PhD in Classical Studies

The PhD in Classical Studies prepares students to be effective and inspiring teachers and insightful professional scholars of classical antiquity. The program centers on the structured study of the classical languages, Greco-Roman culture, and the perspectives and methods of research available for the classical world. As teachers, mentors, and evaluators, the faculty provide careful training and guidance of students, who are encouraged to show independent initiative in pursuing their own interests, goals, and intellectual identities. The program is designed to prepare students primarily for college and university careers in classics, though we are also supportive of those who seek work at secondary schools or in alternative-academic careers.

The Department of Classical Studies promotes interdisciplinary and comparative literary, historical, and cultural studies embracing a wide range of areas, and has particular strengths in Greek drama, Greek and Roman epic, Greek and Roman history, literature of the Roman Republic and Empire, translation and interpretation of classical literature, Indo-European/historical linguistics, and the classical tradition in Europe and America. In addition, Classical Studies maintains a close working relationship with the departments of the History of Art & Architecture, Philosophy, and Religion.

We seek students of outstanding accomplishment, originality, and imagination who wish to communicate their enthusiasm to others, both as teachers and scholars. Typically, successful applicants have completed a minimum of three years each (or the equivalent) of ancient Greek and Latin. However, we apply a holistic approach to our evaluation of each applicant, and we encourage students from nontraditional classics backgrounds (i.e., with less Latin or Greek training) to consider applying.

Learning Outcomes

  • Demonstrate the ability to read standard texts in ancient Greek and Latin with an understanding of idiom, nuance, and complex levels of meaning.
  • Demonstrate mastery of a corpus of important texts in ancient Greek and Latin, and of modern critical approaches to those texts.
  • Conduct scholarly activities at a high level and in a professional and ethical manner.
  • Teach classical subjects effectively at the undergraduate level.
  • Produce and defend a dissertation that constitutes an original and significant contribution to knowledge in our field.

Course Requirements

Students admitted to the PhD program without previous graduate study must take a minimum of 16 courses (64 credits) over a period of five or six semesters. Course requirements are as follows:

  • CAS CL 530 Latin Prose Composition
  • CAS CL 563 Greek Prose Composition
    (The prose composition requirement may also be satisfied by a grade of Pass on a take-home exam set by two evaluators appointed by the Director of Graduate Studies [DGS].)
  • GRS CL 993 Proseminar 1 (nonmatriculating, 2 cr)
  • GRS CL 994 Proseminar 2 (nonmatriculating, 2 cr)
  • An additional 14 courses at or above the 500 level offered by the department or, with DGS approval, related departments, including one course in Greek or Roman art or archaeology

Students must also satisfy an area requirement in both Greek and Roman history, which may be fulfilled in the following ways:

  • Taking a graduate course in Greek or Roman history
  • Serving as a teaching fellow in a history course
  • Taking an undergraduate history course as a graduate directed study (2 cr)
  • Receiving a grade of Pass on an exam set by two evaluators appointed by the DGS

Under special circumstances and with the approval of the DGS, a student may substitute another course in a related field to fulfill one of the two history requirements.

Language Requirements—Modern

All students pursuing a PhD in Classical Studies are required to demonstrate graduate-level reading proficiency in two modern languages, typically German and French, prior to the completion of the degree. Language proficiency can be demonstrated either through a language examination, successful completion of a noncredit 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. With the consent of the department, another modern foreign language useful for classical scholarship may be substituted for either German or French.

Qualifying Examinations

Candidates must demonstrate, by written examination, proficiency in the following:

  • Translation of passages from Greek authors
  • Translation of passages from Latin authors
  • The history of Greek literature
  • The history of Latin literature
  • A special topic in an area of study different from that chosen for the doctoral thesis.

Normally all examinations are written. With the approval of the DGS and the mentor, the History of Literature and Special Topic examinations may be oral. In addition, a research paper may be substituted for the Special Topic examination with the permission of the Special Topic advisor. The Special Topic research should take no longer than the length of a semester, and the date for the exam (or paper) should be indicated in the initial proposal for the special topic. If the paper option is selected and not turned in by the due date, it will be converted into a written exam. Students may enroll in a directed study to prepare for their Special Topic exam and receive up to 4 credits (which can serve as the final four credits required for the degree).

All four preliminary exams (LT, GT, HLL, GLL) should be completed by the beginning of the sixth semester. They may be taken in any order, though students should keep in mind that they will not be permitted to teach stand-alone Greek or Latin courses before passing the translation exam in the relevant language.

The special exam should be completed by the end of the sixth semester.

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 via an oral defense by the readers, the Director of Graduate Studies, and the Department Chair/Program Director. 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.

The prospectus should be defended by the beginning of the eighth semester (or the end of the eighth semester at the latest) in order to position the student to utilize the ninth and tenth semesters (the final fellowship year) for writing the bulk of the dissertation. Falling behind this schedule by more than one semester could place the student on academic probation and lead to loss of good standing (and funding).

Further details of the preparation of the prospectus and dissertation are contained in the GRS Bulletin Policies page under degree requirements and are available on the department’s website.

Students enrolled in the PhD program who decide to leave the program with only the MA degree must choose to focus on either Greek or Latin, and must fulfill all of the MA course, language, and exam requirements for the chosen language as listed above. The Greek or Roman history course requirement may also be fulfilled if the student served as a teaching fellow in a classical history course while working toward the PhD degree. The PhD translation and history of literature qualifying examinations may be used to fulfill the MA Comprehensive Exam requirements if the student successfully passed these exams in the chosen language.