The Department of History offers doctoral degrees in three fields: African, American, and European history. Our program distinguishes itself by the strength of its faculty and by our commitment to training our students broadly and as a community. To that end, all incoming doctoral students take a core of classes together that includes courses in African, American, and European historiographies. No matter the field you intend to specialize in, learning about histories and methodologies outside your chosen field will help you contextualize the particularities of your own field.
There are six components to the PhD program. In the first two years, students are asked to complete their coursework: specific courses, major research papers, and language examinations. By the end of their third year, students must pass a qualifying oral examination and submit a dissertation prospectus. After they have completed their dissertation, they engage in a dissertation defense. These components are explained in the following sections.
Coursework refers to the work undertaken by doctoral students before taking their oral exams. It includes the required courses, original research papers, and certification of language proficiency as described below.
- Course Requirements: Students entering the program with a bachelor’s degree take a total of 16 courses for 64 credits, or roughly 4 classes per semester at 4 credits each. Of these, 14 courses (or 56 credits), including the four required courses that all graduate students must take, consist of seminars, lecture courses, directed research, and directed study taken prior to the qualifying oral examination. The remaining 8 credits are reserved for four semesters of a two-credit Dissertation Workshop course (GRS HI 900) taken after the oral exam.
Note that students entering with an approved master’s degree from another institution are offered 16 transfer credits, or the equivalent of 4 courses; they will take 40 credits prior to taking the qualifying oral examination. Students admitted to the PhD program will obtain an M.A. as part of the process of completing work towards the PhD.
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 and research courses on historiographical issues and approaches in the areas where the department has special strengths. In contrast, The Historian’s Craft (HI 801) is a research seminar designed to help students move from the original conception of a problem to a publishable article. Note that at least one of the historiography courses (HI 800, 850, or 870) must be taken prior to taking HI 801, which is offered every year in the spring semester.
Click here for a list of specific course requirements.
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 and research courses on historiographical issues and approaches in the areas where the department has special strengths. In contrast, The Historian’s Craft (HI 801) is a research seminar designed to help students move from the original conception of a problem to a publishable article.
Note that at least one of the historiography courses (HI 800, 850, or 870) must be taken prior to taking HI 801, which is offered every year in the spring semester.
- Original Research Papers: Every doctoral student must write two major research papers between 25 and 40 pages. Students with an approved master’s degree from another institution are only required to complete one major research paper.
The papers must be based on primary sources and meet professional standards of documentation, citation, argument, and structure. The paper completed in HI 801: The Historian’s Craft qualifies as one of the research papers. The second paper may be developed in a research seminar or directed research study. A copy of each paper must be submitted to the Director of Graduate Studies to determine if it meets these requirements. Approved papers remain in the student’s file. Students may not schedule their oral examination without having completed this requirement.
- Language Requirements: The Department aims at graduating world-class scholars capable of conducting research in languages other than English. Students working in African and European history must conduct primary research in languages other than English. But given that significant secondary literature is produced outside the English-speaking world, the Department believes that it is important for all of our doctoral students, including Americanists, to demonstrate a genuine ability to read research in foreign languages. To this end, we require that all doctoral candidates demonstrate a graduate-level reading knowledge of two relevant foreign languages. Students may not schedule their oral examination without having completed this requirements.
Click here to see the three ways to demonstrate reading proficiency in a foreign language.
- PhD Students who have already earned an MA: Incoming PhD students who have already earned an MA receive the following credit upon approval:
- 4 courses toward the 16 courses required to advance to candidacy;
- Credit for one of the research papers upon submission of the relevant document to the Director of Graduate Studies. It is worth noting that most students usually write two papers, one in the required course HI 801 and one through a directed study with their advisor;
- Credit for proficiency in one foreign language if certified by another accredited graduate school, contingent on the approval of the Director of Graduate Studies.
Admission to candidacy for the PhD degree in most doctoral programs entails passing a qualifying examination. In the History Department at BU, this exam is taken in the form of a two-hour long oral examination covering four historical areas. The exam’s oral form tests the student’s knowledge as well as their ability to communicate information on the spot, skills that are central to any career as a scholar, teacher, or researcher.
The initial preparation for this examination begins early in a student’s career. Students should choose courses and make personal contacts with faculty members with their oral examinations in mind. They should have a general idea of their examination fields by the time they complete course work, and should then undertake intensive reading in those fields under faculty direction. They must take the exam no later than twelve months after the completion of coursework. Each oral examination is unique, for the examination is intended to test the knowledge of a specific student. However, there are certain regulations and norms to which all examinations must conform. Qualifying Examination This exam is taken in the form of a two-hour long oral examination covering four historical areas. The exam’s oral form tests the student’s knowledge as well as their ability to communicate information on the spot, skills that are central to any career as a scholar, teacher, or researcher. It last two hours long, is administered by four faculty members in the Department of History, and is normally scheduled before the end of classes during the semester. Requirements The Exam
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This exam is taken in the form of a two-hour long oral examination covering four historical areas. The exam’s oral form tests the student’s knowledge as well as their ability to communicate information on the spot, skills that are central to any career as a scholar, teacher, or researcher. It last two hours long, is administered by four faculty members in the Department of History, and is normally scheduled before the end of classes during the semester.
