Teaching and Other Work

Because Duke has a smaller undergraduate enrollment than many large state universities, the History Department does not depend upon first and second year graduate students to do much introductory teaching and grading. Nonetheless, graduate students regularly serve as research assistants (RAs) for faculty and department officers as well as "graders" (GAs), "teaching assistants" (TAs) in undergraduate classes, with those students on departmental fellowship fulfilling their obligations to the department through these positions.

The needs of the undergraduate curriculum, academic qualifications, seniority, and the preferences of professors affect the assignment of RA, GA, and TA positions. Each semester, assignments are made by the Director of Graduate Studies (DGS) in consultation with the faculty members of the Graduate Committee and the Director of Undergraduate Studies. Because teaching and grading assignments are a function of undergraduate enrollments, they are not usually made until the beginning of the semester. In the fall semester, they are made after freshman registration, which takes place the week before the semester begins. Contracts for these posts are sent from the DGS office and should be signed and returned to the DGS assistant promptly. All graduate students should avail themselves of Duke's Center for Teaching & Learning, which has a variety of pedagogical resources available to graduate students. The Center's website is TU www.ctlw.duke.edu UT .

Research Assistants
Research assistants [RAs] work an average of nine hours per week over the fourteen weeks of the semester. No research assistant should be asked to work more than fifteen hours during any single week of the semester. Research assistants will not be asked to meet with students. Research assistants should neither be asked to grade papers nor to perform administrative duties such as photocopying, finding materials, scanning, or maintaining the course Blackboard site, for a class that a professor is teaching in the semester that RA appointment covers. Research assistants should expect, however, to perform more varied duties than graders or teaching assistants. For example, a research assistant might be asked to assist a professor to prepare a future class, or to work on a professor's research project. Such duties may involve finding materials for that class or research project and photocopying those materials. In addition, a number of research assistantships that will be assigned each academic year involve particular duties. Each year, research assistants will be assigned to the DGS, the DUS, and the Honors Seminar. Research assistants may also be assigned to assist faculty members who have special duties with conferences or journals.

Graders [hereafter GAs] work an average of nine hours per week over the fourteen weeks of the semester. They are responsible for attending class, keeping up with the readings, and grading the work of not more than thirty students. It is expected that the professor teaching the class will grade the same proportion of papers and exams as the GA grades. For example, in a class of forty students, the GA and the professor would each grade the work of twenty students. Graders are not responsible for administrative tasks such as photocopying, finding materials for class, scanning, or maintaining the course Blackboard site; nor are they responsible for issues involving course content, such as writing test or exam questions. Graders will not hold regular office hours over the fourteen weeks of the semester, but may be expected to meet students to discuss papers after a graded assignment has been returned.

Teaching Assistants
Teaching assistants [TAs] work an average of 19.9 hours per week over the fourteen weeks of the semester. They are responsible for attending class, keeping up with the readings, grading, and meeting a discussion section with fifteen to twenty students. If the class does not have a formal discussion section, a TA will be asked to present no more than two lectures. Teaching assistants are not responsible for photocopying or scanning. Teaching assistants should expect to meet with the professor weekly to prepare for class, and to be involved in decisions about course content. They will hold office hours.

Graders, teaching assistants, and research assistants who feel that they are being asked to perform tasks not described in the paragraphs above, or to work in excess of the maximum number of hours per semester, should speak to the professor to whom they have been assigned. If a disagreement cannot be resolved between the grader/teaching assistant/research assistant and the professor, the grader/teaching assistant/research assistant should write to the Director of Graduate Studies, stating his or her complaint. The DGS, advised by the faculty members of the graduate committee, will consider the complaint and propose a resolution.

At the end of each semester, the Assistant to the DGS will formally survey all graders, TAs, and RAs about their work experiences. The faculty members of the graduate committee will review the responses, summarize them in such a way as to preserve student confidentiality, and present the summary for discussion to the first meeting of the full graduate committee in the following semester.

The DGS and the DUS reserve the right, in collaboration with the instructor of a course, to alter these work rules slightly for individual courses. In such cases, the number of hours worked will not increase.

Courses Taught Independently by Doctoral Candidates
Since varied teaching experience is important preparation for an academic career, the department makes an effort to provide all graduate students with the chance to teach their own courses, and each year, several "ABD" doctoral candidates get this opportunity.

