Procedural Guide for the Field of Medieval Studies

The Procedural Guide is distributed to all faculty members and graduate students in the Graduate Field of Medieval Studies and to any faculty members from other fields who serve as minor members on the Special Committees of Medieval Studies graduate students; it is also available on the Program’s website. It is reviewed periodically by Medieval Studies faculty in consultation with the graduate students. Its provisions apply to all faculty and students in Medieval Studies, regardless of when they joined the Program; in some cases, however, the faculty will consider, on an individual basis, exceptions to certain policies and procedures for students who entered the Program before such policies went into effect.

Application and Admissions Process

Applications for admission and aid should be made through the Graduate School’s Web site: Applications must be submitted online and completed (including payment of the registration fee) by January 15.

Beginning in the academic year 2020-2021, the Medieval Studies Program no longer requires the GRE aptitude test or subject test. The Graduate School mandates that foreign students who are not native speakers of English must pass the TOEFL examination with scores of 20 (Writing), 15 (Listening), 20 (Reading), and 22 (Speaking). Three letters of recommendation (one more than required by the Graduate School), and all college (and graduate school) transcripts can be uploaded directly to the online application. A writing sample of approximately twenty pages on a topic that best reveals the applicant’s scholarly abilities, critical acumen, and suitability for advanced medieval scholarship should be included in the application materials.  Students are also required to submit an academic statement and personal statement of approximately 1000 words each. Offers of admission (with financial aid) are usually made by April 1.

The Field of Medieval Studies admits only students pursuing the Ph.D. Please address all inquiries to the Director, Medieval Studies Program, 259 Goldwin Smith Hall, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY 14853-3201. Telephone: 607-255-8545. E-mail: Our Web site includes a section entitled “Advice for Applicants,” at

The Program in Medieval Studies


The goal of the Medieval Studies Program is to provide a constructive, innovative, and cooperative atmosphere for students and faculty who wish to work in an interdisciplinary milieu; to train students to a high level of expertise in a primary subfield; to equip them with a close knowledge of one or more other relevant subfields; to expose them to the methods and tools of Medieval Studies scholarship; and to allow students and faculty mentors to develop new configurations and combinations of materials in, and approaches to, medieval culture. The interdisciplinary character of these pursuits is fostered by a collegial atmosphere within the Program, as well as by relations with the home departments in which the Field’s faculty and other graduate students pursuing medieval scholarship are located. The presence of alumni/ae in college and university posts throughout the country and abroad testifies to the quality and reputation of the Program.

The vitality of the Program is enriched by the Medieval Studies Graduate Association (MSGA), an independent, student-run entity. The goals of the MSGA include creating a forum for discussion and debate among medievalists in the College of Arts and Sciences, providing support for underrepresented groups and disciplines, and serving as an official channel for student communication with the Program and the Graduate School. The MSGA organizes academic and social activities, including a monthly Medieval Roundtable at which students share and comment on one another’s research, the annual Festival of Medieval Readings, and Reading Groups on a wide variety of medieval subjects. In addition, every year, a separate, independent graduate student committee designs and organizes the Medieval Studies Student Colloquium (MSSC).


New students should study the provisions of this Procedural Guide before registration. During registration week, the Director holds a meeting to orient new students about the Program and Cornell, and to answer their questions about the plan of study outlined in the Procedural Guide. At registration and during the early weeks of the term, the Director and other members of the Program will make additional efforts to advise and assist new and continuing students. We hold a reception to welcome new students and introduce them to faculty members and continuing students. Upon arrival at Cornell, students are required to take a diagnostic placement exam in Medieval Latin; for further details, see below, “Languages”.


A student must spend at least six semesters in residence at Cornell in order to earn the required number of “residence units” for the Ph.D., at least two of which must be earned after the A Exam. (A minimum of two residence units is required before the M.A. is granted.) In practice, eight semesters and four summers are the minimum required for completion of the requirements for the Ph.D. in Medieval Studies. Normally, this period of study is continuous, although it is possible to obtain a temporary leave of absence for non-academic reasons.  Students who need to pursue their studies away from Cornell may apply for study in absentia.


