Women’s Studies and History

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Recommended Progress


Foreign Language Requirements/Statistics Option

Fourth Term Review

WS 891


Dissertation Prospectus/Proposal

Transferring Credits

Faculty of the Women’s Studies and History Doctoral Program

Recommended Progress

Please Note: This timelines notes typical progress through the program. Your schedule may be slightly different depending on when certain courses are offered.

First Year


  • WS 501—Proseminar in Women’s Studies
  • WS 601—Approaches to Feminist Scholarship
  • HIST 615—Introduction to the Comparative Study of History
  • 1 Elective in HIST or WS


  • WS 530—Feminist Theory
  • HIST 600-level studies course (HIST 611 for US history students)
  • HIST 715 research seminar
  • HIST 808 pedagogy seminar I
  • Fulfill one language requirement

Second Year


  • Graduate Student Instructor (GSI)
  • 2-3 electives in HIST or WS
  • HIST 809 pedagogy seminar II


  • Graduate Student Instructor (GSI)
  • 2 or 3 electives in HIST or WS
  • WS 891
  • HIST 810 pedagogy seminar III
  • Fulfill second language requirement
  • History screening

Third Year


  • If GSI, register for 9 credits
  • If not GSI, 1 credit of tuition for prelim prep
  • 1 or 2 electives in HIST or WS (e.g. 6 credits of HIST 990 + one more elective)
  • Prelim exams


  • GSI
  • Any remaining electives
  • HIST or WS 990 or 995
  • Defend prospectus


  • Candidacy achieved
  • Defend prospectus

Fourth Year

  • HIST or WS 995
  • Dissertation research

Fifth Year

  • HIST or WS 995
  • Complete Dissertation


The Women's Studies Director of Graduate Studies is the primary advisor for first-year Joint PhD students. It is recommended that first-year students consult with the Graduate Director at least once a term. The DPC liaison is considered a secondary advisor for first-year students. This person is familiar with both sets of requirements and should also be helpful in constructing a joint program.

In History, a student is assigned an advisor in the student's field. Second and third year students in both departments are generally advised by their preliminary exam chairs.

All fourth and fifth year students will be advised by their dissertation chairs. In all years, the WS Graduate Director continues to be an important resource.

Because we are an interdisciplinary program, Rackham’s cognate requirement is waived for joint program students.  Women’s Studies-required coursework takes the place of cognate coursework.

Language Requirements

PhD students in History & Women's Studies cannot advance to candidacy without meeting the language requirement for their program.

Knowledge of one language other than English is required of students in United States history; two languages are required for students in all other fields. The purpose of this requirement, in addition to the relevance it may have to primary research, is to minimize scholarly provincialism and facilitate exposure to historical literature in languages other than English.

Students may establish their ability to use a foreign language in one of the following ways:

  • By completing with a grade of B or above one semester of courses in U-M language departments on the model of French or German 112; Spanish 113, 231 or 275
    (Note: Enrollment in 112 is normally predicated on successful completion of 111. In rare cases, a student can petition the instructor to take 112 without having first taken 111. Students who take 111 only must pass the departmental written language exam to demonstrate proficiency.)
  • By passing a written examination administered by History faculty, requiring translation (with the aid of a paper dictionary) of two passages selected as representative examples of scholarly historical writing in that language.
  • Two courses at second-year level that will provide training equivalent to the models specified, with a grade of B or above and approval of the student's advisor.
  • By satisfying a language requirement, similar to our own and administered in similar ways, for a master's degree. 

Students are expected to fulfill one language requirement during the first year of residence. By the end of the second year, they should have fulfilled the second language requirement as well. Tests in French, German, Russian and Spanish are offered each Fall and Winter term. Tests in other languages may be readily substituted and are arranged on an ad hoc basis. The Associate Chair of the History Department has oversight of departmental language examinations, and the History Director of Graduate Studies validates fulfillment of the language requirement.

Students from countries in which English is not the normal language of secondary school and university instruction (and whose family language is not English), may satisfy the language requirements by demonstrating competence in one foreign language, in addition to English and their native language.

Statistics Option for History & Women's Studies
The Department of History regards statistics as an important research tool that is useful for some graduate students. With the permission of the Graduate Committee, students not in U.S. History may offer statistics in lieu of one foreign language. To meet this requirement, a student must complete, with a grade of B or better, a two-course sequence designed to provide the basic statistics competence needed to undertake quantitative studies in history, and take one course which provides an initiation into the practical application of statistics.

