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Welcome to the Department of History and Classical Studies. For detailed information for new PhD students, please follow this link.


PhD students studying and exchanging ideas in the graduate student lounge.PROGRAM

Doctoral students must successfully complete 12 course credits. All doctoral students must successfully complete HIST 701 (3 credits). A maximum of nine credits previously completed at the graduate level, whether at McGill or elsewhere, may be applied towards this required 12 credits (to be determined in consultation with the dissertation supervisor and approved by the Graduate Program Director). Excepting language courses, courses must be at the 500, 600, or 700 level. Up to six credits may be taken in another department.

HIST 701

An advanced introduction to the historical profession and to recent developments in historical scholarship.


Students will be examined in one major and two minor fields. Minor fields should broaden the expertise of the candidates so that they can offer to teach in at least three recognized fields. The director of one minor field may be from another department.

The Graduate Program Director approves the directors and the fields to be examined.

Students are expected to meet regularly with all field supervisors.

Students will normally sit the comprehensive examinations in May of PhD2. In certain cases, with the approval of the dissertation supervisor and the Graduate Program Director, students will be permitted to sit the comprehensive examinations during the summer of PhD2 or in the Fall term of PhD3.

The written portion of the comprehensive examinations consists of a three-hour examination in the major field [HIST 702] and three-hour examinations in each of the minor fields [HIST 703 and HIST 704]. Each exam will be invigilated by the appropriate field director. The answers will be handwritten or on a blank computer without Internet access. All the examinations will be available to each field director for consultation.

The grades will be transmitted to the Orals Board Chair normally within five days of the last examination. Provided the candidate is deemed to have passed all three written examinations, the oral comprehensive examinations will usually be held within the seven days following the last written examination. In the event of failure of one or more of the written examinations, the candidate is entitled to resit the failed papers (once) within 30 days of the examination.

The Orals Board will consist of four members: the directors of the one major and two minor fields and a Board Chair chosen by the Departmental Chair or the Graduate Program Director in collaboration with the candidate's thesis supervisor and the Graduate Committee.

The oral examination in the major field will last for no less than one hour and that in the minor fields for no less than thirty minutes each.  Examinations in all three fields are normally taken at a single sitting of the Orals Board.

The Board assigns a single percentage grade to each field based on the performance of the student in both the written and oral portions. A grade of 64% or below is a failure. In the case of a first failure, a grade of K will be recorded. 

In the event of failure, the candidate is entitled to resit (once) within four months of the first examination.  A student fails in the field if the director of that field and one other member of the Board consider her/his performance unsatisfactory, or if a majority of the Board considers her/his performance unsatisfactory.  "Majority" is understood to mean a majority of the votes cast, thereby leaving room for a Board member to abstain.

If a student fails in one minor field, he/she is asked to resit only that one field, but this resit takes place in front of the full Board.  If a student fails in more than one minor field, or in the major field, he/she is asked to retake the entire examination.


After successfully completing the comprehensive exam, each PhD candidate, in consultation with the primary supervisor, will be expected to establish an advisory committee to assist in supervising the dissertation. The advisory committee will normally include the candidate’s primary supervisor, who will consult with the candidate in selecting other committee members and assume final responsibility for directing the research and approving the completed dissertation; a second member whose field is reasonably related to the dissertation topic; and a third member whose field is outside but in some way complementary to the dissertation topic. In addition to the supervisor, at least one member of the advisory committee will normally be a member of the McGill history faculty; the other may come from outside the department or the university. Any advisory committee member outside the department should normally hold a university faculty position or its equivalent. Once established, the student’s advisory committee must be approved by the Graduate Program Director. Each candidate will also submit a written thesis proposal to the advisory committee (for timeline, see below).  Advisory committee members will be expected to evaluate the proposal and offer suggestions regarding research plans and grant proposals.

Only the student’s primary supervisor will be required to sit on the PhD defence panel. Under current procedures, a five-member panel may include one additional member of the advisory committee; a seven-member panel may include two additional members of the advisory committee.


In September of PhD3, each student is required to meet in a joint meeting with the supervisor and the Graduate Program Director, when all three will sign off on the Graduate Student Research Progress Tracking Form.

In September of PhD4 and each year thereafter until graduation, each student is required to meet in a joint meeting with the supervisor and the two other committee members, and all sign off on the Graduate Student Research Progress Tracking Form.

