Senior Departmental Examination

The Comprehensive Exam

One week prior to the beginning of the oral exams, the student will submit a “comprehensive statement.” The statement on the first page should list all the student’s departmental courses, independent work, and other relevant courses and experiences, such as study abroad or internships. On the succeeding pages, the student should write an essay of approximately 1000 words that discusses the student’s scholarly life in the major. The essay should be reflective in nature. There is no set format to the exercise, but the student should describe the development of their interests and focus in the field of History in the context of the courses they have taken, including relevant courses outside the Department, and the independent research component.

Some of the questions that the student might address in the statement include the following:

  • What led you to choose History as a major?
  • What guided you in your course selection?
  • What courses made the most impact?
  • How did you choose your independent research topics?
  • What historical methods had the most impact on your independent work?
  • How did using multiple research methods (if you did so) shape what you learned about the past, and how you wrote about it?
  • What unifying themes emerged in your coursework and research?
  • If you studied abroad, what, if any, lessons did you learn?
  • How has the study of History informed what you do next in the world?
  • What are the aspects of your intellectual journey through Dickinson Hall that you most hope to remember a year, five years, or even fifty years from now?

The comprehensive exam itself is oral and will last 30 minutes. The thesis adviser and second reader will administer the exam. Students should consider the reports of their adviser and second reader in preparing for the oral defense. They will be asked to begin with a statement no longer than ten minutes in which the student describes the thesis and its goals and provides a preliminary response to the readers’ reports. It may also be useful to connect the thesis to larger historical questions. The thesis readers will then conduct the exam by asking questions. In addition to the thesis itself, the exam may also include a discussion of the student's overall intellectual trajectory in the Department as represented by the comprehensive statement (described above).