Department of History College of Arts and Sciences
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Guide for Graduate Students

Doctor of Philosophy in History

The program
Admission requirements
Nature of course offerings
Fields of study
Requirements and restrictions
Previously earned credits
Time limitation
Foreign language requirement
Comprehensive examination
Reading lists for Ph.D. comprehensive examination fields
Timetable for doctoral program
Forms and applications

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Ph.D. Dissertation

Ph.D. Dissertation:

To complete the requirements for the Ph.D., you must write a dissertation based on a substantial amount of original research and submitted in acceptable form. The dissertation must represent a significant scholarly effort and make an original contribution to the scholarship of your field.

You will determine the dissertation topic in consultation with a Full Graduate Faculty member in the dissertation field who agrees to direct the research. The director and you will then choose a Dissertation Committee to be chaired by the director. The Graduate Coordinator must approve the committee, which must comprise at least four members, of which the director and at least two other members must have Full Graduate Faculty status. The rest of the members must have at least Associate or Adjunct Graduate Faculty status. We recommend but do not require that one member be outside the discipline, department, or university. Those outside the university must apply for Adjunct Graduate Faculty status (the form is, and if the Graduate Coordinator judges them to meet the additional qualifications for Full Graduate Faculty, they may be counted toward the number of three members with Full Graduate Faculty status required. In addition, it is now possible for a University of Memphis faculty member to share the direction of a dissertation with someone outside the university, who serves as a “Adjunct Research Co-Mentor.”

All graduate committees, including this one, should normally consist of tenured and tenure-track faculty. Other instructors at University of Memphis, untenured or non-tenure track instructors from other institutions, and unaffiliated scholars, with appropriate graduate faculty status may serve, but only with the approval of the committee chair and by a formal petition to the Graduate Studies Committee providing a full explanation of the reasons for the request.

After choosing the committee, fill out a committee form: (pdf). Submit it to the office and Graduate Coordinator.

Within one semester after passing the comprehensive examination you must present a prospectus of the proposed dissertation in a colloquy attended by the Dissertation Committee. You should develop your prospectus in close consultation with your dissertation advisor, and before you present you need to get the approval of your Dissertation Committee. Your chair should then e-mail the Graduate Coordinator with permission for you to present.

The presentation is not intended as an examination, but rather as an informal forum in which you can discuss ideas and receive suggestions and criticisms. Note that you may present your prospectus at any time after the comprehensive exam, even immediately afterward if you are ready to do so. The department schedules one or more sessions for this every semester, depending on need.

Your prospectus should not be lengthy (about seven pages of text and a three-page select bibliography should be a maximum; we may refuse to accept longer ones). It should begin with a clear statement of the question your research will answer, then go on to explain why that question is important to ask (its historiography), and how you propose to go about answering it (your methods, your sources). All discussion should center around your research question, so you should not include a sequential literature review or a detailed description of each primary source. Since you are at the beginning of your research, you do not need to include a full plan for the completed dissertation or a definite thesis. But you should include a bibliography of the most important primary and secondary sources that you expect to use.

Above all, you must explain how your research will make an important contribution to historical scholarship and our understanding of the historical period or subject that you are studying. Although your dissertation may use primary sources restricted to a very narrow time and place, you must always address the larger questions that you plan to answer through your research, and how those answers (whatever they might be) will contribute to our understanding of larger historical issues, and advance or revise scholarly interpretations. No local history or historical narrative suffices for a dissertation, no matter how much research is necessary to write it, unless it goes beyond the local or descriptive in its analysis. No oral history suffices unless it critically analyzes the collected material and uses it, and other sources, both primary and secondary, to construct a coherent argument that has value beyond the stories of those you interviewed.

Be sure your name and a provisional title appear at the top of the first page, as well as the names of the chair and other members of your dissertation committee, that the pages are numbered, and that you use footnotes (not endnotes) when called for. We realize that as your research proceeds, you may need to modify any provisional thesis, the scope of the project, or your methods.

All history faculty and graduate students are invited to this colloquy, and all other interested persons are welcome. The department schedules several dates during each fall and spring semester for these presentations. You should sign up for one of these sessions (but not a particular time) with the Graduate Coordinator or Graduate Secretary. In times of high demand you may have to postpone your presentation, but this should not delay your dissertation work, since you can obtain the approval of your committee for the prospectus.

