History Department

Junior Qualifying Exam

Before progressing to work on their senior theses, students in the History department must take and pass a junior qualifying exam. The junior qualifying examination in history requires students to analyze a significant piece of recent scholarship in the discipline. The examination is offered once each semester, in conjunction with the junior seminar. Students in the major ordinarily take the exam in the first four weeks of the semester in which they are enrolled in Junior Seminar (History 411).

Qual Format

Students are given a scholarly article of roughly 30 pages and will have one week to write an essay of no more than 1,200 words. Essays should summarize and critically engage the article's major arguments and conclusions, and assess the article's significance within the historical discipline as a whole. To those ends, students are directed to address the following questions:

  1. General summary and critical assessment: What are the author's primary questions, principal claims, and major conclusions? What are the strengths and weaknesses of the author's major arguments and the evidence employed to prove those claims? When taken as a whole, do the author's principal arguments lead to their conclusions in a logical and coherent manner?
  2. Scholarly significance: How does the author situate their principal research question(s) and major arguments in the context of other scholarship? What conversations with other historians does the author promote and develop? How might the author's methodology, principal concepts or modes of questioning be of significance to historians researching other topics? While these questions are intended to guide you, remember that you must write a coherent essay, not simply provide a list of answers to the questions listed above. In this vein, be sure to provide an appropriate title for your essay. When referring to the assigned article, please cite the work (and relevant page) properly, using either footnotes or parenthetical citations. You need not and should not do additional reading and research when writing this essay.

Note: Once the Qual materials are picked up, students are expected to turn in their responses for evaluation by the deadline. If they do not, they will be regarded officially as having failed, unless illness, injury or family emergency prevented them from completing it.


The department meets to review the quals, which are evaluated with the students' names concealed. The faculty consider the following criteria to determine to determine a grade of pass or fail:

  1. Did the student demonstrate a good understanding of the article?
  2. Did the student accurately identify and explain the article’s main argument?
  3. Did the student accurately describe the article’s main sources and persuasively assess the author’s use of those sources as historical evidence?
  4. Did the student effectively discuss the contributions that the article is making to broader historical inquiry and the historical conversations in which the article is engaged?
  5. On the whole, does the student grasp the conventions, including citation, of historical writing, and are they able to discuss a historical argument in a way that is clear, accurate, and analytical?