Frequently Asked Questions About the Graduate Program

Q: What is the difference between a "content course" and a "seminar?"

A: A "content course" (numbered 500 or 600) explores a particular era or subject in depth, providing factual information and an introduction into the relevant issues raised.  Seminars (numbered 700) assume students have a basic understanding of the topics being covered and go into more depth on issues, debates, and differing scholarly perspectives on given topics. While content courses cover basically the same material each time they are offered, every seminar is unique and topics vary from instructor to instructor and even semester to semester.

Q: What are the differences between HIS 729 and HIS 730 or between HIS 733 and HIS 734?

A: HIS 729 and 730 are both American History Seminars and are interchangeable in terms of credit.  A student may take two 729s or two 730s and receive credit for two American seminars.  A student is NOT required to take a 729 AND a 730 to receive that credit.  The same arrangement is true for the European field with the 733 and 734 seminars.

Q: What is a "blue card course" and how do I enroll in one?

A: A blue card course is one that a student arranges with an individual instructor rather than sits in on a pre-scheduled class with classroom with other students.  These include readings courses (HIS 727), special topics (HIS 810), internship (HIS 803), and thesis-related courses (HIS 801 and HIS 802).  In all of these, the enrollment process is the same:  1) Contact the instructor about taking the course.  2) The instructor fills out a form for the particulars of the class and gives it to the department's secretary.  Please note that the form must include the student's shocker I.D. number.  3) The student obtains an enrollment number from the secretary for the course.

Q: How do I know when I am ready to take comprehensive exams?

A: By the time you have taken a significant part of your coursework, you should have a sense of the major eras and topics of your selected field(s).  Start paying attention to what your strengths and weaknesses are.  Filing a plan of study with the graduate advisor is a good time to assess this. Another way is to draw up a chart.  On one axis, list the major eras and time periods of the field you are studying.  On the other axis, list the topics (political, social, economic, cultural, military).  See how well you can fill out the chart.  That will tell you what you need to emphasize in your remaining classes.  Don't forget to check out the department's reading list for suggestions.

Q:  What are comprehensive exams like?

A: While the specific content and structure vary with the instructor giving the exam, the basic format will cover broad concepts and will involve essays or short answers discussing terms and concepts.  Students will be expected to know the basic facts and issues of topic discussed and should be prepared to explore the historiographical literature on the topic as well.  This is more than just a reguritation of facts.  Students should be able to prove that they know enough about a topic to be conversant in it.  There is no set length to essays although they should be expected to cover several pages in length.  Exams are usually hand written in blue books although arrangements for computers may be made depending on the instructor.  There are no oral exams.  

Q: Can I take comprehensive exams and defend my thesis the same semester?

A: Students should not attempt to take both comprehensive exams and and defend a thesis the same semester.  Each is intensive enough to merit its own semester.  Students should plan on taking comprehensive exams by the 10th week of the semester.

Q: How many committee members are on a thesis committee?

A: Three.  Two must be members of the History Department.  One is a chair. The third must be a WSU faculty member who is from another department.  Please note that the purpose of this outside person is to represent the Graduate School at the defense.  Therefore, this person must have graduate standing.  Not all faculty have this so check with the Graduate School ahead of time to make sure a person is qualified to serve.

Q: How do I select members of my thesis committee?

A: Talk with faculty members with whom you have taken classes.  They can guide you in settling on a thesis topic and who appropriate committee members might be.  It is up to the student to contact appropriate faculty members to be on the committee.

Q: How long is a thesis and what should it cover?

A: There is no set length for a thesis, although a rough estimate of about 100 pages is common. A thesis usually has an introduction, a body of several chapters, and a conclusion at the end.  The work should discuss an unexplored topic in historical scholarship or look at an existing topic in a new way.  It should address a historical question ("why did.....?") and fit into a body of literature that includes books and articles from other scholars. The point of graduate school is to help a student transition from being a consumer of history to a producer of it.