PhD Program

History Doctoral Program

The PhD is a research degree.  The principal objective of graduate training concerns the development of professional skills in historical research, and the principal source of professional employment for a holder of the PhD in history is teaching.  The department seeks to prepare doctoral students for research and teaching, but we are also dedicated to preparing students for a variety of other careers, including public history and archival management.

The program for the Ph.D. degree provides a framework within which students can acquire the following training and experience: (1) broad exposure to a general area of interest and to its current literature and controversies; (2) more intense training in the special field in which the student intends to conduct research and do his or her primary teaching; (3) a sound but more limited introduction to a second field; (4) training in research procedures and methods; (5) appropriate linguistic competence; and (6) the completion of a dissertation judged to be a significant piece of historical research and writing.

Ph.D. students must complete 72 points of course work (equivalent to 18 4-point courses). In each of the first three years, students must complete 24 points of course work, by August 15 at the latest. Students must maintain a GPA of 3.5 or above. All students must take the course Approaches to Historical Research and Writing I, HIST-GA 3603, as well as their major area Literature of the Field course in their first year. The following major fields are available: Africa, African Diaspora, Atlantic World, East Asia, Medieval Europe, Early Modern Europe, Modern Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean, South Asia, and the United States. In addition, students must complete a research seminar and research paper by May 15th of the first year.

Each doctoral student must designate a major field, within which the subject of the student’s dissertation falls and presumably the field in which the student expects to be principally involved as a writer and teacher. Major fields should be broad enough so that they can prepare students to teach an upper-level undergraduate course or a graduate colloquium, but narrow enough so that students can develop professional competence in a body of literature.


Major fields may be defined in chronological and geographical terms, or they may be partly thematic. In each case, a student’s major field should be worked out in discussion with his or her adviser and with at least one additional faculty member who has agreed to participate in examining it. Each doctoral student also must choose, by the end of the third semester, a second field and a second field adviser, who will examine the student in the qualifying exam. A second field may have the same dimensions as the major field, or it may be thematically defined. In every case, however, the second field may not be contained within the student’s major field but must introduce some significant new area or dimension. Second fields may also be arranged in some fields in which no major fields are available and may be comparative or transnational. Archival management and historical editing also qualify as second fields, without respect to the major field. Women’s history and public history, if comparative, also qualify as second fields without respect to the major field.


Ph.D. students should satisfy the foreign language requirement for their field of study within the first year of graduate study and must do so by the time they complete 48 points of course work. The minimal departmental requirement is one foreign language; additional languages may be required by the student’s advisory committee. Students must demonstrate proficiency in a foreign language that has direct relevance to their area of study. Students may satisfy proficiency either by passing the proficiency examination in the language given by the Graduate School of Arts and Science or by having earned a grade of B+ or better in an intermediate or advanced language course in a college or university no more than two years prior to enrollment. Exceptions may be made for languages required for primary research, by which a student’s adviser may specify some other procedure as necessary to demonstrate sufficient competence.

Students must pass a written qualifying examination in one of the department’s designated major fields, as well as in a second field. Students must take this examination at the end of the second year of study. Students with more than 3 incompletes will not be allowed to take the exam. A student who does not pass the examination has the right to retake it once. The qualifying examination is not a comprehensive examination. It is intended to test how well each student understands and can explain historical arguments and issues and bring to bear pertinent information and knowledge in discussing them within the chosen field of specialization.


Each student must submit a dissertation proposal and defend it during the course of a 90-minute oral examination no later than the end of the first week of the sixth semester. The committee for the examination consists of three faculty members: one is the student’s major adviser; the other two are normally readers of the dissertation. Where appropriate, one member of the committee may be from outside the department.


Each student must write a dissertation under the supervision of a member of the department (joint advisers are permitted). The dissertation committee, including the adviser, has five members; a minimum of three must be Department of History full-time faculty.


Concentration in Medieval and Renaissance Studies: The concentration in Medieval and Renaissance Studies is interdisciplinary in nature and creates a framework and community for diverse approaches to the study of the Middle Ages and Renaissance. It complements doctoral students’ work in their home departments with interdisciplinary study of the broad range of culture in the medieval and early modern periods, as well as of the theories and methods that attend them. The concentration is designed to train specialists who are firmly based in a traditional discipline but who can work across disciplinary boundaries, making use of varied theoretical approaches and methodological practices. The concentration consists of twenty credits distributed under the following courses: Proseminar in Medieval and Renaissance Studies, MEDI-GA 1100, Late Latin and Early Vernaculars, MEDI-GA 2100, or other approved course, and Medieval and Renaissance Studies Workshop, MEDI-GA 2000, 2 points per semester taken twice in an academic year. Students must also take one approved course in the area of Medieval and Renaissance Media: Visual and Material Cultures, and one approved course in a medieval or early modern topic. At least one course, not counting either the Proseminar or Workshop, must be taken outside a student’s home department. In addition, students pursuing the concentration will present a paper at least once either in the Workshop or in a conference offered by the Medieval and Renaissance Center.