Medieval Studies has worked out twinning arrangements with the École Nationale des Chartes in Paris and with the Central European University in Vienna: our students can study at these institutions, and their students can study at Cornell. Cornell fellowship money can be used by our students to study or to do research in Paris or Vienna.


Faculty in the Field of Medieval Studies represent eight subfields: Archaeology, History, History of Art, Literature, Linguistics and Philology, Music, Philosophy, and Religious Studies. Within each subfield, there are one or more concentrations (see Appendix 1).

Students should identify a primary subfield in which they wish to develop scholarly expertise. This decision does not require any formal declaration. The student then selects three concentrations, one major and two minor. At least one minor concentration must be in a subfield different from that of the major concentration. Also, one minor concentration may be chosen from a graduate field other than Medieval Studies, e.g. Anthropology.

Students may choose two concentrations within one subfield (one major, one minor), and a third concentration (minor) in a subfield other than that of the major concentration; or three concentrations in three different subfields (one major and two minor).

Here are four examples:

  1. In the Literature subfield, a major concentration in Old English Literature, a minor concentration in Middle English Literature, and a minor concentration in a subfield other than Literature, e.g. Medieval European History.
  2. In the History subfield, a major concentration in Medieval Science and Technology, a minor concentration in Medieval Chinese History, and a minor concentration in a subfield other than History, e.g. Medieval Chinese Literature.
  3. In the Archaeology subfield, a major concentration in Medieval Archaeology and Material Culture, a minor concentration in Medieval Judaism, and a minor concentration in a graduate field not represented in the Medieval Studies Program, e.g., Anthropology.
  4. In the Music subfield, a major concentration in Medieval European Music and minor concentrations in Middle English Literature and Medieval European Art.

Students who have questions about what constitutes a major or minor concentration or about what combinations of concentrations are recognized by Medieval Studies and the Graduate School should consult the Program Director.


Upon arrival at Cornell, students are required to take a diagnostic placement exam (with dictionary) in Medieval Latin as a prerequisite to enrollment in Latin seminars and Latin paleography. A student who does not demonstrate basic competence will be directed to enroll in the Medieval Latin Reading Group, Latin courses offered by the Department of Classics, and/or the Medieval Latin Reading Course (if offered).

The Program administers its own Latin proficiency examination, which every student is required to pass (for an exception, see next paragraph). Normally, the exam is taken in the spring semester of the second year of residence but it may be taken earlier, if circumstances warrant. In any case, the exam must be taken before the date of the A exam. A student who does not demonstrate basic competence on the Latin exam is required to take a new version of the exam as soon as feasible, normally, in the spring of the following academic year.

A student whose primary research language is a non-European language, e.g., Arabic, Hebrew, Chinese, or Japanese, may, at the discretion of the Special Committee, and with the approval of the Director, substitute for the Latin proficiency requirement a pre-A exam in the appropriate language, in which case the procedures for assessing proficiency will be determined by the Director in consultation with the chair of the student’s Special Committee.

A student who prefers to take the Toronto Latin Level One exam – e.g., for the sake of the external credential – may do so, at personal expense. A “pass” on the Toronto Level One or Level Two exam satisfies the Cornell Medieval Studies Latin proficiency requirement. Students who are pursuing advanced study in Latin are encouraged to take the Toronto Level Two Latin exam, again at personal expense.

Students are required to demonstrate reading proficiency in two modern research languages other than English that are relevant to their scholarship, e.g., German, French, Spanish, or Italian. The method of demonstration is determined by the Special Committee. Reading proficiency in the first research language must be demonstrated before the end of the sixth semester of study; and in the second language before the end of the eighth semester.

Students who have native reading proficiency in a modern research language other than English that is relevant to their scholarship may count this language toward the research language requirement, conditional upon demonstration of reading proficiency in a manner to be determined by the Special Committee.

