Graduate Student Handbook

September 2021-2022

This is intended as an introduction to graduate study in history at Dalhousie, specifically for one-year master’s students and doctoral students beginning their first year.  We also hope that it will answer or anticipate some basic questions you may have about the coming year.  Please also visit the website of the Faculty of Graduate Studies (FGS). Make yourself familiar with the information and regulations there, especially in the graduate calendar. 

As with anything new, getting accustomed to a new academic programme is probably more a matter of familiarity and comfort than keeping in mind guidelines and regulations, but knowing some of the latter may help with the former.

The landscape of the next few weeks and months is littered with deadlines and dates which you need to keep in mind, particularly as they may clarify your expectations of, or questions about, the programme. Some of these dates and deadlines are not yet definite, so we ask that you look for further announcements and postings.

Master's program structure and deadlines

The most important of these relate to your academic programme and form the rough shape of your academic year. These are guidelines and departmental deadlines, not, for the most part, university deadlines.

Master's students (one year)

Students register online for REGN 9999, an act which does nothing more than confirm that you are registering in the programme.  It does not register you in classes. Details may be found at the FGS website.

All incoming MA students also enroll in HIST 5800.00, the Masters Seminar. This course provides an introduction to graduate studies in history and covers topics such as historiography, grant proposal writing, and professional ethics. MA students will draft their thesis proposals and present them to the seminar.  The syllabus for History 5800 will be made available in August.
It is useful for students to arrive before the beginning of classes. In the first week, students meet with their supervisor to make decisions about their program.  Students should also contact the instructor of their second class. A meeting with the Graduate Coordinator will be arranged for final approval of your Graduate Program Form. You will also meet with the Graduate Secretary, who records the Program Forms.  After your meetings with  your supervisor, the Graduate Coordinator, and Graduate Secretary, you register for your actual program courses.

Students with scholarships need to fill out a direct deposit form to receive their  scholarship payments. For TA-ships, the direct deposit form must be completed at least 8 days before the first payday in September. The direct deposit forms are available by siging into your DalOnline account, or by contacting

Take part in the Faculty of Graduate Studies Orientation Session. Details forthcoming.

Students prepare applications for next year’s scholarship competitions.

Meet with your thesis supervisor to begin drafting a thesis proposal. Proposals are usually 1500 words, set out a particular historical problem or question, and describe possible primary sources to be used in its investigation.
Classes finish and assignments are due.  In MA classes, ‘B-’ is considered a passing grade.
Students complete MA thesis proposals as the final assignment in HIST 5800.  MA proposals are circulated to the Graduate Committee. You present your proposal in a discussion session with the committee and your supervisor.  The Graduate Committee approves the thesis proposal or returns it for revision.  Approval of an MA thesis proposal also requires that the student meet the related language requirement (see below). In the case of Canadian thesis topics where the language requirement is not related to the research, the test may be deferred until after the presentation of the thesis proposal.
February onwards

Thesis research and writing. Decide with your supervisor on an appropriate time for your thesis completion.  Discuss whether you will complete your program in one year or whether you expect to take additional time.

The MA thesis should be no longer than 50,000 words. See below for details of possible research funding from Faculty of Graduate Studies.  With the help of the principal thesis supervisor, a supervisory/examining committee will be formed.

Thesis submission: See the Submitting Your Thesis section of the FGS website for updates. These are the deadlines for submitting the finished product, i.e., a final version, revised according to the strictures of the examining committee, and submitted to DalSpace following the specifications and guidelines of the Faculty of Graduate Studies. These FGS guidelines are mind-bogglingly exact.  Copies of the format guidelines can be obtained from Faculty of Graduate Studies website.  Students are advised that submission to the supervisory committee of a MA thesis manuscript ready for examination should occur no later than three weeks before the deadline for final, on-line submission of the finished product, and preferably before, to allow sufficient time for the supervisory/examining committee to read the thesis and hold a thesis defence, and for the candidate to do the required revisions.

Students beginning in September are thus advised that they should be considering submitting their completed theses for examinations on or around three dates during the following academic years: early-August ; mid-November or mid-March .

As noted above, there is an oral defence of the thesis with the candidate and the thesis supervisory/examining committee.  This will be based only upon a discussion of the thesis.

There are four possible fates for a MA thesis: Pass without any revisions; Pass with minor revisions (not requiring resubmission to supervisory/examining committee); Conditional pass with major revisions (requiring resubmission to the supervisory/examining committee); and, of course, Fail.  Candidates must be judged to have also passed the oral defence.