Replacement Teaching
Most semesters, the department hires advanced graduate students to teach scheduled courses in the place of faculty members on leave. Occasionally, the department will ask a graduate student whom the department nominated for a university teaching fellowship, but whom did not receive the award, to teach the course that he/she proposed in his/her application. More typically, the department will inform graduate students of likely replacement courses for the following academic year and then solicit proposals from interested students. Requirements for proposing a course for replacement teaching will be laid out by the DUS via an email solicitation around the first of December each year.

These replacement courses will usually be lecture courses already on the department's catalog, for which the department will limit enrollment to 25. As with the course proposals for university teaching fellowships, applicants should explain their qualifications for the course, furnish a syllabus that outlines lecture and discussion topics, readings, and assignments/exams, and arrange for a faculty member to write a recommendation on their behalf. The DUS and DGS, in consultation with the Chair and the faculty members going on leave, will then choose graduate students for available replacement slots. Departmental curricular needs are the primary criterion in selecting proposals. Other considerations include: the quality of individual syllabi and proposals, past teaching success (if any), preparation to teach the course in question, and equity regarding opportunities for independent teaching.

In some cases, the department must find replacement teachers at the last minute, after the annual solicitation for replacement courses. These circumstances do not allow time for the solicitation of new proposals from graduate students. In such instances, the department will make appointments according to the criteria used for all teaching assignments.

University-Wide Competitions
University-wide competitions furnish another channel for independent teaching. The Graduate School holds annual competition each year for several "Named Instructorships" (described below in section on Funding for the Doctoral Dissertation), while the Gerst Program in Program in Political, Economic, and Humanistic Studies, and the Kenan Institute for Ethics offer similar competitive teaching fellowships. In all three cases, the department nominates up to two graduate students for consideration.

The Department invites proposals for these fellowships several weeks in advance of the relevant university deadlines. Proposals should be three to five pages in length, should provide a brief course title, and should explain the rationale for the course and where it fits into departmental offerings. Applicants should also lay out their qualifications for the course, provide a syllabus with sample lecture and/or discussion topics, outline some of the reading they would assign, and indicate written assignments and exams. The usual format is an upper-level (100 level) seminar of fifteen persons, but a student may propose a lecture class if he or she wishes.

Applicants need to make clear how and why the subject matter they wish to teach is logical, significant, and exciting. Advisors should send the DGS a letter of recommendation in support of each student proposal. Selection will be made by the Department's Executive Committee on the basis of the clarity, imagination, and strength of each proposal; the distribution of courses for the coming year; the likelihood that the course will attract and challenge a diverse group of undergraduates, especially History majors; and the applicant's past record, current needs, and future prospects (especially regarding completion of the thesis) as presented in the advisor's letter.

Other Teaching Opportunities
Some History graduate students also serve as TAs in other departments and programs or work as instructors in the University Writing Course (UWC), which is required each fall of all entering undergraduates. Teaching assistantships are most commonly available in African and African American Studies, Women's Studies, and the Center for Documentary Studies (CDS). CDS also offers work to students at an hourly rate. Students must receive the DGS's approval before taking positions in other departments and programs. In the case of UWC, students are nominated by the DGS. In most cases, such positions usually replace the student's TA, GA, or RA in the History Department.

In the past, advanced students have taught their own undergraduate classes at North Carolina State University in Raleigh , North Carolina Central University in Durham , Guilford College in Greensboro , the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and at Elon University in Elon. Students should watch for e-mails from the DGSA and/or the DGSA, and bulletin boards in the graduate student lounge, for notices of teaching positions.

Current list of topics for graduate courses:

Geographic Topics:

  • North American History
  • European History
  • Latin American History
  • African and Asian History
  • Global Connections

Thematic Topics:

  • Law and Society
  • Politics, Public Life, the State
  • Gender
  • Methods, Theory
  • Racial Formations
  • Empires, Colonial Encounters
  • Labor Systems, Capitalism, Business Cultures
  • Military History, Science, Technology


  1. The list applies to both the readings colloquia and the research seminars; you could teach either a readings colloquium or research seminar in “Empires and Colonial Encounters.”
  2. The course you wish to teach may fit into more than one category.  This is not a problem.  Simply pick the topical area that best fits the focus of the course.
  3. Given the new requirements, there will be fewer research seminars than readings colloquia offered in any given year.
  4. The preference for research seminars will be for those with thematic areas, since seminars will need to include students from different geographic and chronological fields.
  5. Courses in geographic topics are intended to be literature reviews to prepare students for teaching. 
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