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You will work with a stellar faculty in the Department of History and neighboring departments as you acquire advanced skills in historical research, analysis, and writing, as well as teaching.

Nine research centers affiliated with the history program offer further programs in area studies, including The Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies, The David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies, and The Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies. You also have access to the largest university library system in the world, consisting of 80 libraries and 17 million volumes.

Examples of dissertations students have worked on include “Cold War Capitalism: The Political Economy of American Military Spending from 1949 to 1989” and “Imperial Schemes: Empire and the Rise of the British Business-State, 1914–1939.”

Graduates of the program have gone on to teach at Yale University, Princeton University, NYU, and the University of Maryland. Others have gone on to positions outside academia as startup founders, lawyers, policy analysts, and museum curators.

Additional information on the graduate program is available from the Department of History and requirements for the degree are detailed in Policies .

Areas of Study

African History | Ancient History | Byzantine History | Early Modern European History | East Asian History | Environmental History | International and Global History | Latin American History | Medieval History | Middle Eastern History | Modern European History | Russian and Eastern European History | South Asian History | United States History

Admissions Requirements

Please review admissions requirements and other information before applying. You can find degree program-specific admissions requirements below and access additional guidance on applying from the Department of History .

Writing Sample

A writing sample is required. While there is not a specific length requirement, most writing samples are around 20 to 25 pages. If you are submitting a sample that is part of a larger work (a chapter from a thesis, for instance) you may include a brief abstract situating the piece in the larger work.

Statement of Purpose

Your statement of purpose should include why you want to study history in graduate school, why you want to study at Harvard, and indicate your research interests and potential advisors. The required writing sample should be of remarkable quality and ask historical questions. Reading ability in two languages other than English is helpful. Most statements of purpose are around 3 to 5 pages.

Standardized Tests

GRE General: Optional

In coordination with Harvard Law School, students may pursue both a PhD in history and a JD at Harvard Law School. To learn more about this course of study consult the Coordinated JD/PhD program overview.

Theses & Dissertations

Theses & Dissertations for History

See list of History faculty


Questions about the program.

PhD in History

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Study History Where It Is Made

AU’s PhD in History will prepare you for a career as an educator, researcher, analyst, and writer working in academia, public and institutional history, and other fields requiring investigative and analytical skills. In this program, you will develop a deeper understanding of how historians investigate and interpret the past while you explore the past with your own original research .

You will receive a high level of mentorship and develop close working relationships with your professors. Under the guidance of our award-winning faculty , our students complete strong dissertations and present work at top conferences while making valuable connections and gaining experience in the Washington, DC, area.

This program is ideal for students interested in American and modern European history, including Russian history. Our department also has strengths in a variety of subfields , including public history, African American history, women’s/gender history, politics and foreign relations, and Jewish history. This diversity will open your options for research and allow for specialization without sacrificing breadth of study.

Rigorous Study with a Degree of Flexibility

Our program combines rigorous training in scholarship with the flexibility to pursue your intellectual interests. Our coursework will give you a solid foundation in historical theory and methodology, research methods, and United States or modern European history. Together with your academic advisor, you will design a program of study to match your academic goals . You will acquire and demonstrate mastery of tools of research , such as foreign languages, quantitative research methods, oral history, new media, and other methodologies. Your doctoral examinations will be tailored to fit your individual fields of study. You will then pursue your own research in writing your doctoral dissertation.

The Department will supervise PhD dissertations in the history of Modern Europe (normally for the period 1789 to the present), United States history (including the colonial period), US foreign relations, and modern Jewish history.

See all admissions and course requirements .

Cutting-Edge Faculty Dedicated to Your Success

Our history faculty makes national news, uncovers under-represented areas of history, and guides doctoral students , helping them generate innovative and influential research . From predicting presidential elections to publishing award-winning books and articles, our distinguished professors produce relevant historical scholarship and will train you do the same. With academic and professional mentorship from our faculty, you will you will enter the field as a thoroughly prepared and well-connected scholar.

Endless Opportunities in a Historic City

Pursuing your doctorate in the nation’s capital provides you with unparalleled access to renowned museums, archives, institutions, and resources . From the Library of Congress, Smithsonian Institution and National Archives to the DC Historical Society, our students are only a metro ride away from exceptional local and national repositories. As part of the Washington Consortium , students at American University are able to take courses at colleges and universities throughout the DC metropolitan area, providing the opportunity to work with a variety of faculty in diverse programs and fields of study.

A truly global city, DC, contains hundreds of embassies, cultural organizations, and enclave communities. Brimming with history , the DC area offers Civil War battlefields, the Capitol, Mount Vernon, the White House, and countless landmarks of the colonial period, Revolutionary War, Civil War, and more recent American history. The city is also home to smaller historical organizations like the DC Historical Society and the DC Preservation League. Whether your interest is global, national, or local, this historic city undoubtedly has something for you.

Explore the Possibilities

Our students go on to become university and college faculty and administrators or work in federal and state governments, for museums and archives, and in other exciting fields. Our alumni teach at universities around the world , from the University of Houston in Texas to University of Prince Edward Island in Canada and Ludwig Maximilians Universität in Munich. Our PhDs hold positions with the nation’s most important institutions , including the Library of Congress, Department of State, National Archives and Records Administration, American Historical Association, National Endowment for the Humanities, US Holocaust Memorial Museum, and the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

Recent and Current PhD Dissertation topics

  • Auketayeva, Laura : "Gender and Jewish Evacuees in the Soviet Union during the Holocaust" 
  • Barry, Michael : "Islamophobic & Anti-Islamophobic Ideas in America"
  • Brenner, Rebecca : "When Mail Arrived on Sundays, 1810-1912" 
  • Boose, Donelle : "Black Power and the Organizing Tradition: Work-ing Women of Washington, DC. 1965-1990"
  • Chatfield, Andrew : "American Support for India’s Self-Determination from 1915-1920: Progressives, Radicals, and Anti-Imperialists"
  • Duval, Lauren : "Landscapes of Allegiance: Space, Gender, and Mili-tary Occupation in the American Revolution"
  • Englekirk, Ryan : "The Third Team: Unmasking Fraternity and Mascu-linity Among Major League Baseball Umpires 1970-2010" 
  • Estess, Jonah : "The People’s Money: The American Revolution, Cur-rency, and the Making of Political Economic Culture in American Life, 1775-1896" 
  • Frome, Gavin : "American Protestant Service Workers in Viet Nam, 1954-1975"
  • Gabor, Ruth : "'Moda' for the Masses: Moscow Fashion’s Appeal at Home and Abroad during the Cold War"
  • Gibson, Laura : "It’s Love that Counts: The History of Non-Nuclear Families in American Domestic Sitcoms"
  • Grant, Jordan : "Catchers and Kidnappers: Slave Hunting in Early America" 
  • Grek, Ivan : "Illiberal Civil Society in Russia, 1992-2000"
  • Harris, Curtis : "Hardwood Revolution: The NBA's Growth & Player Revolt, 1950-1976" 
  • Hawks, Julie : "Capital Investments: Engineering American Cold War Culture" 
  • Jobe, Mary "Allison" : "'We Remember Him for His Character': The Life of James W. Ford and the Communist Party USA" 
  • Kaplan, Anna : "Left by the Wayside: Memories and Postmemories of the Integration of the University of Mississippi"
  • Killian, Linda : "Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Paine: The Shared Political Ideology at the Heart of American Democracy" 
  • Kitterman, Katherine : "'No Ordinary Feelings': Mormon Women’s Political Activism, 1870-1896" 
  • Langford, Amy : "Creating a Body Politic: Boundary Crossings and the (Re) Making of Latter-Day Saints on the U.S. Border, 1885-1920"
  • Levin, Jeffrey : "Felix Warburg and the Establishment of the Hebrew University" 
  • MacNeill, Lindsay : "Policing Politics in Austria, 1918-1955"
  • Milwicki, Alon : "Baptizing Nazism: An Analysis of the Religious Roots of American Neo-Nazism"
  • Rafferty-Osaki, Terumi : "'Strictly Masculine': Reforming and Per-forming Manhood at Tule Lake, 1942-1946" 
  • Recordati, Maurizio : "Russia Turns Inward: Russian Grand Strategy in the Post-Crimean War Period (1856-78)"
  • Sowry, Nathan : "Museums, Native American Representation, & the Public: The Role of Museum Anthropology in Public History, 1873-1929"
  • Styrna, Pawel : "Polish-Russian Relations, 1904-1921"
  • Vehstedt, Scott : "'Lets Help Finland': The Return of American Relief Aid in the Winter War, 1939-1940"
  • Weixelbaum, Jason : "At the Crossroads of Fascism: The Decision of Ford, General Motors, and IBM to do Business with Nazi Germany"

Alumni Job Placements

Graduates of the history PhD program are working as professors, researchers, and directors across the US and at international locations. Here is a list of where select graduates have or are currently working:

  • Director, National Coalition for History
  • Assistant Professor, University of Prince Edward Island
  • Assistant Professor, Towson University
  • Assistant Professor of History and Director of American Studies, West Chester University
  • Independent historian
  • Senior Archivist, National Archives
  • Associate Professor, Ryerson University
  • Assistant Professor, University of Arkansas at Little Rock
  • Historian, US Army
  • Senior policy adviser and special assistant to the president of the Humane Society
  • Historian, Office of the Historian, Department of State
  • Museum Director, Renton History Museum, Oregon
  • Public History Coordinator, American Historical Association
  • Assistant Professor, Bridgewater State University
  • Lecturer in Sociology, California State University at Bakersfield
  • Assistant Professor, Delaware State University
  • Historian, Global Classroom, US Holocaust Museum
  • Director, Digital Archive, Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library
  • Assistant Professor, Illinois State University
  • Adjunct Professor, University of Maryland at College Park
  • Senior Fellow, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
  • Assistant Professor, University of West Florida
  • Independent historian and filmmaker
  • Adjunct Assistant Professor of History, US Naval Academy
  • Administrative Support Specialist at FEMA
  • Senior editor and writer, National Endowment for the Humanities
  • Instructor, Religion Dept., National Cathedral School (earned Master of Divinity after PhD)
  • Curriculum and Publications Coordinator, AU Registrar's Office
  • Assistant Professor, Seminole State College

News & Notes

PhD candidate Reza Akbari presented at the Middle East Studies Association's annual conference in Montreal, Canada. His presentation,  Etched in Mistrust: Continuity and Change in US-Iran Nuclear Negotiations (1969-1978),  argued that America's drive to keep Iran's nuclear program peaceful began decades before the establishment of the Islamic Republic.

PhD candidate  Andrew Sperling  published " A Halloween Party in Boston Turned Ugly when a Gang Hurled Antisemetic Slurs and Attacked Jewish Teenagers ," detailing the events of an antisemetic attack on Jewish teens at a Halloween party in 1950. 

Theresa Runstedtler 's new book on Black ballplayers of the 1970s and '80s setting the NBA up for success: Black Ball: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Spencer Haywoof, and the Generation that Saved the Soul of the NBA (2023) .

Doctoral student Maurizio Recordati Koen won first prize in the 2022 Trench Gascoigne Essay Competition for "The Stuff of Strategy: How Sublime Strategics Turned into a Real Thing" in RUSI Journal.

John Schmitz (CAS/PhD '07) published Enemies among Us: The Relocation, Internment, and Repatriation of German, Italian, and Japanese Americans during the Second World War .

Doctoral student Jonah Estess presented his paper, "Mo’ Money, Mo’ Problems: The American Revolution and the National Origins of the Politicization of Money" as part of the panel at this year's Business History Conference.

Andrew Demshuk published Three Cities after Hitler: Redemptive Reconstruction across Cold War Borders .

PhD candidate Katherine Kitterman wrote on women's voting rights in Utah for the Washington Post.

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Nguyet Nguyen brings new perspective to the Vietnam War.

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2015 History Dept. Ph.D Candidates

Graduate Students

Learn more about our  students' research interests and dissertation projects.


Ph.D. Program

Stanford Ph.D. Program in History aims to train world-class scholars.

Every year we admit 10-12 promising students  from a large pool of highly selective applicants. Our small cohort size allows more individual work with faculty than most graduate programs in the United States and also enables funding in one form or another available to members of each cohort.

Fields of Study

Our graduate students may specialize in 14 distinct subfields: Africa, Britain, Early Modern Europe, East Asia, Jewish History, Latin America, Medieval Europe, Modern Europe,  Ottoman Empire and Middle East, Russia/Eastern Europe, Science, Technology, Environment, and Medicine, South Asia, Transnational, International, and Global History, and United States. Explore each field and their affiliates . 

The department expects most graduate students to spend no less than four and no more than six years completing the work for the Ph.D. degree. Individual students' time to degree will vary with the strength of their undergraduate preparation as well as with the particular language and research requirements of their respective Major fields.

Expectations and Degree Requirements

We expect that most graduate students will spend no less than four and no more than six years toward completing their Ph.D. Individual students' time-to-degree vary with the strength of their undergraduate preparation as well as with the particular language and research requirements of their respective subfield.

All History Ph.D. students are expected to satisfy the following degree requirements:

  • Teaching: Students who enter on the Department Fellowship are required to complete 4 quarters of teaching experience by the end of their third year. Teaching experience includes teaching assistantships and teaching a Sources and Methods course on their own.
  • Candidacy : Students apply for candidacy to the PhD program by the end of their second year in the program.
  • Orals:  The University Orals Examination is typically taken at the beginning of the 3rd year in the program.
  • Languages: Language requirements vary depending on the field of study.
  • Residency Requirement : The University requi res  135 units of full-tuition residency  for PhD students. After that, students should have completed all course work and must request Terminal Graduate Registration (TGR) status. 

Browse the Ph.D. Handbook to learn more .

The History Department Fellowship offers 5 years of financial support to PhD students.  No funding is offered for the co-terminal and terminal M.A. programs. A sample Ph.D. funding package is as follows:  

  • 1st year: 3 quarters fellowship stipend and 1 summer stipend 
  • 2nd year: 2 quarters TAships, 1 quarter RAship (pre-doc affiliate), and 1 summer stipend 
  • 3rd year: 2 quarters TAships, 1 quarter RAship (pre-doc affiliate), and 1 summer stipend 
  • 4th year: 3 quarters of RAships (pre-doc affiliate) and 1 summer stipend 
  • 5th year: 3 quarters of RAships (pre-doc affiliate) and 1 summer stipend

Knight-Hennessy Scholars

Join dozens of  Stanford School of Humanities and Sciences students  who gain valuable leadership skills in a multidisciplinary, multicultural community as  Knight-Hennessy Scholars  (KHS). KHS admits up to 100 select applicants each year from across Stanford’s seven graduate schools, and delivers engaging experiences that prepare them to be visionary, courageous, and collaborative leaders ready to address complex global challenges. As a scholar, you join a distinguished cohort, participate in up to three years of leadership programming, and receive full funding for up to three years of your studies at Stanford. candidates of any country may apply. KHS applicants must have earned their first undergraduate degree within the last seven years, and must apply to both a Stanford graduate program and to KHS. Stanford PhD students may also apply to KHS during their first year of PhD enrollment. If you aspire to be a leader in your field, we invite you to apply. The KHS application deadline is October 11, 2023. Learn more about  KHS admission .

How to Apply

Admission to the History Graduate Programs are for Autumn quarter only.  Interested applicants can online at and submit the following documents: 

  • Statement of Purpose (included in Application)
  • 3 Letters of Recommendation
  •  Transcripts are required from all prior college level schools attended for at least one year.  A scanned copy of the official transcript is submitted as part of the online application.  Please do not mail transcripts to the department.   We will ask only the admitted students to submit actual copies of official transcripts.
  • 1 Writing Sample on a historic topic (10-25 pages; sent via  Stanford's online application system  only)
  • The GRE exam is not required for the autumn 2024 admission cycle
  • TOEFL for all international applicants (whose primary language is not English) sent via ETS. Our University code is 4704.
  • TOEFL Exemptions and Waiver information
  • Application Fee Waiver
  • The department is not able to provide fee waivers. Please see the link above for the available fee waivers and how to submit a request. Requests are due 2 weeks before the application deadline.

The Department of History welcomes graduate applications from individuals with a broad range of life experiences, perspectives, and backgrounds who would contribute to our community of scholars. Review of applications is holistic and individualized, considering each applicant’s academic record and accomplishments, letters of recommendation, and admissions essays in order to understand how an applicant’s life experiences have shaped their past and potential contributions to their field.

The Department of History also recognizes that the Supreme Court issued a ruling in June 2023 about the consideration of certain types of demographic information as part of an admission review. All applications submitted during upcoming application cycles will be reviewed in conformance with that decision.

Application deadline for Autumn 2024-25 is Tuesday, December 5, 2023 at 11:59pm EST . This is a hard -not a postmark- deadline. 

All application material is available online. No information is sent via snail mail. Interested applicants are invited to view a Guide to Graduate Admissions at . 


Please contact  Arthur Palmon  (Assistant Director of Student Services).

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History PhD

First awarded by the University of Maryland in 1937, the Doctorate in History is conferred for superior achievement in historical research, writing, and interpretation.

Additional Information

  • Forms and Resources
  • Funding and Awards
  • People (Department Directory)

PhD Program Overview

The Doctorate in History (PhD) is an essential component in the training of professional historians. The most significant requirement of the PhD degree program is the dissertation, an original and noteworthy contribution to historical knowledge. In anticipation of dissertation research, students spend several years mastering bibliographical tools, research and writing methods, and general, special, and minor fields of study.

Admission to the PhD program is offered to highly qualified applicants holding at least a Bachelor's (BA) degree, normally in History or a related discipline. Application and admissions procedures are described on the Department of History's  graduate admissions page .