M.A. Classes 2022 - 2023

Courses in bold and italics are offered in 2022-2023.  Please note that we are currently updating the course offerings.  Incoming students will not register (other than HIST 9000 and HIST 5800) before consulting with their supervisor and the Graduate Coordinator.     

NOTE: All MA students will enroll in HIST 5800: The Master's Seminar and two of the following classes. In special circumstances, directed readings may be arranged.

MA classes

  • HIST 5000  or 5001- Directed Readings
  • HIST 5004 - Nature and Romanticism
  • HIST 5007 - The European Enlightenment  - Dr. Jolanta Pekacz
  • HIST 5045 - The French Revolution - Dr. J. Pekacz
  • HIST 5056 - Fascist and National Socialist Movements in Europe 1900-1945
  • HIST 5060 - Topics in the Civilization of Baroque Italy
  • HIST 5061 - Prelates, Peasants and Primates: From Italian History to the Behavioural Sciences
  • HIST 5090 - Twentieth-Century Russian History through Literature Winter 2019 - Dr. Denis Kozlov
  • HIST 5091 - Soviet History Seminar  - Winter 2019 Dr. Denis Kozlov
  • HIST 5104 - Punishment, Crime and the Course in Early Modern England c. 1550-1850
  • HIST 5105 - The English Civil War: Society, Religion and Politics 1603-1660
  • HIST 5106 - Topics in Early Modern English History - Dr.  Krista Kesselring
  • HIST 5110 - Rome and the East
  • HIST 5117 - Winston Churchill - Fall 2018 - Dr. Chris Bell
  • HIST 5160 - Advanced Seminar in Baroque Culture
  • HIST 5222 - Topics in Canadian Social History -Dr. T. McCallum 
  • HIST 5250 - Popular Culture in the Atlantic World 1650 to 1800  - Dr. Jerry Bannister
  • HIST 5255 - State and Society in Canadian History 
  • HIST 5320 - Empowerment, Gender and Development
  • HIST 5370 - North American Landscapes
  • HIST 5400 - Topics in African History- Dr. P. Zachernuk 
  • HIST 5401 - State Violence, Communal Conflict and Criminality in Modern South Africa Fall 2019- Dr. Gary Kynoch
  • HIST 5404 - Crime and Punishment in Modern Africa
  • HIST 5430 - Making of Colonial Africa (1850-1930)
  • HIST 5431 - Struggles in the City: Labour, Migration and Urban Life in Colonial Africa
  • HIST 5435 - Rise and Fall of African Slavery- Dr. P. Zachernuk
  • HIST 5452 - South Africa Since 1860 Winter 2020 Dr. Gary Kynoch
  • HIST 5470 - Wars and Revolutions in Nineteenth-Century Africa - Dr. Gary Kynoch
  • HIST 5471 - Wars and Revolutions in Twentieth-Century Africa - Dr. Gary Kynoch
  • HIST 5475 - African Intellectuals and the Modern Experience
  • HIST 5500 - Topics in Modern History
    HIST 5503 - Sultans and Shahs - Dr. C. Mitchell
  • HIST 5510 - Topics in Islam and Middle East History -  Fall 2018 - Colin Mitchell
  • HIST 5545 - Scripture and Statecraft: The History of Islamic Political Thought (7th-21st Centuries)
  • HIST 5550 - Orientalism and Occidentalism
  • HIST 5555 - Arab Intellectuals
  • HIST 5600 - Topics in Late 19th and 20th-Century American and British History
  • HIST 5610 - Women in North America
  • HIST 5613 - Women's Suffrage from the French Revolution to  World War I 
  • HIST 5701 - Medieval Civilization
  • HIST 5702 - The Medieval Church
  • HIST 5703 - Celtic Britain and Ireland to 1400
  • HIST 5704 - Crime and Society in Post-Conquest England
  • HIST 5800 - The Master's Seminar  Fall and Winter Terms - Colin Mitchell

Doctoral program structure and deadlines

Doctoral students

The most important of these relate to your academic programme and form the rough shape of your academic year. These are guidelines and departmental deadlines, not, for the most part, university deadlines.

Your first year has two main elements:


You must choose and define three fields of study (two major, one minor) in consultation with your thesis supervisor.  Performance in each of the three fields will be evaluated by means of a written and an oral examination in September of the second year. Performance will be assessed by two readers. To pass you must receive a grade of A- or better in the written and oral exams.

The field exams are three hours long. Under exceptional circumstances, application may be made in writing to the Graduate Coordinator to allow four hours for an examination typed on computer. They are marked by your field supervisor and a second reader.

