Ph.D. Dissertation

A list of recent dissertations completed in the Department of History is available online.


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

•    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.

•    You will determine the dissertation topic in consultation with a Full Graduate Faculty member in the dissertation field who agrees to serve as dissertation director.

•    The dissertation director and you will then choose a Dissertation Committee. The Director of Graduate Studies must approve the committee, which will comprise at least four members. 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 http://www.memphis.edu/gradschool/pdfs/grad_fac_status_app.pdf). If the Director of Graduate Studies 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. A qualified committee member from outside of the University of Memphis can serve as "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: http://www.memphis.edu/gradschool/pdfs/forms/td_committee_form.pdf. Submit it to the office and Director of Graduate Studies.

•    Within one semester after passing the comprehensive examination you must write a prospectus, have it approved by your Dissertation Committee, and present it in a colloquy attended by the Dissertation Committee.

Develop your prospectus in close consultation with your dissertation advisor. Your advisor should email the Director of Graduate Studies with permission for you to present only after the Dissertation Committee members have seen and approved the prospectus.

The prospectus should not be lengthy (about seven pages of text and a three-page select bibliography). 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). Do not include a detailed sequential literature review or description of each primary source. Since you are at the beginning of your research, you do not need to present a complete plan for the dissertation; however, you should offer a brief overview of your preliminary ideas concerning organization and/or chapters. Include a bibliography of the most important primary and secondary sources that you expect to use.

You must explain how your research will make an important contribution to historical scholarship on 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 address the larger questions that you plan to engage through your research. How will your work contribute to our understanding of larger historical issues and will it 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.

•    The prospectus presentation is 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 your committee believes you are ready to do so.

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.

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 Director of Graduate Studies.

•    Register the dissertation with the Graduate School after your Dissertation Committee has approved your prospectus. You can find the form at http://www.memphis.edu/gradschool/pdfs/forms/tdproposal.pdf under the title "Thesis/Dissertation Proposal Defense."

•    Throughout the dissertation process, all members of the Dissertation Committee should make themselves available to help you, 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.

•    You must pass an oral examination/dissertation defense after completing a full draft that incorporates changes required by your committee. The defense will deal primarily with the dissertation and its relation to your major field. Your Dissertation Committee conducts the defense, and all members must attend or participate by a telephone or computer connection.

•    The committee must agree unanimously for you to pass. Bring to the exam the form (http://www.memphis.edu/gradschool/pdfs/forms/td_defense.pdf) 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). After the defense, make copies of the defense form for the history office and the Director of Graduate Studies, and give the original to the Graduate School.

Assuming you pass, there are three possibilities: pass with no revision, pass with minor revisions, and pass with major revisions. If you pass with major revisions, you will probably not be able to make the necessary changes in time to graduate in the same term as the defense.

•    For the proper format and style of the dissertation, see http://www.memphis.edu/gradschool/pdfs/forms/non-apa_checklist.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, mstout@memphis.edu. 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.

•    To receive approval of the final copy, you must present your dissertation to your Dissertation Committee and the Dean of the Graduate School after completion of any final revisions. 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.

•    Go to https://umwa.memphis.edu/etd/index.php to see how the electronic system is set up to display and search for submitted theses and dissertations.