First-Year Committee

The Program Director will appoint a First-Year Committee to advise new students. The Committee will be composed of three faculty members: the Director and two Program members selected by the Director. The primary function of the First-Year Committee is to advise students about course selection and language training and, generally, to facilitate the transition to Cornell and the Medieval Studies Program. The Program Director serves as the chair of record until a student chooses a Special Committee chair. The Program will notify students who accept our admissions offer about the composition of the First-Year Committee; entering students will meet with the committee during orientation and again prior to course registration for the spring semester.

Special Committee

Students are encouraged to choose a Special Committee chair by the beginning of their second semester in residence but no later than the end of that semester (see “Choosing a Special Committee Chair”, on the Medieval Studies website). By the end of the third semester in residence, the Graduate School requires that every doctoral student have a full special committee. Students should choose the other two members of the Special Committee in consultation with the Special Committee chair and the Director.

The three members of the Special Committee represent the student’s major and minor concentrations (see “Subfields and Concentrations”, above, and Appendix 1, below), which will be the focus of coursework up to the A Exam. Students are free to change the composition of their Special Committee at any time, although any change made after the A exam requires a special petition to the Graduate School.

The primary function of the Special Committee is to facilitate student progress toward a professional career. Students should call upon their committee members for advice toward their formation as scholars and teachers, to clarify their professional options and trajectories, and to discuss their professional careers.

Once every year, beginning in the second year of study, the Special Committee is required to meet in person with the student to engage in a formal conversation about academic progress, future coursework, language training, exams, research and any matters relating to student progress towards the degree. This annual meeting is a component of the Graduate School’s Student Progress Review (SPR) requirement, which supports the regular exchange of constructive, written feedback between advisees and advisors. Beginning in the spring of the second year of study, graduate students must fill out the SPR form in which they reflect on recent accomplishments, identify challenges, and establish goals. The Committee chair then reviews the student’s SPR form, enters feedback, and provides the Graduate School with an assessment of student progress. Feedback that is documented on the SPR will be made available to the student, all members of the student’s special committee, and the DGS/GFA of the student’s field.

Apart from these group meetings, it is the student’s responsibility to initiate and maintain ongoing contact with individual members of the Committee, especially the Chair.

Extraordinary requests about the student’s program of study should be submitted in writing to the Special Committee. If a request is approved by the Committee, the student should submit it to the Director, who will place it in the student’s file. Upon request, the Special Committee chair will write up the minutes of a student’s committee meeting for preservation in the file.

Students who have passed their A exams must submit the following materials to the Medieval Studies Administrative Assistant on or before February 1 of every year:

  1. a current CV;
  2. the dissertation proposal as approved by the Special Committee (if the student is beyond the A exam by six months or more; see below, “Dissertation Proposals”);
  3. any portion or portions of the dissertation completed or drafted.

These materials help the Program Director make a determination regarding the allocation of any fellowship opportunities that may become available for students with guaranteed support, and any teaching or fellowship opportunities that may become available for students beyond the five years of guaranteed support (see “Funding”). Materials may be submitted in electronic format.


At least once each academic year, Program faculty meet to review the status and progress of all students, and to make decisions about funding for the following year. In preparation for this meeting, each member of a student’s Special Committee will be asked to submit to the Program Director a brief written report on the student’s progress, standing, and expected goals for the coming year. The Director and the student’s Special Committee will try to anticipate a negative review, and notify the student in advance of the faculty meeting. Students should make every effort to make up incompletes (see “Incompletes”) before the review and fulfill other pertinent requirements to ensure that they remain in good standing, as defined by the Graduate School.


The Program normally does not award any credit for graduate-level work completed before matriculating at Cornell. A student who enters the Program with advanced training in e.g. Latin or Arabic paleography may petition for release from this 4-credit seminar requirement (see below). The waiver must be requested prior to matriculation and, if granted, does not count toward the twelve 4-credit seminar requirement (see below).

