Degree Requirements

The official History MA and PhD program requirements are set out in brief in the current Faculty of Graduate Studies calendar (

All aspects of the MA thesis and PhD dissertation are governed by Faculty of Graduate Studies regulations (

What follows is intended to be consistent with these two documents.

Degree requirements for the Master of Arts (MA) in History

The MA degree may be pursued either full-time or part-time. The timetable given here applies to full-time students. For part-time, please consult the Graduate Program Director (GPD).

There are two programs for the MA in History: by coursework and major research paper and by coursework and thesis.

The MA pursued full-time normally takes twelve months to complete, beginning in September. Students who successfully complete all requirements by mid-August will receive their degrees at October Convocation.

All requirements for the MA must be fulfilled within twelve terms (four years) of registration as a full- or part-time student. Terms when a student is on an approved leave of absence, such as maternity leave, are not included in these time limits.

 Advising and supervision
General advising on academic matters, such as course selection or progress through the degree, is the responsibility of the GPD. For questions about more specific topics or assignments students are encouraged to consult course instructors or other faculty members.

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1. MA by Coursework and Major Research Paper

This is the standard program for the MA in History.

1.A. Courses
Students must complete 18 credits of graduate-level courses (5000/6000 level), normally by taking nine credits in each of the Fall and Winter Terms. With the approval of the GPD and the permission of the program offering the course(s), up to six credits may be taken in another York graduate program. Under exceptional circumstances up to six credits may be taken at another Ontario university: see All course work, including essays, must normally be completed by early May.

Graduate course offerings vary from year to year. In midsummer the Program website will post a list of courses to be offered in the upcoming year. A few courses are restricted to PhD students.

All MA students are encouraged to take GS/HIST 5001 3.0, ‘Doing History: An Introduction.’ This course, for MA students only, is designed to provide training in skills useful for advanced studies in History. Included in the course are preliminary steps toward preparing a formal proposal for the Major Research Paper.

1.B. Major Research Paper (MRP)
Developed and written under the direction of a member of Graduate History faculty, the MRP is a substantial essay (usually of 50-70 pages) incorporating original research and historical analysis. On the model of an academic journal article, the MRP should be skillfully organized, coherently argued and situated within the relevant secondary literature.

1.B.i Topic and supervisor of MRP
The MRP topic often evolves from earlier work, either a topic described in the MA application or one broached in a more recent course. Although the MRP may build on research that the student has undertaken as part of earlier undergraduate or graduate study, it must include significant new and additional dimensions in subject matter, forms of analysis, and/or conclusions. The topic must be approved by a supervisor who is a member of the graduate History faculty.

The selection of the supervisor and formulation and approval of the topic will be confirmed during Winter Term. In addition to discussion in GS/HIST 5001, there will be a workshop about the MRP and the proposal. Formal MRP proposals are due at the Program office by April 30.

1.B.ii Research and writing of MRP
Research and writing are usually conducted between May and August, though students are encouraged to begin work on their MRPs during the Winter Term in order to facilitate its completion in August. During this time the student should consult as needed with their supervisor. Preliminary drafts for comment and revision are an essential part of the process, and student and supervisor must agree on a suitable timetable. The completed MRP should be submitted in electronic form and in hard copy to the Program office by August 15.

1.B.iii Evaluation of MRP
The supervisor and a second reader, secured by the supervisor and approved by the GPD, will jointly evaluate the essay and submit a mark to the Program office. In the case that the two readers cannot agree on a mark, the GPD takes steps to resolve the difference.

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2. MA by Coursework and Thesis

This option is permitted in exceptional cases only.

2.A. Coursework
The student must complete 12 credits of graduate-level coursework (5000/6000 levels), including at least six credits in the Program in History.

2.B. Thesis
The thesis, developed under the supervision of a member of the Graduate History faculty, involves original research reported in appropriate form in an extended paper (approximately 120 pages). The written thesis will be assessed by the supervisor, another member of the Graduate History Program and an examiner external to the Graduate History Program and then must be defended at an oral examination.

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Degree Requirements for PhD in History

Timetable for full-time students
The PhD in History is to be completed in six years by following this timetable:

PhD 1 Fall and Winter Terms: coursework; Summer Term: preparation for comprehensive exam.
PhD 2 November: comprehensive exam, written and oral; February: submission of form naming supervisor; April: submission of dissertation proposal.
PhD 3-6 Research and writing of dissertation.
PhD 6 Submission of dissertation and defence.

All requirements for a PhD must be fulfilled within 18 terms (six years) of registration as a full-time or part-time doctoral student. For part-time students timing of the components will be adapted in consultation with the Graduate Program Director and the supervisor.

Candidates beginning the doctorate in the Graduate Program in History, including those completing MAs at York University, will be allowed to proceed only if they have satisfied all requirements for their MA by the date of their registration as a doctoral candidate. It is assumed that students will not be admitted to the PhD program without having completed a substantial essay (usually an MRP) or equivalent project based on historical research in some form.