Fourth Term Review

Screening is an assessment of a student's progress in the joint program. A favorable screening signifies confidence in the student's potential and faculty commitment to assisting the student in completion of the PhD.

Students begin by filling out the Screening Questionnaire, available from History, in order to ascertain whether requirements have been fulfilled. Faculty who have taught the student are asked to evaluate the student's performance and to decide whether to "recommend without reservations," "recommend with reservations," or "do not recommend" continuation in the program. It is generally expected that at least two professors the student has worked with will recommend continuation "without reservations." At least one professor must agree to chair the student's prelim committee and dissertation committee.

The History faculty make the final screening decision collectively. At least one faculty member with a joint appointment in History and Women's Studies must be present. An unfavorable decision will result in the student being asked to leave the program. Such a decision may be appealed if evidence has been overlooked or incorrectly represented. Under special circumstances, a decision can be deferred until the beginning of the fifth term.

WS 891

WS 891 serves as the second seminar paper (see History Gray Book for more information about the 700-level seminar paper requirements). It is meant to demonstrate the student's ability to conduct substantial original research, similar to a History seminar paper, and to engage in feminist gender analysis, by taking an interdisciplinary approach. Ideally, like a second seminar paper, WS 891 will be related to the student's dissertation topic. Whether or not the substance is related to the dissertation topic, a successful WS 891 paper will demonstrate the student's ability to engage in the kind of research and analysis that a dissertation in the joint PhD program entails.

Written under the advisement of one of the committee members, this paper also constitutes the fourth "field" for the prelims (see the next section of this handbook or the History Gray Book for more information). All members of the committee will have received copies of the paper in advance of the oral exam and are encouraged to participate in its discussion. The oral examination interrogates the ways in which the paper addresses issues of feminist methodology, theory and analysis. The WS faculty member(s) and the WS 891 advisor have special responsibility for its evaluation, but all committee members are encouraged to provide both written and oral feedback.


The preliminary exam has both written and oral components. The written exam for joint students is the same as the written exam for History students; the oral exam includes four fields, one of which is an examination of WS 891.

What is a prelim field?
A field is both a body of knowledge and a terrain of inquiry. Fields vary greatly in breadth and depth. Avoid defining your fields so narrowly that they are little more than bibliographies for a research paper. Avoid defining them so broadly that you can do little more than scrape the surface.

In preparing a field for your prelims, consider the following:

  • What are the parameters of the field?
  • What different methodologies or approaches have contributed to the development of the field?
  • What are the perennial questions that historians and feminists in this field have tried to answer? How have their answers differed from each other?
  • What are the most important topics or themes in the field today?
  • What are the debates among historians and feminist scholars that animate the field today?
  • What are the major works that anyone who wants to make a contribution in this field ought to read?
  • What directions for future research are the most interesting or promising?
  • What kind of impact has feminist scholarship made on this field? What scholarship in Women's Studies might be pertinent to this field?

The committee
The student composes an interdisciplinary committee consisting of 4 members with at least:

  • the WS 891 advisor
  • one faculty member affiliated with Women's Studies
  • one faculty member affiliated with History
  • one faculty member with relevant expertise from any department

The committee will work with the student for 6-12 months to develop a focused reading list. This list should include History, Women's Studies, interdisciplinary scholarship and feminist theory. The student and committee members should work together to determine what form the oral exam will take; questions may be prepared ahead of time or not.

The exam
The prelim exam has both an oral and a written component and covers 4 areas.  All areas are examined orally.  Two areas are written – the major field and the 891.
• a major field which is geographical/temporal/topical. This is written and examined orally.
• a comparative field distinctly different from the major field geographically, temporally or disciplinarily
• Gender/Women’s History, which may fulfill the comparative or transnational requirement
• WS 891

Note: Women’s Studies students do not “course off” the fourth field because WS 891 stands in place of the fourth field.

Written exam
The written exam is like the written exam for History students, and covers only the student’s major field.  The written exam can be “open” or “closed” book, or a combination of the two.  The format is chosen at the discretion of the examiner and is made explicit to the student well in advance of the examination and is indicated clearly in writing on the Preliminary Examination Information Form.  The faculty examiner is expected to provide the History Graduate Office with a copy of the exam at least 48 hours before the day of the exam.  Most students receive the exam by email and send their responses to the committee and the History Graduate Office that way as well.  The exam is read and evaluated by the chair and one other committee member.  In special cases, a faculty member who is not a committee member may be asked to serve as the second reader.  The exam itself is generally 4½ hours:  with four hours for writing and ½ hour for breaks.  If the student does not pass the written exam, the oral is not taken.