The Medieval Studies office prepares and distributes to graduate students a list of graduate/undergraduate courses that will be of interest to Medieval Studies students in any given semester. Students also may enroll in courses that are not on this list. In planning coursework, students should keep in mind that faculty members do not offer every course every year, and that there are some semesters when faculty are on leave.

Students may find that they are interested in studying a subject about which no course is currently offered or is likely to be offered at Cornell during the period of their coursework. In these cases, students may request to take an independent study with a faculty member. These courses generally meet on a weekly basis; the faculty member and the student must agree at the outset about requirements for the course (readings, essays, exams, etc.). Each department has a separate number for registering its independent study courses; alternatively, students may register for an independent study through the Medieval Studies Program.

All Medieval Studies students are required to take two seminars:


  1. MEDVL 7777, Introduction to Medieval Studies, a pro-seminar offered bi-annually in the fall semester. This is a 2-credit course, offered S/U, and it does not count as one of the required twelve 4-credit seminars (see below).


  1. A field-approved course in paleography, e.g. MEDVL 6102, Latin Paleography.


The number of courses to be taken in a semester is to be determined, during the first year in residence, in consultation with the student’s First-Year Committee and, in subsequent years, in consultation with the Special Committee. The normal course load for students on fellowship is three 4-credit graduate seminars per semester, and, for students who are teaching, two 4-credit seminars. A Special Committee may allow adjustment to this norm according to circumstances.


Language courses count toward the total number of courses taken per semester, but not toward the twelve 4-credit graduate seminars required to complete the Ph.D. A graduate seminar is a 4-credit course numbered at the 6000 level or above. A graduate student is permitted to take a 4-credit upper-level undergraduate seminar and to count this toward the graduate course requirement, albeit only with the approval of First-Year chair or Special Committee chair and the professor who is teaching the course.

Students usually take courses for a letter grade. In certain circumstances, a student may take a modern research language course or a 4-credit seminar on an S/U basis (see, but only with the approval of the First-Year or Special Committee chair, and the course instructor. Normally, students will take no more than one 4-credit seminar per semester on an S/U basis.

Audited courses do not count as part of a student’s course load and do not appear on a student’s external transcript.

Students should plan to complete coursework by the midpoint of the third year, thus leaving time to prepare for the A Exam.


Coursework should be completed as soon as required by the instructor. Both the Graduate School and the Field have policies concerning the completion of courses after the term in which the course was offered:

Field policy: A student who has more than one Incomplete after one semester, or more than two at any point in time in a subsequent semester, has too many Incompletes. The Field expects students to make up all Incompletes by the time of their A Exams, although faculty will take account of extraordinary circumstances and can make exceptions.

Graduate School policy: Course grades of Incomplete (INC) and No Grade Reported (NGR) can be removed only within one year from the date of the end of the course in which the grade was given. After that time, the grade becomes a permanent part of the transcript. A student can retake a course for a grade, which would then appear on the transcript along with the INC or NGR.

The Special Committee chair monitors student progress towards the degree. In addition, the Program Director reviews student transcripts on a regular basis and will notify any graduate student who is not making satisfactory progress toward the degree.


A Exam

The Graduate School stipulates that graduate students must attempt the Admission to Candidacy or A Exam by the beginning of the fourth year in order to be considered in good standing. A student who does not attempt the A Exam by this time will not be permitted to register with the graduate school.

Before the A exam, students must have completed the following requirements: taken the Latin proficiency exam, demonstrated reading proficiency in at least one modern research language other than English, taken MEDVL 7777 and a field-approved paleography course, and completed twelve 4-credit graduate seminars.

The A Exam normally consists of three parts: one exam in the student’s major concentration and two in the minor concentrations (see above, “Subfields and Concentrations”). Preparatory work must be agreed upon by the Special Committee as a whole, and three individual exams are normally completed separately with each faculty member (see Appendix 2 for A Exam timetables and due dates).

In addition, the Special Committee may require students to submit as part of the A Exam a dissertation prospectus (see Appendix 2).