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PhD candidates have a supervisor appropriate for their dissertation topic designated as they enter the program.

The supervisor:

  • consults about course selection and planning for comprehensive exam fields;
  • normally writes references for applications for funding and other activities related to the dissertation (other faculty members may be requested to do so as well);
  • oversees the development of the dissertation topic, the preparation of the dissertation proposal, and the selection of other members of the supervisory committee;
  • consults about research in progress, reads drafts of dissertation chapters, and responds in a timely way;
  • ensures that all supervisory committee members have read and approved the completed dissertation;
  • in conjunction with the Graduate Director, selects the external examiner.

Supervisors or supervisory committee members may be changed at the request of the candidate and/or the supervisor and in consultation with the Graduate Director. Any changes must be approved by the Graduate Program Director and by the Faculty of Graduate Studies.

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Language requirements
PhD students must be able to read such languages as are necessary for their research. In general, it is the responsibility of the supervisor to determine what is needed and to ensure that the student has the required competency. Students whose major field is Canadian history must demonstrate a reading knowledge of French by means of a language test taken in PhD1. Students working in ancient Greek and Roman history must demonstrate a reading knowledge of two ancient and two modern (German and one other) languages by means of language tests.

 The doctoral program has three principal components:

1. Coursework, normally completed in PhD1;
2. A comprehensive examination in which the student demonstrates breadth of knowledge in three fields of historical scholarship, normally completed in PhD 2;
3. dissertation that demonstrates independence of thought, originality, and an ability to contribute to historical knowledge at an advanced level of investigation. The dissertation is defended before an examining committee.

 1. Coursework
Students must complete 18 credits of graduate-level coursework (5000/6000 levels). Normally this is done by taking nine credits in each of Fall and Winter Terms of PhD 1.

Courses are selected in consultation with the GPD and the supervisor with attention to preparing fields for the comprehensive examination. Graduate course offerings vary from year to year. In mid-summer the Program website will post a list of courses to be offered in the upcoming Fall and Winter Terms. A few courses are exclusively for PhD students; others will be shared with MA students.

If required to fill out a specific program of study, a directed reading course can be arranged with the agreement of the faculty member concerned, the student's supervisor, and the Graduate Program Director. The number of directed reading courses a student may take is limited to one full course (or two half courses).

Students may select up to six credits in relevant courses from other York graduate programs. Before enrolling, a student must secure permission from the Program offering the course and the agreement of the GPD.

Under exceptional circumstances up to six credits may be taken at another Ontario university: see

For full-time students, all coursework must be completed before the beginning of PhD 2.

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2. Comprehensive examination and third field breadth requirement
To assure breadth and background in preparation for the dissertation and for future professional activities as historians, PhD students must demonstrate knowledge of three distinct fields selected from the Program’s list of fields (listed in 2.A below). Various combinations of geographical and thematic fields may be chosen in consultation with the supervisor and the GPD. Knowledge of two of the three fields is examined in the comprehensive examination; knowledge of the third is demonstrated by coursework and does not form part of the comprehensive exam (see 2.I below).

The comprehensive exam consists of three elements:

  1. Written examinations on two separate fields of study;
  2. A special project on an approved specialized topic;
  3. An oral examination covering both written exams and the special project.

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2.A. Fields of study
Students select two fields of study to be examined on in their comprehensive exam. The process of selecting fields of study is overseen by the supervisor and the GPD.

You will have to opportunity to combine studies in different fields:

Geographic fields:

  • Africa, the Caribbean and Latin America
  • Ancient history
  • Britain
  • Canada
  • Europe
  • United States
  • East Asia

Thematic fields:

  • Cultural history
  • Migration/Ethnicity
  • Politics/Law and the state
  • Sciences, health and environments
  • Social and economic history
  • Women, gender and sexualities
  • Transnational, comparative and global history

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 2.B. Timing of comprehensive exams
Full-time students
are expected to take their comprehensive exams in November of PhD 2. Under exceptional circumstances and in response to a student’s formal request, the Program Director may give permission in writing to delay the exam until the next exam period. In the case of a comprehensive exam that has been adjourned (see 2.H below), the component(s) of the comprehensive exam that were not passed are to be retaken in April of PhD 2.

When possible, part-time students are expected to complete their courses by the end of their second year in the program and to sit the comprehensive examinations no later than the spring of their third year in the Program.

2.C. Preparation for comprehensive exams
The specific scope of the two fields and of the reading lists will be set in consultation with the supervisor and the other examiners and approved by the GPD.

February-June of PhD 1: Choose the two fields, discuss which faculty members will serve as examiners (normally two per field), and finalize the reading lists for each field, in consultation with the supervisor and other examiners. The length of reading lists varies from field to field, but the general guideline is 100 books (or equivalent) for each.