The length of time required to complete the PhD varies by field of study and student. Students admitted with a Bachelor's (BA) degree might expect to complete the program in five to six years of full-time study. Students entering with a Master of Arts (MA) degree might expect to complete the program in four to five years of full-time study. The degree must be completed in no more than nine years.  Students typically take two years of course work, prepare for and take language exams (if required for their field) and comprehensive exams, and then research and write the dissertation.

Program Requirements and Policies

General program requirements.

  • Course work in the major and minor fields
  • Language examinations if required by field
  • Comprehensive examinations
  • Dissertation prospectus
  • Advancement to candidacy
  • The dDssertation

Each of these program requirements must be met before the PhD can be conferred.

Course Requirements

All PhD students entering with a Bachelor's (BA) degree (or equivalent) must take, at a minimum, the following courses (total 30 credits, not including 12 credits of “Dissertation Research”):

  • Contemporary Theory (HIST 601; 3 credits)
  • Major Field General Seminar (HIST 608; 3 credits)
  • Readings courses in the major field (HIST 6XX and 7XX; 9 credits)
  • Readings courses in the minor field (HIST 6XX and 7XX; 9 credits)
  • Research seminars (HIST 8XX; 6 credits)
  • Dissertation Research (HIST 898/899; 12 credits)

Special Notes:

  • Courses completed during previous post-baccalaureate degree programs and/or at other institutions may be considered to satisfy course requirements. However, students entering the PhD program with a Master's (MA) degree or equivalent in History or a related discipline must take a minimum of two  600-800 level courses in the major field, one of which should be with the major advisor.
  • Requests for course requirement waivers, equivalency, and credit transfers should be directed to the Director of Graduate Studies. A request must include the course syllabus and transcripts showing the final grade. The endorsement of the advisor is typically sought.
  • Up to nine credit hours of major and minor field readings courses may be taken at the 400 level.  Students seeking to take a 400 level course for graduate credit should consult the instructor of record to discuss course expectations before registering.
  • HIST 708/709: “Directed Independent Reading for Comprehensive Examinations” does not count toward the nine-credit readings seminar requirement.
  • Students in the U.S. and Latin America fields are expected to take two major field seminars (HIST 608)–in this case, one of these 608s will be counted toward the “Readings courses in the major field” requirement.
  • Students must complete the entire program for the doctoral (PhD) degree, including the dissertation and final examination, during a four-year period after admission to candidacy, but no later than nine years after admission to the doctoral (PhD) program. Students must be advanced to candidacy within five years of admission to the doctoral (PhD) program. 

Fields of Study

Doctoral students should choose one of the following as their “major field” of study:

Global Interaction and Exchange

  • Jewish History (Classical Antiquity to the Present)

Latin America

Middle East

  • Technology, Science, and Environment

United States

Learn more about fields of study and faculty work produced in each field by visiting the research fields page .

The Minor Field

All doctoral students are required to complete a minor field of study outside the major field of study. This requirement is typically met through nine credit hours of coursework. However, a student may opt to satisfy the requirement by written examination.

A minor field is usually a field of history outside the student's major field of concentration. For example, a student in the U.S. field may select a minor field in Latin American history; a student in the Women & Gender field may select a minor field in European history. The minor field may be a standard national-chronological field (e.g., 19th-century United States; Imperial Russia; Postcolonial India), or it may be a cross-cultural, cross-regional thematic field (e.g., the Atlantic in the era of the slave trade; gender and Islam). Or, it might be taken in a department or program outside of History (e.g., Women's Studies, English, Government & Politics, Classics and Comparative Literature).

For students opting to satisfy the minor field requirement via coursework, all courses must be approved by the student's advisor and must, to the satisfaction of the advisor and the Graduate Committee, form a coherent field of historical inquiry distinct from the general field. Courses taken at the master's level may count towards fulfillment of the minor field requirements, subject to the approval of the advisor and, in the case of courses taken at outside institutions, of the director of graduate studies.

Language Requirements

Language requirements must be fulfilled before a student is admitted to candidacy. While no MA degree requires language examinations, students will often have to learn one or more foreign languages in their field of study to successfully complete their research. They will also need to learn these languages if they wish to continue on towards a PhD. When applying for either program, preference will be given to students with prior experience with languages in their fields of study.

Language requirements differ across the varying fields within history.

No foreign language requirements for the PhD. If a student’s dissertation topic requires research in foreign language materials, the advisor will decide if the student needs to show proficiency by taking an examination in the language in question.

Spanish and Portuguese. For admission, applicants will be evaluated on their language abilities, and preference will be given to applicants with a strong command of Spanish and/or Portuguese. All PhD students must show proficiency by examination in both languages by the time they are admitted to candidacy. Exceptions to one of those languages (typically Portuguese) if the student’s dissertation requires the use of indigenous languages or documents produced by ethnic minorities. In such cases, students must be proficient in those languages.

One language (in addition to English). Depending on the field, the adviser may determine that the student needs to show proficiency in an additional language.

For admission, students must have proficiency at the advanced intermediate level in at least one major Middle Eastern language (Arabic, Persian or Turkish). All PhD students must acquire advanced proficiency in their chosen language either by course work or exam by the time they are admitted to candidacy. In addition, students must demonstrate proficiency in one European language by the time of their comprehensive exams.

Ancient Mediterranean

For admission, students should present knowledge of classical Greek and Latin at the intermediate level and reading knowledge of either French or German. Knowledge of classical Greek, Latin, French and German is required for the PhD. Other language skills, eg. Italian, Spanish, Modern Greek or Hebrew, may prove to be necessary for dissertation research but are not formal program requirements. Students satisfy the requirement in Latin and Greek in one of two ways: either by completing three upper level or graduate courses (400-600 level) in each language and obtaining at least a B in all courses and an A- or better in at least two of the courses; or by passing a departmental sight translation exam. This exam consists of translating (with the help of a dictionary) three passages of three sentences each (roughly one-fourth to one-third OCT page) selected from prose authors of average difficulty. Students show proficiency in French and German through the regular departmental language exams.

Medieval Europe

For admission, proficiency in either Latin, French or German and familiarity with a second of those languages. All PhD students must demonstrate proficiency in Latin, French and German. They can satisfy the Latin requirement in one of two ways: either by taking three upper level or graduate courses (400-600 level) and obtaining at least a B in all courses and an A- or better in at least two of the courses; or by passing a departmental sight translation exam. This exam consists of translating (with the help of a dictionary) three passages of three sentences each (roughly one-fourth to one-third OCT page) selected from medieval prose authors of average difficulty. Students show proficiency in French and German through the regular departmental language exams. Depending on the field, students may have to know an additional national/regional language like Spanish or Italian.

Early Modern Europe

For admission, proficiency in one foreign language related to the field. All PhD students must demonstrate proficiency in two foreign languages. Depending on the field, students may also have to know Latin.

Modern Europe

For admission, students must know the language of the country or region in which they are interested. All PhD students must demonstrate proficiency in the language of the country/region in which they are interested plus another European language.

Russia/Soviet Union

For admission, three years of Russian or the equivalent. All PhD students must demonstrate proficiency in Russian plus either French or German. Depending on the area of interest, the adviser may require an additional language.

For admission, advanced intermediate-level proficiency in modern Hebrew. All PhD students must demonstrate proficiency in modern Hebrew and one other language necessary for their fields. The advisor may require other languages as necessary.

Chinese History

For admission, students must have had at least two years of university-level Chinese language courses. All PhD students must acquire advanced proficiency in Chinese since they will be using Chinese documents for their dissertations.  Before admission to candidacy students must pass a Chinese language exam in which they will translate about 30 lines of modern, scholarly Chinese into English. As with all departmental language exams, students will be able to use a dictionary, and they will have four hours to complete the translation.

Language Examinations

Except as specified for Latin and ancient Greek, the typical language proficiency examination includes a summary and translation of a passage from a work of modern scholarship in the student’s field. The director of graduate studies appoints a faculty member, typically the student’s advisor, to coordinate the exam and select an excerpt from a published work of historical scholarship in the student’s field. Students write a 200-300 word summary of this five-to-seven page excerpt from the scholarly literature in their fields, and then they do a direct translation of an indicated 30-line passage within that excerpt. The direct translation must be accurate and rendered in idiomatic English. Students have four hours to complete the exam, and they may use a language dictionary that they themselves provide.

Language exams can be taken at any time before candidacy. The exams are read by two members of the faculty: typically, the student’s advisor, who chooses the passage and serves as chair of the exam committee, and one other member of the faculty chosen by the D\director of graduate studies in consultation with the advisor. Faculty from outside the department who have the necessary expertise are eligible to serve as evaluators. The two possible grades are pass and fail. If the two readers do not agree, the director of graduate studies will appoint a third faculty member to read the exam. Students who do not pass on the first attempt may retake the examination without prior approval. After a second failure, the student must petition for reexamination. The chair of the language exam committee will notify the director of graduate studies about the results of the exam within one week after the exam, and the graduate coordinator will notify the student in writing about the results, which will then be inserted into the student’s records. All students should normally pass their language examinations during their third year of the program, though given the complexity of the language requirements in different fields of study, the department recognizes the need to exercise some flexibility in the timing of this requirement.

  • Comprehensive Examinations

Comprehensive examinations (comps) are a standard feature of historical training in the United States. The examinations require the examinee to demonstrate mastery of historical scholarship and historiography in a major field, including specialized mastery of the authors, themes, works and topics most relevant to the intended dissertation topic. All students register for HIST 708/709: “Directed Independent Reading for Comprehensive Examinations” for two semesters, once in the semester prior to the one in which they are scheduled to take the examinations (normally the fifth semester of the student’s program) and the second in the same semester as their examinations (normally the sixth semester of the student’s program). As noted above, these courses do not count towards the nine-credit readings seminar requirement.

Comprehensive examinations include the following:

  • A special field examination in the form of an essay. Students prepare an essay of 4,000 to \5,000 words in length, 16-20 pages, double-spaced in a 12-point font. The special field is a subfield of the major field in which the dissertation is centered.
  • A take-home major field examination administered in written format. Students have 48 hours to complete the exam, which should be 5,000 to 6,000 words, 20-24 pages, double-spaced in a 12-point font in length.
  • A two-hour oral examination by the examination committee, including coverage of both the take-home major field exam and the essay that comprises the special field exam.

Timeline : The comprehensive examinations are administered during the first half of the student’s sixth semester in the program. The special field essay has to be submitted to the graduate coordinator before the student takes the major field examination. The oral examination follows within two weeks of passing the major field examination and the special field essay. Students entering the program with an MA in history might be expected to complete their comprehensive examinations during their fifth semester in the program. (Also see the “Combined Timeline for Comprehensive Examinations and the Prospectus” at the end of this document.)

Reading Lists : The format, content and length of the reading lists for the comprehensive examinations vary by field but the list should normally be in the range of 200 to 250 books. Of these, about two-thirds should be in the major field and one-third in the special field. In all fields, students develop their reading lists in consultation with their advisors and other members of the examination committee. The reading list must be compiled and approved by the examination committee by the end of their second-year summer (after the student’s fourth semester in the program). For students coming in with an MA in history who would like to take their examinations during their fifth semester in the program, the list must be ready by the end of the student’s third semester. After approval, limited changes may be made solely by mutual agreement of the student and his/her advisor.

The examination committee : The examination committee consists of three or four members of the Graduate Faculty, typically all members of the history faculty. The director of graduate studies designates the committee members and chair, in consultation with the major advisor and the student. The committee chair shall not be the student's advisor. All committee members contribute questions to the written and oral examinations. Most or all of these same committee members are normally also on the student’s dissertation committee but the composition of the examination and prospectus committees do not need to be the same.

Grading : Comprehensive examinations will be graded pass, pass with distinction or fail.

Combined Timeline for Comprehensive Exams and Prospectus

  • Both the initial version of the prospectus and the special field essay are due before the major field take-home examination during the first half of the sixth semester of the student's program.
  • The major field take-home examination should be completed also during the first half of the sixth semester of the student's program after the initial version of the prospectus and the special field essay are submitted.
  • The two-hour oral examination on both the take-home major field exam and the essay that comprises the special field exam follows within two weeks of passing the major field examination and the special field exam. This oral exam can take place during the second half of the sixth semester of the student’s program.
  • The one-hour oral examination based on the initial version of the prospectus also takes place during the second half of the sixth semester of the student’s program but only after successful completion of the two-hour oral examination (#3 above).
  • The final version of the prospectus as approved by the advisor is due on the first day of the academic semester that immediately follows the comprehensive examinations, which is normally the seventh semester of the student’s program.

Prospectus & Candidacy

Dissertation Prospectus

The dissertation prospectus is a written précis of the proposed dissertation research, its significance, the sources and methods to be used, the relevant bibliography including primary source materials and the plan of completion. It is intended to form the substance of grant proposals students will write in order to apply for both internal and external grants and fellowships. Each field of study has its own expectations for the length of the prospectus, but normally these should be concise documents not to exceed 10-12 pages in length, followed by a bibliography. In all fields, the prospectus is developed by the student in close collaboration with the advisor and other members of the examination committee.

The preparation of the prospectus includes the following stages :

  • An initial version of the prospectus.
  • A one-hour oral examination based on that initial version.
  • A final version incorporating any revisions suggested by members of the dissertation committee and approved by the advisor submitted to the graduate coordinator.

Timeline : The initial draft version of the prospectus should be submitted to the graduate coordinator during the first half of the student’s sixth semester before the student takes the major field examination, normally at the same time as the special field essay. The one-hour oral examination of the prospectus based on the initial version is scheduled during the second half of the student’s sixth semester in the program following satisfactory completion of the comprehensive examinations. The final version of the prospectus as approved by the advisor is due on the first day of the academic semester that immediately follows the comprehensive examination. (Also see the “Combined Timeline for Comprehensive Examinations and the Prospectus” at the end of this document.)

The relationship between the prospectus and the special field Essay: The special field essay normally covers the historiography of the entire subfield within the major field in which the dissertation is anchored, while the prospectus is more narrowly concerned with the specific research topic of the dissertation.

The examination committee: The prospectus oral examination committee consists of the advisor and at least two other members of the Graduate Faculty, who are normally also members of the student’s dissertation committee. The advisor chairs the examination. All committee members contribute questions to the oral examination and make suggestions for revisions. Upon passing the oral examination, the student will complete any revisions requested (as determined by the advisor and the committee) and submit the final prospectus approved by the advisor to the graduate program coordinator.

MA “Along the Way”

When a student receives a pass or pass with distinction and the endorsement to continue on in the PhD program, the student has the option to request that the Master of Arts degree be conferred "along the way," subject to fulfillment of the standard requirements of the MA degree.

In some instances, the examination committee may recommend that a PhD student taking comprehensive examinations be given a pass at the MA level, sufficient for the conferral of a terminal master's degree. Such a recommendation will be made with the expectation that the student not continue on towards doctoral candidacy.

Petition for Reexamination

In the case of failure of a language examination taken for the second time or one or more components of the comprehensive examinations and the prospectus preparation process (special field essay, take-home major field examination, two-hour oral examination and prospectus oral examination), the student may petition the director of graduate studies to take the whole examination or the relevant component(s) a second time. If the petition is approved, the student may retake the examination as soon as possible. A student may petition only once to retake all or part of the comprehensive examinations and the prospectus preparation process.

Successful completion of the prospectus is typically the last step before application for advancement to candidacy.

  • Advancement to Candidacy

A doctoral student advances to candidacy when all degree requirements (i.e., course work, demonstrated competence in languages or special skills, comprehensive examinations and the dissertation prospectus) have been satisfied, with the exception of the dissertation.

Formal admission to candidacy (sometimes known as "All but Dissertation" or "ABD" status) is granted by the dean of the Graduate School. The application is routed through the director of graduate studies.

Advising & Committees

Each student admitted to the PhD program will choose an advisor who is a member of the Graduate Faculty and whose intellectual interests are compatible with the student's plan of study. All graduate students are required to choose an advisor by November 1 of their first semester. If they do not choose an advisor by that date, the director of graduate studies will appoint one for them. The faculty advisor will be responsible for advising the student on all aspects of their academic program, for approving the student's course of study each semester, for monitoring their progress through the program,and for notifying the student of the nature and timing of examinations and other evaluative procedures. The advisor, in consultation with the student and the director of graduate studies, will be responsible for constituting the Comprehensive Examination and Dissertation Examination committees. The advisor will also represent the student to the Graduate Committee, as appropriate.

At the conclusion of the first year of study, all students will make available to their advisor a transcript of coursework and major written work completed during the first year. Upon review of the appropriate materials, the advisor will then recommend to the director of graduate studies continuation, modification or, as appropriate, termination of the student's program. All recommendations for termination require discussion and approval of the Graduate Committee.

Students may change advisors. The director of graduate studies and the new faculty advisor shall approve changes in advisors before a student advances to candidacy. After advancement to candidacy, changes shall be approved only by petition to the Graduate Committee. A change of advisor must be recorded in the student's electronic file.

Registration and Degree Progress

Continuous Registration

All graduate students must register for courses and pay associated tuition and fees each semester, not including summer and winter sessions, until the degree is awarded.

Pre-candidacy doctoral students who will be away from the university for up to one year may request a waiver of continuous registration and its associated tuition and fees. Waivers shall be granted only if the student is making satisfactory progress toward the degree and can complete all the degree requirements within the required time limits. Interruptions in continuous registration cannot be used to justify an extension to time-to-degree requirements.

Once advanced to candidacy, a student is no longer eligible for Waivers of Continuous Registration. Doctoral candidates must maintain continuous registration in HIST 899: “Doctoral Dissertation Research” until the degree is awarded.