Students must obtain a scheduling form for the A exam from the Graduate School website and file it with the Graduate School; and the Graduate Field Assistant must circulate an announcement of the date, time, and location of the exam at least seven days in advance. The oral A Exam is a public event to which faculty and graduate students in the field are invited. It usually lasts about two hours.

The A Exam is not complete until the Special Committee meets as a group with the student to discuss and ratify the results of each individual exam.

Faculty members do not have standard requirements for exams in their concentrations, nor do they have a standard way of conducting these exams. The Special Committee thus operates with a good deal of freedom. Students should consult with each member of the Special Committee to determine the format and content of the exam in each concentration. Some faculty have reading lists and bibliographies prepared for their concentrations, which they may modify to a student's needs and wishes; others prefer to develop an individualized plan of reading and research with the student. Some require the student to write under a time limit, and others allow students as much time as they need (subject to any limits imposed by the Graduate School). See Appendix 2 for typical A Exam formats.

Dissertation and B Exam


Students are expected to meet with their Committee to discuss a dissertation prospectus within six months of completing the A Exam, and no later than the end of the seventh semester. The plans set forth in the prospectus may be modified as the candidate’s research and writing proceed, but significant changes of focus and structure must be approved by the Special Committee.


The Special Committee establishes its own deadlines for completion of dissertation work. Students should stay in contact with the members of their Special Committee at every stage of research and writing.

An acceptable dissertation must satisfy the members of the Special Committee and meet the formal requirements of the Graduate School. Dissertations must be filed online; instructions can be found at



The B Exam is a public, oral dissertation defense to which all faculty and students in Medieval Studies are invited. The B Exam is a meeting of the student and the full Special Committee. The student must file a form scheduling the exam, and the Graduate Field Assistant must circulate an announcement of the date, time, and location of the exam at least seven days in advance. The exam usually lasts about two hours.

If the members of the Special Committee anticipate that the student will not be able to do any one of the following--pass the exam, make required revisions to the dissertation, or submit the dissertation within 60 days of the B exam--they will not permit the student to schedule the B exam.

Funding and Teaching


Upon admission, each Ph.D. student is awarded a five-year financial support package, which is guaranteed, on the condition that the student is making satisfactory academic progress and performs satisfactorily in any assistantship capacity (See “Code of Legislation of the Graduate School”, These five years of support typically include two years of Sage Fellowship and three years of Teaching Assistantships. The Program will endeavor to seek a sixth year of funding for students who have not found jobs but are in good standing and making satisfactory progress, but the Program cannot guarantee this additional support.

Students in their fifth year are required to apply for outside funding to be eligible for support from the Program in the sixth year. Most full-year external doctoral fellowships have application deadlines a year before the fellowships begin, so students will need to submit such applications at the beginning of their fifth year. To that end, each student should meet with the Special Committee chair in the spring of the fourth year to discuss the application process and to identify appropriate fellowships. The Graduate School maintains a database of doctoral fellowships: .

Students must submit a copy of their fellowship application(s) to the Medieval Studies office along with their other materials for the SPR spring review (see above, “Special Committee”). The Special Committee and the Program Director will help students find sources of funding, whether within Cornell or beyond, and with the application process. This is especially important for students whose research requires them to travel, e.g. to libraries, archives, or art galleries.


Students are required to teach at least one semester as part of their doctoral program. Most Medieval Studies students begin to teach during their second year. The Program Director will make every attempt to find teaching opportunities that are most useful to students, keeping in mind the following considerations: (1) maintaining high standards of undergraduate education, and (2) working with the funds allocated to our Program by the College of Arts and Sciences and the John S. Knight Institute for Writing in the Disciplines, but also, on occasion, by other Departments.

Medieval Studies students teach First-Year Writing Seminars (FWS), beginning in their third semester in residence.