At least a week before the colloquy you should send an e-mail to the Graduate Coordinator, with the prospectus as an attachment (with the name "[your last name] prospectus). The Graduate Coordinator will forward your e-mail, so that you should write it to the faculty and graduate students, inviting them to come. Be sure to include the date, time, and room.

Your oral presentation should last for no more than ten minutes, and must be purely oral, without a presentation of slides or other audio-visual materials, unless you have special permission from the Graduate Coordinator for exceptional reasons.

After the committee approves your prospectus, you must register the dissertation with the Graduate School. You can find the form at http://www.memphis. edu/gradschool/form/tdproposal.php, under the title “Thesis/Dissertation Proposal Defense.”

You must complete your dissertation and all other requirements within 12 years from the end of the calendar year in which you began the Ph.D. program. (This limitation does not apply to course work from your master’s degree.) After beginning to take dissertation credit, you must register for at least one credit of History 9000 (Dissertation Research), each fall and spring semester until you graduate. However, at the end, no matter how many you have taken, only twelve will count towards the degree.

All members of the Dissertation Committee should make themselves available to help you throughout the dissertation process, especially to give advice and read and critique chapters as they are written. Obviously, some members whose work is not directly related to yours may not choose to read early drafts unless they agree and you want them to.

You must submit a complete rough draft of your dissertation to your entire committee one month before the end of the semester preceding that in which you plan to graduate and arrange to meet formally with the entire committee before the end of the earlier semester to discuss your draft. Within a week after that meeting the committee will provide you, in writing, a clear statement of what revisions in general would be necessary to turn it into an acceptable dissertation. This will give you adequate time in most cases to incorporate the suggestions before the deadline for the defense in the next semester. You should also meet separately with each committee member for further advice.

After incorporating committee members’ suggested revisions and completing the final draft, you must pass an oral examination/dissertation defense dealing primarily with the dissertation and its relation to your major field. Your Dissertation Committee conducts the defense, and all members must attend. Committee members who cannot be in Memphis for the defense may participate through a telephone or computer audio connection. Department faculty and graduate students are invited to the defense, so the candidate should send information on time and place to the Graduate Coordinator at least one week in advance.

The committee must agree unanimously for you to pass. Bring to the exam the form ( for the committee to sign, as well as three copies of the signature page of the dissertation, on the correct paper and in the correct format (Note: you should bring a black pen for signatures, since the Graduate School prefers black). You will only need one, but it is a good idea to have some spares.). After the defense, make copies of the defense form for the history office and the Graduate Coordinator, and give the original to the Graduate School. Do not fill in the results section of the form until after the exam, since there are several choices.

Assuming you pass, there are three possibilities: pass with no revision, pass with minor revisions, and pass with major revisions. Even if you hold the defense on the last possible day before the deadline, you will still have a week or so to make corrections before you need to submit the absolutely final manuscript to the Graduate School. But if you pass with major revisions, you will not be likely to have time to graduate in the same term unless you hold the defense very early.

For the proper format and style of the dissertation, see Also, obtain a checklist of requirements from the Graduate School office or from their Web page at (pdf).

History students should follow the format recommended by the most recent edition of Kate L. Turabian, A Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations (Chicago: University of Chicago Press). The Chicago Manual of Style is also acceptable. Note that both manuals also give formats for the work-cited format, which is not the one we require (the notes-bibliography format). Everyone should have a copy of one of these books.

It is a good idea to discuss matters of format with the expert on this at the Graduate School; at the current time and for many years this has been Michelle Stout, She will also be the one to scrutinize your final manuscript and judge that it does or does not meet the requirements, and she is the one to whom you should submit your dissertation after making any revisions that your committee has required.

After the completion of any required revisions, your must present your dissertation to your Dissertation Committee and the Dean of the Graduate School for approval of the final copy. You must submit your dissertation to the Graduate School electronically. Make sure you are following the most recent guidelines and meet the deadline. All submissions must include an unnumbered abstract of not more than 350 words.

For the current dissertation preparation guide and policies on submission to the Graduate School, see

Go to to see how the electronic system is set up to display and search for submitted theses and dissertations.

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