Women’s Studies and History

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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. To view and print a copy of the current Joint PhD Student Handbook, click here (PDF).

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
  • Fulfill Responsible Conduct of Research and Scholarship (RCRS) requirement

Second Year


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


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

Third Year


  • GSI (register for at least 6 credits)
  • 1 or 2 electives in HIST or WS (e.g. 3 credits of HIST 990 prelim prep + one more elective)


  • GSI (register for at least 6 credits)
  • Take any remaining electives
  • If no more courses to take, register for 6 credits of HIST 900 prelim prep
  • Prelim exams


  • Candidacy achieved
  • Present prospectus

Fourth and Fifth Years

  • Fall & Winter: HIST or WS 995 (8 credits)
  • Dissertation research

Sixth Year

  • Fall & Winter: HIST or WS 995 (8 credits)
  • Attend Rackham Pre-Defense Meeting
  • Defend Dissertation
  • Attend Rackham Post-Defense Meeting and file completed 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 and the WS 891 paper constitutes the fourth (or cognate) field in the preliminary examination.

Language Requirements

PhD students in History & Women’s Studies cannot advance to candidacy without meeting the language requirement for their program. Basic reading 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, including transnational 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 passing a written examination administered by our faculty, requiring translation (with the aid of a paper dictionary) of two passages selected as representative examples of scholarly historical writing in that language
  • For Spanish, by taking the LSA Spanish placement exam and placing in Spanish 232 or above
  • By completing with the grade of B or above, one semester of courses in U-M language departments on the model of French or German 112, Spanish 113, or Spanish 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 only 111 must pass the departmental written language exam to demonstrate proficiency.)
  • By completing two language courses at second-year level with a grade of B or above and approval of the advisor. If taken at another university, the courses must have been taken during a graduate program and appear on the student transcript
  • By satisfying a language requirement similar to our own and administered in similar ways for a Master’s degree at this or another university

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 by the History Department at the beginning of fall term and, as needed, during winter term. Tests in other languages can be arranged on an ad hoc basis by contacting the History Graduate Office. The History Associate Chair has oversight of the departmental language examinations, and the History DGS certifies fulfillment of the language requirement.

Speakers of English as a Second Language
Students from countries in which English is not the standard language of secondary school and university instruction (and whose family language is not English), may satisfy the language requirement 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 History DGS, students not in U.S. History may substitute 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.

Screening (See also: History Gray Book)

Screening is an assessment of a student’s progress in the joint program, and favorable screening signifies the faculty’s confidence in the student’s potential and faculty commitment to assisting the student toward completion of the PhD. It is a positive achievement that students must earn, not a mere formality. Normally, students are screened after three semesters of full-time enrollment; however, students who enter the joint PhD program with an MA in History may ask to be screened after the completion of two semesters of full-time enrollment.

The following academic requirements must be met before screening:

  • one foreign language requirement fulfilled
  • successful completion of History 615 (designated studies course)
  • successful completion of History 715; the final version of the research paper should be submitted to the graduate committee
  • successful completion of one additional 600-level studies course (History 611 for US-ists)
  • GPA of 3.55 or higher (between B+ and A- on a 4-point scale). If your GPA is below this standard, the graduate committee may still recommend positive screening on the basis of significant improvement over time
  • Three faculty members (at least two of whom are in the History Department and one of whom is affiliated with Women’s Studies) willing to serve on your prelim committee
  • One History faculty member willing to chair the prelims committee
  • One History faculty member willing to chair the dissertation committee
  • Prelim fields defined

Role of Faculty Advisor
One key to successful screening is effective and ongoing consultation between the student and the faculty advisor with whom they will be working on the preliminary exams and the dissertation. Together, they should begin planning for prelims, determining the student’s prelim fields and the appropriate faculty members to serve on your prelim committee as well as an anticipated schedule for taking prelims. Students should initiate this discussion by the beginning of the fall term of the second year by meeting with their advisor and subsequently with the other members of the anticipated prelim committee.

The History faculty makes the final screening decision collectively. At least one faculty member with a joint appointment in History and Women’s Studies must be present at the History graduate committee meeting when joint students are discussed. 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. It is meant to demonstrate the student’s ability to conduct substantial original research, similar to a History seminar paper, and to engage in theoretically-informed feminist gender analysis. 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. The WS 891 paper must be completed before the preliminary exam is undertaken so that it may be defended as part of the oral exam.

Prelims (See also: History Gray Book)

The preliminary exams (“prelims”) are designed to ensure that students have acquired the necessary background for teaching and scholarship in history and women’s studies. Field requirements for the preliminary examinations therefore encourage a combination of breadth and depth. The preliminary exam has both written and oral components. Like other History students, joint students complete a written exam in their major field. The oral exam covers this field and two other fields described below and includes the defense of the WS 891 paper.

  • A major field which is geographical/temporal/topical
  • Gender/Women’s/Sexuality History
  • A comparative field distinctly different from the major field geographically, temporally or disciplinarily
  • Note: If the Gender/Women’s /Sexuality field is comparative, then the third field does not have to be, but it cannot overlap with or simply be a subset of either of either the major or the GWS field

Note: Women’s Studies students “course off” the cognate field with WS 530 and 601.