Alternatively, students may elect to prepare a state-of-field historiographic paper due to the prelim chair and second reader two weeks before the oral exam.

Oral exam
The oral exam should be taken within two weeks of a successful written exam, and should be approximately two hours in length; half an hour should be spent on each field and on WS 891.

The role of WS 891 in prelims
A key component of the History/Women’s Studies joint PhD preliminary examination is the WS 891 paper.  This is a research paper that all Women’s Studies doctoral students write, and it is the one common element in all their prelims.

The fourth “field” for the prelims is constituted by this paper.  The oral examination therefore includes examination of the student on the ways in which the paper addresses issues of feminist methodology, approach, theory, and interpretation.  All members of the examination committee will have received copies of the paper in advance of the oral exam and are invited and encouraged to participate in the discussion of it, especially the Women’s Studies faculty member(s) and the WS 891 professor (under whose direction the paper was written), who have special responsibility for evaluating whether or not the student is now prepared to conduct dissertation research in Women’s Studies and History.

You should come away from this experience with a feeling of accomplishment and confidence that you understand the fields you have studied and could explain them to others, develop syllabi for courses about them, and pursue interdisciplinary research in both History and WS.

Adapted from History’s Gray Book:
Schedule your preliminary examination using the following guidelines:

Preliminary Exam Information Form
The Preliminary Exam Information form is used to identify members of your prelims committee, define the subject matter of each field, and record an anticipated prelim date.  It is also used to ensure that there are no problems with committee composition or with the fulfillment of other requirements.  Students and their advisors are urged to consult as early as possible with the History DGS about any uncertainties regarding fields, committee composition or examination dates.  Each faculty examiner must initial the form, signifying his or her commitment to serve on the prelim committee.  The prelims chair and the History DGS must sign this form indicating their approval.  This form is distributed to all second-year students after successful screening.

Students who plan to take prelims during the fall term of their third year should turn this form in to the graduate office, by the beginning of their third year.  Students entering the program with an MA degree and screened in the fall of their second year are strongly encouraged to take prelims during fall term of year three.

Students who plan to take their prelims during the winter term of their third year (as do most joint WS/History students) should turn this form in by the end of the fall term of their third year.  Although this option will most likely be chosen by students entering the program with a BA degree and screened in the winter of their second year, the History Department realizes that some students entering the program with an MA will also choose this option.

Once this form has been approved, any changes in fields or examiners require that a new form, signed by the prelims chair, be turned in to the graduate office for final approval by the History DGS.

Preliminary Exam Scheduling Request Form
Once you and your committee have agreed upon a date and time for the prelim exam, file the Preliminary Exam Scheduling Request form with the graduate office no later than two to three weeks before the exam date.  Staff will reserve a room and send a confirmation notice to the committee members.  If you are experiencing difficulties scheduling the exam, please contact the History graduate office for assistance.

Prelim Exam Part One—The Written Exam
In accordance with changes approved by the History faculty in 2010, students have a choice of preparing either a state-of-field historiographic paper or a four-hour written exam (see below).

The historiographic paper should be approximately twenty pages and should critically analyze current directions and methods of scholarship in your major field. It is due to the prelim chair and second reader two weeks before the oral exam and must be graded at least 24 hours before the oral exam. Passing is required to proceed with the oral exam.  The two-week period of time can be shortened to no less than two days if both graders agree to meet the 24-hour grading deadline.

Instead of the historiographic paper students may choose to take a written exam covering the major field in which you propose to write your dissertation.  The written exam is taken within two weeks of, and at least two days before, the oral prelim.  It may be “open” or “closed” book or a combination of the two, in accordance with the examiner’s choice.  The chosen format must be made explicit to the student well in advance of the examination and indicated clearly, in writing, on the Preliminary Exam Information Form. The written exam typically consists of one question to be answered in four hours or two questions to be answered in two hours each. The prelims chair usually devises the written exam, although in some cases the prelims chair and a second committee member will each contribute one question.

