University of Washington, Division of Spanish and Portuguese Studies

Anthony L. Geist

We reopened our doctoral program in fall 2013, after it was suspended more than fifteen years ago, and took the opportunity to reenvision a PhD in Hispanic studies for the twenty-first century ( We consider it our responsibility to prepare students, in the words of Sidonie Smith, past president of the MLA, “for the increasingly collaborative scholarly world of the future and for new ventures in collaborative public scholarship, which seeks to link those in the academy to intellectuals and communities outside it” (“Beyond the Dissertation Monograph,” MLA Newsletter, spring 2010). In recognition of the fact that many of our students will pursue careers outside academia as well as in traditional teaching and Research-1 institutions, our PhD has taken the form of a streamlined, interdisciplinary degree with an alternative dissertation model. Time to degree is intended to be five years from the BA or four years for those entering with an MA. As part of their course of doctoral study, our students will participate in the certificate in public scholarship through the Simpson Center for the Humanities (

Exam Structure

The exam portion of the PhD program is composed of three elements:

  1. the composition over several quarters of an annotated bibliography
  2. the composition of a ten- to fifteen-page dissertation prospectus
  3. a ninety-minute oral exam, to be administered in the third quarter of the
    third year (Y3Q3)

Unlike traditional comprehensive exams, our PhD exam is designed to encourage the student to focus on areas of investigation more specifically related to their dissertation project. Starting in the second year of enrollment, students will choose a chair for their PhD exam committee. Under the direction of that chair, students will prepare a PhD reading list of thirty to forty primary sources and twenty to twenty-five secondary sources. Throughout the second and third year of enrollment, students will produce an annotated bibliography with extensive entries for each of the works on the PhD reading list.

Dissertation Project

The dissertation project may take the traditional form of a scholarly monograph on a subject mutually agreed upon by the candidate and the director. Alternatively, the dissertation may take a less traditional form, such as a portfolio of scholarly and creative work, a digital publication, an exhibition with a strong scholarly apparatus, or other configurations, to be determined by the candidate in consultation with the dissertation committee.

The inclusion of a nontraditional alternative to the dissertation comes in response to significant changes in the profession that affect not just Hispanic studies but all humanities disciplines. The crisis that has beset university presses in the last decade makes the scholarly monograph an endangered species. It is increasingly difficult to get a book published, regardless of quality or subsidy. While in many ways this is a loss for scholarship, it has led to a questioning and reconfiguring of the forms of production and dissemination of knowledge. As state support for public universities dwindles, it is increasingly urgent for us to make our disciplines known to a broader audience. Hence the exploration of new forms of scholarship and publication, which may take the form of an ensemble dissertation, or a suite of three or four essays either linked by a common theme or critical stance or in which the candidate experiments with different scholarly voices and topics. The alternative dissertation could also include a digital project of interest to other scholars, teachers, and students; a collaborative project; a translation of a primary or secondary source with a reflection on the practice of translation; or a project of public scholarship pursued in tandem with a cultural institution in the community. These dissertation alternatives will be held to the most rigorous intellectual and scholarly standards.

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