When a committee member cannot be present, Skype or a conference call are permissible. When neither of these are possible, the committee member should be sent the scanned document for consultation and (after requested amendations are carried out) signature


During the fall term of PhD3, the student will prepare a dissertation proposal of between 4,000 and 5,000 words (excluding bibliography). The proposal should include a title, a review of the most relevant secondary literature, a definition of the subject of the dissertation and its limits, an explanation of the historical significance of the topic, a description of the sources to be investigated, and a statement on the methodology to be followed. The thesis proposal is to be presented orally at a seminar open to students, faculty, and the public, normally at the end of the fall term. Following the oral presentation, the final written version is to be submitted to the members of the student’s advisory committee, normally by January 15. The proposal must be approved formally by all members of the committee and the document of approval will be placed in the student’s file.


PhD candidates must pass a written examination in a language other than English. This examination is usually taken by the end of PhD3 and must be passed before the oral defense. Students may be exempted if they can demonstrate sufficient language skills in their backgrounds or academic records. Requests for exemption must be supported by documentation and are made to the graduate and postdoctoral coordinator, who will submit the necessary paperwork to Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies.

The supervisor supplies an excerpt of about a page from a scholarly book or article, along with the front cover of the book or journal. The student is given a three-hour time block, two exam booklets (one to be used for a draft) and a dictionary, normally in the language of the exam. The exam is graded pass/fail by an external grader or a faculty member. The translation must demonstrate a good understanding of the text and be rendered in clear and literate English or French. Students may rewrite the exam as many times as is necessary.


The doctoral dissertation is a work of original historical research and must be judged to be a distinct contribution to knowledge in the field. It will be written on a topic chosen by the candidate and his/her Dissertation Committee in consultation with the Graduate Program Director in History.

Dissertations will be examined by one reader internal to the department (not the supervisor) and by one reader external to the university. Upon nomination by the department, Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies (GPS) appoints both readers. If both readers pass the dissertation, the candidate will defend the thesis orally before a panel of examiners appointed by GPS upon the recommendation of the department.


  1. The supervisor, in consultation with the PhD candidate, selects three potential external examiners.
  2. Normally at least one month before the anticipated submission of a thesis, the supervisor submits the names, ranked in order, to the GPD, together with full contact details and a list of relevant publications.
  3. The GPD circulates these names on the staff listserv to see if there are any objections.
  4. After the list is agreed upon, the GPD contacts the top name, following the procedures laid out by GPS.
  5. The GPD continues down the list until an examiner is secured, submitting a further list or lists of three names to the Department if necessary.
  6. The supervisor, in consultation with the student, selects a potential internal examiner and an external and internal members of the oral defence committee. Those named are then invited by the GPC.


Students who enter the program with a master's degree in history enter in PhD2. Doctoral dissertations are expected to be completed within five years of a PhD candidate's beginning studies at McGill (i.e., completion by the end of PhD7).


Information on fees is available on the Student Accounts website.


Placement of graduates is assisted, but not guaranteed, by the department through posting and announcement of employment opportunities and through whatever means are available to supervisors and other department members. A dossier service is also available through the Graduate Coordinator. Since 2000 institutions where our doctoral students have found tenure-track positions include University of British Columbia, Brock University, Trent University, Nippissing University, Mount Allison University, Kings University College, University of California, Santa Barbara, Queen's University, University of Western Ontario, University of South Dakota, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, University of Connecticut, Université de Montréal, University of Toronto, College of Wooster, Ohio, University of Hong Kong, and McGill.

In a survey carried out in the spring of 2014, during the previous quarter century just under half of our graduating PhDs had found employment as professors in universities or colleges, just over half in a wide range of alternative careers within or outside the educational sector (see table below).

  1990s 2000s 2010s Total
Tenure Track 21 23 6 50
CEGEP 1 6 1 8
High School 3   1 4
Sessional/Part Time/Non-tenure Track 3 10 2 15
Research Posts   4 4 8
Administration 2 4   6
Library     1 1
Government 4 2   6
Editor/Translator/Writer/Researcher 5 5 1 11
Telecommunications 1     1
Stay-at-Home Mother   1 1 2
Talk-Show Host 1     1
Musician   1   1
Intelligence     1 1
Stonemason     1 1
Public Relations     1 1
Law School     1 1
Company Administration     1 1
Deceased 1 2   3
Other 1 1   2
Unknown 2 3   5
Totals 45 62 22 129