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Doctoral Degree in History

Generally, incoming PhD students who enter with an master’s degree will be expected to have completed the equivalent of our MA program. Students admitted on the BA to PhD track will complete the program’s MA requirements as they progress toward their PhD degrees. PhD students who come with master’s degree and have taken courses equivalent to HIST 612, 615, and/or 616 may petition to waive those courses.

For PhD program policies and a typical timetable of progress, see the Graduate Student Handbook.

Major and minor field requirements

PhD students will prepare themselves in three fields as follows:

  1. A major research field: a specific, more narrowly-defined field (typically the area of one’s dissertation, as conventionally understood)
  2. A major teaching field: a general, more broadly-defined field, which encompasses the research field but is more extensive (typically a teaching field as conventionally understood in the profession)
  3. A minor thematic, methodological, or comparative field (typically the theme, method, or comparison to be advanced in the dissertation)

For example, a student of modern France might take a major research field in modern France, a major teaching field in modern Europe, and a minor thematic field in, say, gender history. Or a student in the China field might take a major research field in modern China, a teaching field in China, and a minor comparative field in Japan. A student in the American West might take a major research field in the American West, a major teaching field in U.S. history, and a minor thematic field in comparative settler colonialism. A student of Latin American environmental history might take a major research field in environmental history, a major teaching field in Latin American history, and a minor methodological field in anthropology.

Plan of study

By the end of the first quarter in the program, students are required to file a Plan of Study, signed by the advisor, in which they state their major field, list all anticipated course work, and specify their language requirement. The Plan of Study may be modified later by agreement of both student and advisor. All Plans of Study are reviewed and approved by the Director of Graduate Studies.

Course requirements

First-year sequence (3 courses)
An entering PhD student lacking the equivalent to our HIST 612 must take the same HIST 612-615-616 sequence as that required of MA students. This requirement may be waived for incoming students with sufficient preparation based on prior graduate work.

Field readings (1 course)
The one-course field readings requirement, to be completed in the first two quarters of the first year, may be fulfilled in one of three ways:

  • HIST 611 Field Readings, with advisor
  • An appropriate 500-level course with advisor
  • HIST 608 Colloquium, if in field and equivalent to Field Readings

Seminars (1 course)
One seminar, numbered HIST 507 or HIST 607, to be completed in the first year.

Colloquia (2 courses)
Two colloquia numbered HIST 608, or HIST 508 with permission.

Minor field (2 courses)
Two courses at the 500- or 600-level together defining a thematic, methodological, or comparative field. Non-History courses may be used with approval.

Extra (1 course)
One additional course at the 500- or 600-level in History or another field.

Geographic distribution requirement
All PhD students are required to take two courses focusing on subjects outside their country/region of geographic specialization.

Credit requirements

There is no total credit requirement for the PhD; rather, the Graduate School stipulates both a minimum credit requirement (three credits per term) and a residency requirement (three consecutive terms with nine credit hours per term).

Language requirement

All PhD students must demonstrate proficiency in at least one foreign language by passing an exam that tests the ability to read and comprehend a passage of average difficulty drawn from primary sources or the secondary literature. The language exam is offered once each quarter during the regular academic year.

Advisors must approve the choice of language. The language requirements of PhD students, however, will vary according to field. Students admitted into the PhD program should have the language preparation required to enable historical work in their field. Some additional language study might be required by individual advisors as an essential part of a student’s PhD work. These standards should be established at the time a faculty member accepts a graduate student and written on the Plan of Study form.

Oral comprehensive examination

PhD students should take and pass their oral comprehensive exams in the winter term of their second year or during spring term at the latest. (BA–PhD students should take their oral comprehensive exams in their third year.) Students may, but are not required, to register for HIST 618 to prepare for their comprehensive examinations with the appropriate faculty.


PhD students must complete and defend a dissertation under the guidance of their advisor and dissertation committee.

Students should have tentatively identified a dissertation topic by the end of their first year (or, for BA–PhD students, by the fall of the third year) and should then file a Tentative Dissertation Topic Form with the Graduate Director.

PhD students must also prepare and defend a dissertation prospectus, ideally in the quarter subsequent to successful passage of the oral comprehensive exam. Students may, but are not required, to register for HIST 619 to prepare their dissertation prospectus with the appropriate faculty.

Doctoral Oral Defense Procedures updated beginning Fall 21.

Time to degree

Applicants with MA degrees who are accepted into the PhD program must complete the PhD requirements within seven years. Beyond seven years, the student must petition the Graduate School for an extension, which is granted one term at a time. (The national average time to degree in history is eight years beyond the BA, according to the American Historical Association.)

Students with BA degrees who are admitted to the PhD program must complete the MA requirements within two years. Such students must complete both the MA and the PhD requirements within a total of seven years from the time of admission.