History and Classics

Departmental Language Requirement

All MA and PhD students must demonstrate competence in reading a language or languages other than English. The Department expects every candidate for an advanced degree to be proficient in any language or languages necessary for carrying out thesis or project research and for accessing the literature in his/her field. The requirements differ for each of Ancient Societies and Cultures, Classics, and History.

Ancient Societies and Cultures

  • For all students, one modern language, either German, French, or Italian, or another language appropriate to the student’s area of specialization.
  • Depending on the student’s preparation and chosen area of specialization, a second ancient language at the intermediate level.


In Classics, the “language requirement” refers exclusively to a modern language and not to the Ancient Greek and/or Latin requirements of specific programs.

  • MA in Classical Archaeology – one of German, French, or Italian.
  • MA in Classical Languages – one of German, French, or Italian.
  • PhD in Classical Archaeology – two modern languages relevant to the student’s field of study, as determined by the supervisory committee and reported in writing to the Associate Chair (Graduate Studies) by the end of the first year.
  • PhD in Classical Languages – German plus either French or Italian.


  • For students specializing in Canadian History, the language will normally be French. In appropriate cases, and at the MA level only, the Graduate Committee may permit another language to be substituted.
  • For all other students, the specific language requirement will be determined in consultation with the student’s supervisor.
  • PhD students may be required to fulfill the Departmental requirement in two languages.

Options for Satisfying the Language Requirement

Students may satisfy the language requirement in their programs in one of two ways. They are urged to discuss the most appropriate path with their supervisor, since some areas of research may require additional study of a language.

  • Option 1 – The student may take and pass, with a minimum grade of B+, *6 of second-year (or higher) undergraduate course work in the requisite language.
    NOTE: Students in Ancient Societies and Cultures who require a second ancient language need a minimum grade of B.
  • Option 2 – The student may take and pass a language translation examination administered by the Department. The Departmental language examination is held three times a year (September, December, and April). NOTE: This provision supersedes the Faculty of Graduate Studies and Research regulation about fulfilling the language requirement with “documentation from an appropriate language department.” External attestation of proficiency by another department in the University does NOT satisfy the Departmental language requirement(s) in History and Classics.

Students choosing Option 1 are urged to take the language courses as soon as possible.

Students choosing Option 2 must make at least one attempt at the Departmental translation examination in the first year of their program. Those who do not feel qualified to sit the examination in September, or who fail it in September, are required to enrol in a suitable (intensive, if available) language course. The Departmental examination may be taken a total of three times. Only under exceptional circumstances—and only with a supporting letter from the student’s supervisor—will any further attempts be allowed; the decision will be made by the Graduate Committee. Anyone who wishes to full the requirement via Option 2 should not use up opportunities without adequate preparation.

The Departmental language requirement must be fulfilled by the end of the second year of a student’s program. In the case of PhD students in History, it must also be fulfilled before scheduling the Candidacy examination.

Departmental Language Examination

Students planning to sit either the September, the December, or the April examination must register with the Graduate Secretary no later than 10 days prior to the examination itself. The Graduate Secretary will post the date and time of the examination both in hard copy within the Department and online on the Departmental graduate webpage, and email students with the information, at least two weeks before the deadline for registering.

The Departmental translation examination is two hours long. Students will be given a choice of two passages, both in standard scholarly prose, relevant to their field of study (Ancient Societies and Cultures, Classics, History). In the case of Latin for History students, an appropriate primary source will be selected. Use of a dictionary is permitted. All examinations are read by two members of the Department, both of whom must consent to the final grade of pass or fail.

Since the purpose of the examination is to demonstrate a reading knowledge of the language, a pass depends on both the quality and quantity of translation. The assessment will rely upon the examiners’ judgment, not any strictly mathematical calculation. Individual errors may not necessarily lead to failure, and the main criterion is the ability to give a clear and accurate translation of the passage as a whole without any significant misunderstanding of the text’s argument. The examination will consist of at least two pages of a modern European language, but for History students, the requirement to complete two pages may be waived in the case of an ancient or an Asian language.

Students are urged to consult both their supervisor and the examiners before undertaking the examination.


Students who have recently passed a language examination administered by the Department, or who have obtained a degree in a post-secondary institution where the language of instruction is other than English, are considered to have satisfied the language requirement, provided that the language offered in fulfillment is appropriate to the area of study.

A student who has passed a comparable language examination in an appropriate language in the History or Classics department of another university may petition in writing to have this considered fulfillment of the language requirement. In such cases, the Associate Chair (Graduate Studies) will reach a decision in consultation with the student’s supervisor.