PhD in History

The Department of History at Boston University admits students to its PhD program who have majored in history or a closely related academic field and who have strong academic records. The department trains PhD students to develop and execute original research designs that will lead to scholarly publications intended to make original and important contributions to the historical discipline and its subfields. At the same time, the department also prepares students to become the next generation of effective history teachers, able to instruct on a wide range of topics. Our expectation is that our PhDs will become professors at research universities, colleges, community colleges, and staff members at research libraries and archives.

Course Requirements

Students in the program must take 64 credits, 56 of which should be taken in seminars, lecture courses, directed research, and directed study, preferably over a period of four or five semesters. Required courses include:

  • GRS HI 800 European Historiography
  • GRS HI 850 American Historiography
  • GRS HI 870 African Historiography
  • GRS HI 801 The Historian’s Craft
  • Four semesters GRS HI 900 Dissertation Writing
  • Two graduate-level courses in a single discipline other than history that is related to their interests

At least one of the reading courses (HI 800, 850, or 870) must be taken prior to taking HI 801, which will be offered every year in the Spring Semester. Candidates for the PhD may count only 16 credits in courses designed primarily for undergraduates (these courses are offered at the 600 or 700 level and ordinarily have 200- or 300-level equivalents) for the degree.

Language Requirements

All students pursuing a PhD in History are required to demonstrate graduate-level reading proficiency in two relevant foreign languages. Candidates in certain areas of concentration may substitute a two-semester course in statistics or in another tool subject for the second of the two foreign languages. Language proficiency can be demonstrated either through a language examination, successful completion of a non-credit graduate-level foreign language reading course offered by Boston University, or the equivalent of two years of undergraduate study of the language at Boston University. For more information on when language requirements need to be fulfilled, please see the department website.

Qualifying Examination

Each candidate must pass an oral examination in a major field and in one minor field of history. The examination must be taken no later than one year after the completion of coursework. The examination shall be comprehensive and cover any and all phases of the subject. A unanimous vote of the examining committee is required to pass the qualifying oral examination. Qualifying examinations are scheduled only during the two regular semesters of the academic year.

Dissertation and Final Oral Examination

Candidates shall demonstrate their abilities for independent study in a dissertation representing original research or creative scholarship. A prospectus for the dissertation must be completed and approved by the readers, the director of graduate studies, and the department chair/program director within four months of the successful completion of the qualifying oral examination. This prospectus may be prepared in a directed study with the prospective dissertation advisor during the last semester of coursework, or it may be prepared after all coursework has been completed. Candidates must undergo a final oral examination in which they defend their dissertation as a valuable contribution to knowledge in their field and demonstrate a mastery of their field of specialization in relation to their dissertation. All portions of the dissertation and final oral examination must be completed as outlined in the GRS General Requirements for the Doctor of Philosophy Degree.

Research Paper

In each year of full-time residence, every student must write at least one major research paper and submit it to the Graduate Studies Committee. The paper completed in GRS HI 801: The Historian’s Craft counts as one of the research papers; students entering the program with a bachelor’s degree must complete a second paper.

Any PhD student who has fulfilled the requirements of the master’s degree program, as stated here, can be awarded a master’s degree.