By June 15 of PhD 1: Submit to the Program office the Comprehensive Exam Information Form that (1) labels the two fields for examination (2) names two examiners for each field; and (3) identifies the topic and form of the special project. The Information Form should also (4) report the topic of the third field completed by course work (see below).

2.D. Roles of supervisor and other examiners
Supervisors and other examiners will consult with the student and each other to define the fields of study and reading lists. Different fields have their own policies regarding the setting of reading lists.

The examiners in each field collaborate on setting the questions for the written exams. If more than one student is being examined in the same field, the same questions are usually posed to each. Exceptions may occur when reading lists vary significantly from student to student.

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2.E. Role of student
Periodic consultation with the supervisor or other field examiner is wise. Collaboration with other students who are preparing or have completed a related field exam may also be helpful. Questions from previous exams are available from the Program office, and sometimes from other students. It is good practice toward the end of the preparation period to do some trial runs and discuss your results with someone familiar with the process.

2.F. Special project
In consultation with their supervisor the student selects a special project. The purpose of the special project is to assemble and present historical subject-matter in some depth for an educated but non-specialist audience.

Most often, the project is a detailed proposal for an upper-level undergraduate course. Other formats, such as an historical website or an exhibition, may also be used provided that the supervisor agrees that this is appropriate.

If the special takes the form of an upper-level undergraduate course proposal, it must include:

  • the course title
  • a rationale for the course, usually one paragraph long
  • topics for 24 one-hour lectures, with an indication of the readings to be assigned
  • topics for 12 tutorials
  • The full written text of one lecture.

The supervisor must review a draft of the special project and offer suggestions before the final submission.

The completed project must be submitted two weeks before the first written examination.

2.G. Written examinations
Candidates write two four-hour closed-book written examinations, one in each of the first and second fields. These are normally written one week apart. The written examinations each consist of a group of fairly broad questions from which candidates choose two to four, depending on the specifications of the test paper. Candidates are encouraged to shape their answers to cover a range of materials so that the exam as a whole (two written exams plus the special project) demonstrates their breadth as well as depth of knowledge.

2.H. Oral examination and evaluation
The oral examination will be scheduled to follow the second written examination, usually within two weeks. Scheduling is handled by the Program Assistant and is set for a time when all examiners can be present.

The oral examination, usually chaired by the GPD, will cover both the special project and the written exams. The questioning may address not only all the written submissions but also unanswered questions on the exam papers.

Each of the components (two fields of study and special project) is evaluated separately.

The possible outcomes of the comprehensive exams, taking into consideration both the written exams and the oral exams, are as follows:

  • Passed with distinction (if the examiners decide that the candidate has produced an especially meritorious performance in the comprehensive examination).
  • Passed
  • Adjourned
  • Failed.

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2. Adjourned and failed exams
If a candidate does not pass one or more component of the comprehensive exam at the first attempt the result will be that the exam is adjourned. In the case of an adjournment, the candidate will be given one further opportunity in the next exam period to retake the component(s) that they did not initially pass. If a candidate fails any component of the re-taken exam this will constitute failure and necessitate withdrawal from the program.
NOTE: A comprehensive exam can be adjourned only once.

2.K Third field (breadth requirement)
To progress to their dissertation students must also demonstrate substantial knowledge of a third field, coherent in itself and distinct from the two fields covered in the written examination. The third field should be identified and approved by the GPD during the course selection for PhD 1. With permission, the third field requirement may be partly or wholly satisfied by courses that are offered in another Program.

Knowledge of the third field must be demonstrated by completion during PhD 1 of six credits of relevant coursework with a standing of B+ or above. Directed readings courses with an appropriate amount of written work can count toward the third field requirement.

3. Dissertation
As noted above, all aspects of the dissertation are regulated by the Faculty of Graduate Studies (

In brief, the four elements of the dissertation are as follows:

a) A dissertation proposal (15-20 pages) on an approved topic and the associated administrative paperwork, including an ethics review where relevant, should be completed and submitted to the Program office in the next term after the passing of the comprehensive exam.

(b) A supervisory committee usually has three members of faculty, including the supervisor, although another may be added if there is reason. At least two members, including the supervisor, must be members of the Graduate Program in History. One member may be from another York graduate program. After consulting with the supervisor, a student should approach a possible supervisory committee member with a draft of the dissertation proposal to discuss whether that person is willing to serve.

On occasion, a faculty-member at another university may be particularly useful for the project. The supervisor and/or the student may approach the GPD to discuss the possibility. With approval of the GPD and the Program Executive committee, a suitable scholar can be named as an adjunct faculty in the Graduate History Program.

The names of the dissertation committee members must be submitted along with the dissertation proposal.

(c) Based on original research conducted while in program and incorporating critical understanding of the relevant literature, the doctoral dissertation (normally 250-350 pages) should make a significant contribution to historical knowledge.

(d) When the completed dissertation has been approved by supervisory committee members, it then requires assessment by an external examiner. If deemed examinable by the external examiner, the dissertation must be successfully defended at an oral examination.

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