Graduate students who teach an FWS are required to take Writing 7100: Teaching Writing, a 1-credit course offered in the summer (for those teaching in the fall), or fall (for those teaching in the spring). The Knight Program does accept requests for graduate students to take the Writ 7100 class concurrently while teaching in the fall, if there is a valid reason. Requests are decided on a case-by-case basis. Graduate students also have the opportunity, space permitting, to serve as interns in the Cornell Writing Center during the six-week summer session. These internships are not required.

Students must submit their FWS course proposals in late February or early March and are notified of their teaching assignment in the letter they receive regarding funding for the following academic year. The teaching assignment is subject to change.

All graduate student Teaching Assistants are assigned to a “course leader” who supervises their teaching activities. The course leader is either a member of the student’s Special Committee or a Medieval Studies faculty member who supervises all Medieval Studies FWS seminars in a given academic year. The course leader meets with teaching assistants on a regular basis, discusses pedagogical matters with them, and observes their classroom teaching at least once every term (preferably twice for first-time TAs). The course leader will place in the student’s file a confidential evaluation of the student’s teaching.

Students may teach under the auspices of another Department, typically that of the primary subfield in which they specialize, e.g. English, History, or Philosophy, or they may teach language courses in the relevant departments. In such cases, students may be supervised by faculty members from those departments.

FWS teaching instructors are required to submit syllabi and all course handouts to the Medieval Studies office. These materials will be made available to any new instructor who wishes to look at them (or to use them, with appropriate acknowledgement).

The Role of the Director

The role of the Director is to call faculty and students to meetings to discuss concerns of the Program; to organize new graduate student orientation; to seek graduate student funding by negotiating with the Dean of the Graduate School, the Arts College, the John S. Knight Institute for Writing in the Disciplines, and the Directors of Graduate Studies of other departments; to direct the graduate Admissions process and the review of continuing students; to make initial proposals for assignments of graduate fellowships and TAships, subject to final approval by the faculty of Medieval Studies and the Dean of the Graduate School; to help students seek outside funding and apply for jobs; to apportion available monies for Medieval Studies lectures and for graduate student conference participation and research; to insure that faculty and graduate students meet the intellectual and professional standards established by the Graduate School, the College of Arts and Sciences, and the Field of Medieval Studies; and to guarantee a high-quality mentoring process. In addition to standard Office Hours, the Director is available to meet with students by appointment, in response to an email request.

Appendix 1: Program Subfields and Concentrations

Below is the list of the eight subfields represented by faculty in the Field of Medieval Studies (left-hand column) and the Concentrations – which may be either major or minor – within those subfields (right-hand column). Students choose a primary subfield and three concentrations: one major concentration and two minor concentrations (for examples, see “Subfields and Concentrations”, above).

N.B: The following list is not exhaustive and is subject to revision based on changes in field membership, changes in faculty interests, and the dynamic nature of interdisciplinary work.

SubfieldsConcentrations (major or minor)
Medieval ArchaeologyArchaeology and Material Culture
Medieval HistoryEuropean History
 Islamic History
 Chinese History
 Science and Technology
Medieval History of ArtEuropean Art
 Islamic Art
Medieval LiteratureLatin Literature
 Old English Literature
 Middle English Literature
 Old French Literature
 Provencal Literature
 Italian Literature
 Spanish Literature
 Old Norse/Icelandic Literature
 Old/Middle/High German Literature
 Arabic Literature
 Hebrew Literature
 Chinese Literature
 Japanese Literature
Medieval Linguistics and PhilologyLatin Linguistics and Philology
 English Linguistics and Philology
 Celtic Linguistics and Philology
 Germanic Linguistics and Philology
 Slavic Linguistics and Philology
 Tocharian Linguistics and Philology
Medieval MusicEuropean Music
 Islamic Music
Medieval PhilosophyEuropean Philosophy
Medieval Religious StudiesJudaism


Appendix 2: Guidelines for A Exam Procedures

The Admission to Candidacy or A Exam in Medieval Studies consists of three exams in the student’s major and minor concentrations, respectively. Students typically dedicate one semester to the preparation of their A Exam. Preparatory work is to be agreed upon with the Special Committee as a whole, although the individual exams, one in each of the three concentrations, are completed separately with each faculty member. Students submit all written work in advance of the oral A exam. At the Oral A exam, the student and Special Committee engage in a conversation about written work submitted by the student in advance.

