History Major Exams

The final aspect of the history major is the major exam. In addition to the oral exam, there are two written exams of 90 minutes each: a book exam and a field exam. All written exams are at 4:00 pm unless you are notified otherwise. Instructions concerning the exams, including the exact dates for the submission of all materials for your exams, will be provided in History 401.

NOTE: Independent Study courses CANNOT be used for either the oral or field exams.

The Book Exam

The book exam is a ninety minute written exam in which you are asked to critically evaluate a book chosen by the faculty. The book exam is on a single, neutral book selected by the department, which all seniors are assigned. Students all read the same book in advance and then answer a question or questions based upon that book. The department tries to select a work that combines various areas of the globe and/or time periods so that no one has any advantage. The department chair will notify you of the title and see to its availability in the bookstore. Recent titles for the book exam have included Robert Harms' The Diligent: A Voyage Through the Worlds of the Slave Trade, John Dower's War Without Mercy: Race and Power in the Pacific War, Kenneth Pomeranz's The Great Divergence: China, Europe, and the Making of the Modern World Economy, Alfred Crosby's Ecological Imperialism, Paul Kennedy's The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers, and Michael Adas, Machines as the Measure of Men.

Exam Date December Candidates Second Monday of Fall Semester (15 September 2014)
  May Candidates First Monday of Spring Semester (26 January 2015)

The field Exam

The field exam is a ninety minute written exam that covers two upper-division history courses, selected by the student and the appropriate faculty, that are in the same geographic area and have some clear connection with one another. (For example, a two-semester chronological sequence in a national history, i.e., English or Japanese history. Alternatively, two semesters in Ancient Mediterranean e.g. History 226 & 327; 326 & 327; or European history, e.g. 274 & 277; 277 & 278; 278 & 333; or United States history e.g. 261 & 369; 297 & 371; 368 & 369; or Latin American history 287 & 381. Moreover, you could combine Modern Japan with Modern China, or Modern Germany with Modern Russia. These are representative examples, not an exhaustive list. Many other combinations are possible.) In addition, exceptions to working within the same geographic area are possible. You must work these out in consultation with your advisor and the faculty who would be involved in the exam. These exceptions must receive departmental approval. Students should know prior to the senior year what their field exam will be. Note: Seminars cannot be used for field exam courses. You should avoid, if possible, using courses taken during the Spring semester of the senior year for your exams. Note that honors students writing honors theses are exempt from the field exam as of 2013-2014.

Exam Date December Candidates Monday after Thanksgiving Break (1 December 2014)
  May Candidates Monday after Spring Break (30 March 2015)

The Oral Exam

 The oral exam is 50 minutes. It consists of an oral presentation by the student of 35 to 40 minutes exploring a comparative theme selected by you and two members of the department in two of the seven possible fields (East Asia, Ancient Mediterranean, Europe, Islamic World, Africa, Latin America, and the United States). The rest of the time is devoted to answering questions and discussion of the ideas. The courses used for your oral exam can overlap those used for your written. Examples of oral topics are a comparison of imperialism in Roman and British history; revolution in France and China; women during wartime in two different societies; labor and industrialization in the United States and Japan. The possibilities are vast. You should begin planning your courses so that they provide a theme for your exam. Your comparative theme should be one that really interests you. Waiting until the senior year to think about this project will almost certainly limit your options. You will prepare a preliminary paper on the theme of your oral exam in the fall of your senior year in History 401. The key to the oral exam is the development of your topic focusing on the comparisons and contrasts among the two geographic areas. The discussion must be an integrated one grounded in thoughtful analysis as well as research beyond your course work. A discussion of two separate areas is not sufficient to pass. All students will prepare a one-page outline of their presentation. The outline should consist of topics and sub-topics to be covered and indicate the comparative relationship of the topic and analysis. The outline is to be used as a guide, not a narrative, for the presentation. This final outline is due the Friday before Thanksgiving break for fall candidates and the Friday before spring break for spring candidates. Students will be given the approved copy of their outline at the oral exam. You may not bring a different outline or additional notes to the exam. Instructions on this assignment and other details concerning the exams, including the exact dates for the submission of all materials for your exams, will be provided in History 401.Exam Date: December candidates arrange the time with the two faculty for a date after the field exam is completed. May candidates' exams are scheduled by the department chair beginning the Tuesday after Spring Break (31 March-3 April 2015). 


All comprehensive major exams are graded, Distinction, Pass, Fail. If you fail one of the written exams, you may still take the oral exam as scheduled. Failure of both written exams will result in a cancellation of the oral exam until the writtens are retaken. To pass the major exams, you need to earn at least the grade of pass on both of the written exams, and from your oral committee. Honors candidates must pass their oral examinations with distinction in order to receive honors in major.