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, who have strong academic records, and who are interested in working in the fields of African, American, Asian, or European history. 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.

Learning Outcomes

  • Demonstrate mastery of chosen subfield of history and related fields. The candidate should understand the major interpretive schools in their field and related fields, contemporary trends within the historiography, and the position of their own work in relation to these.
  • Demonstrate knowledge of the archive system essential to their research.
  • Produce and defend publishable original research.
  • Conduct all research in an ethical manner.
  • Be able to teach effectively at the undergraduate and graduate levels.

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. The remaining 8 credits are reserved for four semesters of a two-credit Dissertation Workshop (GRS HI 900) taken after the oral exam. Required courses include:

  • GRS HI 800 European Historiography
  • GRS HI 801 The Historian’s Craft
  • GRS HI 850 American Historiography
  • GRS HI 870 African Historiography
  • Four semesters GRS HI 900 Dissertation Writing

Students must take the historiography courses in their first year, alongside HI 801, which will be offered every year in the spring semester. Students are allowed to take up to two graduate-level courses in a single discipline other than history that is related to their interests. 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.

Research Paper

Every doctoral student must write at least two major research papers and submit them 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 master’s degree may petition the Director of Graduate Studies to transfer credit for one research paper.

Language Requirements

The department aims to graduate world-class scholars capable of conducting research in languages other than English. Students working in African, Asian, 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 doctoral candidates in United States history demonstrate a graduate-level reading knowledge in one relevant foreign language, and doctoral candidates in Asian, European, and African history demonstrate a graduate-level reading knowledge in two relevant foreign languages. In exceptional circumstances, doctoral candidates in European history may petition for exemption from the two-language requirement.

Language proficiency can be demonstrated either through a departmental language examination or through successful completion of a noncredit graduate-level foreign language reading course offered by Boston University. If a student has passed a reading examination at another accredited graduate school and submits evidence to the Director of Graduate Studies, the departmental requirement will be considered satisfied in most cases. Students may not schedule their qualifying examination without having completed this requirement. For more information on when language requirements need to be fulfilled, please see the department website.

Qualifying Examination

Each candidate for the doctoral degree must pass an oral examination in a major field of history as well as a 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 twelve 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.

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