PhD in History

Course Requirements

All students in the PhD program are required to take the following four courses: GRS HI 800 European Historiography, HI 850 American Historiography, HI 870 African Historiography, and HI 801 The Historian’s Craft. HI 800, 850, and 870 are reading courses focusing on historiographical issues and approaches in the areas where the department has special strengths and a sizable array of courses. HI 801 is a course that focuses on research and is designed to enable students to move from the original conception of a problem to a publishable article. 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.

Students entering the program with a bachelor’s degree take 64 credits, 56 of which should be taken in seminars, lecture courses, directed research, and directed study prior to taking the qualifying oral examination, preferably over a period of four or five semesters. Students entering with an approved master’s degree take 24 credits prior to taking the qualifying oral examination, preferably over two or three semesters.

Under ordinary circumstances students are required to take two graduate-level courses in a single discipline other than history that is related to their interests. These courses must be selected in consultation with the student’s advisor. 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.

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.

After completing all other course requirements and the qualifying oral examination, every doctoral student is required to complete four semesters of a two-credit Dissertation Workshop course (GRS HI 900). The eight credits count toward the 64-credit requirement for PhD students. This course, presided over by a departmental faculty member, meets every two weeks for a presentation of a significant piece of dissertation research by a current graduate student, a roundtable discussion of an important research issue, or a topic relating to a career in college teaching. Although students in Boston are expected to attend the course regularly, students need not be in residence to enroll in HI 900. However, every dissertation student must present his or her research once a year, either in person or by some other means when appropriate.

Fields of Specialization

Doctoral candidates elect fields of specialization that will determine their subsequent programs of study and will lead to suitable dissertation topics. Selection is made from the following fields of history: African, U.S., or European (medieval; early modern, 1500 to 1815; or modern, 1789 to present). It is also possible, in consultation with the faculty advisor and the Director of Graduate Studies, to define a field that is not geographically specific and would allow for the exploration of a particular theme, or themes, in a transnational context. Within the European fields, there is the option of a topical emphasis, such as social, intellectual, or economic history, or of a national emphasis chosen from the following: French, British, German, Russian, or Spanish history. The major field in African history requires regional specialization plus knowledge of a related discipline, such as anthropology or economics. For information on the doctoral program in American & New England Studies, see the appropriate section of this website.

Language Requirements

See “Language Requirement” in the MA in History section. The doctoral candidate must demonstrate a reading knowledge of two relevant foreign languages. (1) A candidate beginning post-bachelor’s doctoral work must qualify during the first year in at least one of the languages required, and is urged to do so in both. Beyond the end of the third semester of full-time study, financial aid may be discontinued and/or the student may be required to take a reduced course load until the language requirement is fulfilled. (2) A candidate beginning at the post-master’s level must fulfill the requirement in both languages during the first semester of full-time study (for a teaching fellow, during the first or second semester of half-time study) or be subject to the same conditions noted above. (3) 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. For details, consult the Graduate Studies Committee. If the candidate has passed a reading examination at another accredited graduate school and submits evidence to that effect to the chairman of the Graduate Studies Committee, the departmental requirement will be waived in most instances.

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. Subject to the approval of the Graduate Studies Committee, the student selects an examining committee of four: three for the major field, and one for the minor field. 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. The chairman of the examining committee, in consultation with the candidate and the members of the committee, is responsible for arranging the time and place of the examination.


Candidates select the subject of their dissertation in consultation with their advisors, subject to the approval of the department. Students are expected to show ability to look for suitable subjects as soon as possible and to keep in touch with the supervisor of the dissertation while working on it. The dissertation must be based upon a detailed, thorough, and critical study of a historical subject. It must demonstrate the candidate’s ability to assemble all the available historical material bearing on the subject, to analyze and evaluate the material critically, and to interpret the evidence with impartiality and insight. The candidate is expected to demonstrate not only industry in research but also marked ability in the interpretation of historical data and in the presentation of the results in readable fashion.

