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The final course students take as a part of their program of study is the Capstone Course (HIS 6905). Students sign up for the capstone course under the direction of their thesis advisors but work independently throughout the semester. During HIS 6905, students complete three requirements:

  • A thesis proposal/prospectus and annotated bibliography under the supervision of their advisor
  • Two written exams — one in their area of concentration, one outside their area of concentration
  • An oral defense of the thesis prospectus, annotated bibliography and the two written exams


Students choose their thesis advisor and two examiners prior to the beginning of the semester in which they register for the capstone course. They should approach professors who share their research interests throughout their program of study to discuss potential thesis topics. Students choose examiners from those professors with whom they have completed 5000-level reading colloquia. One examiner should be from their area of concentration; one from outside their area. Students should consult with all three faculty members prior to the beginning of their capstone semester to make sure the professors are willing to serve as thesis advisors or examiners. This committee of three professors then becomes the student’s thesis committee

A date for the written exams will be set when students register for the course. This date will usually be one month before the end of the semester. The thesis proposal and annotated bibliography will be due at that time

During the first week of the capstone course (at the latest), students should meet with their two examiners to agree on exam bibliographies and fields. Students are asked to take a list of the books they have read for any classes they took with that professor to their meeting. It is important that both the professor and student leave that meeting with a copy of the student’s exam bibliography – including any additions the professor may make.

By the end of the first week of class (at the latest) students should also have met with their thesis advisor to determine expectations for the prospectus and annotated bibliography and to agree on a schedule for the semester. Students are encouraged to stay in regular contact with their advisor and to submit multiple drafts of their prospectus and bibliographies

Between the second week of class and the date for the written exam (1 month before the end of the semester), students work independently on their proposals, bibliographies and exams. They are encouraged, however, to maintain regular contact with their advisor and to seek out advice from their examiners

One month before the end of the semester, students complete two, 2-hour written exams and submit 3 copies of their proposals and annotated bibliographies to Nancy Rauscher, the Graduate Program Assistant

Approximately 10 days to 2 weeks following the written exam, the committee and student will meet for an oral defense

Thesis Prospectus and Annotated Bibliography

The following guidelines are intended to help students in drafting thesis proposals and annotated bibliographies. Students should bear in mind that proposals are exactly that – proposals for research yet to be completed. While you should have a solid command of the literature in your field and have surveyed some of the primary sources available for study, you have not yet actually completed your research. Your research questions and initial ideas about argument and organization will change as you progress. Your prospectus needs, therefore, to find a balance between demonstrating a command of what is available and allowing for the research that is not yet completed.

Thesis Prospectus

  • Should be 5-12 pages long (consult with your advisor on this)
  • Should discuss the major problems or questions the project will address
  • Should discuss historiography – what other historians have said about the topic and how your questions/research fit into the literature
  • Should discuss sources available to answer your questions and how you will use those sources (methodology)
  • May include a preliminary chapter outline. This outline is, of course, subject to change but should help you to think about potential ways of organizing your argument and evidence. Students are encouraged to think about their thesis as a series of seminar papers tied together by an overarching argument/interpretation
  • May include some of the preliminary answers to the questions of the project

Annotated Bibliography

  • Should include both primary and secondary sources that are clearly delineated in two separate sections./li>
  • Annotations should give a brief description of the fundamental arguments of each work (in the case of secondary sources) and/or the kinds of information each source provides (especially in the case of primary sources). Think and write about how you will use each source in answering your questions or constructing your argument. Annotations should also discuss the range of coverage for each source


As a part of the capstone course, students will complete two 2-hour exams, one in their area of concentration and one outside their area of concentration. Students are encouraged to seek out examiners in the semester before they sign up for the capstone course. It is critical that they meet with examiners at the very latest during the first or second week of the semester to finalize the exam bibliography

Written exams

  • Students are encouraged to consult with each of their examiners about the exam format (number of questions, choices or none) early in the semester to aid them in reviewing for the exams
  • Students will be given a date for their written exams when they register for the course at the beginning of the semester. Amanda Branham, the Program Assistant, coordinates all scheduling issues. She is the person to contact if you have questions about capstone procedures and administrative issues. Your thesis advisor should be your contact for academic questions
  • On the day of the exams, students should report to Amanda Branham in the department office. She will have your exam questions and provide you with a room and computer for completing the exam. She will also collect your written answers when you are finished
  • Students will have two hours to complete each component of the exam. Both exams will be taken on the same day, back-to-back
  • Students are also expected to submit (to Nancy) three copies of a polished thesis proposal and annotated bibliography when they arrive to take their written exams. Submission at this time is critical as your committee needs to have an appropriate amount of time to review your proposal and bibliography

Oral Defense of exams and proposal

  • The oral defense of the written exams and thesis prospectus is designed to provide students and professors an opportunity to explore any questions that arise from the written sections of the exam. It also gives committee members a chance to give students feedback on their proposals and annotated bibliographies.
  • The oral defense of the exams and thesis prospectus and bibliography takes place 10 days-2 weeks following the written exams and lasts for one hour
  • The student’s thesis advisor chairs the defense
  • During the defense, each examiner has 20 minutes to ask follow-up questions to the written exams. The remaining 20 minutes is for a discussion of the thesis proposal and annotated bibliography. All committee members should participate in this discussion
Students will receive letter grades for each individual component of the capstone course (each written exam, proposal and bibliography, oral defense of all three) but will be given a grade of S/U (Satisfactory or Unsatisfactory) for the overall course

Students are encouraged to use the capstone course to their advantage. This course represents a transition from structured course work with assignments and deadlines to working independently on your thesis. Throughout the semester you have the chance to receive feedback from all of your committee members as regularly as you choose. Use the course to establish patterns of communication with your committee that you can continue while researching and writing your thesis.