The Graduate School makes available an official leave absence for childbearing, adoption, illness and dependent care. The dean of the Graduate School must approve the leave. The time-to-degree clock is suspended during an approved leave of absence.

Additional information on continuous registration and leave absence policies is published online in the Graduate Catalog.


All students admitted to the doctoral program are expected to

  • advance to candidacy within three years from initial enrollment in the Ph.D. program, and
  • complete all degree requirements within six years of entering the program.


All students in the doctoral program will be expected to demonstrate steady progress toward the completion of degree requirements. At a minimum, the Graduate School requires students to maintain a B average in all graduate courses. However, the Department of History expects a higher level of performance, with the great majority of a student’s grades at the level of an A- or above.

Students in major fields that require lengthy language or special skill acquisition might be granted a one-year extension to progress-to-degree expectations. Additional extensions will require the approval of the Graduate Committee.

In order to meet progress-to-degree expectations :

  • 800-level research seminar work should normally be completed by the end of the fourth semester in the program.
  • The major field reading list must be compiled and approved by the examination committee by the end of the summer after the student’s fourth semester in the program.
  • Students should complete their comprehensive examinations by the end of their sixth semester in the program. Students coming in with an M.A. in history should normally complete their comprehensive examinations by the end of their fifth semester in the program.
  • Each student will be expected to submit a copy of the final dissertation prospectus approved by the advisor to the graduate program coordinator at the beginning of their seventh academic semester in the program.
  • All students should normally pass their language examinations during the third year of their program.
  • The director of graduate studies will review fully each student's progress-to-degree as well as the overall progress-to-degree by degree cohort at least once a year.

Failure to make satisfactory progress-to-degree or to maintain the expected grade point average may result in the suspension or loss of departmental funding, the denial of a petition for extensions, and in extreme cases, a recommendation for dismissal.

NOTE : The above guidelines on continuous registration, time-to-degree and progress-to-degree guidelines are for students matriculating in fall 2018 or thereafter. Students entering the graduate program in prior semesters are subject to guidelines at time of matriculation.

Extensions and Waivers

The Graduate Committee will consider petitions for waivers to departmental guidelines. Petitions for waivers to Graduate School requirements must be submitted to the dean of the Graduate School, using the appropriate form. In most instances, the petitioning student will be required to provide a rationale for the waiver request, and, as appropriate, a convincing plan of study. The advice of the student's advisor may be sought. The advisor will be required to endorse any waiver request that involves extensions to overall time-to-degree as well as the major benchmarks of progress-to-degree.

All petitions should be directed to the director of graduate studies. The director of graduate studies, and in some cases the dean of the Graduate School, will notify the student of their disposition of petitions for extensions.

Sample Program of Study


The program of study often varies by field and many factors may extend or reorder the sequence and length of the program of study.

The following program of study assumes that the doctoral student will be assigned a teaching assistantship in the second, third and fourth years of study. Students coming in with an MA in history will be expected to complete the program in five or five and a half years.

Foreign language study is not incorporated into this program.

 First Year (Departmental Fellowship)

  • Major Field General Seminar (608) or Contemporary Theory (HIST 601)
  • Major Field Readings Seminar
  • Minor Field Course
  • Research Seminar OR Minor Field Course
  • Exploratory Research

Second Year (Teaching Assistantship)

  • 2 courses out of the following three categories:
  • Research Seminar 
  • Research Seminar
  • Reading for Comprehensive Examinations
  • Initial Prospectus Preparation

Third Year (Teaching Assistantship)

  • HIST 708: Readings for Comprehensives”
  • Prospectus Preparation 
  • Grant Applications
  • HIST 709: “Readings for Comprehensive Examinations”
  • Prospectus Oral Examination 
  • Final Version of Prospectus
  • Dissertation Research

Fourth Year (Teaching Assistantship)

  • Dissertation Research (HIST 899)

Fifth Year (Departmental or External Fellowship)

  • Grant Applications  

Spring & Summer

  • Dissertation Writing

Sixth Year  (Departmental or External Fellowship)

  • Job applications  
  • Job applications

Graduate Placement

Learn more about the career and life paths of our PhD alumni.

Graduate Coordinator, History

2131 Francis Scott Key Hall College Park MD, 20742

Department of History

a phd in history

Ph.D. Admissions

With more than 40 full-time faculty members, the Department of History trains graduate students in a wide range of fields and methodological approaches, covering periods from antiquity to the present.

Graduate students in history benefit from a high faculty-to-student ratio, which enables us to provide more individual attention than many other programs. The size of each entering class varies slightly from year to year, with eight to 10 students being typical. In all, we have approximately 50 students, a talented and diverse group who come from many parts of the United States and the world.

Vanderbilt University offers many opportunities for interdisciplinary engagement. The Robert Penn Warren Center for the Humanities houses on-going seminars in areas ranging from Circum-Atlantic studies to postcolonial theory, science studies, and pre-modern cultural studies. Other centers and programs whose activities would be of interest to history graduate students include the Center for Latin American, Caribbean, and Latinx Studies ; the Department of Medicine, Health, and Society ; the Max Kade Center for European and German Studies ; the Department of African American and Diaspora Studies ; the Department of Gender and Sexuality Studies ; and the programs in Asian Studies Program , American Studies , and Jewish Studies . The Department of History strongly encourages interdisciplinary work.

Please note: The Department of History does not accept external applications for a terminal master’s degree. The M.A. is usually earned en route to the Ph.D. It is also available to Vanderbilt undergraduates who enroll in the 4+1 program in history.

Director of Graduate Studies and Admissions: Ari Bryen Graduate Administrator: Madeline Trantham

If you have any questions regarding the graduate application process that are not answered here, please email us .


The Vanderbilt history department offers the Ph.D. degree. Students normally earn the M.A. following two years of coursework, fulfillment of the research paper requirement, and satisfactory performance on language examinations. The department does not offer a free-standing terminal M.A. degree.

The application deadline for Fall 2024 admission is December 1, 2023. Applicants for whom the $95 application fee presents a financial hardship are encouraged to apply for a fee waiver from the Graduate School.

Foreign applicants or applicants who do not qualify for a fee waiver from the Graduate School should contact [email protected] . These applicants should explain briefly in their email why the fee presents a financial hardship. Requests for a fee waiver will be assessed and forwarded to the College of Arts & Science. If a fee waiver is granted, the applicant will be notified.

Applicants should have an undergraduate degree from an accredited institution, domestic or international.

Application Components

As part of the online application, candidates will provide:

  • Statement of Purpose (please be specific about your research goals and provide names of faculty members with whom you would like to work, and why. In addition, please explain how your interests and goals may connect with our Areas of Excellence ).
  • A minimum of three letters of recommendation (and no more than five).
  • An unofficial, scanned college transcript(s) and graduate transcript(s) if applicable. Admitted applicants will be instructed to submit official and final transcripts as a condition of enrollment at Vanderbilt.
  • TOEFL and IELTS scores are accepted for international students whose native language is not English. For more information, read the Graduate School’s Language Proficiency policy.
  • Candidates are required to upload a writing sample of no more than 25 pages as part of the online application process. The option to upload the writing sample is made available immediately after entering your test scores into the online application. Please note that until this writing sample has been uploaded, your application will be considered incomplete. Research papers and theses, especially those that explore a historical topic and show facility in using original and/or archival materials, are of most use to the admissions committee in making their decisions. Co-authored writing samples are not accepted.
  • GRE scores are not required for admission.

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Areas of Excellence

Graduate students will select an area of excellence from a drop-down menu in the online application; prospective advisers will submit a note to the admissions committee explaining the candidate’s fit. Therefore, applicants are strongly encouraged to reach out to prospective advisors to figure out how their interests could connect with our areas of excellence initiative and to explain in their Statement of Purpose how they envision benefitting from it.

Economics: Labor, Business, Capitalism:

The Vanderbilt History Department offers a rich setting for the study of the history of economy, widely conceived, including labor and business history, the history of capitalism, trade networks, and general questions of economic development as they connect with politics, culture, religion, and social history. Ranging temporally from the classical/medieval era to the modern world, and geographically from the Middle East, Africa, Latin America, Europe and the United States, the Vanderbilt History faculty is interested in the study of commodities, thought, empire, trade, free and unfree labor, finance, cultures, and the global development of capitalism. Our view is capacious, with wide interest in legal, political, and regulatory regimes that influence such processes. Working with faculty across the department, we encourage comparative and transnational forms of historical inquiry. Vanderbilt also offers connections with a robust team of formal economic historians in the Economic Department and a strong undergraduate Economics-History major.

Legal History

Vanderbilt is home to a thriving community of legal historians. We range chronologically from the ancient Mediterranean to the twenty-first century, and our faculty and graduate students have written on topics as diverse as ancient violence, the history of prostitution, racial passing, citizenship, Islamic law, policing, capital punishment, sovereignty and state building, privacy law, American slavery, and the intersections of religion and law.

Our community is centered on the Legal History Colloquium, a trans-institutional seminar that brings together faculty and students from the Law School, the Divinity School, and the College of Arts & Sciences working on legal historical themes. The colloquium strives to be international and comparative in methods and scope. Students in Legal History take a graduate seminar on Methods in Legal History, which introduces them to the wide-range of work done by legal historians. Working in consultation with their adviser, students of legal history write one of their two graduate seminar papers on a legal topic; they also have opportunities to serve as teaching assistant to faculty in diverse areas of legal history.

Race & Diaspora

Vanderbilt’s History Department focuses on complex histories of racial formation, as well as race and migration. The unique history of African peoples dispersed by the Atlantic and Indian Ocean slave trades is of particular interest. Deploying local, national, transnational, and transdisciplinary approaches, students work closely with accomplished scholars in the History Department—as well as other academic departments, such as African American & Diaspora Studies—to study a wide array of interrelated topics.

These include race as a concept, ideology, and system, as well as the role of race in shaping identity and culture in the Americas and other parts of the world. Likewise, students examine theories of race & diaspora, encompassing historical phenomena such as settler colonialism, racial enslavement, labor migrations, deportation, colonialism, and post-colonialism. In addition, research can extend to the analysis of subsequent mass demographic movements and the creation of “new” racialized peoples, homelands, communities, cultures, and ideologies as historical groups responded to upheaval and sought opportunities. Therefore, scholarship on race and diaspora also attends to manifestations of social, religious, economic, and political oppression and social control, and the attendant struggles of resistance and adaptation. This, in turn, leads us to scrutinize race alongside state formation, racialized citizenship, capitalism, state-building, and surveillance. As with all work on race, centering analyses of gender and sexuality is a priority in order to provide a deeper understanding of racial identities and structures. In addition, examining race and diaspora from the ancient world through the 20th Century and in relationship to Native American, Asian, and Jewish diasporas is also possible.

Research Areas


Vanderbilt boasts a dynamic group of scholars in Ancient and Medieval history. The faculty represent a range of geographic and chronological periods, including the Roman Empire, Ancient/Medieval Syria, medieval Europe, Judaism, Islam and Asia. The faculty share a mutual interest in reconstructing past through rigorous, source-driven historical reconstruction, with specializations in legal, religious, economic, cultural and military history. They work closely with a distinguished cohort of early modern historians, and in collaboration with the programs in Classical and Mediterranean Studies, the Legal History Seminar, Jewish Studies, Women and Gender Studies, the Pre-Modern Cultural Studies seminar (Robert Penn Warren Center); the departments of English, French & Italian, German, Russian and East European Studies, History of Art, and the Graduate Department of Religion.

We welcome applications from potential graduate students interested both in particular subject areas, but also in the questions and methods shared by all historians of pre-modern societies – how to work with patchy or fragmentary evidence, how to reconstruct the world of culture and symbols, how to push beyond the learned texts that predominate in our records, and how to ask meaningful questions about the past.

There is no prescribed graduate curriculum; students are invited to craft their own program within the framework of the History Department Ph.D. requirements during coursework. Particular scrutiny is given, in evaluating applications, to a candidate’s prior preparation (including knowledge of languages necessary to undertake Ph.D. level research) and a candidate’s writing sample. Applicants are encouraged to contact potential supervisors in advance.

Vanderbilt University's History Department continues to diversify geographically and thematically, with African history being the latest doctoral field to be added to our offerings. Our doctoral program in African history is designed to produce scholars and teachers who possess a simultaneously broad and deep knowledge of the African past. We train academic historians of Africa who are grounded in the historiographies, methodologies, and debates that animate the field, but who also recognize and account for Africa's connections to the rest of the world and to global events.

We welcome applications from prospective graduate students who desire rigorous training in the core historical methodologies as well as in ethnographic approaches to the African past. Graduate students will be trained to mine and make sense of archival, oral, ethnographic, linguistic, and other unconventional sources as well as to utilize clues offered by Africa's vast material culture to reconstruct and interrogate the past. The goal is to develop our students into producers of new knowledge about Africa and effective teachers of African history.

Students can expect to be trained in the social, economic, and political histories of the continent while exploring themes as diverse as gender, technology, trade, religion, colonialism, nationalism, healing practices, slavery, intellectual production, among others. Students will be trained to appreciate the dominant dynamics of Africa's precolonial, colonial, and postcolonial histories while recognizing the parallels and overlaps between these periods. Our courses explore trans-regional patterns but also cover the peculiar historical features of particular regions.

The small number of our Africanist faculty means that we are able to devote considerable time to independent studies, collaborative learning, and mentorship. We perform traditional mentoring tasks, but we are also able to provide consistent support as students identify research fields, apply for research grants, and apply for jobs during the dissertation phase of their training.

Vanderbilt hosts an accomplished faculty in Asian history and is particularly strong in the twentieth century, early modern, and medieval periods. We emphasize global interconnections and broad comparative approaches both within the department and in affiliated programs across campus.

With a small cohort admitted each year, students benefit from close mentorship with Asia faculty, including one-on-one independent study and directed research. Students will be expected to take history department courses in other regions (Europe, US, Latin America, Middle East, Africa) and methodologies (including Visual Culture, Spatial Histories, Empire, and History of Science). Students can also explore related topics with Asia faculty in History of Art, languages and literature (Asian Studies), Religious Studies, Sociology, English, and Political Science.

South Asia: Vanderbilt is emerging as an important location for the study of early modern and modern South Asia, especially in the fields of political history, religious history, and the history of western India ( Samira Sheikh ). Graduate students admitted to study South Asian history may be supported by faculty in related fields, such as Indian Ocean history ( Tasha Rijke-Epstein ), the history of the British empire ( Catherine Molineux ), and the Islamic world ( Leor Halevi ,  David Wasserstein ). Distinguished South Asia specialists elsewhere at Vanderbilt include Tony K. Stewart, Adeana McNicholl and Anand Vivek Taneja in Religious Studies, Tariq Thachil in Political Science, Akshya Saxena in English, and Heeryoon Shin in History of Art. Those interested in premodern links between India and east Asia may benefit from scholars of Buddhism and Chinese architecture (Robert Campany/Tracy Miller).

Nineteenth and Twentieth-Century Northeast Asia: With specialists in the cultural and intellectual history of modern/contemporary Japan ( Gerald Figal ,  Yoshikuni Igarashi ) and modern China/Northeast Asia ( Ruth Rogaski ), Vanderbilt is an excellent place to train in topics such as colonialism and empire, war, history and memory, contemporary culture, and history of the body and medicine. Faculty in U.S. History ( Tom Schwartz ,  Paul Kramer ) also maintain strong interests in Sino-U.S. relations. Associated faculty include Guojun Wang in Chinese literature, Lijun Song in Chinese medical sociology, and Brett Benson in contemporary Chinese politics.

Early and Middle-period Imperial China: Vanderbilt hosts a strong faculty in the political organization, military history, and material culture of the Song dynasty ( Peter Lorge ), with the capacity for comparative study in other medieval societies (Europe, Middle East, South Asia). Students can also explore topics as diverse as sacred landscapes, regional networks, and religious identities with affiliated faculty in History of Art (Tracy Miller) and Chinese religions (Rob Campany).

Atlantic World

Vanderbilt ranks among the nation's top twenty research universities and boasts a diverse and dynamic History Department. One of the newest and most exciting areas of faculty research and graduate training at Vanderbilt is Atlantic World History. Graduate students who choose to complete a major or minor field in Atlantic World history at Vanderbilt will be introduced to a wide range of literature addressing the interactions among European, Native American, and African peoples. Working closely with our Atlantic World historians, students develop a dissertation topic and prospectus during their fifth and sixth semesters.

From their first semester, we encourage doctoral students in our field to become actively engaged in the profession through field research, networking, collaborative projects, grant writing and publishing. We also encourage training in digital humanities and our students have worked on projects such as the  Slave Societies Digital Archive , the  Manuel Zapata Olivella Collection  and  Enslaved: Peoples of the Historic Slave Trade .

Our students have presented their research at numerous national and international conferences including the American Historical Association, the Conference on Latin American History, the Brazilian Studies Association, the Forum on European Expansion and Global Interaction, the Omohundro Institute of Early American History, the African History Association, and the Association of Caribbean History, among others. Over the last decade our students have won many prestigious research awards, including the Fulbright, Social Science Research Council, American Council for Learned Societies, and Rotary fellowships.  Our students have conducted research in areas as diverse as Angola, Barbados, Brazil, Colombia, Cuba, Germany, Ghana, Jamaica, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain and Sweden.

Graduates of our Atlantic World History program have earned tenure-track positions in history departments at the University of Wisconsin, the University of Florida, Michigan State University, the University of West Florida, the University of Birmingham, UK, the University of Arkansas, Queens College, Georgia Gwinnett College and the University of Texas-Arlington.

