first semester of their third year, all students are expected to have completed coursework and taken qualifying exams in early modern and modern South Asian history, apart from one other field. This third field could be thematic, such as the study of nationalisms or legal history, or geographical, such as South Asia’s ties with East Asia or the Middle East. We encourage students to be creative and unconventional in the way they design their coursework, encouraging coursework with other faculty in the department (such as Alon Confino and Xiaoyuan Liu) as well as in allied departments (such as Mrinalini Chakravorty in English, Mehr Farooqi in South Asian Studies, and Daniel Ehnbom in Art History).
Students in the program are expected to fluently use one foreign language for their dissertation. We expect students to have completed at least two years of foreign language study before they arrive in Charlottesville, so that they may start advanced foreign language coursework while here; Hindi, Urdu, Persian, Sanskrit, Arabic, and Tibetan are some of the relevant languages that are taught at the university.
Apart from having access to Alderman library, one of the finest libraries for South Asia in the country, students will also belong to the South Asia Center, an inter-disciplinary home to all those engaged in the teaching and research of South Asia at UVa, and the Asia Institute. Visiting lecturers and diplomats, international conferences, in-house faculty seminars, and workshops organized by students and faculty also provide for intellectual interaction.
Members of the history faculty are currently revising these program descriptions. New descriptions will be available here by August 1, 2014.
Foreign language requirements. Mastery in a foreign language, when required, must be demonstrated by passing an examination, usually offered by the appropriate language department. The Mastery exams usually consist of a short translation, a reading comprehension section (with short-answer questions), and a short essay. Test results will be forwarded to the History Department.
A Checklist for the First Two Years and the M.A. Degree
- Are there a total of twelve graded courses, with HIST 7001 slotted into the first semester?
- Has the student taken HIST 8001 or its equivalent in the second semester and presented the master’s essay to an ad hoc seminar by the end of the first year?
- Is there a plan to accomplish necessary language study?
In this program the Master of Arts degree is ordinarily an incidental degree that can be granted on the way to full Ph.D. candidacy. It can also be awarded under other circumstances. In any case, to be granted an M.A. degree in History the student must have completed:
- at least eight graded courses (which, with two nontopical research courses, would make up the required 30 credit hours);
- and a completed Master’s Essay—a paper of the kind and quality that could be submitted as an article to a refereed journal for publication—approved by the advisor.
Students can apply to receive the M.A. degree once these requirements are complete.
Milestones and Candidacy for the Ph.D. Degree
The progress of all students will be reviewed by the Department’s Graduate Studies Committee after they have completed their first two semesters of work. This first evaluation will determine whether the student should proceed to a full second year of work aimed at a doctoral degree. In addition to grades and faculty reports, the master’s essay will form a basis for evaluation. To be in good academic standing after the first year, students must meet the minimum requirement that a majority of their grades be A or A-. The first evaluation can result in a decision that the student should continue in the Ph.D. program with financial support, that the student should not continue in the program, or that the student may continue in the program without financial support to pursue the M.A. degree only. Students must obtain the approval of the Graduate Studies Committee to remain in the program and participate in graduate-level courses in history.
The committee will review student progress again after the first four semesters (two years) have been completed. This second evaluation will determine whether the student should proceed with a full third year of work aimed at the doctoral degree. In addition to grades and faculty reports, the written and oral exams will form a basis for evaluation (or, in cases in which students have scheduled exams during the third year, a substantial portfolio of student writing should be submitted for review). The second evaluation can result in a decision that the student should continue in the Ph.D. program with financial support; or that the student should not continue in the graduate program but may apply for the M.A. degree if qualified to receive it.
- At this point all the coursework (the full checklist for the first two years itemized above) and any language requirements should be completed or on track for completion as described in the rules for the student’s program. Thus the student could apply to receive an M.A. degree.
- In the graded courses, the majority of the grades must be A or A-.
