PhD candidates will write a comprehensive exam in the candidate’s declared area of expertise. Such an exam tests the candidate’s broad range of scholarly reference in his or her field, that is, the area of literary history within which his or her primary research-doctoral research project and dissertation-will be conducted. A field in English Studies may be defined by a historical period and/or a geopolitical zone, such as medieval, Renaissance, early modern English, eighteenth-century British, British romanticism, Victorianism, modernism, Canadian, American, South Asian, African, etc.
The primary goal of this field exam is to provide the candidate with the opportunity to solidify intellectual and scholarly knowledge of a cross-section of literary and cultural history-its events, its movements, its institutions, its practices, and its discourses. To that end, the exam will help him or her to be conversant in the key primary texts of the field and be literate in the current critical debates in and around those texts. A comprehensive exam tests for comprehensive knowledge, neither selective nor partial. Pragmatically speaking, this exam establishes the groundwork and foundation for the candidate’s thinking about and toward his or her dissertation. Far from replicating the work of that dissertation, it maps out the macro-contexts, meta-narratives, historical forces, epistemic shifts, and large-scale frames of reference that make possible productive and meaningful research projects with narrowly defined focuses. Pragmatically speaking, it gives the candidate the academic credentials necessary for preparing courses in that field so that he or she can develop as a scholar and a teacher.