Early Modern

Vanderbilt has a vibrant group of scholars in Early Modern history. Faculty research and teaching interests include geographic specialists in England/Britain, France, Germany, Italy, eastern Europe, India, and China. Among the areas of inquiry are legal, religious, economic, cultural, and gender/sexuality history. The Early Modern faculty work closely with historians of antiquity and medieval history, and in collaboration with the programs in Classical and Mediterranean Studies, Jewish Studies, Women’s and Gender Studies, the departments of English, French and Italian, and German, Russian and East European Studies, History of Art, and the Pro-Modern Cultural Studies Seminar (Robert Penn Warren Center.)

We welcome applications from potential graduate students interested in particular subject areas as well as in the questions and methods shared by all historians of early modern societies, including how to work with incomplete, fragmentary, or (deliberately) misleading evidence, how to reconstruct the world of culture and symbols, how to push beyond the learned texts that predominate in the historical record, and how to ask meaningful questions about the past.

There is no prescribed graduate curriculum; students are invited to craft their own program within the framework of the History Department Ph.D. requirements during coursework, but an applicant’s prior preparation, including knowledge of languages necessary to undertake Ph.D. level research, and the writing sample, are particularly important factors. Applicants are encouraged to contact potential supervisors in advance.

Vanderbilt University trains graduate students in all periods of Islam's history, from its origins in late antiquity to modernity, and in various regional settings.

Our faculty works in multiple fields, including law, business, religion, imperialism, and nationalism. They have written on topics as diverse as early Islamic death rituals; politics and society in al-Andalus; Jewish-Muslim trade in the medieval Mediterranean; the political, religious and economic landscape of early modern Gujarat; Jewish identity in the Ottoman Empire; Islam in the modern Balkans; Nigerian responses to colonialism; and the rise of ISIS.

Latin America

Vanderbilt University has one of the oldest programs in Latin American studies in the United States. Our doctoral program focuses on developing scholars and teachers with both a broad knowledge of Latin American and Caribbean history and intensive training in research and writing in their specialty. Doctoral students normally do four semesters of classes, then take their qualifying exams at the end of their fourth semester or the beginning of their fifth semester. Working closely with our historians of Latin America and the Caribbean, students develop a dissertation topic and prospectus during their fifth semester. From their first semester, we encourage our doctoral students to become actively engaged in the profession through field research, networking, publishing, collaborative projects, and grant applications. Our students have presented their research at numerous national and international conferences including the American Historical Association, Conference on Latin American History, Latin American Studies Association, Brazilian Studies Association, Association of Caribbean Historians, and the Southern Historical Association. Over the last decade our students have won many prestigious internal and external research awards (ACLS, Mellon, Boren, SSRC, and Fulbright). Since 1989, 39 students have entered our doctoral program. Twenty-three have completed their dissertations, and ten students are currently in the program. The average time to completion of dissertation has been six years. Close individual supervision of our students has been key to the timely and successful progress of our students. 

Vanderbilt University has a distinguished tradition in Latin American and Caribbean history beginning with the hiring of Alexander Marchant (and four other Brazil specialists) and the creation of an Institute of Brazilian Studies in 1947. Among other noted historians of Latin America who have taught at Vanderbilt are Simon Collier, Robert Gilmore, J. León Helguera, and Barbara Weinstein. Close individual supervision of our students has been key to the timely and successful progress of our students.

Vanderbilt is home to a thriving community of legal historians. Our faculty expertise ranges from ancient Rome to the contemporary United States, and we place a strong emphasis on comparative and thematic inquiry. Faculty have written on topics as diverse as ancient violence, the history of prostitution, racial passing, Islamic law, American slavery, and law in early modern empires.

Our community is centered on the Legal History Workshop, an invited speaker series that runs throughout the year. The workshop features some of the most exciting new perspectives on legal history and strives to be international and comparative in methods and scope.

In addition to coursework in their geographic and chronological areas of expertise, students are encouraged to take the Methods in Legal History seminar, which runs every other year. This team-taught seminar introduces students to the range of work done by legal historians and runs in conjunction with the workshop.

Modern Europe

Vanderbilt's doctoral program in Modern Europe focuses on developing scholars and teachers with a broad knowledge of European history and its relationship to the world. Graduate students are rigorously trained in both the national historiographies of their regional and linguistic specializations, as well as in related transnational and thematic fields, such as environmental history, nationalism and nation-building, law and empire, the history of music, minority politics, history of religion, mass violence, and the history of science and technology.

With a small, competitive cohort accepted each year, doctoral students in Modern Europe at Vanderbilt benefit from close mentor relationship with their advisors and other senior faculty, both through small seminar-style coursework and close individual supervision during the dissertation process. Mentorship extends beyond the classroom to include support in grant-writing, preparation for the job market, and opportunities for teaching assistantships in related fields. Collectively, the department's European faculty has supervised more than 40 theses in modern Europe and helped to place students in prestigious fellowships and tenure-track jobs in the United States and Europe.

Science, Technology, and Medicine

Vanderbilt is home to a robust and diverse community of historians engaged in the study of Science, Technology, and Medicine (STM). Students in STM are exposed to both the intensive historiographies of STM fields as well as a broad and deep training in the relevant historical locations and periods. Vanderbilt STM students are encouraged to imagine themselves as both scholars and as historians.

Our faculty expertise ranges across time, place, and topic; from material culture in Africa, to medicine in China, to intellectual and cultural history in the West.  Faculty have written on topics as diverse as modern privacy, the young Darwin, Diabetes, Albert Einstein, Qi, clinical trials—even the future of technology.

Our community is centered on two workshops, one designed by graduate students for the STM scholars within the department, and the other designed to engage the broader Vanderbilt community, recognizing the inherently interdisciplinary nature of STM studies.  

United States

Students in our doctoral program are trained broadly in the historiography of the United States in the nineteenth, twentieth, and now twenty-first centuries. They also have ample opportunities to work in transnational and thematic fields, including African American history, diplomatic history, environmental history, intellectual history, legal history, political history, and religious history as well as the history of capitalism, gender and sexuality, popular culture, race and racism, and science, medicine, and technology. The department has a strong profile in the field of U.S. and the world, and offers students training in transnational approaches. Graduate students and faculty meet regularly as a group to discuss research work in progress in the department's informal Americanist Seminar.

With a small, diverse cohort accepted each year, doctoral students in U.S. history at Vanderbilt benefit from expert supervision and guidance. Our faculty is committed to excellent mentoring in both research and teaching. Graduate students enjoy close working relationships with their advisors and other faculty inside and outside the department, whether in the Law School or Peabody College of Education or in the departments of medicine, health and society, sociology, philosophy, or religious studies. Faculty assist students as well with grant-writing, conference presentations, article drafting, and preparation for the job market. The department has helped to place students in prestigious fellowships and tenure-track jobs as well as significant research and policy positions outside the academy.

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The goal of the doctoral program is to train students to become both skilled scholars and conscientious teachers. Throughout the program students work with advisors and other faculty members as they engage in coursework , prepare for and take the  general exam , work as teaching fellows , and research and write the dissertation . On average it takes seven years to receive the doctoral degree*. Most graduates have pursued academic careers at universities and colleges in the United States and abroad, while others have gone on to successful careers in law and in government.

As a large research university, Harvard offers many resources and opportunities for its students in the form of lectures , conferences , research centers , fellowships, and grants . Students have access to the more than 80  libraries and 15 million volumes that comprise the Harvard University Library, the largest university library in the world.

Additionally, students may take courses offered by other departments in the Faculty of Arts & Sciences, or at other Harvard schools , such as Harvard Divinity School , Harvard Law School , Harvard Graduate School of Education , and Harvard Kennedy School .

In coordination with Harvard Law School, students may pursue both a PhD in history and a JD at the Law School . To learn more about this course of study consult the Coordinated JD/PhD program overview.

* The History Department does not offer a terminal master's program.

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Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in History Online

Transfer credits, next start date, become a professional historian with an online phd in history.

Are you interested in a career in education, research, politics, archaeology, or management of national landmarks and museums? Whatever your career goals are, Liberty University’s PhD in History can provide a theoretical background as well as research nd writing experience. These tools can help you excel in either academic or non-academic career fields related to humanities and social sciences.

An online doctorate in history can prepare you to pursue a variety of career opportunities. You might join the world of academia as a professor, professional researcher, or publisher. Or you could pursue a position as a museum curator, international development specialist, author, archaeologist, or federal government employee.

Academics and many other career fields need people like you who are knowledgeable about the undercurrents, culture, and societal standards surrounding historical events. Prepare to excel in whichever career field you choose when you pursue Liberty University’s online PhD in History.

Annual median salary for professionals with a doctorate*

All PhD in History courses are available online

Is a PhD in History worth it?

If you love history and want to increase your career options and earning potential, then a PhD in History is worth your effort. The types of jobs you could qualify for range from positions in the federal government to academia to private companies. 

Your earning potential will also increase because you hold a terminal degree. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, professionals with a doctoral degree earn an annual median salary of $94,900.* This is a 27% increase from the salaries of their counterparts who only have a master’s degree.

Can you get a PhD in History online?

Yes – with Liberty University’s online programs, you can earn your PhD in History 100% online. Our goal is to provide you with quality academics that are both affordable and flexible. We understand that you are a working professional with commitments. That’s why you have the flexibility to complete your doctorate wherever and whenever is most convenient for you.

How many years does it take to get a PhD in History?

Most students pursuing our PhD in History can complete the program in just 4 years. This includes a combination of full- and part-time attendance as well as dissertation work.

What can you do with a PhD in History?

When you’re considering career options, a PhD in History is one of the most flexible doctorates you can earn. You will have job opportunities with the United States government, universities, private organizations, and more. Some of the specific careers that may be available to you include:

  • Academic publisher
  • Archaeologist
  • Higher education administrator
  • International development specialist
  • Museum curator

Is a PhD from Liberty University respected?

If you plan to choose Liberty for your PhD, you can rest assured that your degree will be respected. Liberty University is regionally accredited through SACSCOC . This means our program has to meet rigorous academic standards that are respected by future employers.

Why Choose Liberty University’s History PhD Program Online?

When you choose Liberty, you’re choosing to pursue a degree from an accredited university. We offer a Christ-centered curriculum, flexible course scheduling, and affordable rates. Our goal is to provide you with academic excellence that is grounded in faith and consistent support throughout your academic journey.

Liberty University holds regional accreditation through the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges ( SACSCOC ). This means we have earned accreditation that demands high academic standards. Employers can have confidence in your knowledge and abilities gained through the program. And you can rest knowing that your degree will benefit both your personal and professional life.

At Liberty, our mission is Training Champions for Christ . That means each of your professors is a Christian who incorporates a biblical worldview into every course. Your professors are professionals who have doctorates like our online history PhD degree. 

You can complete our PhD in History through distance education with 8-week courses and no set login times. This flexibility allows you to pursue your online doctoral degree while maintaining commitments to your family, career, community, and church.

Military Tuition Discount We want to help you find the doctoral degree you want — at a price you’ve earned. As a thank-you for your military service, Liberty University offers eligible current and former service members like you or your spouse multiple pathways to earn a doctoral degree for only $300/credit hour . Find out how you can take advantage of this unique opportunity as you work towards your goal of reaching the pinnacle of your profession — for less.

What Will You Learn in Our Online PhD in History Program?

When you pursue our doctorate in history, you’ll learn historical concepts and how to educate others from a Christian perspective. Upon successful completion of this program, you will be able to do the following:

  • Apply a Christian worldview to the study of history
  • Apply historical methodology to professional settings
  • Conduct original research that is based upon knowledge of the literature of the discipline
  • Evaluate historiographic positions, like scholarly literature and interpretations, at the doctoral level

Featured Courses

  • HIST 502 – Historiography*
  • HIST 701 – Historical Professions
  • HIST 711 – Development of Western Freedoms
  • HIUS 713 – American Entrepreneurship since 1900

*Course guide coming soon

Highlights of Our Online History PhD Program

  • We are recognized by multiple institutions for our academic quality, affordability, and accessibility . Our commitment to excellence also helped us rank in the top 10% of’s best online schools in America . Earning your PhD online from a nonprofit university with this kind of recognition can help set you apart from others in your field.
  • Your success is our success, which is why we are committed to providing quality academics at an affordable tuition rate. While other colleges are increasing their tuition, we have frozen tuition rates for our undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral programs for the past 9 years – and counting.
  • This program is offered in an 8-week course format, with 8 different start dates each year, and no set login times!
  • You will benefit from networking opportunities with other professionals in the program from around the country.
  • The PhD in History is the first program of its kind offered from a conservative Christian, accredited university.
  • Your degree requires experience both inside and outside the classroom to help you become fully prepared for any professional setting you choose.

Liberty’s PhD in History Online Degree Information

  • This program falls under the College of Arts and Sciences .
  • Download and review the Degree Completion Plan .
  • View the Graduate Arts and Sciences Course Guides   (login required).
  • View the PhD in History Handbook .

Apply Now      Request Info

Career Opportunities for History PhD Online Graduates

  • Federal government employee
  • Professional researcher

Admission Requirements for the PhD in History at Liberty University

A regionally or nationally accredited master’s degree in history, or a related field,* with a 3.0 or above GPA is required for admission in good standing. Please visit our admission requirements page for more detailed admissions-related information.

All applicants must submit the following:

  • Admission application
  • Application fee**
  • Official college transcripts indicating successful completion of a doctorate or master’s in history or a related field*
  • Proof of English proficiency (for applicants whose native language is other than English)

*Examples include but are not limited to: public or applied history, social sciences, political science, philosophy, government, international relations, geography, English, theology, church history, economics, a Master of Business Administration (MBA), museum studies, and library sciences.

** There is no upfront application fee; however, a deferred $50 application fee will be assessed during Financial Check-In. This fee is waived for qualifying service members, veterans, and military spouses – documentation verifying military status is required.

*Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, at Education Pays (viewed online August 19, 2020). Cited projections may not reflect local and/or short-term economic or job conditions and do not guarantee actual job growth.

*Some restrictions may occur for this promotion to apply. This promotion also excludes active faculty and staff, military, Non-Degree Seeking, DGIA, Continuing Education, WSB, and Certificates.

Apply FREE This Week*

Other programs you may be interested in

Doctor of Education (EDD)

Doctor of Education

Next Start Date: Jan 15, 2024

Doctor of Philosophy (PHD)

Educational Leadership

Master of Arts (MA)

Master of Education (MED)

Curriculum and Instruction: History

Looking for a different program, estimate your cost.

Cost Per Credit Hour Per Semester for 7 to 15 Credits* Per Semester for 9 to 15 Credits* i Visit the Tuition and Financing page for more information.

Additional program fees may apply. See program page for details.

Disclaimer: This calculator is a tool that provides a rough estimate of the total cost of tuition, and should not be relied upon to determine overall costs, as pricing may vary by program and tuition/fees are subject to change. Estimates are not final or binding, and do not include potential financial aid eligibility.

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For eligibility requirements for military discounts at the doctoral level, please review the online benefits page .

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Department of History

Ph.d. programs.

The Department of History’s doctoral degree program seeks to train talented historians for careers in scholarship, teaching, and beyond the academy. The department typically accepts 22 Ph.D. students per year. Additional students are enrolled through various combined programs and through HSHM.  All admitted Ph.D. students receive a  full  financial aid package  from the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. 

History of Science and Medicine

The  Program in the History of Science and Medicine  (HSHM)  is a semi-autonomous graduate track within the Department of History. HSHM students receive degrees in History, with a concentration in the History of Science and Medicine.  There is a separate admissions process for students interested in the History of Science and Medicine. For more information, please see the  HSHM website . 

Combined Doctoral Programs

Joint ph.d. programs.

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"My doctoral mentors never lost sight of how to customize my training for where I wanted to go. There was a constant encouragement of my growth and people went out of their way to open doors for me."

Currently a Department Chair at Gardner-Webb University, Joseph Moore earned his Ph.D. from UNCG in 2011. He is the author of Founding Sins: How a Group of Antislavery Radicals Fought to Put Christ into the Constitution (Oxford University Press 2015).

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What Can You Do with a PhD in History?

woman looking out over historical site

You’re a history buff — the person everyone wants on their trivia team. You can rattle off the dates, facts, and names of the world’s most significant events and periods. If you’re considering using your powers for good, getting a PhD in history is a great option. 

People with a passion for being stuck in the past have options once they’ve completed their history doctoral program. Beyond history jobs in academia, there’s a spot for a historian around the table in nearly every industry. The skill set required to complete a PhD opens up a variety of doors in whichever direction you choose to pursue. Here’s an idea of some things you can do with a PhD in History . 

If you see yourself leading the nation’s young people through their own historical journeys, a PhD prepares you to teach at almost any level, though going the professor route could be more lucrative than teaching high school. On average history professors make between $80,000-$164,000 per year. 

You’ll select your focus and spend your days sharing your passion with undergraduate and master’s level students. Along with teaching, if you pursue a history career in academia, you’ll likely spend some time researching topics within your wheelhouse. Re: your passion! 

If spending your days in front of the class, hosting debates, and leading young minds excites you, there might be even more time on a college campus in your future. However, tenured history professor roles may take some time to find and the salaries can range based on the type of university and location.  

Future Planning

Those studying the past usually have some insights into the future. If you’re looking to explore the world outside of strictly history, you might use your skills to find a career in future planning. No, not retirement planning (though that’s an option too).

Historians have a knack for identifying themes and patterns in culture, politics, and the world. A history PhD program allows you to use your historical knowledge to contribute to the modern world by making an impact on the community around you. Many politicians, inclusion officers, grant writers, and even human resource managers use their history PhDs to influence their worlds. 

Your ability to think critically about the past and lend your knowledge to the future makes you an asset to any organization looking to excel into the modern world. Be prepared to market yourself as someone who can best set the organization up for success in an ever-changing world. 