The General Examination. Through their courses and independent reading over the first two years, students should attain a strong foundation of expertise in their chosen fields. Students will take their general exams before the end of the spring term of their second year. In cases in which the advisor determines that the pedagogical demands of the fields of study require more extensive coursework and language preparation, the DGS can grant exceptions to this exam schedule on a case-by-case basis or a specific exam schedule can be specified in the summaries of program requirements in this guide. To remain in good academic standing in the graduate program, such students must take their written and oral exams no later than January 31 of their third year.
The general examination tests the student’s acquaintance with the events and historiography of a given period or topic, grasp of major issues and questions, and the ability to follow, construct, and criticize historical interpretations. The general examination consists of three written exams, conducted by three examiners, including the advisor, covering three separate fields of study. Once the student has completed all the other requirements for Ph.D. candidacy, the student’s advisor should notify the graduate secretary to arrange for the student to take these three written examinations.
Each field examination will pose a question or questions to which students will write responses that, taken together, are no longer than 5,000 words (the total writing for all three fields exams should not exceed 15,000 words). Each of the three written examinations is to be completed within an eight-hour period, administered by the graduate secretary, and pledged under the University’s honor code. Once cleared by the advisor to take their exams, students may schedule the specific days on which each exam is given, but must complete all of them within a one-week period. If—and only if—the examiners agree that all three parts of the written examination have been completed satisfactorily, the advisor will schedule an oral examination as soon as possible following the submission of the written exam at which all three examiners must be present (preferably in person, but by video conference if necessary). Following this examination, the three examiners will decide whether the student qualifies to pass, or passes with distinction, to the dissertation stage of the doctorate. A student who fails the general examination can retake those parts of it deemed unsatisfactory, but only once, and must do so within four months of the date of the original written exam submission. If the student passes the written portion of the exam after taking it for a second time, the full examination committee must convene as soon as possible for a second oral examination. The second evaluation can proceed as scheduled before an unsatisfactory exam is retaken, and the Director of Graduate Studies can request a writing portfolio as a basis for evaluation.
To the Ph.D. Degree: Teaching and Scholarly Research
As a Ph.D. candidate, a student in the third year focuses on dissertation research and continues his or her development as a college teacher as a graduate teaching assistant.
During the fall and spring semesters of the third year the student should take the following: twelve credit hours of HIST 9999 Non-Topical Research (Preparation for Doctoral Research). By the end of the third year the student should thus have completed a total of 72 credit hours.
During the third year, students should apply for external and internal (UVA-sponsored) grants and fellowships that can fund their research and writing in the fourth year. Receiving such fellowships allows students to engage in sustained archival research away from Charlottesville. Students supported by five-year fellowship packages typically teach in each semester of the fourth year. Those awarded financial support sufficient to defray the costs of their living expenses through such grants or fellowships will not be required to teach during that external funded period. Such awards reduce the overall teaching expectations. A student receiving such a fellowship for one semester, for example, would teach for five rather than six semesters overall during over the course of the five-year fellowship; a student receiving external support that covers living expenses for the full academic year would teach four rather than six semesters overall.
In the fifth year of the program, one fully funded without teaching obligations, students will focus on dissertation writing. The Ph.D. candidate must write and defend a dissertation before a committee chosen by the advisor in consultation with the student. The advisor should appoint a dissertation committee, set an intended date for the dissertation defense (no later than one week prior to the final deadlines for submission of the approved dissertation on December 1, May 1, or August 1), and set a date for the submission of a final draft to members of the committee (typically three-to-four weeks prior to the defense). At minimum, the committee, chaired by the advisor, must consist of three current members of the graduate faculty in History as well as a UVA member of the graduate faculty from another department who serves as the “dean’s representative.” Other qualified members, from within or beyond the University, may be appointed in addition to this required minimum. If there is difficulty in identifying suitable readers, the Director of Graduate Studies shall appoint members of the faculty to provide this service. The dissertation should represent an original and significant contribution to historical knowledge, be concise and well written, and display strong primary research. If the dissertation is successfully defended, it can be approved as is or with required revisions completed.
All requirements for the Ph.D. degree should be completed within seven years after enrollment in the graduate program. Exceptions to this time limit must be approved by the Director of Graduate Studies and by the Dean of the Graduate School.
