The State of New York allows Ph.D. students eight years to complete their degrees, seven years for those entering with a Masters. Because the dissertation is the most important thing you will do to earn your degree, and the main thing most prospective employers will be interested in, we have constructed a curriculum that is designed to get you through your coursework and exams as quickly as possible so that you can devote the bulk of your years here working on the dissertation. This explains why the first-year of your matriculation is the most structured of all, devoted mostly to required courses. By the end of the first year, all students will have written a substantial research paper, roughly equivalent to a Master’s thesis, and most students will have taken the reading courses that will be the basis for their first (written) exams.
The First Year Paper
Every entering student will enroll in a two-semester seminar (or its equivalent) that will culminate in the production of a substantial, research-based, first-year paper. Generally the program offers one first-year seminar in U.S. history and one in European history (including Medieval, Early Modern, and Modern). Students in other fields should consult with the Executive Officer or a Deputy Executive Officer about taking one of these seminars (but doing a research project in their own field) or, in rare instances, taking an independent study that will involve work similar to that done in the seminars.
The first semester of the first-year seminars is devoted to discussions of methodology and preparation of a paper topic. The professors running the seminars will provide students with two critical services: First, they will set a series of deadlines for the formulation of a research topic, the preparation of a bibliography of secondary works, the writing of a historiographical essay, and finally, by the end of the first semester, a well-developed research proposal with a bibliography of primary sources. Students will be graded on these proposals. Second, the professors will direct students to the faculty members who can provide students with the substantive advice they need to pursue their topics. In the Spring semester, seminar students will research and write their papers, while continuing to meet as a course. Students will meet a second series of deadlines for the production of a preliminary introduction, early drafts, complete drafts, and final papers, and will read and critique each others work as it develops.
The first year paper is a critical requirement of the program, and students who fail to complete the paper satisfactorily cannot continue into the second year.
In the second year students will normally complete their second research paper in the Fall semester and begin working on the minor field, most often by enrolling in the relevant Literature Survey of the proposed minor field. In the Fall semester of the third year, students should enroll in a research seminar with the goal of producing a paper that will, ideally, represent a first, research-based version of the eventual dissertation proposal. Students who follow this curriculum will have completed their course work by their third year.
The Ph.D. Program in History requires 60 hours of approved graduate coursework, including transfer credits. A full load is three courses per semester. All schedules must be approved by the Executive Officer, a Deputy Executive Officer, or a student’s advisor. Most required courses have five credits; elective courses have three credits. There are two types of required courses, research seminars and literature surveys. Electives are strictly reading courses.
The First Examination is a four-hour written comprehensive exam testing broad, general historical and historiographical knowledge of the student's major field. It must be taken at the end of the semester in which the student completes the Literature Survey of the major field. In fields where no surveys are available, the First Exam must be taken at the end of the semester after the student has completed 30 credits. First Examinations are given in the week before the semester begins (technically, this is the last week of the previous semester), generally in late January and late August. So, for example, students who complete their Literature Survey in May will take the First Exam that August. In most cases students prepare for the First Exam by completing the two Literature Surveys of their major field and mastering the bibliography attached to the syllabus for the Literature Survey.
First Examinations are made up and graded by committees of three faculty members selected by the Executive Officer in consultation with the Executive Committee. Membership on these committees is rotating. Students are generally required to answer three questions, one in each of three different categories. Grading the examinations is the collective responsibility of the examiners. Students will be informed of their First Examination grades by the Executive Officer. They will not be informed as to how individual faculty members graded their examinations. After the results have been submitted, students may contact faculty members on the committee to discuss their individual examinations.
Exams are rated “qualified” or “unqualified.” Students receiving an “unqualified” rating the first time they take the exam must take the entire exam over within one semester. However, those taking the exam for the first time who fail only one of the three sections will be required to retake and pass only that section within one semester. (Students must make a good faith effort to answer all three parts of the examination. If the examination committee judges that a student did not do so, they will have to retake the entire examination even if they only failed one section.) Those who receive a grade of "unqualified" on their second attempt, whether they take all or part of the exam, will be dropped from the program.
The History Program requires all students to demonstrate a reading knowledge of at least one foreign language; many fields require more than one foreign language. Only in rare circumstances will these requirements be waived with the approval of the Executive Officer, the student's adviser, and one additional faculty member in the student's major field.
Students demonstrate competency in a foreign language by translating one and half to two printed pages of a passage written by a contemporary historian. Examiners are more concerned with accuracy than speed in translation. Translations must be written in idiomatic, intelligible English, convey the major points made by the authors, and do so without major grammatical errors. Students are permitted to use a dictionary during the examination. The program offers these language examinations in the first week of every semester. Comparable language examinations taken at other graduate schools before the student's admission to The Graduate Center may be accepted. Students may also fulfill language requirements by getting a grade of B+ or better on Level II examinations offered by CUNY Graduate Center Language Reading Program.