In the business and technology world, it’s all about understanding the customer. Who are you selling to? What is their day-to-day life like? How do you best understand their needs and wants? 

As a historian, your ability to communicate with a diverse population and understand the context of their lives makes you especially valuable on a sales, marketing, development, or innovation team. As a PhD, employers know you are well-read, have strong research skills and have spent many, many, many hours writing. It’s no surprise that Historians make excellent copywriters, marketers, and editors. 

We won’t lie to you, there aren’t many Fortune 500 CEOs that can claim a doctorate in history. Most CEOs have MBAs or degrees in engineering. But there should be more historians up at the top — maybe you have what it takes. 

Intelligence Analysis

You may not be the next Indiana Jones, but you might cut it as a secret agent. The ability to analyze and synthesize information from various sources is crucial for intelligence analysts — and history PhDs have that in spades. 

Skilled at recognizing biases, evaluating the reliability of sources, and making informed judgments based on incomplete or uncertain information, historians have a strong ability to think critically and evaluate evidence. 

Additionally, historians have a deep understanding of the historical, cultural and social context in which events occur. This understanding can help you identify underlying factors and motivations that may not be immediately apparent to others. 


If you’ve always dreamed about a career in history, this is likely what you’ve pictured. Spending days dusting off old newspapers and curating the perfect collection of artifacts — historians and archivists are often hired by governments or organizations to collect, analyze, organize, and preserve important documents and artifacts. 

Companies may hire a historian to reflect on the organization’s past in order to better inform their future choices or to maintain an existing collection of artifacts. We get it. We saw National Treasure, too. This would be a pretty amazing career.

The salary for historian jobs   can vary based on size of the organization and unfortunately, the importance they place on preserving their history. For reference, the average PhD in history salary is $75,000 in the U.S.

Become a Historian at SMU

So, what can you do with a PhD in history? You can make sense of the past to inform the future, you can write exceptionally well, and you can excel in nearly any industry. Simply holding your doctoral degree in history shows employers the determination you have. There should be a seat saved for you at every company, college, and organization looking to succeed.

Ready to get started?

Explore what you can do with a PhD in History, read the guide Reanalyzing Our World, PhDs in The Humanities at SMU !

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The Graduate Program

 fields of study.

Like all major history departments in this country, we divide our graduate program into fields, most of which reflect the geographic and chronological boundaries that have traditionally organized historical research in the West, but others of which cross those boundaries (such as sociomedical sciences, Jewish history, and International & Global History).Those boundaries continue to define most faculty positions in American history departments. Every prospective Columbia student thus applies to work in a specific field. There are 13 of them, each of which has slightly different requirements:

  • Early Modern Europe (1350-1750)
  • International and Global History
  • Jewish History
  • Latin America
  • Medieval Europe
  • Middle East
  • Modern Europe
  • Socio-Medical Sciences
  • United States

Prospective students should realize, however, that our history department, like many others, also provides opportunities for students to embrace broader lines of inquiry- both within and across traditional divisions by field. We urge our students, first, to explore the convergence of different methodological and theoretical approaches to history- to explore, for example, the intersections between political and social history, or the connections between diplomatic, cultural, and intellectual history. And we encourage our students, second, to consider research that moves beyond the period and place associated with their field. We continue to emphasize deep training in source analysis and empirical research,which are the foundations of professional history-writing. But we also urge students to take on research projects that situate their particular time or place in historical processes that decisively cross traditional boundaries.

We welcome applications, therefore,from students with strong interests in particular fields, who are eager to immerse themselves in the records of particular cultures and are prepared to acquire the techniques necessary for such work (languages and, for certain subjects, such specialized skills as paleography, statistics, or even musical training). But we also encourage applications from students who want as well to think about their work in terms of longer histories and broader theoretical questions.

Faculty members at Columbia conduct research and train students in several such broad, transnational areas, including:

  • International history, emphasizing imperial and post-imperial histories from the 1500s forward
  • Western intellectual history, medieval to modem
  • Diasporic Jewish history
  • Ethics and public health
  • Women’s history and the history of gender
  • Social and political history of the West, including history of markets, commercial culture, labor, and associated legal institutions
  • The international history of race, slavery, and emancipation
  • The international history of the Cold War and other systems of geopolitics
  • The history of science and technology
  • The global history of medicine, disease, and public health

However they define their fields, history students are not confined to the resources of our department. They are, rather, encouraged to look beyond our walls to other areas of the university or to other institutions in the New York metropolitan area.

In addition to Columbia’s fine departments in associated disciplines, such as languages and literature, art history, music, philosophy, sociology, political science, or anthropology, Columbia has a wide range of energetic interdisciplinary institutes that provide formal and informal training to graduate students throughout the university, among them the Harriman Institute for Soviet and Post-Soviet Studies , the Middle Eastern Institute , the Institute for Research on Women and Gender , and the East Asian Institute  (along with the Department of East Asian Languages and Culture ). Columbia’s School of Public Health, which offers a Ph.D. in the history of medicine and public health in association with our department; the Law School, with which we offer a joint Ph.D./J.D. program; Teachers College; and the School of International and Public Affairs are four of Columbia’s many professional schools that offer courses and other intellectual opportunities to enhance a student’s training in the history department.

Columbia history students are also entitled to take courses at no additional cost at other area universities through the Inter-University Doctoral Consortium , such as NYU, the New School, CUNY Graduate Center, Stonybrook, Fordham, Princeton, and Rutgers .

Whatever larger interests a student may have or may develop, each enters the history program through a particular field. The Graduate Student Handbook lists the thirteen fields and details the specific requirements for each (the principal differences concern language requirements, orals preparation,and seminars). Students and their advisors may, however, agree on adjustments to those requirements in response to a student’s particular interests. Students should also keep in mind that they can formally change fields, with faculty permission, and consequently adjust their programs to reflect their particular needs.

PhD in History

Request Info Visit Us Apply Now

The PhD program in History offers a broad-based, humanistic education that equips you with the research, analytical, and communication skills critical for meaningful careers in the field of History.

The PhD program in History enables you to conduct research at the highest level and begin your career as an academic historian or prepare for a wide range of academic and professional careers. You’ll work alongside CGU faculty-scholars who specialize in U.S. and European history and draw on expert faculty from the highly ranked Claremont Colleges as well. With abundant opportunities to traverse disciplines and bring diverse ideas together, you will engage in first-rate historical scholarship. The result: an in-depth education in history with a breadth of expertise and an instructional environment unmatched by most larger universities.

Program Highlights

  • The Libraries of the Claremont Colleges are among the largest collections in California, and the Huntington Library, one of the world’s finest research libraries for English and American history, is nearby.
  • You can pursue a PhD in History in conjunction with another degree program at CGU. You receive a diploma for each degree and “double count” some units from one program to the other to decrease your required total units.

Program at a Glance

UNITS 72 units

*Actual completion times will vary and may be higher, depending on full- or part-time course registration, units transferred, and time to complete other degree requirements.




Featured Courses

Analyzes the intersections of environmental and indigenous histories of North America.

Explores various approaches to expansionism, imperialism, and colonialism across spaces & time.

Explores major debates within public history & provides theoretical frameworks and practical skills to conceptualize and execute public history projects.

Undertakes a close reading of such primary texts as sermons, diaries, and cartographic records, within the context of recent historiography of Colonial/British America.

Explores how the Spanish Civil War pre-figured the greater ideological confrontation that dominated Europe in the 1930s between fascism, communism, and democracy.

Focuses on the profound political, cultural, intellectual, social and economic changes that defined this period, its revolutions, democratization, World Wars, and more.

  • History 300 (4 units)
  • One Transdisciplinary course (4 units)
  • Ten History elective courses (40 units)
  • Six elective courses (24 units)

Up to 24 units transfer credit from previous graduate work in History may be substituted for the elective coursework requirements.

Research Tools Requirement

  • Two foreign languages ( or one foreign language and one research tool)

Research Papers

  • Two substantive research papers

PhD Completion

  • PhD qualifying exams
  • Dissertation proposal
  • Written dissertation and oral defense

Inaugurated in 1962, the Claremont Graduate University Oral History Program has amassed an impressive collection of interviews with persons whose life experiences merited preservation and special projects, such as China Missionaries Oral History Project, funded by the Henry Luce Foundation. It is a premier resource for research into the history of The Claremont Colleges and California state government and politics.

Faculty & Research

Matthew Bowman profile image

Matthew Bowman

Associate Professor of Religion and History Howard W. Hunter Chair of Mormon Studies

Research Interests

Mormonism, new religious movements, evangelicalism, religion and American politics

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Joshua Goode

Associate Professor of Cultural Studies and History Chair, Cultural Studies (Fall 2022)

Modern Spain, 19th- and 20th-century Europe, Genocide and racial thought, Museums and commemoration, Memory

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Romeo Guzmán

Assistant Professor of History

Citizenship, Migration, Sport, Public history, Digital humanities

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JoAnna Poblete

Professor of History John D. and Lillian Maguire Distinguished Professor in the Humanities Chair, History Department

Colonialism and empire, unincorporated territories, migration and labor, comparative ethnic studies, Asian-American and Pacific Islander studies, 20th-century United States, indigenous issues, environmental history, oral history, U.S. expansionism

Extended Faculty

Shane bjornlie.

Claremont McKenna College

Late Antique history, Roman history

Myriam Chancy

Scripps College

African diaspora with specialization in its literature

Alfred Flores

Harvey Mudd College

U.S. empire in Oceania with an emphasis on diaspora, labor, indigeneity, militarization, oral history and settler colonialism in Guåhan

Lily Geismer

20th century liberalism in the United States, Fair housing, Liberal religion and politics

George Gorse

Pomona College

Italian Renaissance art and architecture, Italian Baroque art and architecture, Medieval art history, History of cities, palaces, villas, and gardens, History of Genoa

Vivien Hamilton

Medical technologies, including x-rays, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries

Daniel Livesay

Early American and Atlantic history; Race, family, and slavery in North America and the Caribbean

Charles Lofgren

American Constitutionalism, American founding, Constitutional law, Military history, War and foreign relations

Char Miller

U.S. environmental policy, U.S. public-lands management, Western water politics, Immigration and border security, Urban politics and development, U.S. intellectual and cultural history

Harmony O’Rourke

Pitzer College

Cultural and social history of early modern and modern Africa, Global diasporas, Gender and sexuality, West Africa, Slavery, Colonialism, Oral history

Albert Park

Design & architecture, East Asian history & political economy, Korean history, Modern Japanese history

Ralph Rossum

American Constitutionalism, American Founding, Constitutional Law, Crime and Criminal Justice, Indian Gaming Issues, Redistricting, Supreme Court, Voting Rights

Victor Silverman

U.S. History, Alcohol and Drug Studies, History of Sexual/Gender Minorities, The Cold War, Labor Unions, International Labor Movements, U.S. and Britain, San Francisco Bay Area History, California History, Sustainable Development Policy

Current Student

Portrait of Kerri Dean

Why did you choose the PhD in History at CGU?

After completing my Master of Arts in History at CGU, I felt at home in the program and appreciated that it offered me the chance for intellectual freedom to explore my personal research interests. I knew I would receive support from the faculty not only to investigate unique topics but also to pursue a non-traditional path in history and academia.

In what ways have you crossed disciplinary boundaries?

CGU encourages students to find their own personal niche in academia, regardless of traditional discipline trajectory. My passion for museums and public history and the use of alternative methodologies (including oral histories, material culture, and digital humanities) has prompted my scholarship to span disciplinary boundaries in order to find my own personal place in the scholarship.

Where will this degree take you?

I originally began my masters thinking, “I must be a professor!” Although I still hold that dream, my experience here and within the Museum and Archival Studies programs changed my professional trajectory. I realized learning, understanding, and contributing to historical scholarship does not need to be limited to academia. So far, I have completed two non-academic public history internships and feel confident in utilizing my academic training in a public history field.

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American Studies

The American Studies concentration takes a multidisciplinary approach to the study of United States culture, society, civilization, and identity through the curricular lenses of history, literature, critical theory, and more.

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Early Modern Studies

The Early Modern Studies concentration undertakes interdisciplinary examination of history, culture, politics, and society within the transitional and transformative period that stretched between Medieval and modern societies, marked especially by the advent of print, Christian confessional war, and the rise of the modern state.

Hemispheric & Transnational Studies

A comparative analysis of culture in the Americas, the concentration in Hemispheric & Transnational Studies explores how scholarship on the Atlantic, borderlands, and diaspora have reshaped U.S. American Studies, Caribbean Studies, and Latin American Studies, emphasizing the topics of empire, race, religion, and revolution.

Media Studies

Situated at the bustling intersection of cultural studies, new media, critical theory, and popular culture, the burgeoning field of Media Studies examines the creative and critical practices of media consumers, producers, artists, and scholars, focusing on questions of representation, power, technology, politics, and economy.

Museum Studies

The Museum Studies concentration investigates the history and political role of museums in society, the interpretation and display of a wide variety of cultural productions, and topics of special concern to museums as cultural organizations, using a multidisciplinary, practice-based approach to understand the historical development of this evolving field.

These concentrations are available for students pursuing the following degree programs:

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Loyola University Chicago

Department of history, phd in history.

The doctoral program in history is a 60-hour in-person program that culminates in a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) degree. Students can enter the program in two ways:

  • (1) Most students enter holding a Master's degree . Usually, the PhD degree is a 30-hour program beyond the MA, but the exact hourly requirement beyond the MA will be determined by the Graduate Program Director and the Graduate School.
  • (2) Students who have compiled an outstanding record in an undergraduate history major may enter the PhD Program directly from their undergraduate program. Admission with a Bachelor's degree only is highly selective and limited to a few undergraduates each year. Students are chosen on the basis of our regular criteria (GPA, letters of recommendation, writing sample and personal statement).

Program Outcomes

Upon completion of the PhD in History, graduates will be able to:

  • Use the historical method to solve historical and historiographical problems while applying the perspectives of class, race, gender, etc. to historical events and trends;
  • Identify and criticize interpretive paradigms and methodologies relevant to historical scholarship and the historical profession;
  • Perform historical research in archives and libraries and evaluate the provenance, context, validity, and biases of these sources from the past;
  • Apply the necessary research skills to produce original scholarship on a chosen historical topic using primary sources while evaluating the validity, context, and biases of secondary source literature produced by other scholars;
  • Demonstrate the ability to deploy multiple forms of communication (written, oral, and new media) to discuss their own historical scholarship and graduate-level knowledge of their chosen fields;
  • Advance the knowledge of the discipline;
  • Conduct cutting edge research;
  • Engage respectfully in debates about the nature of the past in order to enrich historical understanding and generate new questions and investigatory avenues.

General Degree Requirements

For PhD students entering with a Master’s degree, the distribution of hours is as follows if a total of 30 hours pursued at the MA institution is accepted for transfer credit:

  For students entering with a Bachelor’s degree , the distribution of hours is as follows:

 * Note: the second 500-level research seminar may be completed within a minor field.

Required or Core Courses

Students who have not taken History 400: Twentieth Century Approaches to History or an equivalent course at the Master's level must do so in the PhD program. Additionally, all doctoral students must take History 403: The Professional Lives of Historians during their first semester in the program. They must also successfully complete at least one 500-level research seminar in the major field. Students accepted into the PhD program  with only a BA degree must complete History 400 and two 500-level research seminars (one in the major field and the second in either the major or minor fields). All students must take History 598 in which they develop their dissertation proposal under the supervision of their major field advisor.

Major Field

Students choose coursework and specific research to develop a broad major within the field of United States history.

Minor Field(s)

In consultation with their major advisor, students coming in with a M.A. will select one minor field in which they must complete at least three courses. This field must be distinct from the major field and from fields taken at the Master's level. Students entering with a B.A.  must complete two minor fields. Minor fields include areas of geographic or topical foci such as:

  • Gender and Women's History
  • Modern Europe
  • Public History
  • United States

Other thematic minor fields (such as race and ethnicity or colonialism and empire) may be created with the approval of the Graduate Program Director. Students may also select a minor field from another discipline with the approval of the Graduate Program Director. Students wishing to pursue a minor field in public history must meet with the Public History Program Director, formally declare public history as their minor field and indicate their plans for fulfilling the minor.

All content courses must be at the 400 and 500 level. Students ordinarily can take no more than three directed study courses (HIST 499).

To view a course catalogue, click on one of the following links:

  • Current and Recent Course Descriptions and Schedules
  • Regularly Scheduled Courses

Research Tool Requirements

United States History Track: Students who choose US history as their major field must complete two research tool requirements:

  • One tool must be within public history and may include History 483: Oral History or History 479: Public History Media. When taken for the research tool requirement, History 483 and History 479 cannot be counted toward the minor field in Public History. In special circumstances, students may petition the Graduate Program Director to substitute another research tool in place of the public history research tool requirement.
  • The second research tool requirement may be fulfilled in two ways: a) reading knowledge of a foreign language appropriate to the student’s major field or b) mastery of a special skill required by the student’s doctoral research. With the approval of the Graduate Program Director, students may demonstrate mastery in one of the following areas: statistics, computer science, GIS, and paleography. Courses taken in these subject areas at Loyola or another academic institution may be used to show mastery of a special skill. However, these courses require prior approval by the Graduate Program Director.

Comprehensive Examinations

Near the end of their graduate program, PhD students must pass a take-home written examination and a two-hour oral examination in their major field . For the written examination, the student will produce three 10–15 page historiographical essays based on a reading list developed in conjunction with a three-member committee of history faculty of their choosing. The committee should be established no later than the beginning of the semester in which the student intends to take the examination. Students will have two weeks to complete the exam, which will be evaluated by the committee. The two-hour oral exam will occur within two weeks of completing the written exam.

