PhD Program Outline

The PhD program in History is designed to prepare individuals for academic research and writing and for college- and university-level teaching. While alternative career paths are available—in public history, for instance, or academic administration—training for the degree requires an extensive apprenticeship in, and a singular focus on, the process of conducting original historical research and crafting unique historical arguments for other scholars in the discipline. Students are expected to complete the Ph.D. program in five to seven years.

The PhD program is intimate and rigorous, and one of its hallmarks is a series of professionalization courses designed to prepare students for the profession. This series is composed of the following: (1) a methodology colloquium that introduces the students to a wide range of theory and historical practice; (2) an advanced writing seminar in which students write an article-quality paper; (3) a professionalization seminar in which students are trained in the habits of mind and skills of the profession; and (4) a dissertation prospectus seminar.

The program is divided into two stages:

(1) During the first and second years students take seminars that introduce the major historiographical questions and methodologies of various fields and that develop their research skills; they write an article-length paper based on original archival research; they take a professionalization course that introduces them to the principal tasks and cultures of the profession (grant writing, for instance, and conference presentations); and they form an exam committee and begin preparation for the preliminary examinations.

(2) After passing the examinations by the end of their fifth semester, students develop a prospectus for and research and write their dissertation. The dissertation is typically completed in the fifth or sixth year (though some students take longer). 


The department offers two types of PhD seminars: Core and Thematic. Core seminars prepare students to master a particular geographic or national field. Thematic seminars provide more advanced work in a geographic area or are explicitly cross-national or comparative in nature.

The First and Second Years

First Year. In their first year, students take 3 seminars in the fall (2 plus the colloquium) and 3 seminars in the spring. Ideally, the courses should be a mix of Core and Thematic seminars. The colloquium is required of all first-year Ph.D. students and constitutes the basic introductory methodology and theory course for the degree.

Any student who wishes to do so may, after consultation with her or his advisor, substitute an independent reading course offered by a member of the department or a graduate-level course outside of the department.

Research Paper. During the spring semester of the first year, each student begins work on their research paper. Production of the paper is a year-long process that begins in a spring-semester Thematic seminar and concludes in the subsequent fall in the Graduate Workshop. Students designate one of their Thematic seminars as the foundation for the paper and compose a research prospectus as the final project in the course (the prospectus should include a literature review and a discussion of archival sources). Students engage in archival research during the summer and enroll in the Graduate Workshop in the fall, in which they write the final paper.

By the end of the first year, students are expected to have assembled a three-member exam committee.

Second Year. In their second year, students will serve as teaching assistants and will continue to take a mix of Core and Thematic seminars. In addition, each semester they take one required course: in the fall, the Graduate Workshop, in which they write their research paper, and in the spring Professionalization, which focuses on the principal professionals tasks and expectations they will encounter in a career as a professional historian.

The First Two Summers

Students are required to make progress toward the completion of their degree during the summer months. The department recognizes that for some students progress will take the form of language training, while for others archival work or other research-related projects might be appropriate, along with reading for preliminary exams. During their first summer, all students are expected to complete significant archival research for their research paper.

Third Year. During the third year, students must pass their preliminary examinations by the end of the fifth (fall) semester. Exams are typically scheduled for early December.

Preliminary Exams. By the end of the first year of study the student will have submitted the necessary departmental form, which lists three fields in which she/he will be examined. The student will indicate the field in which her/his dissertation will be written. This will be the major field. The others will be minor fields. No more than two fields may be in the history of the same national culture. Normally, all three examiners will be members of the Department of History, and the fields will be chosen based on consultation with the examiners and the Director of Graduate Studies. A student may petition the department to prepare one field in another department or program.

Based on the foregoing, the first three years of the PhD program for a typical student would look schematically like this:


Fall Semester

Spring Semester


(1) Colloquium
(2) Core Seminar
(3) Core/Thematic Seminar
(1) Core/Thematic Seminar
(2) Core/Thematic Seminar
(3) Thematic Seminar
Language study
(1) Teaching Assistantship
(2) Core/Thematic Seminar
(3) Writing Workshop
(1) Teaching Assistantship
(2) Core/Thematic Seminar
(3) Professionalization Seminar
Exam Prep,
(1) Teaching Assistantship
(2) Exam prep (exams in December)
(1) Teaching Assistantship
(2) Prospectus Seminar

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