Current Student Information

Welcome to the Department of History and Classical Studies. Find more information for incoming PhD students.

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

All doctoral students must successfully complete HIST 701 (3 credits). Nine credits in additional coursework are available to students, to be taken up at any time during the program.

HIST 701

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

Comprehensive Examinations

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 sit the comprehensive examinations either in October of Ph.D. 3 or January of Ph.D. 3. In exceptional cases, with the approval of the dissertation supervisor and the Graduate Program Director, students may sit the comprehensive examinations at an earlier or later time but no later than the end of Ph.D. 3. 

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), undertaken during a single week (usually scheduled for Mon-Wed-Fri). The written examinations will be supervised by the GPC and may be completed by hand or on a computer with limited Internet access. All the examinations will be available to each field director for consultation.

The written 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 re-sit the failed papers (once) within 30 days of the examination.

The Orals Board will consist of four members: the directors of 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 grade of P/F to each field based on the performance of the student in both the written and oral portions. In the case of a first failure, students are allowed one repeat of the comprehensive (in whole or in part) within a minimum of four months and a maximum of six months. 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 re-sit only that one field, but this re-sit 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.

PDF icon Comprehensive Exam Committee

Dissertation Commitee discussing around a tableSupervisory Committee Commitees

After successfully completing the comprehensive exam, each Ph.D. candidate, in consultation with the primary supervisor, will be expected to establish a supervisory committee to assist in supervising the dissertation. The supervisory 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 supervisory committee will normally be a member of the McGill history faculty; the other may come from outside the department or the university. Any supervisory committee member outside the department should normally hold a university faculty position or its equivalent. Once established, the student’s supervisory committee must be approved by the Graduate Program Director. Each candidate will also submit a written thesis proposal to the supervisory committee (for timeline, see below).  Supervisory 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 Ph.D. defence panel. Under current procedures, a five-member panel may include one additional member of the supervisory committee; a seven-member panel may include two additional members of the supervisory committee.

PDF icon Supervisory Committee Form

Research Progress Tracking

In fall of Ph.D. 2, 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 the winter term of Ph.D. 3 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, Zoom or a conference call is permissible. When neither of these is possible, the committee member should be sent the scanned document for consultation and (after requested amendations are carried out) signature

Thesis Proposal

During the Fall term of Ph.D. 3, 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 research proposal event open to students, faculty, and the public, normally in the spring term. 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. Following the oral presentation, the final written version is to be submitted to the members of the student’s advisory committee.

PDF icon Research Proposal Form

Language Examinations

Ph.D. candidates must pass a written examination in a language other than English. This examination is usually taken by the end of Ph.D. 3 and must be passed before the oral defence. 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 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.

Procedure for Securing Examiners for Oral Defence

  1. The supervisor, in consultation with the Ph.D. 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 of preference, 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 supervisor contacts the potential examiner to ensure availability
  5. Once availability is confirmed, the student will upload the names of at least three potential examiners to myThesis (in order of preference). The GPD will then send the formal invite through myThesis.

Residence Requirements and Time limitations

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 Ph.D. candidate's beginning studies at McGill (i.e., completion by the end of Ph.D. 7).


Information on fees is available on the Student Accounts website.

Employments Opportunities

Placement of graduates is assisted, but not guaranteed, by the department through posting an 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, and just over half in a wide range of alternative careers within or outside the educational sector (see table below).

For information on achievements by members, students, and graduates of the department, see Chronos: Magazine of the Department of History and Classical Studies.                                                      

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