The oral examination follows as closely as possible upon the written exams (a typical pattern is Monday, Wednesday, Friday for the written exams, and then the following Monday for the oral). The oral is attended by the field supervisors and second readers in all fields, and will pertain to the field reading lists.


In addition to establishing a list of readings at the beginning of the year, the student and field supervisors will also establish a set of written assignments, the precise number and nature of which can vary, but should cumulatively amount to no less than 6,000 words and no more than 12,000 words. These written assignments should be designed to assist the student in preparing for the examinations and to provide timely feedback in case of difficulties.

Students register online for REGN 9999, an act which does nothing more than confirm that you are registering in the programme.  It does not register you in classes. Details may be found at the FGS website.


Students meet with their supervisor and the Graduate Coordinator. Then register in their fields with the Graduate Secretary. 

Begin work on your fields, whether through individual reading course or in a graduate class.  Work with your field supervisors on developing field reading lists.

Students with scholarships need to fill out a direct deposit form for the Payroll Department to take to payroll when picking up their first scholarship cheque. For TA-ships, the direct deposit form must be completed at least 8 days before the first payday in September. To find the necessary form, visit Payroll and Information Services.

Take part in the Faculty of Graduate Studies Orientation Session. Details forthcoming.

Students may attend a workshop for teaching assistants (organized by the Centre for Learning and Teaching).

Students prepare applications for next year’s scholarship competitions.

Submission to Graduate Secretary of approved doctoral field reading course lists with the written assignments and their deadlines specified.  These lists must be signed by both students and supervisor(s).
Final field discussion sessions with supervisors.
August 1st, annually:  Submit Progress Report to FGS.

Review for exams.
Mid to late September

Write three field exams, followed by the oral examination.

October Following a successful completion of the fields (at the level of 'A-' or better in all elements ) students draft a thesis proposal of between 2,000 and 2,500 words.  It should be submitted for review and approval to the supervisor, members of the supervisory committee, and the graduate committee by December.
January-February Thesis proposal distributed to the Department, and soon afterwards presented in a seminar format to a meeting of the Department for formal approval. Approval of a PhD thesis proposal requires that the student meet any related language requirement before the proposal is presented to the Department.  The language requirement varies according to the area of research; see “Language requirements” below.

Language requirements

These rules apply to both MA and PhD students.

If the thesis topic is in European history, Russian history, or Medieval history, the student must pass a test of reading proficiency in the relevant language

In Canadian history, the student must pass a test of reading French language proficiency, regardless of the language requirements of the thesis research. 

The reading proficiency test in any of these fields is a translation test, in which students may make use of a bilingual dictionary.

In any other geographic research area (e.g., American, African) the thesis supervisor may require the student to pass a specific language reading test if the supervisor deems special language skills to be relevant to the proposed thesis research. The reading proficiency test in any of these fields is a translation test, in which students may make use of a bilingual dictionary.

In both programs, the expectation is that the language requirement will be met at or before the thesis proposal stage. Please note that students are entitled to take language courses without any additional fee if the supervisor is willing to write a letter to FGS noting that the language in question is necessary to the research project.

Application, Scholarships and Funding Information

Autumn is not only the time of falling leaves and mounting heating bills, it is also the season of applications. This is particularly relevant for one-year MA students who intend to pursue doctoral work the following year. Unfortunately, having begun one program, you must also begin considering the next step and the next program. The Faculty of Graduate Studies has up-to-date information such as addresses, application forms, deadlines, and brochures on graduate programmes within Canada and abroad, as well as fellowships and scholarships. 

SSHRC Scholarships

The main source of graduate scholarships for Canadian citizens is the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, generally known as the SSHRC (‘the shirk’).

SSHRC MA scholarships 

Students in the second year of their ‘one year’ MA program can apply for these scholarships. Details are available at  

SSHRC doctoral fellowships

The most important deadline in the fall is for the SSHRC doctoral fellowships. All PhD students not currently holding Killam or SSHRC fellowships who are Canadian citizens are REQUIRED by the university to apply for SSHRC doctoral fellowships. (You cannot be considered for a Killam scholarship unless you apply for a SSHRC.) Though the competition is intense, master’s students anticipating entering a doctoral program the following year should strongly consider applying. The application requires a rigorous program proposal and students must also arrange for up-to-date transcripts to be submitted with the application.  

For both the MA and PhD scholarships, the SSHRC process requires ranking of applications by the Department, ranking of applications within the university and then passing these applications on to the national competition. To rank these applications, the Graduate Committee requires submission of completed SSHRC applications a date in late November.