For the PhD major field examination in US history , students should choose two of the three designated chronological areas:

  • 19th Century America
  • 20th Century America

They should also choose two thematic areas for the examination. Thematic areas include:

  • Women and Gender
  • Indigenous America
  • African-American and Race
  • American West and Borderlands
  • Immigration and Ethnicity
  • Environmental

Other thematic fields are possible with the approval of all committee members.

In addition, students satisfy the minor field examination requirements by passing a take-home written examination in which they will produce two 10–15 page historiographical essays based on a reading list developed in conjunction with a two-member committee of history faculty of their choosing. The committee should be established no later than the beginning of the semester in which the student intends to take the examination. Students will have one week to complete the exam, which will be evaluated by the committee. Those who select a minor field outside of history must successfully pass a comprehensive examination in that discipline. Students in the Accelerated PhD Program take only one minor field exam. The other minor field requirement is satisfied by the successful completion of three courses (nine credit hours) with at least a B (3.0) average.

For the PhD major and minor field examinations in areas outside of US history (such as modern Europe and other thematic fields with a Transnational Urban focus), students should work closely with their committee members to create reading lists with a broad chronological sweep and a set number of thematic areas.

Dissertation Proposal Review and Dissertation

Students will develop a "dissertation field" within the major field in which they intend to write their PhD dissertation. This field must be designated before 18 credit hours of coursework beyond the MA (normally at the end of the first year in the doctoral program). At this point, students present a dissertation topic and proposal to their major adviser (History 598 Dissertation Proposal Seminar) for review and approval. Students formalize their proposed committee with the submission of the recommendation of the Dissertation Proposal Committee form to the Graduate School.

Following the successful completion of doctoral examinations and the portfolio requirement, students will make a public presentation of their dissertation proposal to a committee, which will include the dissertation director and at least two other faculty members acquainted with the research areas of the dissertation. In discussing the proposal, students and members of the dissertation committee should work out problems and address questions the committee members may have. Upon successfully completing the dissertation proposal review, students submit a formal dissertation outline to the Graduate School. Following its approval and the successful completion of all other degree requirements, students are admitted to PhD candidacy.

Oral Defense

The PhD dissertation must be completed, approved by the designated committee members and successfully defended orally at a public defense.

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Department of History

College of humanities, main navigation, history phd program, about the history phd program.

The Doctor of Philosophy program provides general instruction in the historian’s craft and intensive training in one major field and two minor fields of history. Candidates for the PhD are expected to obtain a broad historical knowledge, demonstrate expertise in the special area of their dissertations, and master fundamental research techniques and methodologies. As prospective members of a time-honored profession, candidates should strive to make substantive contributions to historical scholarship in original research and writing, classroom teaching, or institutions of research and interpretation. 

In addition to the departmental requirements noted in the   History Graduate Handbook , please read the University requirements for the PhD degree, which are listed on the   Graduate School website .

PhD Departmental Requirements

For a complete list of Doctoral Degree Requirements, please review the Graduate Handbook , pages 7-13.1

  • PhD US Checklist

Supervisory Committee

PhD students must form a supervisory committee no later than the second semester of graduate study.

Supervisory committees for doctoral students consists of 5 members of the University faculty including adjunct and reserach faculty. A majority should hold regular faculty appointments and at least one member must be from a department other than history.

Graduate school regulations for Supervisory Committees can be found on the Graduate School website , and in the Department Graduate Handbook pages 8-9 .

There is no stipulated number of credit hours required for the PhD. In consultation with the Supervisory Committee, PhD students will create an individualized program of study designed to prepare them to pass the qualifying examinations and proceed with dissertation research.

Requirements :

  • HIST 7800: History Methods
  • PhD in U.S. History must complete HIST 7500 & 7510
  • Two research seminars, at least one of which must be in their major field.
  • One seminar or colloquium in each minor field.

Minimum of 14 hours of HIST 7970: Thesis Research.

See History Graduate Handbook pages 9-10 .

Program of Study

The program of study is a list that contains all the coursework and research hours completed for the degree. Candidates for the PhD degree ordinarily must complete no fewer than three full years (six semesters) of approved graduate work (i.e., courses numbered 6000 and above) and a dissertation. All candidates for a PhD will meet with the Graduate Advisor one semester before graduation to discuss the final requirements, which will provide sufficient time for entering all the information online. The Supervisory Committee and the Director of Graduate Studies must approve the program of study. 

See History Graduate Handbook page 10 .

Doctoral students must complete the degree requirements within seven years of the original date of admission; failure to do so shall necessitate reapplication for admission to the program and repetition of all qualifying examinations.

See History Graduate Handbook page 13 .

Criteria For Dismissal

Doctoral Student smay be dismissed from the program for failure to achieve any of the following:

  • Maintain a minimum GPA fo 3.0
  • Officially register documentation of a supervisory committee from the time of official registration of the supervisory committee through completion of the program.
  • Pass qualifying exams by the end of their 5th year in the doctoral program. In the event that a candidate fails the final exaination, it may be repeated, but only one; failure to pass an examination a second time shall automatically result in termination of the Student's PhD program.

Complete dissertation revisions as required by the supervisory committee and obtain the supervisory chair's signature on the Final Reading Form wthin 120 days of the dissertation defense.

Language Requirement

All PhD students must achieve advanced proficiency in one foreign language. Students should contact the History academic advisor to learn how to fulfill this requirement. PhD students may also be required by their supervisory committees to master other foreign languages to conduct research and read scholarship in their chosen fields. Language credits will not count towards fulfillment of degree requirements. 

Qualifying Examination

PhD qualifing examinations consist of two parts: a written examination and an oral examination.

Written Examination: In the major field, the written examination will not exceed eight hours in length. The exam is constructed and evaluated by the PhD student’s Supervisory Committee and will reflect the breadth and complexity of the entire field. In the minor fields, written examinations will not exceed four hours in length altogether (i.e., two hours in each minor field). At the discretion of the supervisory committee, the student may substitute a portfolio for a written examination in either or both minor fields. This portfolio will consist of sample syllabi for a course or courses in that field, along with an annotated bibliography and the student’s written work deemed appropriate for the portfolio by the student’s minor field Supervisory Committee member.

Oral Examination: The student’s Supervisory Committee will conduct an oral examination of approximately two hours after the completion of all written examinations. The oral examination shall be conducted by the student’s Supervisory Committee Chair and will cover the major and minor fields. 

See History Graduate Handbook pages 10-11 .

Upon completion of the qualifying examination, the student shall be admitted to candidacy for the PhD degree. Thereafter the candidate shall present a prospectus of the dissertation to the Supervisory Committee for approval. The prospectus is a proposal for the dissertation, and will normally include a statement and justification of the topic to be explored, a research plan, a bibliography of primary and secondary sources, and a discussion of methodology. The prospectus should be developed only after considerable preliminary investigation of a general problem. The prospectus must receive formal approval by the candidate’s Supervisory Committee. A departmental form summarizing the action of the committee, along with a copy of the approved prospectus, must be filed with the Advisor following the prospectus meeting.

See History Graduate Handbook page 11 .


After the prospectus is approved, candidates proceed to research and write a dissertation under the supervision of the dissertation advisor, who in most cases will be the Supervisory Committee Chair. This is to be a major research and writing endeavor, incorporating exhaustive research and advanced conceptual and analytical skills. Although supervision of the dissertation shall be the province of the dissertation advisor, candidates are expected to advise other committee members of their work in progress. The candidate shall submit a draft of the dissertation to each member of the supervisory committee at least one month prior to the final oral examination. The style and format of the dissertation must accord with departmental policies as administered by the Thesis Office at the Graduate School.

See History Graduate Handbook pages 19 and 24 .

Graduate Student Forms

Students are responsible for filling out forms with the Academic Advisor and Director of Graduate Studies in a timely manner so that their student records can be updated and the studen will not fall out of compliance with the Graduate School.

All forms can be found here .

book an appointment with an Academic Advisor

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In This Section

  • Acknowledgments and Sources
  • Introduction: As Seen by the Chairman
  • Do We Need More College Teachers?
  • Graduate Students in History
  • History in the Colleges
  • The Master’s Degree
  • Ph.D.-Training Institutions

Doctoral Study in History

  • Major Criticisms of Ph.D. Training
  • Experiments with Teacher Training and Tightened Programs
  • Recommendations

A majority of history departments training Ph.D.s agree that the aim of doctoral training should be the education of "scholar-teachers." But, while 7% "put more emphasis upon teaching," one-fifth avowedly "put more emphasis upon research." Thus the quality most demanded in doctoral candidates is "research skill and zeal." This is mentioned as a top quality twice as often as any other. "Interest in teaching" and "general intellectual curiosity" are tied as the second most desired qualities, and these are closely followed by "skill in teaching."

These variations in the aims of doctoral education are manifested in the detailed provisions of Ph.D. programs. This chapter shows how history faculties are currently training Ph.D. candidates. It describes the scope of Ph.D. study through a review of "field" requirements, surveys the forms of study, shows how student performance is tested in various examinations, and points to changes that are being contemplated.

What Is Studied: Field Requirements

Ph.D. candidates are usually expected to enroll in at least three academic years of graduate study ("residence") and it is common to specify that one academic year "in residence" must be spent at the institution awarding the doctorate. In actuality, however, it is a rare student who completes Ph.D. training in three years of study. The usual "full course load" for first- and second-year graduate students in Ph.D.-training departments varies from 12 hours-i.e., four courses (reported by 58% of the departments)-up to 15 hours (one-third of the departments) and down to 9 hours (one-tenth of the departments). Just how much study is expected in terms of credit hours the history faculties are reluctant to state explicitly, for in doctoral studies evidence of qualitative scholarship is considered the goal and quantitative efforts only means toward the desired end. Two-fifths of the departments report that they "require" or "recommend" that doctoral candidates take 60 or more semester hours of graduate study, and almost two-thirds (62%) report 48 semester hours or more. The largest requirement reported-90 semester hours-was cited by one of the least well-known departments. Only a small minority expect more than 70 hours of course work.

The basic intellectual dilemma now involved in planning units of study for doctoral candidates was well stated in the early nineteenth century by Leopold von Ranke: to understand universal history one must first know the specific events of history; but to know the specific one must first understand the universal. The accumulation of knowledge since Ranke's time has made the problem enormously more difficult than it was in his day. One cannot master all of history. Deciding how much mastery Ph.D. candidates should demonstrate is complicated by practical considerations. First, the able Ph.D. candidate should earn the doctorate in no more than four years of full-time graduate study. Second, as a potential research scholar and teacher of advanced college students, he needs depth-the mastery of facts and materials in a specialized field of history. The units of historical study must be relatively small if this mastery is to be achieved. But, third, as a man, as a citizen, and as a teacher giving instruction in broad survey courses-and also as a scholar doing research and writing-the Ph.D. candidate needs breadth. This can be acquired most readily in the study of broad units of history.

Large or small, the units of study in Ph.D. programs are usually called "fields." A number of very good Ph.D. programs define these fields broadly and have students study two fields. Some departments require Ph.D. candidates to show some degree of mastery in three, four, five, or even six fields of history, each broadly defined (e.g., all of United States history as one field). Most departments, unwilling to accept the superficial acquaintance with fields so broadly defined, divide history into several relatively small units of study. The divisions sometimes are (or may be) topical as well as geographical or chronological. Through the study of several relatively small fields in differing cultural areas and different periods of time, it is hoped that the Ph.D. candidate will acquire a sense of the universal in history. At the same time he is able to achieve considerable mastery in the field of his specialization, which is also restricted in size.

Definitions of the fields of history and the number to be required of Ph.D. candidates have never been uniform. By the late 1930s the number of history fields required in various institutions ranged from 1 to 6, and most institutions also required 1 or 2 fields in cognate disciplines. [1] Striking variations currently exist in field requirements. Data from the history Ph.D.s of 1958 show that when only 2 fields are required history departments usually define fields broadly (e.g., all of United States history as 1 field; all of modern history as 1 or 2 fields). Departments requiring 3 fields of history tend to define fields of medium scope (e.g., United States history as 2 fields; modern European history as 2 or 3 fields). In departments that require 4 fields the fields are likely to be small (United States history is usually treated as 2 fields but frequently as 3; modern European history is more often treated as 3 than 2). History faculties that require 5 or 6 fields of history restrict the fields even more; they tend to divide United States history into 3 fields and modern European history into 3 or 4.

A survey of the 1959-1960 graduate school bulletins of 49 Ph.D.-training universities shows that 57% require 5 fields or more; 38% require 3 to 4 fields, and only 2 require only 2 fields (these numbers include fields in related disciplines when they are specifically required). Only one-fifth (18%) of the 49 institutions define fields broadly (e.g., all of modern European history as one field). While less than half (21) of the 49 Ph.D. programs in history require as few as 2 to 4 fields, all but 1 of the top-prestige programs require 2 to 4 fields. Since the top-prestige programs train the largest numbers of Ph.D.s, it is not surprising that two-thirds (64%) of the 1958 Ph.D.s took 2 to 4 fields of history.

Usually history faculties demand that Ph.D. candidates achieve greater mastery in one field than in others. This is known variously as the "field of concentration," the "first field," or the "major field." Less concentrated work is expected in other fields ("minor," "first minor," or "second field"; and thus followed by "third field," "fourth field," etc.). When graduate study in another discipline is required it is sometimes described as a "minor," but also often as an "outside field." The bulletins of more than half the institutions (57%) explicitly require one outside field. Two-thirds of the Ph.D.s of 1958 were "required" (58%) or "encouraged" (8%) to study at least one outside field, and another 14% took such work on their own volition. While 5% more took work in two outside fields on their own volition, 6% were "discouraged by the faculty" from studying any outside field.

Two surveys of recent Ph.D.s in history show that political science is the most popular cognate field. All other cognate fields are reported much less frequently. They include English, American, or other literature; economics; religion; philosophy; Education; sociology; and anthropology. [2] In the combined samples of 325 recent Ph.D.s in history, none reported any graduate-level study of psychology, a field in which historians might profitably seek insights. [3] In general, like history majors and master's candidates, Ph.D. candidates have tended to study cognate fields that call for relatively little intellectual reaching out on their part.

Forms of Study

The program of study for the Ph.D. in history typically involves a combination of different types of instruction. Departments offering doctoral training generally agree that lecture courses should constitute no more than half the "full course load" of graduate students, and less during the second than during the first year of graduate study. In an introductory "methods course" [4] or in research seminars the student becomes acquainted with the tools and techniques of critical historical research and develops his capacity for writing history. Students, it is generally agreed, should be enrolled in research seminars during the first and second years of graduate study. One or more courses in historiography or the philosophies of history provide an awareness of the development, theories, potentialities, and limits of historical scholarship. Nine-tenths of the 1958 Ph.D.s believe a course in historiography or philosophies of history should be required of all doctoral candidates.

With usually a minimum of guidance and supervision from a faculty member, Ph.D. candidates in directed reading courses-especially in the second year of graduate study-expand their acquaintance with historical literature and sharpen their ability to judge it critically. Many Ph.D. candidates are introduced to college teaching through participation in survey courses of the department in which they are studying for the doctorate. In some departments their part-time instruction is critically supervised, and at least 11 departments offer either a course, a noncredit seminar, or an informal student-faculty colloquium on college teaching.

Meanwhile, the Ph.D. candidate begins and carries out an intensive research project, presenting the results in a substantial treatise-the Ph.D. "thesis" or "dissertation." There is, too, always a great amount of independent reading required of him in preparation for the various examinations that stand between the candidate and the Ph.D. degree. Departments tend to agree that "individual reading" or "directed research" should constitute less than half of the Ph.D. candidate's program during the first and second years of graduate study, but more than half during the third year.

In practice, lecture courses frequently make up half or more than half the course loads of first- and second-year graduate students. At their best, these lecture courses are given exclusively for graduate students and have relatively small enrollments. Three-fifths of the Ph.D.s of 1958 as graduate students took no courses in which over 50 students were enrolled, and the overwhelming majority of those who did take them agree that they were not as valuable as classes in which fewer than 30 students were enrolled. Asked to rate nine types of work in terms of their value as "preparation for college teaching," the recent Ph.D.s rated lecture courses enrolling only graduate students seventh while lecture courses enrolling graduate students and advanced undergraduates were rated eighth. Only research seminars enrolling 11 or more students were rated lower than lecture courses.

The Ph.D.s of 1958 emphasized the central importance of research seminars, however, by giving first rating to research seminars enrolling fewer than 11 students. In this strong preference for small seminars the recent Ph.D.s are in general agreement with the training faculties: the overwhelming majority (about four-fifths) of the departments state that a seminar should have no fewer than 3 students but no more than 12. As Robert G. Albion put it in the May, 1960, issue of the History Department Newsletter of Harvard University, "the ninth or tenth student joining a seminar does something to damage its effective intimacy." Nine-tenths of the departments report that their research seminars usually enroll no more than 10 students, but large numbers of students and limited faculties cause frequent exceptions to be made. Half the departments report giving at least one seminar in the period 1956-1959 with 13 or more students enrolled.

A majority (55%) of the Ph.D.s of 1958 took at least four semesters (or equivalent quarters) of research seminars for credit; 25% took two semesters and 14% took three semesters. Three-fifths (61%) of the 1958 Ph.D.s took research seminars in two or more fields of history, and three-fourths (75%) state that all candidates should be required to take research seminars in at least two fields. (But in many programs United States history, e.g., is two or even three fields.) Half the 1958 Ph.D.s who took fewer than four semesters of research seminars report that "Ph.D. candidates should be required to take more terms of research seminars than I took."