The exam is read and evaluated by the chair of the prelim committee and one other committee member.  In special cases, a faculty member who is not a committee member may be asked to serve as the second reader.  The exam is generally four hours, with 30 minutes additional time for breaks.  During the exam, consultation with another person or cutting and pasting from previously written documents is not allowed. The prelims chair must notify the graduate office that the written exam is acceptable at least 24 hours in advance of the scheduled oral exam.  If the student does not pass the written portion, the oral portion is not taken.

Email Option -- With committee agreement, you may take the exam at home, receiving the questions via email.  In this case, the prelims chair should provide the questions to the History Graduate Office at least 48 hours before the exam.  On the day of the exam, you should contact the History Graduate Office between 10 AM and noon so the questions can be transmitted as email attachments.  At the end of the exam time period, you will email your answers to the committee as well as the graduate office.

Prelim Exam Part Two—The Oral Exam
The oral exam, approximately two hours in length, usually covers three fields (four including the WS 891) and should be taken within two weeks of a successful written exam or historiographic paper.  The prelims chair and the other committee members conduct this exam.  Before discussing overall performance, each member of the committee grades the student’s performance in his or her own field by ballot.  There are three possible grades: “pass,” “low pass,” and “failure.”  Automatic failure results when a student receives all “low pass” grades, or one grade of “failure” and two grades of “low pass.”  If grades in the individual fields exceed these minimum standards, the committee discusses the student’s overall performance, including the question of passage or failure of the exam as a whole.  In rare cases, a grade of “pass with distinction” may be awarded for the entire examination, though not for individual fields.

It is the prelim chair’s responsibility to inform the student of the result, and to state the committee’s consensus in a final report, the Prelim Exam Results Record.  The final report records a grade for the written exam, the three individual grades of the oral exam, one overall grade, and a description of the student’s general performance.  If a student fails the examination, the prelims committee will decide whether or not it may be taken again. A student who does not pass prelims is ineligible to continue in the graduate program.

Prelim Exam Part Three – The Teaching Portfolio
Joint History and Women’s Studies students are exempt from the Teaching Portfolio requirement since the prelims already cover the extra Women’s Studies field.

Prelim Exam Part Four – The Reading List
Following the completion of prelims, students must provide an electronic copy of the reading list(s) to the graduate program staff for inclusion in a departmental CTools site available to other students in both the U-M History and Women’s Studies programs.

Upon advancement to candidacy, students receive a letter from the History DGS outlining the next steps of the dissertation process.  A Certificate of Candidacy may be obtained from the Office of Academic Records & Dissertations at Rackham Graduate School.

Dissertation Prospectus/Proposal

The prospectus is a student's proposal or plan for dissertation research and writing. Please file a copy of your prospectus with the Women's Studies Graduate Office.

In History, the prospectus is typically a typed document of 10 to 20 double-spaced pages. It defines the subject, central question, and methodological approach to the dissertation topic, including the importance of the proposed work to advancing the understanding of the discipline. It should relate the proposed research project to previous literature on the question and include a bibliography. It might also include a chapter plan and/or a tentative timetable. The prospectus must be presented no later than the end of the first term after Candidacy has been achieved.

See also: Department of History website

Transferring Credits

All proposals to satisfy program requirements using coursework from a program outside University of Michigan must be discussed with the Director of Graduate Studies in both Women's Studies and History. Graduate credits may be transferred to Master's degree programs only. However, although course credits cannot be transferred to your PhD program, graduate work done elsewhere may be used to satisfy certain requirements but will not appear on the University transcript.

In History, an MS thesis may be counted toward the 700-level research seminar requirement with approval by the student's advisor and the History DGS. In any case, only one seminar course may be waived (but not WS 891); the other must be taken on campus. A language requirement fulfilled in an MA program at another institution may count toward your language requirements at Michigan. 

Joint Faculty of the Women’s Studies and History Doctoral Program

The faculty listed below are all eligible to serve as representatives of Women’s Studies for purposes of advising and graduate student committee service.  If you have any questions about a faculty member’s eligibility, please consult the Director of Graduate Studies.


Kathleen Canning
Katherine French
Dena Goodman
Mary Kelley
Tiya Miles
Helmut Puff
Hitomi Tonomura

Associate Professors

Wang Zheng

Other Unaffiliated Gender Studies Faculty

Sueann Caulfield
David Cohen
Geoffrey Eley
Joel Howell
Nancy Hunt
Kali Israel
Valerie Kivelson
Regina Morantz-Sanchez
Martin Pernick
Scott Spector