Other major scholarships

OGS (Ontario Graduate Scholarship)

For students considering Ontario universities, the deadline for Ontario graduate student applications is usually the end of October.

FCAR (Fonds pour la Formation de Chercheurs et l’Aide a la Recherche)

For residents of Quebec, the deadline is usually early October.

Hannah (History of Medicine)

For students considering doctoral work in the history of medicine, the deadline for Hannah scholarships is usually 1 November.

These are not the only scholarships and fellowships going, particularly in relation to American universities.  Students considering the United States must also arrange to write the GRE examinations and brush up on their trigonometry and sort out their logic: “You have seven oranges and three friends, one of whom is suspect. The car is moving at 90 kilometres per hour, with prevailing winds coming from the south east at 24 knots...”  

The History Department has the Peter Fraser and the Patricia Keene scholarships.  Application details will be provided in the Masters Seminar.

There are some minor scholarships that are designed to fund specific research areas or specific categories of student.  Once again, students are advised to consult with the Faculty of Graduate Studies for further information.

Fees and financial aid

Tuition fees are set and administered by the university and the Faculty of Graduate Studies, not the department.  Master’s students should know, however, that after three terms (one full academic year) they are only liable to pay continuing fees (either part-time or full-time), which are a fraction of program fee. For students in financial need, particularly after the first academic year, the Faculty of Graduate Studies may offer some aid.

Students who need to interrupt their program of studies  are advised that they must apply for a leave of absence from the Faculty of Graduate Studies; such leaves are usually granted one term at a time for a maximum of 12 months.  There are specific deadlines for applications for a leave of absence as noted on the application form.

There are some other university scholarships.  The Department has the Peter Fraser and Patricia Keene scholarships.  Applications details will be provided in the Master's Seminar.


Teaching assistantships and teaching

The advertising and appointment of Teaching Assistantships is governed by the terms of a collective agreement with the Canadian Union of Public Employees. Within those terms, the responsibility for the allocation of teaching assistantships lies with the Chair of the Department.

Teaching Assistant (TA) assignments are drawn up by professors based upon enrollments in their classes and anticipated needs. There are two types of single-term, half-class TA assignments: T90 (90 hours) and T130 (130 hours). Available assistantships are posted and advertised in the hallway outside the History office. Students are asked to fill in an application form (available in the office), giving their preferred choices of assignment, academic qualifications, teaching experience, etc.  Though the assignments are often very different in character — some may, for instance, be mostly marking, some may be running tutorial groups.   The workload standards have been set in the Collective Agreement.   

It should also be observed that, in years past, most current full-time students in the one-year master’s or first year doctoral programme who wished to do a teaching assistantship were assigned one. No guarantees can be offered, however; the terms of the collective agreement set the boundaries of what assignments are possible. Every effort is made to link professors’ preferences to those of the students. We cannot promise, however, that a student doing, let us say, modern British as their main research area, will be able to be a teaching assistant in a modern British course. The number of Teaching Assistantships depends on enrollment and budgets.

Doctoral students at the ‘all but dissertation’ (ABD) stage (in other words, students who have successfully completed their comprehensive examinations and the thesis proposal) who are interested in teaching a class, whether during the regular academic year or summer sessions, should make enquiries to the Chair of the Department and the Undergraduate Coordinator.  Students are reminded that financial resources are limited and that the CUPE collective agreement affects assignments. Thus no guarantees can be made about offering classes to doctoral students.

Workshops and seminars


Dalhousie’s Centre for Learning and Teaching will offer a workshop for TAs early in the Fall.  Consult their schedule at Centre for Learning and Teaching The Department strongly encourages all TAs to participate in this workshop.

In addition, the Department, with the collaboration of the Graduate History Society (GHS), may offer some specialised workshops. The Graduate Coordinator will meet with the GHS in September to make plans for the coming year. 

Stokes departmental seminars

Most Friday afternoons, beginning at 3:30 p.m., there is a seminar for the entire Department, meaning both faculty and students. Attendance at this seminar is required of History 5800 students and is expected of other graduate students.  This seminar offers an excellent opportunity to participate in something basic to historians’ lives. Usually an electronic version of the paper is circulated before the seminar, copies of which are available in the History Office, generally on the Wednesday before. Senior graduate students are encouraged to give papers at this seminar, under the advice of their supervisor.   

See Stokes Program for more information.

