PhD program

The Department of History offers doctoral instruction and supervision in a wide range of fields. Admission to the doctoral program normally requires a Master’s degree with a minimum average of A- in all graduate courses.

Admission Requirements

In addition to reference letters and transcripts required by the Faculty of Graduate Studies, students must submit a letter of intent outlining their particular area of interest within the field of History and their proposed dissertation topic (see below for information about the letter of intent). This document will assist the department in determining whether or not it can provide appropriate supervision.

If a student's research program requires reading knowledge of a language other than English, individual supervisors may require proof of competency in that language in order for the candidate to be considered for admission to the doctoral program.

Students whose first language or language of instruction is not English will need to demonstrate a high level of competency in English.

  • IELTS (International English Language Testing System) - A minimum Overall Band Score of 7.0, with no score of less than 6.5 on each individual component on the Academic IELTS is required or equivalents. 

Admission to the PhD program normally requires a master’s degree with a minimum average of A- in graduate courses.


Normally, students are admitted in September although in certain cases, it may be possible to enter the program in January. Most courses run from September to December and from January to April. It is not currently possible to take doctoral courses during the summer months.

Students who wish to be considered for scholarships must submit their applications by January 15. Other students should conform to the deadlines set by the Faculty of Graduate Studies. Late applications may be considered if space is available. Admission is on a competitive basis.

Completion time

The PhD program may be completed on a full-time or part-time basis. The PhD degree normally takes a minimum of four years to complete, but must be completed within seven years. 


Each student will have a supervisory committee nominated by the academic unit and approved by the Dean of Graduate Studies. The academic supervisor will facilitate all activities of the supervisory committee. All members of a supervisory committee must be on the Faculty of Graduate Studies membership list or be specifically approved by the Dean. A faculty member who wishes to be appointed as a co-supervisor for a student who is in a program outside of the faculty member’s academic unit must be approved for the Faculty of Graduate Studies’ Membership list as an Associate Member in the student’s home academic unit. Note that when this is the case, normally the Associate Member would be ineligible to serve as a non-unit examining member, and would normally be ineligible to serve as an external examiner for the Associate Member’s home academic unit and for the unit for in which the person is an Associate Member.

The duties of the committee include: recommending a program of study chosen in conformity with the Faculty of Graduate Studies and academic unit’s regulations; supervision of the project, thesis or dissertation; participation in a final oral examination when the program prescribes such an examination. The committee may conduct other examinations, and will recommend to the Faculty of Graduate Studies whether or not a degree be awarded to a candidate. See the graduate supervision policy document on the on the Faculty of Graduate Studies website for more information.

Each year, doctoral candidates are required to meet with their entire committee to assess their progress to date.  This form is to be filled out and signed by April 20 each year and submitted to the graduate.

PhD Dissertation Progress Report Form

Composition of the Supervisory Committee: Doctoral Degrees

Listed below are the minimum requirements for doctoral supervisory committees. Additional supervisory committee members may be added without the approval of the Dean as long as they are members of the Faculty of Graduate Studies or have had specific permission from the Dean of Graduate Studies to serve as a member.

Doctoral Degrees in Regular Doctoral Degree Programs

All members of the Doctoral supervisory committee must be on the Faculty of Graduate Studies membership list or be specifically approved by the Dean of Graduate Studies. The supervisory committee must have at least three members, one of whom is the primary supervisor, one may be a co-supervisor. At least two of the members must be from the home academic unit. One of the members must be from outside the home academic unit:

  • Member #1: The primary supervisor must be from the home academic unit
  • Member #2: May be a co-supervisor or a committee member from inside or outside the home academic unit
  • Member #3: A committee member from inside or outside the home academic unit

Doctoral Degrees by Special Arrangement

As in Regular Doctoral Degree Programs, with the provisos that at least one member must be from an academic unit with an active PhD program, and at least one member must have supervised a successful PhD candidate.

Individual Interdisciplinary Doctoral Degrees

As in Regular Doctoral Degree Programs, with the provisos that there must be co-supervisors from two relevant academic units, at least one of whom must be from an academic unit with an active PhD program and at least one member must have supervised a successful PhD candidate.


Course Requirements 

(Unit Values)

Historiography HSTR 500

1.5 (graded)

Geographical or Topical Field Courses 3x1.5

4.5 (graded)

Historiography for Dissertation (HSTR 600)

1.5 (graded)

Comprehensive Exams HSTR 693 3x1

3.0 (pass/fail)

Dissertation Proposal HSTR 695

1.5 (pass/fail)


25.5 (pass/fail)  




  1. The Doctoral degree requires credit in 7.5 units of graduate courses, including the historiographical/historical methods course (HSTR 500), comprehensive exams in one major and two minor fields, and completion of a dissertation. Students who have completed HSTR 500 or its equivalent at the MA level will automatically be assigned credit for the course. 