The Ph.D.s of 1958 were asked to describe the characteristics of a seminar that they found "most useful." Their comments suggest that in an outstanding seminar some or all of the following factors are present. The instructor is provocative, demanding, critical, and yet encouraging. He is himself engaged in research and is informed about the history of the period and topic of the seminar. Introducing students to the bibliographical aids, key sources, and major depositories of his field, the instructor somehow manages to convey to them the intellectual challenge and excitement that he himself finds in his work. He encourages a balance between initiative and aggressive competition on the one hand and, on the other, caution, humility, and a strong sense of responsibility toward past and present. By seeing that papers are prepared by deadlines and within specified space limitations, he develops disciplined work habits. He requires bibliographical and progress reports and, usually, one substantial research paper of each student. The instructor makes certain that each student's paper is criticized by all students in gentlemanly but vigorous and straightforward fashion, and adds his own critique. Comprehensiveness of research, critical use of evidence, logical inferences, technical competence, and literary style are thoroughly evaluated and improved.

The 1958 Ph.D.s acknowledge that the success of a research seminar depends upon the students as well as upon the professor. The qualities needed in students if a seminar is to be outstanding are enviable ones. Among them are: superior intelligence; vigorous interest in the subject area; capacity for hard work under general supervision; a creative, imaginative, inventive turn of mind, tempered by critical faculties; initiative in finding sources and facts; courage to make decisions coupled with caution against making them prematurely and without necessary qualifications; systematic habits in organizing research and collecting data; competence in the use of foreign languages if the seminar treats the history of a foreign area; and ability to write lucid and vigorous prose concisely and in a well-organized pattern. All these qualities are needed as the research project is developed and the paper is prepared. Ability to perceive and accept correction, and sufficient resilience to capitalize upon self-disillusionment-these additional qualities are useful when the student's paper is exposed to criticism.

These qualities in instructor and students can make a research seminar one of the most rewarding of all educational experiences, an apprenticeship that forms the very core of the education of historians. In seminars Ph.D. candidates come to know the excitement as well as the drudgery of scholarly research, the fun as well as the effort of historical writing. But too many or inadequate students and a slow-witted or uninterested professor can make the experience a dreary travesty of scholarship.

Directed reading courses for small groups are rated the third most valuable form of formal instruction by the Ph.D.s of 1958-the first being small seminars and the second, "individual study or research under faculty supervision." As noted in Chapter 6, three-fourths of the Ph.D.-training departments offer directed reading courses. Whether in reading courses or independently, most Ph.D. candidates do much reading. Two-fifths (41%) of the 1958 Ph.D.s estimate that they were expected to read more than 60 books in their first field "apart from dissertation research." But one-third (37%) estimate that they were expected to read less than 40 books in their first field. In each field that is added somewhat less reading is done, as is shown by Table 7-1. Most reading is done in English-language material: 58% of the 1958 Ph.D.s read fewer than 2 books in foreign languages while in graduate school. On the other hand, 25% read more than 10.

The Ph.D.s of 1958 rate the doctoral dissertation as the fourth most valuable phase of training for college teaching . Four-fifths of the 1958 Ph.D.s (82%) strongly believe that the dissertation should be a part of the training of "college" teachers of history, and there is no disagreement about this between the group teaching in colleges and the group teaching in universities. But members of graduate faculties may be surprised to learn that only one-fifth (22%) of the recent Ph.D.s in history describe the dissertation as an "indispensable" part of the training of "college" teachers. The percentages would probably have been different if the recent Ph.D.s had simply been asked to rate the value of their training experiences without regard to the value of these as preparation for teaching. Putting the question that way, Berelson found that the recent recipients of the Ph.D. even more often than graduate faculty members-and three-fourths or more of both-regard the dissertation as the most valuable of all the facets of Ph.D. training. [5]

The dissertation is a major part of Ph.D. training. Graduate history faculties generally agree that it should represent twelve to eighteen months of full-time work at research and writing. Dissertations often require more effort than this, and some faculty members strongly believe that they should require more. But a majority of graduate faculty members agree that doctoral dissertations usually should be no longer than 300 typed pages in length (i.e., about 75,000 words); and although there is abundant opposition to setting an arbitrary limit on the length of dissertations, a number of high-prestige Ph.D. programs have set 300 typed pages as the maximum acceptable length. The average (median) history dissertation of 1957-1958 seems to have been about 350 pages in length, longer than those in most other disciplines. The shortest history dissertation of 1957-1958 was 145 pages long; the longest was over 1,000 pages in length. History dissertations of 2,000 pages, while mercifully rare, have been approved by graduate faculties. Faculties training doctoral candidates generally agree, however, that dissertations should be evaluated according to qualitative rather than quantitative standards (see Table 7-2). [6]

What, then, is the dissertation supposed to be? It is, in the opinion of the training departments, at once a training experience and evidence of scholarly attainment in research, critical analysis, and writing. Two-thirds of the departments require students to explore original topics. A majority expect the dissertation also to be a contribution to knowledge, but only one-fourth demand the use of unpublished sources in dissertation research. Dissertations usually are detailed descriptive narratives. A few of the departments encourage works of synthesis (10%); a few encourage critical editing or translation (11%); but one-third (34%) of the departments state that works of synthesis are "not permitted" and at least half do not accept critical editing or translations as fulfillment of the dissertation requirement.

A few graduate faculty members believe that the dissertation should be a publishable book. A larger number (but still a minority) think it should be a work of publishable quality though it need not be published. About 1 out of 3 believes that the dissertation should be considerably reduced in scope and length and frankly viewed as a training exercise. It is worth noting, however, that the recent recipients of the Ph.D. surveyed by Berelson were less willing to regard the dissertation primarily as a training exercise than the graduate deans or members of graduate faculties; about half the members of all three groups favored less ambitious dissertations. [7] A majority of graduate faculty members in history favor somewhat reducing the scope and length of dissertations while continuing to demand that they be substantial scholarly contributions.

Most members of Ph.D.-training history faculties believe students should start work on dissertation research fairly early in their graduate study. Most are willing for students to work on aspects of the dissertation in seminars or in doing the master's thesis, and a majority encourage this. For almost one-third (31%) of the Ph.D.s of 1958, the dissertation was, in fact, an outgrowth of the master's thesis; and two-thirds (64%) developed dissertations out of seminar research. Special dissertation-writing seminars exist at Princeton, Notre Dame, the University of Washington, and perhaps at a few other institutions. Two or three faculty members participate in the thesis writers' seminar at Princeton, in which chapters of dissertations are presented and constructively criticized. In most Ph.D. programs, however, the student works almost exclusively under the guidance of a single faculty member (his "sponsor" or "director") in preparing a draft of the dissertation. A faculty committee supervises the completion of the dissertation and is ultimately responsible for its acceptance or rejection.

The doctoral dissertation, net product of student and faculty labor, is fairly often the only substantial work of research scholarship in which the history Ph.D. engages in a lifetime. The dissertation is rarely a historical masterpiece but it is sometimes the beginning of one. In preparing the dissertation all Ph.D. candidates test, refine, and make sustained application of the principles of historical craftsmanship that they have been taught in research seminars. Since this process yields insight into history and historical writing that enriches college-level teaching, the dissertation stands with the research seminars at the very core of the training of historians. The student who completes one with adequate but restrained faculty help has achieved considerable maturity as a scholar.


Coming at intervals during the other work for the doctorate in history are a series of formal examinations that, by their nature, contribute to the training of Ph.D. candidates.

Foreign language examinations constitute major obstacles on the way to the Ph.D. for many candidates. Though only about 14% of all high school students in the nation (1958) study even one foreign language, [8] most Ph.D. programs require candidates to pass reading knowledge examinations in two foreign languages. French and German are usually those preferred, but most Ph.D. programs allow the candidate who has good reasons for doing so to substitute another language (e.g., Russian) for French or German. Very often it is specified that the languages must be from different language groups (thus ruling out a combination of French and Spanish, two Romance languages). At least one institution requires one ancient and one modern language. In a few institutions, including some excellent ones, members of the history faculty give the foreign language examinations, and in a few cases they are administered by a graduate school committee. More generally, however, the examinations are given by the respective foreign language departments. In many universities they are based upon historical literature. Quite commonly students are allowed to use dictionaries for part or all of these examinations.

Several departments have tried to ease the burden of the requirement without eliminating one of the languages. At Harvard, where formerly Ph.D. candidates were given only "pass" or "fail" on their examinations, letter grades of A to E are now assigned; it is possible for a candidate whose dissertation demands little or no use of foreign languages to pass the examinations with low grades. Still other institutions have made it possible for some or all students to complete the Ph.D. with a reading knowledge of only one foreign language. At Chicago and Northwestern only one foreign language is required. A few other institutions allow the substitution of other types of graduate training for one foreign language examination. Thus at Stanford the candidate may substitute cognate courses for one of the foreign language examinations: "the proposed courses must form a coherent group and contribute more toward the candidate's proficiency in history than would a second foreign language." Still other Ph.D. programs, instead of reducing the language requirement, have demanded early demonstration of competence in foreign languages. Cornell and, more recently, the University of California (Berkeley) require students to pass one language examination before taking history courses for graduate credit. At least three other Ph.D. programs require that two foreign language examinations be passed before the student begins a second year (or the thirty-first credit hour) of graduate study. [9]

Because of the foreign language requirement, some students do not go beyond the master's degree; for others the master's examination is the first insuperable obstacle. Three-fourths of the doctoral programs report that by the end of one year of graduate study or upon completion of the master's degree they formally discourage students who appear to lack promise of completing the Ph.D. degree. One-fourth of the programs seem to wait until the major Ph.D. comprehensive examination to offer formal discouragement to unpromising students. Some graduate history faculties might well ask themselves, therefore, if they are screening students as early, as continuously, as systematically, and as rigorously as they should. Faculty time and institutional funds as well as the student's investment are lost when a Ph.D. candidate, after three or more years of graduate study, fails to pass the major examination for the Ph.D. The loss is especially serious when the place the failing student has filled might have been occupied by a successful Ph.D. candidate.

To avoid this loss, some 22 departments have established a special examination to screen candidates, test their progress, and discover shortcomings while there is time to remedy them. It is sometimes given early in master's training, but more often it is interposed between the master's and the major Ph.D. examination. In some departments this examination is especially designed for new students who have completed the master's degree in other institutions. It is usually relatively brief and sometimes informal, but in one institution it consists of an all-day written test plus a two-hour oral test. At Chicago this examination is written; it can simultaneously serve as an examination for the master's degree and (if passed at a sufficiently high level) pass the doctoral candidate in two of the five fields required for the Ph.D. This examination is known variously as the "validating," "qualifying," or "preliminary" examination.

The terms "preliminary" and "qualifying" are more commonly reserved for a more advanced examination, often also known as the "general" or "comprehensive" examination for the Ph.D. This is the major examination for the doctoral degree. A third of the Ph.D.s of 1958 know it as the "preliminary" examination, though the somewhat less common but second most prevalent term, "general," is more accurately descriptive of the usual scope of the examination. It is taken after two or more years of graduate study, normally after all course and foreign language requirements have been met, but before the dissertation has been completed. Usually the student is officially "admitted to candidacy" for the Ph.D. only after this examination has been passed; it is "preliminary" to admission to candidacy.

In most Ph.D. programs the general examination (as it will be called here) is given in two parts, written and oral. But there are variations. In five institutions the student's faculty committee can decide to make the test oral only, written only, or both; in a number of other institutions it is always one or the other, not both. The examinations, written and oral alike, test the candidate's knowledge and understanding of fields of history, not simply of history courses that have been taken. Princeton and perhaps a few other universities move the candidate from a written examination over several fields to an oral examination covering only the major field of history. A few other universities partly accomplish the same result-narrowing the scope of the oral examination-by giving a written examination over some of the fields and orally examining the candidate over the other fields (cf. the Chicago practice, cited above). Several universities waive both the written and oral examination in one or more (but never all) of the required fields of study (Brown, Clark, Iowa, Michigan, North Carolina, Princeton, Tufts, and Tulane).

But for some reason, when both a written and an oral test are required as parts of the general examination, the oral usually covers more fields than the written examination. This can be illustrated from the experience of the Ph.D.s of 1958. Only one-third of those who were required to take work in 5 to 6 fields report that they took a written examination over that many fields; but half (47%) of them had to stand oral examination over 5 to 6 fields.

Though it tends to cover more fields, the oral examination (usually lasting about two hours) is almost always briefer than the written examination. It appears that the written examinations always last at least four to five hours; in a number of departments they amount to twenty-five or more hours of work, sometimes distributed in two, three, four, or five parts. The written examination typically includes broad questions designed to elicit long interpretative and comparative essays in which generalizations are supported by precisely stated factual information. Both written and oral tests usually seek bibliographical as well as factual knowledge.

The number of professors present at the oral examination varies from one institution to another (three, four, five, six, or more). What the oral examination in history is like has been well summarized in the description George Lyman Kittredge once gave of the examination in English literature: "Questions test ... the candidate's reading and thinking; ... his ability to give a good oral account of himself and of what he knows and thinks. Questions are very varied; some are minute, some general, some specific, some vague. Some call for learning, some for nimbleness, some for thought." [10] The character of the oral examination helps to explain why the Ph.D.s of 1958 rate preparation for it above lecture courses as a valuable part of Ph.D. training.

In short, the general examination is demanding. Ph.D. candidates fear it, learn from preparation for it, and complain about it. The complaints most often heard are those Marcus W. Jernegan voiced in 1927: that the general examination often covers "more ground than should be expected of the candidate, and more minute memory-knowledge, in particular portions of the subject of history, than should be exacted." [11] Student fears of the examination are often exaggerated. Usually the examination can be taken a second time if it is failed on the first attempt. An initial failure somewhat delays the progress of the candidate toward the degree, but students who have survived several years of graduate study are not often permanently barred from access to the doctorate by one failure in the general examination. And it should be reassuring to Ph.D. candidates to know that 93% of the 1958 Ph.D.s passed the general examination in only one attempt.

When the general examination is out of the way and the dissertation has been completed, in the classical pattern of doctoral training the candidate must "defend his thesis." Today this usually is done prosaically and in detail, chapter by chapter, as the dissertation is written. Thus some departments believe that the final examination for the Ph.D. has become a superfluous formality. At Harvard and at Michigan the candidate's faculty committee can waive the final examination if the student's capacity has been proven in a satisfactory fashion. At Brown the final examination is not required. But in at least 60 Ph.D.-training departments (and probably more) an oral final examination follows completion of the dissertation. In 50 of the departments it normally covers only the dissertation or the field of the dissertation. But in 10 departments it covers two or more fields; and one department at this point even adds a field over which the candidate has not previously been examined.

Several years may elapse between the passing of the general examination and the passing of the final examination, for the dissertation is often slowly completed by Ph.D. candidates who teach full time in colleges with high teaching loads and inadequate library resources. In the fall of 1958, when Ph.D.-training departments reported 1,955 Ph.D. candidates (post-master's students) as "enrolled and on campus," they reported 1,210 others as not on campus but working toward completion of the Ph.D. In the fall of 1959 the U.S. Office of Education asked departments offering doctoral training to estimate the number of Ph.D. candidates who had completed all requirements except the dissertation "at least 3 years ago" and whom they would be willing to recommend for a one-year fellowship "to enable them to finish the dissertation." History departments (58) reported 315 such persons, more than in any other discipline except Education and English-and-dramatic arts. [12] Financial support for these people would enable many college teachers to complete the degree and thus raise their own morale along with the degree qualifications of the faculties on which they serve.

Research seminars and the dissertation constitute the core of Ph.D. training in history. A majority of history Ph.D. candidates take at least four semesters of research seminars and a large majority of the recent Ph.D.s would supplement these with a course in historiography or philosophies of history for all doctoral candidates.

The dissertation continues to be an original and a substantial study in which the Ph.D. candidate proves his capacity for critical research and literary craftsmanship. But there is a growing conviction in this as in other matters involved in graduate education that emphasis must be placed on quality of performance rather than on quantity of effort.

Most history Ph.D.s now study several fields of history of medium or small scope, but only about one-third study more than four fields of history. About five-sixths study at least one cognate field. Research seminars are often taken in at least two fields. Lecture courses play a major part in doctoral training but are not popular among recent Ph.D.s.

Most Ph.D. programs continue to require candidates to demonstrate reading knowledge of two modern foreign languages. But two different types of modifications have been made in this requirement in recent years: (1) a few Ph.D. programs have required examination in one foreign language for admission to graduate study in history, or have set early deadlines by which an examination must be passed; but (2) a few other Ph.D. programs have reduced the requirement to one foreign language. It appears that few doctoral candidates offering United States history as a major field read foreign language material as part of their doctoral training, and interviews reveal that few use foreign languages in postdoctoral research.

Most Ph.D. programs try to discourage students who show in master's training that they lack ability to do satisfactory work for the Ph.D. But some Ph.D. programs need to screen students earlier and more rigorously than they do.

The general examination continues to be a serious trial for history doctoral candidates, though more than nine-tenths of all those who actually earn the Ph.D. degree pass it in only one attempt. What follows-completing the dissertation-is the obstacle in doctoral studies that most prolongs the process of earning a Ph.D. Financial aid that will enable Ph.D. candidates to complete the dissertation before accepting regular teaching appointments is the only real solution to this basic problem, though somewhat less ambitious dissertation topics can sometimes help.

Candidates who complete satisfactory dissertations seldom-it appears-fail the final examination for the Ph.D.; its partial or complete abolition has been accomplished by at least three Ph.D. programs and is being considered by others.

Until a few years ago direct efforts at teacher training had no part in Ph.D. programs in history, but many departments now make some attempt to prepare candidates as teachers of history (see Chapter 9). There is a widespread belief that more should do so, as the next chapter shows.