Evaluations in graduate-level classes

A significant part of most history seminars consist of discussion and debate by all the seminar participants; a successful graduate student in the historical discipline is someone who diligently prepares assigned readings in anticipation of a lively conversation with his/her peers. In the discipline of History, a successful seminar is judged by the ability of its participants to engage one another – on a weekly basis over the course of a semester – on a variety of relevant themes and topics.  The new understandings and appreciations for how we interpret history are necessarily connected with the free exchange of ideas and opinions in the context of seminars.  Graduate students at both the MA and PhD level must be prepared to enroll in such courses with these expectations in mind.

There is no one approach to teaching graduate-level seminars, and instructors will employ a wide array of methodologies and systems of evaluation. These can include oral presentations, short research papers, historiographical inquiries, primary source reports, bibliographic studies, written and oral examination, and lastly: participation and discussion.

Faculty of Graduate Studies Grade Scale

Letter Grade              Numeric (%) Equivalent

A+                             90-100

A                                85-89

A-                               80-84

B+                              77-79

B                                73-76

B-                               70-72

F                                  0-69


Almost certainly, graduate students will be expected to make formal presentations during their course work.  Developing the skills to synthesize information and present it to an audience is a critical skill for graduate students and future scholars to develop; moreover, for those students developing and maintaining a career outside of academe, the ability to research, organize, and communicate large projects and proposals will be invaluable. 

Successful presentations in History seminars should include the following:

Strong research component; use of several sources
Reference to and use of primary sources
Ability to provide overall context (narrative, dates, ongoing issues) at the beginning of presentation
Identification of key issues regarding primary historiography
Identification of ongoing debates and differences of interpretation in the secondary historiography
Insights and analyses based on thorough reflection of the debates and issues
Clear and coherent presentation of the topic and supporting materials
Ability to engage audience with questions and debate
Enthusiasm and sense of purpose 
Helpful but not necessary:

Handout materials
Power-point presentation
Pre-circulated questions for audience to consult and consider during presentation 

Less-than-successful presentations in History seminars might include:

Use of minimal sources during research
Lack of reference to primary sources
Inability or unwillingness to engage with existing primary and secondary historiography
Absence of overall context
Incoherent structure, lack of organization
Inability or unwillingness to engage audience

Governance of graduate matters within the department

Graduate matters within the Department are generally governed by an appointed Graduate Committee, chaired by the Graduate Coordinator, who is a faculty member appointed for a fixed term. 

There is one student representative on the Graduate Committee who is involved in its discussions with the exception of the following matters: SSHRC ranking; consideration of new applications; discussions of ranking for funding; consideration of master’s students’ thesis proposals; and discussions relating to faculty workload. The student representative is usually appointed by their peers, through the Graduate History Students’ Society.

Appeals of regulations or guidelines or any other difficulty should first be made to the Graduate Coordinator.

Facilities for graduate students

Office space

Because office space on campus is in short supply, office allocation for Doctoral students may be available; however, this cannot be guaranteed.  Further information will be available in mid-September.

Masters students normally have study carrels in the Killam Library.  Notification of the assigned study carrels will be sent to Masters students in mid-September.


Computing facilities

Students are expected  to use their “” email address as their active account, as many memoranda are sent electronically.  Detailed information about the university’s email services and other computer services may be found at Killam Library, Room G45. Call them at 902-494-2376902-494-2376 or Email:  

All Dal students are assigned a NetID which gives them access to computers located around the campus. The closest of these public computers can be found in the stairwells, hallways, and labs in the McCain building. There is also a major Learning Commons in the Killam Library.  Wifi is also available throughout campus; your laptop MAC address must be registered for you to have access. Write to make this arrangement


Other departmental facilities

Master’s and Doctoral students may use the Departmental photocopier/scanner and the fax machine. (902-494-3349). They will, of course, be charged for this use, through an account with the Department. For envelope aficionados, departmental stationery is also available.

Graduate History Students' Society (GHS)

The Graduate History Society usually organizes an introductory event or two at the beginning of September and a number of social events throughout the year following. 

It is through this group that the graduate students have representation, by the GHS President at most department meetings, and on some departmental committees, including the Graduate Committee.

This group also organizes an annual graduate students’ conference, an event that brings in MA and PhD students from other parts of North America, and sometimes even a few from overseas. The best paper presented at this conference, as decided by a panel of students and faculty members, wins the John Flint Prize.

Elections for the GHS Committee take place annually in early September.  All graduate students (incoming and current) are permitted to take part in the elections.


Contact information and faculty search

For general queries and further information, please email

Graduate Coordinator:
Colin Mitchell
Phone: 902-494-2788 or 494-2011

Or contact our faculty directly:

Search Department of History faculty by research area or name.