Prospectus (Dissertation Outline)

See General Requirements for the PhD. Each student is required to submit a detailed prospectus or dissertation outline to the Graduate Studies Committee for approval 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. The prospectus, distributed in written form, must be approved and signed by the prospective first and second readers of the dissertation before submission to the Graduate Studies Committee. The prospectus is normally six to 10 double-spaced pages in length and explores succinctly three aspects of the dissertation topic: the issue to be addressed, the methods to be employed, and the sources to be consulted.

Final Oral Examination

A final examination follows the successful completion of the dissertation. The examiners test the candidate’s scholarly attainments within the special period to which the dissertation or the major part of it belongs and lay stress upon the candidate’s ability to discuss important historical issues and problems at length and in a clear and orderly fashion.



  • CAS HI 503 Psychohistory
  • CAS HI 549 Nationalism in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries
  • CAS HI 552 Topics in Jewish History
  • CAS HI 560 The American Transcendentalists
  • CAS HI 566 Ideas and American Foreign Policy
  • CAS HI 568 The Modern Metropolis: Approaches to Urban History
  • CAS HI 580 The History of Racial Thought
  • CAS HI 582 Social Movements in Twentieth-Century Latin America
  • CAS HI 584 Comparative Slavery
  • CAS HI 588 Women, Power, and Culture in Africa
  • CAS HI 589 Nature’s Past: Histories of Environment and Society
  • CAS HI 590 The World and the West
  • CAS HI 591 The Making of the Modern Middle East
  • CAS HI 597 Diasporas and Identity
  • GRS HI 800 European Historiography
  • GRS HI 801 The Historian’s Craft
  • GRS HI 813 Gender in Medieval Christian Mysticism
  • GRS HI 819 Readings in European History
  • GRS HI 850 American Historiography
  • CAS HI 852 Readings in American Political History
  • CAS HI 854 American Economic History
  • GRS HI 859 United States Foreign Policy
  • GRS HI 870 African Historiography
  • CAS HI 877 Problems in African History
  • CAS HI 881 Readings in Food History

Lecture Courses

  • GRS HI 609 Christendom Divided: Reformation and Religious Conflict in Early Modern Europe
  • GRS HI 647 The Making of Modern Britain
  • GRS HI 648 Twentieth-Century Britain
  • GRS HI 664 French Feudal Society: 496–1339
  • GRS HI 665 Early Modern France
  • GRS HI 666 French Revolution and Napoleon
  • GRS HI 670 Germany, 1914–Present
  • GRS HI 673 History of the Soviet Union and Post-Communist Russia
  • GRS HI 674 Issues in Modern Russian and Soviet History, 1861–1956
  • GRS HI 698 African American History
  • GRS HI 702 Science and American Culture
  • GRS HI 704 Science and Christianity in Europe and North America Since 1500
  • GRS HI 705 Intellectual History of the United States, 1776–1900
  • GRS HI 706 Intellectual History of the United States, 1900 to the Present
  • GRS HI 708 Religious Thought in America
  • GRS HI 750 History of the Atlantic World, 1500–1825
  • GRS HI 751 Environmental History of Africa
  • GRS HI 761 Black Radical Thought
  • GRS HI 794 U.S.-Mexican Borders

Teaching Fellow Training

  • GRS HI 699 Teaching College History

Dissertation Workshop

  • GRS HI 900 Dissertation Workshop

Directed Study

Advanced study in history, not necessarily resulting in a formal research paper. Hours arranged. Variable cr.

  • GRS HI 901 American History
  • GRS HI 902 European History
  • GRS HI 903 African History
  • GRS HI 904 Latin American History
  • GRS HI 905 Middle Eastern History
  • GRS HI 906 East Asian History
  • GRS HI 907 Slavic History
  • GRS HI 909 History of Science

Directed Research

Advanced study in history leading to a formal research paper. Hours arranged. Variable cr.

  • GRS HI 957 American Economic History
  • GRS HI 959 American History
  • GRS HI 961 Latin American History
  • GRS HI 965 Slavic History
  • GRS HI 967 European History
  • GRS HI 973 African History
  • GRS HI 975 Middle Eastern History
  • GRS HI 979 East Asian History
  • GRS HI 980 History of Science