The following are the fields requiring more than one foreign language:
Latin America: Spanish and Portuguese
Ancient: Latin and Greek and either French or German (another modern European language may be substituted with approval of the adviser)
Medieval Europe: Latin and either French or German
Early and Late Modern Europe: two languages
Jewish: Hebrew and either French or German (another modern language may be substituted with approval of the adviser)
Middle East: one Middle Eastern and one European language.
Students must pass one language examination before completing 30 credits of coursework and fulfill all other language requirements before completing their coursework.
Students must take their Second (Oral) Examination within one semester after completing their coursework. By then the student must have passed the First (written) Exam, fulfilled the language requirement, and completed the requirements for the minor. The Second Exam covers the student’s major and minor fields and is conducted by a committee of five faculty members (three in the major field, two in the minor field) selected by the student and his/her adviser and approved by the Executive Officer. Students must contact members of their Oral Committee at least six months in advance of their examinations to confer on a reading list and discuss the topics on which they may be examined.
Second Examinations are graded as Pass, Pass with Distinction, or Fail. Students have two chances to pass their Second Examinations. Students who fail both sections (major and minor) will be required to retake the entire examination in the following semester. Those who fail only the major section will be re-examined the following semester by the three members of their original committee in the major field; those who fail the minor section will be re-examined by the chair and the two members of the original committee in the minor field. Students who fail either part of the Examination twice will be dropped from the program.
As soon as possible (but no longer than one semester) after passing the oral examination, the student must submit a dissertation proposal to a proposal committee. In most cases students will have laid the groundwork for their dissertation proposal as part of their coursework and before taking their orals. To help transform the third research paper into a shorter, more concise dissertation proposal, the student will select–with the approval of the Executive Officer--two faculty members to serve as dissertation sponsor and first reader, respectively. Both must be active (nonretired) members of the doctoral faculty in History. Under their supervision the student should prepare a dissertation proposal of no more than ten pages of text, plus appendices. The proposal must include the following:
1. A statement of the problem.
2. An examination of the present state of scholarship on this problem.
3. A strategy for dealing with the problem.
4. The possible significance of the findings.
5. A critical bibliography with special attention to new or seldom used materials.
When the dissertation proposal has been approved by the sponsor and first reader, the student notifies the Executive Officer, who appoints a dissertation proposal committee of between three and five persons, but always including the sponsor and first reader. All members of the Committee should receive copies of the proposal at least two weeks in advance of the meeting with the student.
After the meeting the committee may ask the student to revise and re-submit the proposal for a second meeting or it may authorize the sponsor to approve the requisite changes. The second meeting must be scheduled within two months or no later than the first week of following semester. If the committee does not approve the revised proposal at its second meeting, the student will be dropped from the program. He or she may appeal to the entire Executive Committee. If the Executive Committee rejects the appeal the student will be dropped from the program.
The Final Examination in the Ph.D. Program is an oral defense of the dissertation. The Dissertation Defense Committee shall be composed of five members. Three must be "active" (i.e., not retired) members of the doctoral faculty; the others may come from other programs or from outside The Graduate Center. One member should be someone who has not participated in the supervision of the dissertation. At least four to six weeks in advance of the examination, the dissertation sponsor, after consultation with the student, forwards a list of suggested Committee members to the Executive Officer for approval. If approved, the Executive Officer will forward the list to the Provost who must also approve it.
All decisions by the Dissertation Defense Committee are determined by majority vote. The committee has four options. Dissertations can be approved as presented, approved with major revisions, approved with minor revisions, or judged unsatisfactory. If approved with minor revisions, the dissertation must be resubmitted to the chairperson of the examining committee for final approval. If approved with major revisions, it must be resubmitted and approved by the chairperson and two other members of the committee.
If the student's performance in the Final Examination is judged unsatisfactory, he/she can be reexamined at the discretion of the Executive Committee, with the approval of the Provost.
A doctoral student who is making normal progress toward the Ph.D. degree is automatically eligible to receive an M.Phil degree when advanced to candidacy. This occurs when all degree requirements except the dissertation and Final Examination have been met. When the student is Advanced to Candidacy, an application-for-degree form is sent to the student along with the notice of advancement to candidacy. The M.Phil degree is awarded by The Graduate Center.
An en-route master’s degree may be awarded by a CUNY senior college. It requires a minimum of 45 credits with an average grade of “B,” passing the First Examination, and satisfactory completion of a major research paper. The requirement of 45 credits cannot include courses for which “SP” grades are received or any advanced-standing transfer credits. The student who wishes to receive an en-route master’s degree should make an appointment with the Executive Officer, who must initiate the appropriate form.