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

Whereas students are expected to demonstrate mastery of historiography in their examination fields, here the student is expected to demonstrate mastery of the tools of feminist scholarship as applied to historical practice. The defense of the WS 891 paper thus focuses on the student’s use 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. However, the Women’s Studies faculty member(s) and the WS 891 professor have special responsibility for evaluating whether the student is now prepared to conduct dissertation research in Women’s Studies and History.

Prelims Committee Composition
The committee for the preliminary examinations consists of three or four faculty members, each representing a field in which the student chooses to be examined. At least one faculty member must be affiliated with History, and one with Women’s Studies (usually the WS 891 advisor).

Students should work closely with the prelim committee in preparation for the exams. The department requires that, at least six months prior to the examination, students discuss with each committee member a provisional but specific draft list of readings that includes scholarship in History, interdisciplinary Women’s Studies, and feminist theory. This list should also be discussed with each committee member on the expected process of preparation.

According to department policy, each faculty member has a responsibility not to allow leaves/sabbaticals to have a negative effect on a student’s timetable for taking preliminary exams and achieving candidacy. In scheduling prelim exams, a delay of up to several weeks might be necessary to accommodate the schedules of committee members, but a delay approaching several months or more is not appropriate. In all cases, the preliminary exam must be completed by the announced Rackham candidacy deadline at the end of winter semester in the student’s third year. When determining the schedule, students should remember that the exam itself may take several weeks to complete (see below).

Definition of a Prelim Field
A field is both a body of knowledge and a terrain of inquiry. Fields vary greatly in breadth and thus in depth. Avoid defining 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 of scholarship.

In identifying and preparing a field for prelims, consider the following:

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

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

---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 and WS/History liaison 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 third-year students at the beginning of the fall term.

Students who plan to take prelims during the fall term of their third year should turn this form in to the History graduate office at the beginning of fall term. 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. Once this form has been approved, any changes in fields or examiners require that a new form, signed by the prelims chair, be submitted to the History graduate office for final approval by the DGS.

Preliminary Exam Check In and Scheduling Request Form
A Prelim Exam “Check In” meeting with your prelim committee must be held at least six weeks prior to your proposed exam date to determine whether you will be ready to take the exam on the scheduled date.

Once you and your committee have agreed upon a date and time for the prelim exam, file the Preliminary Exam Check In and Scheduling Request Form with the History graduate office no later than six weeks before the exam date to obtain final approval from the History DGS. At this time, all members of the prelim committee must certify in writing the student’s readiness to take the exam on the proposed date. The chair of the committee notifies the History DGS if the full committee agrees that the exam can go forward on the scheduled date. In the event that the student is found not to be ready, an alternative date (within the deadline guidelines) must be set and the History DGS notified.

The check-in meeting may be conducted in whatever way the student and committee members mutually agree on. Once students have secured their committee members’ signatures, staff will reserve a room and send a confirmation notice to the committee members. If students experience difficulties scheduling the exam, please contact the History graduate office for assistance.

Prelim Exam Part One—The Written Exam
For the written prelim component, students have a choice of preparing either a state-of-field historiographic paper or a four-hour written exam (see below). Whichever format is elected, 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 prelims chair must notify the graduate office that the written exam is acceptable at least 24 hours in advance of the scheduled oral exam. Passing of the written exam is required to proceed with the oral exam.

The topic of the historiographic paper will be established by the prelim chair. It should be approximately twenty pages in length 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 timed written exam covering the major field of the 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 and the student of the exam results. If the written exam is not acceptable, the graduate office must be notified 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. Half an hour should be spent on each field and on defense of the WS 891 paper. The prelims chair and the other committee members conduct this exam. After the conclusion of the exam, 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 whether to pass or fail the student on 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. A student who fails one or more portions of the prelim exam must submit a petition to all members of the prelim committee requesting re-examination (or, in the latter case, to take the exam), if they wish to remain in the program. The petition should outline concrete steps the student plans to take to address problems identified by the prelim committee and a timeline for completing those steps. The views of each member of the prelim committee will be solicited and collected by the prelim chair. On the basis of the petition and committee member’s opinions, the prelim chair has the option to recommend re-examining the student (in a format decided upon by the committee chair), or to terminate the student from the program. The student’s petition, along with the prelim committee chair’s recommendation and documentation of the other committee members’ views, should be sent to the History DGS and Graduate Committee for review and a final decision.

A student who is allowed to retake the exam must do so before the beginning of the fourth year in order to be eligible for department fellowship support.

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 joint 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 (See also: History Gray Book)

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.

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. Although course credits cannot be transferred to your PhD program and will not appear on the official university transcript, graduate work done elsewhere may be used to satisfy certain requirements for the PhD.

In History, an MA 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 at U-M. A language requirement fulfilled in an MA program at another institution will be accepted toward fulfillment of your language requirements at Michigan.

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. For a listing of all Women’s Studies faculty members, please review our website.


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

Associate Professors

Wang Zheng

Other Unaffiliated Gender History Faculty

Paulina Alberto
Sueann Caulfield
Geoffrey Eley
Joel Howell
Nancy Hunt
Kali Israel
Valerie Kivelson
Michelle McClellan
Farina Mir
Regina Morantz-Sanchez
Martin Pernick
Scott Spector