Students must obtain a scheduling form from the Graduate School website and file it with the Graduate School. Once that form has been approved by the Graduate School, the Graduate Field Assistant notifies Program faculty and students about the date, time and place of the oral exam. This notification must be given at least seven days before the exam. The oral A Exam with full Committee usually lasts about two hours. It is open to faculty and graduate students in the Field.


Students are advised to do the following:

  • consult with (potential) Special Committee members as early as possible, and no later than the second semester of their first year, to discuss faculty expectations for A Exams (including prerequisites, such as coursework or languages);
  • begin discussion of plans for the form and content of the A Exam with the Special Committee as a whole in the first semester of the second year;
  • develop this plan in detail with the Special Committee as a whole in the second semester of their second year.

Students are required to do the following:

  • submit for approval by the Special Committee a plan for the A Exam (approximately one page), specifying the concentrations to be covered and how the student plans to fulfill the requirements in these concentrations by May of their second year; approved plans are to be filed with the Program Director as a record of the agreed exam structure;
  • demonstrate reading proficiency in two modern research languages other than English, one of which may be the student’s mother tongue (see “Languages” above), by a method determined by the Special Committee. Students must attain reading proficiency in a first modern research language before the end of the sixth semester; and in a second by the end of the eighth semester.
  • take the Latin proficiency exam as a prerequisite for taking the A Exam;
  • complete three written exams and submit them to all members of the Special Committee at least two weeks in advance of the oral exam date;
  • pass the oral A Exam no later than the beginning of their fourth year;
  • submit a dissertation prospectus within six months of completing the A Exam, and in no case later than the end of the first semester of their fourth year. Plans set forth in the prospectus may be modified as the candidate’s research and writing proceed; significant changes of focus and structure, however, should be approved by the Special Committee.

The Graduate Field Assistant is required to do the following:

  • Publicly announce the date, time, and location of the oral A Exam at least one week in advance;
  • Publicly announce the date, time, and location of the B Exam at least one week in advance.


There are no standard requirements for the content and format of an A Exam and no standard way of conducting them. The Special Committee is free to customize A Exam content and format to individual student needs. Although no exhaustive list can (or should) be made, typical examples of the work required in a minor concentration include:

  • overview of the subject area, by working on a reading list provided by the Special Committee member or taking a Special Committee member’s survey course;
  • a reading list agreed upon by the student and the Special Committee member;
  • research generating a customized bibliography on a specific topic, culminating in a research paper of approximately twenty pages;
  • a series of short papers (approximately 5-10 pages) written over the course of a semester, in conjunction with regular meetings with the Special Committee member;
  • detailed study of a key primary source or set of sources and the pertinent secondary literature;
  • preparation of a syllabus for a projected course on a specific topic, including both assigned readings and outlines of lectures, assignments;
  • timed exams, e.g., a series of questions assigned, one at a time, over the course of a few weeks, allowing one week to write to each question.

The following are typical examples of the work required in a major concentration:

  • a dissertation prospectus, i.e. a narrative account of the projected dissertation, accompanied by a polished research paper (approximately twenty pages) representative of the writing that will be required for the dissertation. The research paper may serve as the basis for a dissertation chapter. The prospectus and research paper should be a revised and polished essay, complete with bibliography and such scholarly apparatus as may be appropriate;
  • course work (usually with the Special Committee chair) designed to give the student extensive knowledge in a concentration, and an extended research paper (approximately 30 pp. of polished writing, as above).

In the oral A Exam, the members of the Special Committee review and discuss the individual exams and engage in a conversation with the candidate about the significance and coherence of the proposed thesis topic.  A student who does not pass the exam may repeat it, one time, conditional upon the recommendation of the Special Committee.