The Department’s Director of Graduate Studies (DGS) oversees the graduate program and the application of this Guide, advised by the Graduate Studies Committee and the Chair of the Department. The Graduate Studies Committee makes final decisions on admission to the program and continuation in the program. If a student seeks some exception to the rules in this Guide, a written petition should be addressed to the DGS.
A Timeline for Graduate Study
Students should meet with advisors early in the first semester to determine a provisional list of three exam fields (as well as the faculty members who will examine them) as well as a topic for the master’s essay. In addition to necessary language instruction and two topical courses at the 5000- or 7000-level each semester, all first-year students will take HIST 7001 (Approaches to Historical Study) and HIST 8001 (Master’s Essay Writing) (or its equivalent as detailed under the program descriptions in this guide or by approval of the DGS). They will also meet regularly with their advisors to discuss the research and writing of their master’s essay. Before May 1, the advisor will convene an ad hoc seminar meeting of faculty and graduate students in the field to which the student will present the master’s essay. Before the end of the year, students will meet to discuss reading lists and expectations for their exams with each of their examiners. First-year students who are required to demonstrate mastery in one or more foreign languages are encouraged to apply for summer language instruction support through the department. The Graduate Studies Committee reviews the student’s progress in the program in the first evaluation and must approve his or her advancement to the second year of study.
Students will begin their work as graduate teaching assistants for the first time in the fall semester. In addition to taking two topical course at the 5000- or 7000-level each semester, second-year students typically register for one section of HIST 9961 (independent study) in the fall semester to engage in a directed course of reading in the intended dissertation research area, to revise the master’s essay for publication, or to engage in other research-related work as approved by the advisor. In the spring, they typically register for one section of HIST 9961 (independent study) with a member of their general exam committee, a course that involves, at a minimum, meetings with each of the examiners to review reading lists and discuss preparation for the exams. Second-year students are encouraged to apply for summer research funds and support for summer language instruction through the department. They must satisfy their required language exams as detailed in this Guide under their program of study. Students will complete the written and oral portions of the general exams no later than May 1 (unless an alternate exam schedule has been specified in program descriptions in this Guide or the DGS has granted an extension, in which cases they must complete the exams no later than January 31 of the third year). The Graduate Studies Committee reviews the student’s progress in the program in the second evaluation and must approve his or her advancement to the third year of study.
Students serve as graduate teaching assistants during the third year. With their required history coursework completed, their work outside of the classroom focuses on dissertation research. Students must submit a dissertation prospectus, approved by the advisor, to the graduate secretary no later than September 15 (or, if they are permitted to take their exams after this date, no more than two months following the completion of exams). After completing the prospectus, they should apply for grants and fellowships that can support their research goals in year four. The department maintains a list of external support relevant to graduate research and the DGS and graduate secretary provide regular updates via email regarding the deadlines of internal, UVA-funded fellowships and research grants. Third-year students are also encouraged to apply for summer research funds through the department. With the advice of their advisors and other faculty mentors, students should conduct a sustained program of research from Charlottesville, revise the prospectus, and produce preliminary writing toward the dissertation over the course of the third year.
Students are expected, by the terms of their fellowships, to teach in both semesters in year four. Based on our students’ strong track-record of receiving external awards, however, many will earn grants and fellowships that provide the cost of living support for one or both semesters. In such cases, the student may rely on the department to fund the costs of tuition, fees, and insurance so that they may accept such an award and use that funded period to undertake intensive archival research away from the classroom. By the end of the fourth year, the student should have completed most of the research for the dissertation and should aim to have at least one chapter drafted for the advisor’s review. Fourth-year students are encouraged to apply to the department for support to present their work at academic conferences.
Students spend the fifth year, one fully funded by the department, undertaking additional research and completing and defending the dissertation. At the beginning of this year, students and advisors should meet to determine a schedule for the review and revision of dissertation chapters. Fifth-year students preparing to complete the degree also submit applications for academic positions and other employment in consultation with their advisors and the graduate placement officer. They are encouraged to apply to the department for support to present their work at academic conferences and to interview for professorships and postdoctoral fellowships.