  2. PhD students are required to take enriched versions of three regular graduate courses, each worth 1.5 units of coursework, plus a 1.5 unit independent study course which will usually be organized by the student’s supervisor. Graduate courses enriched for PhD students will have a 600 level designation to distinguish them from Master’s level courses with a 500 level designation.  Graduate courses eligible for both masters and doctoral fields will have a joint 500/600 designation.

Requirements - CSPT PhD

Program requirements for doctoral candidates in History registered in Cultural, Social and Political Thought (CSPT)  

Course Requirements 

(Unit Values)

Historiography (HSTR 500)


Geographical or Topical Field courses (HSTR 601-691)


Historiography for Dissertation (HSTR 600)


CSPT courses (CSPT 600 and CSPT 601)


Candidacy Exams (HSTR 693)


Dissertation Proposal (HSTR 695)


PhD Dissertation (HSTR 699)




Prospective History doctoral applicants with a strong interest in theory can also apply to take an enriched course load through participation in the interdisciplinary program, Cultural, Social and Political Thought (CSPT). Those who qualify for the program are given the chance to engage with sophisticated theory that goes beyond disciplinary boundaries, in order to address key issues in cultural social and political thought. 

Students applying to the Cultural, Social, and Political Thought (CSPT) concentration in History must meet the admission requirements for the doctoral program in History. Applicants must apply online, choosing the Concentration in Cultural, Social and Political Thought (CSPT) option for History. If approved by the History department, the application will be reviewed by the CSPT Admissions Committee. For full information about the program see Students must meet the core graduating requirements of History as well as specific requirements of the CSPT Program. See also the entry for Concentration in Cultural, Social and Political Thought (CSPT). The Graduate Adviser in History should be consulted for details.

Candidacy Exams

Students registered full-time in the PhD program will normally complete all coursework and the three comprehensive examinations during the first two years of study. Students are required to take HSTR 500 if they have not completed an equivalent course at the MA level, HSTR 600 (Historiography for Dissertation) with their supervisor and three other 600-level (HSTR 601–691) field courses.

The three field courses, together with HSTR 600, form the basis for the comprehensive examinations. Students write three comprehensive examinations: one major field comprehensive exam (linked with two field courses) and two minor field comprehensive exams (each linked with one field course). The professors with whom the field courses are taken normally serve as examiners for the corresponding comprehensive examination. Students are required to write each comprehensive exam at the end of the semester in which the coursework for that field is completed. These courses may either be an enhanced version of an already existing 500 level course or may be taught as a directed reading course.  Instructors are expected to meet several times during the semester to support the candidate in completing the enhanced elements of the course.  Each of the four 600-level courses should have a reading list equivalent to 50 books, to be developed together with the instructor and the student.  These courses are graded and progress may be assessed in various ways, including the preparation of an undergraduate syllabus based on the course readings.

600-level field courses are defined as either geographical or topical, and students are strongly encouraged to develop a program, in consultation with their supervisor and the graduate adviser, that draws from both types. Geographical field courses are defined by territorial or regional boundaries. Topical field courses examine significant themes that cut across geographical and/or temporal boundaries, such as social, military, intellectual/cultural, family, women's, indigenous, gender, religious, colonial, world or maritime history.

Major and minor comprehensive examination fields may be defined either topically or geographically. In order to constitute a major comprehensive field, normally students choose a course from the regular list of field courses (HSTR 601-691) and supplement it with HSTR 600. Alternatively, students combine two linked 600-level field courses (e.g. pre- and post-1900 Canadian History, 603A and 603B) into a major comprehensive field and link HSTR 600 to a minor comprehensive field. The two courses that compose the major field will be examined together, with a single comprehensive exam following completion of the second of the two courses. With the approval of the graduate adviser, students may also take one field course in another department or from another university.

Students will normally pass all three comprehensive examinations within 24 months of registration. In doing so, students will have satisfied the candidacy examination requirement (HSTR 693). A student who fails only one comprehensive exam will be allowed to rewrite that exam a single time within three months of the original exam date. A second failure of one comprehensive examination or the failure of more than one comprehensive examination will normally result in withdrawal from the PhD program. Students must satisfy the candidacy examination requirement before advancing to the dissertation proposal (HSTR 695).


After successfully completing the written comprehensive exams, a doctoral student will make a presentation of his/her dissertation proposal to their supervisory committee at a meeting chaired by the graduate advisor. This process will normally occur during the spring term of a student’s second year in the program.  The student will submit, at least two weeks in advance of the dissertation proposal defence, a paper introducing the topic, the method, and the sources of the proposed thesis of at least 20 pages in length.  The defence will consist of an initial 15 minute presentation by the student, and one or two rounds of questions from each member of the supervisory committee. The proposal is graded on a pass/fail basis; that outcome is entered as the student’s grade for HSTR 695. Students are allowed a second attempt should they fail the process on the first try. Highly motivated students who satisfy normal program requirements will be allowed to present their dissertation proposal before the spring of their second year, with permission of the graduate advisor.

  1. The dissertation will be graded on a pass/fail basis.

When you begin writing your thesis there are many resources available to you through the faculty of Graduate Studies.  If you have questions please contact our graduate assistant.