[1] Hesseltine and Kaplan, "Doctors of Philosophy in History," 769-770.

[2] Prepublication data on 143 Ph.D.s from a study by the Southern Regional Education Board, 1958-1960; our own data on 182 Ph.D.s of 1958.

[3] See the American Historical Association presidential address by William L. Langer, "The Next Assignment," American Historical Review , LXIII (January, 1958), 283-304; and the similar recommendation by Wilhelm Dilthey in the late nineteenth century.

[4] A survey of a related discipline in 1951 recommended that a course in scope and method during the first year of graduate study should be "an inflexible requirement of all graduate institutions." (From Dimock and Hawley [eds.], Goals for Political Science , 266.)

[5] Berelson, Graduate Education , 176.

[6] The reader may readily form an impression of the scope of doctoral dissertations in history and current trends by consulting the lists published periodically by the American Historical Association. See, e.g., List of Doctoral Dissertations in History in Progress or Completed at Colleges and Universities in the United States since 1955 (Washington, 1958).

[7] Berelson, Graduate Education , 174.

[8] Report by William R. Parker in Byrnes (ed.), The Non-Western Areas in Undergraduate Education in Indiana , 56. James Bryant Conant's observation during an intensive study of American high school education needs to be repeated here: "Almost without exception, I found a deplorable state of affairs in regard to foreign languages." (From The American High School Today: A First Report to Interested Citizens [New York, 1959], 69.) In 1958 only 44% of the public high schools of the United States offered foreign language instruction. By contrast, every secondary school child in the U.S.S.R. received instruction in one foreign language for six years, beginning in the fifth year of schooling. U.S. Office of Education, Soviet Commitment to Education , 10.

[9] It may be worth noting that a committee of the American Political Science Association in 1951 recommended that "if there is any validity" in the foreign language requirement "it should be rigidly enforced, and at the very beginning of graduate study." (From Dimock and Hawley [eds.], Goals for Political Science , 274.)

[10] Quoted by Wilson, The Academic Man , 47.

[11] Jernegan, "Productivity of Doctors of Philosophy in History," 15.

[12] Chase, Doctoral Study , 31.

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PhD in History

PhD Students.

It is in the doctoral program that our students truly become historians in their own right. Through deep reading, thoughtful conversation, and original research, we guide our students into the historical profession. 

The Department of History offers the PhD in fields that align with our four areas of research focus: Early Modern Societies , Race, Empire, and Nation , The Twentieth Century World , and Medicine, Disability and Science . 

PhD Funding Opportunities

  • Academic year stipends of $23,000  for all full-time, funded PhD students on 10-month academic teaching assistant, research assistant or graduate assistant appointments.
  • UB’s stipend levels are competitive among public Association of American Universities (AAU) member institutions.
  • Arthur A. Schomburg Fellowship Program : To be eligible for a Schomburg Fellowship, candidates must contribute to the diversity of the student body, and can demonstrate that they have overcome a disadvantage or other impediment to success in higher education. Only U.S. citizens and permanent residents are eligible to receive Schomburg Fellowships.
  • Presidential Fellowships :  To be eligible for Presidential Fellowships, candidates must meet the criteria listed on the Presidential Fellowship page. Both domestic and international students are eligible, if they meet these criteria. For any questions regarding funding for academic year 2024–2025, contact the director of graduate studies or department chair.

If you wish to be considered for a Presidential Fellowship and/or a Schomburg Fellowship , please include in your Statement of Purpose a brief explanation of why you believe you may be eligible.

Typical PhD Funding Package

Typical PhD Funding Packages include a full tuition scholarship and stipend, along with health insurance coverage.

With rare exceptions, the Department offers a minimum 5 years of support to all full-time PhD students, usually through Teaching Assistantships, plus a full tuition scholarship.

Teaching Assistants are required to teach, usually as assistants to History Department Professors in American History Surveys or in History General Education courses. Teaching assistants typically attend lectures and lead two recitation sections per semester.

Dissertation Fellowships: Advanced PhD students may compete each year for additional support designated to travel and living expenses to conduct dissertation research. The History Department may fund up to $3000 for dissertation research. Funding is dependent upon availability. Students may apply for Dissertation Fellowships more than once.. 

Further opportunities for funding are often available for advanced PhD students, including the opportunity to teach their own undergraduate courses as paid adjunct or teaching associates. In this way, our very best students frequently receive 6 or possibly 7 years of total support.

Please contact us for more information about  department specific grants and fellowships . Please see the Graduate school’s list of  scholarships and grants  for additional funding opportunities

Program Requirements

Historical Inquiry (History 501) is required of all PhD students and must be taken during the fall semester of the first year of doctoral study. The course offers an introduction to the theory and philosophy of history and is intended to acquaint students with various problems in historical analysis and understanding.

Core Courses: All doctoral students must take at least two of the following core seminars:

  • History 502 and 503 (United States History I and II)
  • History 504 and 505 (European History I and II)
  • History 507 (East Asian History)
  • History 559 (Colonial Latin America)
  • History 560 ( Caribbean History)

Research Seminars: Students must take at least two 600-level research seminars.

Distribution requirement: All PhD students must take at least one course outside of the student’s major field that covers an area outside the U.S., Canada, and Europe.

Language Requirement

All doctoral students must demonstrate a reading knowledge of at least one language other than English. In some fields, two languages are required. Students are expected to take their major language exams before their third semester. All language examinations must be passed before a student can take his or her Qualifying Examinations.

Qualifying Examinations

Before being admitted to candidacy, all doctoral students must successfully complete a series of written examinations in three fields: a major field, a field of specialization within the major field, and a minor field. These examinations are usually taken during the third year of study.

  • The major field is the broadest level at which a student will carry out research and teach. 
  • The field of specialization reflects the prospective area of dissertation research; it is, as the title suggests, more focused and specialized than the major field. 
  • The minor field is meant to complement the major field, typically by adding theoretical or methodological competencies, or by supplementing the major field with knowledge of another geographical area or discipline. It may be selected from among the major fields the department offers (for instance, a student whose major field is Early Modern Europe might prepare a minor field in Modern Europe or the Atlantic World); from another department (for instance, English Literature or Art History); or from among the methodological specializations available in the department such as world history, the history of medicine, women’s history, or urban history. The minor field should not substantially overlap with the major field or be an additional area of specialization within it. 

Following the written portion of these examinations, students must pass an oral examination, where the student with elaborate on their written responses and answer additional questions from their examination committee. 

Students’ examination fields are to be approved in advance by their major advisers and by the Director of Graduate Studies, typically by the end of the student’s third semester in the program.

Dissertation Prospectus

All doctoral students who satisfactorily complete their examinations must prepare and defend a dissertation prospectus that describes their proposed project, including a detailed research plan. The prospectus must also place the project within an historiographical framework. 


The culmination of the PhD is the preparation and defense of the dissertation, a substantial work of original research. Students typically spend several years performing primary research and writing their original contribution to the field of history. The completed dissertation must be read and approved by the student’s committee and successfully defended. The dissertation defense consists of an oral examination conducted by the student’s dissertation committee.

For specific information regarding academic planning, doctoral students should consult the PhD Handbook and their advisors. 

Applying to the PhD in History


Phd in history: requirements, salary, jobs, & career growth, what is phd in history.

A PhD in history is the highest academic degree in history, given to persons who have completed extensive study and showed skill in historical subjects.

A PhD in history often necessitates several years of further study and research beyond the bachelor’s and master’s degrees, culminating in the completion of a doctoral dissertation, which is an original and substantial piece of research that contributes to the field of history.

Students pursuing a PhD in history conduct extensive research, critical analysis, and scholarly writing on historical issues. They may specialize on a certain field of history, such as ancient history, medieval history, modern history, or the history of a specific region or country.

PhD candidates in history frequently undertake archival research, examine primary and secondary sources, construct historical ideas and arguments, and engage in interdisciplinary historical research approaches.

How much money do people make with a PhD in History?

Academic salaries can range from $50,000 to $150,000 or more per year, depending on the institution, level (e.g., assistant professor, associate professor, or full professor), and location.

It is crucial to note, however, that entry-level professor posts may pay less than more senior or tenured positions.

Salaries for individuals with a PhD in history can vary greatly in non-academic domains such as government, non-profit organizations, museums, and cultural heritage institutes, depending on the organization and level of responsibility. Salary ranges from $40,000 to $100,000 or more per year, based on position and experience.

It’s worth mentioning that historical research and writing can also lead to freelance possibilities, with pay varying based on the individual’s projects, clientele, and success in obtaining contracts or grants.

What is expected job growth with PhD in History?

The job growth prospects for history PhD holders varies based on the field and specific work opportunities.

Overall, the job market for historians, even those with a PhD in history, is competitive, and academic roles in particular can be extremely competitive due to the limited number of tenure-track faculty posts available and the strong demand for those positions.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment of historians, including those with PhDs in history, is expected to expand at a 3% annual pace from 2020 to 2030, which is slower than the national average.

It is crucial to note, however, that job prospects can differ based on the individual field and specialization within history.

Academic employment, such as tenure-track academic posts at universities or colleges, may have limited job growth as a result of reasons such as financial constraints, changes in demand for history courses, and an increased reliance on adjunct or non-tenure-track staff.

However, historians with PhDs in history may be able to find adjunct or temporary posts, as well as postdoctoral fellowships, visiting roles, and other short-term options.

Historians with PhDs in history may find employment in government agencies, non-profit organizations, museums, cultural heritage institutions, archives, libraries, and other related professions outside of academia.

Job development in these fields, however, might vary based on funding availability, government policy, and other variables.

What can you do with a PhD in History?

A PhD in history can lead to a variety of job opportunities outside of academia. Individuals with a PhD in history may pursue the following careers:

1. Academic Positions: PhD-holding historians can work as tenure-track or tenured faculty at universities or colleges, where they can teach history courses, conduct research, and publish scholarly work. They may also function as counselors or mentors to students pursuing careers in history.

2. Research and Consulting: Historians can serve as researchers and consultants in a variety of settings, such as government agencies, non-profit organizations, think tanks, and private research firms. They may do historical research, evaluate data, provide historical context and insights for policymaking, conduct studies on cultural resource management, or contribute to historical documentaries and exhibitions.

3. Museums and Cultural Heritage: Historians can work as curators, archivists, instructors, or researchers in museums, historic sites, and cultural heritage institutions. They may create displays, maintain collections, undertake historical artifact and document research, and engage in public outreach and education.

4. Publishing and Media: Historians can work for publishing firms, media outlets, and internet platforms as authors, editors, or content providers. They may write historical books, essays, or digital content, offer historical commentary, or contribute to historical documentaries, podcasts, or other media productions.

5. Government and Public Service: Historians can work for government agencies such as archives, libraries, historical organizations, and cultural resource management departments. They may conduct historical research, preservation, and documentation, give historical expertise, and contribute to policy development, public programs, and educational activities.

6. Education: Historians can serve as history teachers, curriculum planners, or educational administrators in secondary schools, museums, and other educational settings. They may generate instructional resources, design and teach history courses, and contribute to educational policy and program creation.

7. Freelance and Consulting Historians: Historians who operate as freelancers or independent consultants can provide historical research, writing, and expertise to customers in a variety of sectors, including genealogy, legal support, documentary filmmaking, cultural resource management, and heritage tourism.

What are the requirements for a PhD in History?

The specific requirements for a PhD in history can vary depending on the institution, program, and country. However, here are some common requirements for a PhD in history, presented in bullet points for easy reference:

  • Bachelor’s degree in history or a related field (some programs may require a master’s degree or equivalent experience)
  • Strong academic record and GPA
  • Transcripts from previous educational institutions
  • Graduate Record Examination (GRE) scores (some programs may not require GRE scores)
  • Statement of purpose outlining research interests and goals
  • Curriculum vitae (CV) or resume highlighting relevant academic and professional experience
  • Letters of recommendation from professors, employers, or other relevant sources
  • Writing sample showcasing research and writing skills
  • Foreign language proficiency, as required for the specific research interests
  • Research proposal outlining the proposed research topic and methodology  

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How long does it take to get a phd in history.

The length of a PhD program in history can vary depending on a number of factors, including the country, institution, program structure, and the progress of the individual student. In general, the average time to earn a PhD in history is 4 to 7 years, with fluctuations on each side of this range.

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Do you need a masters in history to get a phd in history.

In most situations, a Master’s degree in history is not required for pursuing a PhD in history. Many PhD programs in history accept applicants with only a bachelor’s degree and provide students the opportunity to pursue a master’s degree as part of their PhD program.

Specific requirements vary by school and program, and some PhD programs in history may require applicants to have a master’s degree or similar expertise in a related discipline.

What are the Best PhD in History Degree programs?

1. harvard university (usa) 2. princeton university (usa) 3. yale university (usa) 4. university of oxford (uk) 5. university of cambridge (uk) 6. stanford university (usa) 7. university of chicago (usa) 8. columbia university (usa) 9. university of california, berkeley (usa) 10. london school of economics and political science (uk), leave a comment cancel reply.

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Graduate Program

Founded in 1969, the ma in art history at umass amherst is the only graduate degree program in the field at a public university in new england..

Here at UMass Amherst, you'll be part of a program enrolling an average of 15-20 students, ensuring close collaboration between students and our nine full-time faculty members.

Our faculty’s active research is reflected in a range of great courses highlighting art history's diversity of methodological approaches, geographic areas, and thematic issues.

Through your work, you'll be well-prepared for doctoral study, and you'll get professional training for many careers — museum and historical society work, government programs in the arts, the art market, journalism, teaching at all levels, and so much more.

Our recent graduates have been accepted into doctoral programs at Princeton, University of California, Berkeley, Columbia, The Courtauld Institute of Art, John Hopkins, the Graduate Center at CUNY, and Boston University, among others. Graduates also have continued to full-time careers in the museum world and art market at places like the Clark Art Museum, Harvard Art Museums, Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, Bonhams, and Skinner Auctioneers—the list goes on.

The program financially supports graduate students through teaching assistantships and fellowship awards. Teaching positions provide students with comprehensive financial support including a stipend, 95 percentage of health insurance costs, and full tuition credit. For students who do not receive teaching assistantships, fellowships are awarded to help with the cost of tuition.

Graduate Admissions

Students walk by Monson Hall, UMass Amherst

Graduate Degree Guidelines

History of Architecture and Art student in print shop at UMass Amherst

Graduate Courses

UMass students in transnational feminism class

Graduate Funding

Students walk by Memorial Hall, UMass Amherst

UMCA Curatorial Fellowship

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Mark Roskill Graduate Symposium

Mark Roskill Graduate Symposium

More Resources

W301 South College 150 Hicks Way Amherst, MA 01003 (413) 545-9172 [email protected]

Midwives to Fugitive Physicians: a longue durée approach to reproductive care in North America, 1500-2024

Speaker(s): dr. wesley hogan, co-sponsor(s).

Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology; John Hope Franklin Center (JHFC); Theology, Medicine, and Culture; Trent Center for Bioethics, Humanities & History of Medicine

Midwives to Fugitive Physicians: a longue durée approach to reproductive care in North America, 1500-2024


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    Graduate Program Overview. The goal of the doctoral program is to train students to become both skilled scholars and conscientious teachers. Throughout the program students work with advisors and other faculty members as they engage in coursework, prepare for and take the general exam, work as teaching fellows, and research and write the ...

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    The AHA's Career Diversity for Historians initiative is leading a national conversation to better align the purpose of doctoral education with the varying skills, values, and interests of graduate students and the changing professional opportunities for historians within and beyond the academy. In the spring of 2018, 20 PhD-granting history departments were awarded Career Diversity ...

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    Department of History. One Bear Place #97306. Waco, TX 76798. (254) 710-2667. [email protected]. Undergraduate Program Graduate Programs Schedule a Visit. The Doctoral Program in History combines innovative teaching with rigorous seminars in American, British, and Global history. Within the broader focus on religion and culture ...

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    The Department of History's doctoral degree program seeks to train talented historians for careers in scholarship, teaching, and beyond the academy. The department typically accepts 22 Ph.D. students per year. Additional students are enrolled through various combined programs and through HSHM.

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    PhD in History. It is in the doctoral program that our students truly become historians in their own right. Through deep reading, thoughtful conversation, and original research, we guide our students into the historical profession. The Department of History offers the PhD in fields that align with our four areas of research focus: Early Modern ...

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    20 Jobs to Consider With a History PhD | Discover 20 jobs that can use the skills, knowledge and expertise from a history doctorate degree, including development director, teacher and policy analyst. Home Company reviews Find salaries Sign in Sign in Employers / Post Job Start of main content Indeed Career Guide Finding a job

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    1 / 2. ︎. The Program in History of Science at Princeton University trains students to analyze science, medicine, and technology in historical and cultural context. We are a community of scholars including roughly a dozen core and affiliated faculty members and about twenty graduate students, in addition to undergraduate concentrators and ...

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    1. Academic Positions: PhD-holding historians can work as tenure-track or tenured faculty at universities or colleges, where they can teach history courses, conduct research, and publish scholarly work. They may also function as counselors or mentors to students pursuing careers in history. 2. Research and Consulting: Historians can serve as researchers and consultants in a variety of settings ...

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    Founded in 1969, the MA in Art History at UMass Amherst is the only graduate degree program in the field at a public university in New England. Here at UMass Amherst, you'll be part of a program enrolling an average of 15-20 students, ensuring close collaboration between students and our nine full-time faculty members. Our faculty's active ...

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    Dr. Wesley Hogan is a Research Professor at both the John Hope Franklin Humanities Institute and the Department of History at Duke. She was recently awarded an NEH grant for her work with the SNCC Digital Gateway project. The reading material for this event may be requested from the History Colloquium Committee (email to: [email protected]).

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