ABD (“All But Dissertation”)
- Prospectus: The prospectus is 20 double-spaced pages (excluding bibliography) that explores four aspects of the PhD candidate’s dissertation topic: the intellectual relevance of the topic chosen, previous scholarship on the subject, the techniques and methods the dissertation will employ, and the primary and secondary sources it will consult. Within four months of successfully completing the oral qualifying exam, PhD candidates must submit their dissertation prospectus to their first and second readers for approval. First and second readers must be members of the Graduate School Faculty at Boston University. Once both readers have approved the prospectus, it must be submitted to the Director of Graduate Studies for final approval.
- Dissertation: The dissertation is written under the supervision of the first and second readers who approved the prospectus. It is a work of original research on a topic approved by the dissertation advisor. The dissertation should 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. It should also display a creative use of sources, interpretive independence, and the clear presentation of complex arguments. The dissertation should form the basis for a scholarly monograph that will make a significant contribution to existing scholarship.
- Dissertation Defense: Upon completion of the dissertation, candidates for the degree defend their dissertation before a faculty committee.
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In consultation with the first reader, the student assembles the Dissertation Defense Committee, which consists of at least five faculty members. These scholars must be members of the Graduate School Faculty of Boston University, either by regular or special appointment. After all revisions have been made to the satisfaction of the first and second readers, the student may begin the process of scheduling the defense. The final version of the manuscript must be provided to all committee members at least four weeks before the defense. To schedule the defense, students must first submit an abstract of no more than 350 words that summarizes the dissertation for other researchers to the first reader, the Director of Graduate Studies, and the Department Chair. After their approval, students must then submit the abstract and a scheduling request to the Records office. The student will be notified of the approval of the abstract or if revisions are required. Upon final approval by the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, the student and first reader schedule the defense.
The exam usually lasts for at least one hour. In consultation with the Chair of the Dissertation Defense Committee, BU faculty and graduate students may attend the exam. However, only the defense committee members may participate. To open the proceedings, the student must make a 10-minute presentation summarizing the findings contained in the dissertation. In addition to the grades of Pass or Fail, the examiners may award a grade of “Pass with Distinction,” which will be recorded in the student’s departmental file. Upon successfully defending the dissertation, the student must provide the History department administrator with a copy of the dissertation abstract, including whatever corrections have been agreed upon at the time of the defense. The department administrator will circulate the abstract among History faculty and graduate students to mark the event.
- Applying for Graduation: Students must file an application to graduate with the Graduate School office (check with this office for deadlines). Note that an application is only good for the specified date; if a student must postpone a dissertation defense, a new application must be filed. Note also that a student must be registered for the semester in which he or she graduates and in the preceding one and that a student must be registered for any semester in which a degree requirement is completed (such as submission of the research paper or passing the language examination).
Program requirements to keep in mind
- Funding: The Graduate School of Arts and Sciences and the Department of History offer all PhD students who maintain satisfactory academic progress five years of guaranteed full funding. Funding is restricted to students in the PhD program. This support will be in the form of teaching, non-service, and research fellowships. There are also internal grants available aimed at supporting research during the summer or academic year. Graduate students are also strongly encouraged to apply for external funding for their research priorities. For more details regarding funding, see the Financial Assistance page and the Graduate Student Resources page.
- Satisfactory Academic Progress: The Department of History is committed to ensuring that all PhD students fulfill their requirements in a timely and successful manner. Note that financial aid is linked to continued academic progress. The Director of Graduate Studies, in consultation with the Department Chair and the student’s advisor, will normally award financial aid only to those students who are making satisfactory and sustained progress toward the completion of their degree within specified time periods. For an explanation of “satisfactory academic progress” and a detailed breakdown of program requirements and deadlines for completion, consult the links below.
- Residency: After students have completed their courses, they must still register and pay the Continuing Student Fee each semester until they are awarded the degree. With the approval of their advisor or the Director of Graduate Studies, students may petition for a year’s leave of absence. If such a leave is granted, during that period the student need not pay tuition charges or the Continuing Student Fee. Additional leaves of absence may be granted by the Committee on Academic Standards of the Graduate School in the case of serious illness, military service, maternity, paternity, or other major disruptions.
Students have the responsibility of notifying the Graduate School and the History Department of changes of address, so that registration materials and other official announcements reach them promptly.
Students whose personal or financial circumstances make it impossible to make satisfactory progress toward the degree may consider withdrawing from the department. Students who withdraw must wait two years before applying for readmission. They must present clear evidence of new scholarly accomplishment and a strict schedule that will ensure the completion of degree requirements.
- Academic Advisors: All entering students are referred to an appropriate member of the faculty for advising. They can and should also consult the Director of Graduate Studies in matters concerning their intellectual and professional development. Students may change advisors at any time should the student’s intellectual interests change. Normally, the faculty advisor sits on the qualifying examination committee and serves as first reader for the dissertation.