Dissertation Prospectus

In the third year doctoral students prepare a dissertation prospectus and present it at the prospectus conference, which is held yearly during the third week in January.

The conference is a forum in which students share their ideas with faculty and colleagues, and receive suggestions as they begin to research and write their dissertation.

Following the conference, advisors may either approve the prospectus, or ask the student to revise it. It is suggested that students begin working on the prospectus immediately after passing the general exam, so that they are adequately prepared.

A typical prospectus includes the following:

Statement of Thesis

What is the problem you wish to study and what is its interest or significance in current historical thinking? State clearly and concisely how you presently conceive this problem and how you suppose it can be resolved.

Historiographical Context

What work has, and has not, been done in this field and on this problem? Discuss relevant scholarship critically. It is not necessary to criticize specific failings; but show what is understood to be the merits and limitations of relevant works. How do you propose to develop, challenge, or depart from existing positions or themes in historical literature?

Method and Theory

Outline an approach to the subject. If the conception has theoretical aspects, discuss them critically. Have scholars in other fields developed concepts of potential interest to the topic? Think about method and theory, even if there is a decision not to engage much with external perspectives and theory. The faculty neither encourages nor discourages such engagement, but cautions that original historical work should not simply illustrate other people's ideas.


Give an account of the sources for the subject. Stress primary sources, the difficulties they present, their location (print, manuscript, or any other form), and their accessibility. Identify the principal libraries and repositories as well as other locations and persons. Do not overlook unpublished doctoral or master's research.


Draft a tentative chapter outline and schedule of tasks and stages for the writing of the dissertation. Allow time for research, travel to collections, writing, and revision.


List the primary and secondary sources used to develop the prospectus.

About the Prospectus Conference

Presentations last for 30 minutes. For the first 15 minutes students present their prospectus, and the remaining 15 minutes are reserved for questions from the audience. By December 2nd, the graduate coordinator will ask for three pieces of information as a prelude to the conference:

1.   Provisional title of the presentation
2.   Requests for audio/visual equipment
3.   Names of faculty members who should be invited to the presentation.

By January 13 candidates will submit a 15-20 page written prospectus to the graduate coordinator that forms the basis of the presentation. The prospectus should include a select bibliography and the names of archives in which research will be conducted. For examples of last year's conference see the Graduate Student Resources site.

About the Prospectus Approval

Immediately after the conference the student’s advisor may approve the prospectus by signing the dissertation prospectus approval form. In some cases, however, an advisor may ask the student to revise their prospectus. If revisions are necessary, the final version of the prospectus must be submitted to the coordinator, along with the signed approval form, by April 1.