PhD Requirements

The PhD in American & New England Studies program is dedicated to rigorous interdisciplinary investigation of American culture and society—its arts, literature, history, institutions, and its diverse intellectual traditions. The Program admits candidates for study leading to the PhD only, and guarantees five full years (12 months each) of financial support for students who maintain Satisfactory Academic Progress.*

There are six components to the Ph.D. program:


There are two required courses: AM 735 (Studies in American Culture) and AM 736 (The Literature of American Studies). Students entering the program normally take sixteen courses over a period of four to six semesters, with eight courses at the 700 level or higher, and all other courses at the 500 level or higher. Students can, at the discretion of the AMNESP director, receive up to thirty-two transfer credits for graduate courses completed prior to matriculation.  Students may not take more than four and one-half courses for degree credit in any one semester, and those taking more than two directed studies in any academic year must have approval from the program director.

Incompletes: Some students request a grade of Incomplete from their instructors in order to have additional time to complete a term paper or other assignment in an appropriate manner. Faculty should set deadlines for the submission of such work. Any Incompletes not remedied within one academic year will automatically be changed to an F.

Language Requirement

Students must demonstrate reading competence in a single modern foreign language. This can be accomplished in one of the following ways: through an examination given by the Program or by successfully completing a language reading course numbered 621 offered through the Graduate School. Advisers recommend that students fulfill their language requirement by the end of their first year in residence. Completing the language requirement is a prerequisite for the Qualifying Examination or earning an MA degree.

Major Research Paper

Once their coursework is complete, students submit a major research paper undertaken at Boston University. This must be done before they can sit for the Qualifying Examination or receive a master’s degree. In general, the major research paper may present preliminary inquiry into a topic related to the doctoral dissertation, but it is not required to do so. Students should begin the process by contacting the program director to inform them that they are ready to submit a paper for review.  Each paper must be approved by a first and a second reader from different disciplines. If, for example, the paper was written for a seminar, the first reader would normally be the professor who taught the course. However, students may also propose an alternative first reader with the approval of the program director. Papers accepted for coursework do not automatically satisfy this requirement, and each paper should be revised in accordance with the first reader’s suggestions before being passed on to the second reader. The second reader will be selected by the program director in consultation with the first reader and the student. Once the paper has been passed by both readers, it will be sent to the program director for final approval. This form should be submitted along with the paper itself.


The paper should be at least 25 pages in length excluding notes and bibliography. It should be written in polished prose, with a clearly defined thesis and line of argument based, at least in part, on primary source materials. It should be interdisciplinary in scope and also demonstrate engagement with historiography and other relevant scholarship on the topic. Samples of previously approved major papers can be found here.

Qualifying Examination

To be admitted to candidacy for the PhD degree, a student must pass a two-hour oral Qualifying Examination. Students often take this examination in the semester after their last course work.

Early in their careers students begin the initial preparation for this examination. Students choose courses and make personal contacts with faculty members while keeping their qualifying examinations in mind. Students should have identified their examination fields by the time they complete course work, and then undertake intensive reading in those fields under faculty direction. Each examination is unique because it tests the knowledge of a specific student. All examinations must conform to certain conventions and requirements. Sample oral examination lists can be found here.

  • General Character: The examination is conducted orally in one major and two minor fields. There should be four faculty present: two faculty examiners for the major field and one each for the two minor fields. The examination in the major field takes one hour; each of the minor fields takes one half hour.
  • Composition and Approval: Each student should submit an Approval Form to the Program Director at least two months before the exam is scheduled to occur. This form lists the members of the examination committee and defines the character and scope of the major and minor fields and examiners before the student sits for the examination. The examination committee consists of four persons, and two of these must have expertise in the student’s major field. These committee members must be members of the Graduate School Faculty at Boston University, either by regular or special appointment. The program director may sit as an ex officio member of the committee. The examination committee may postpone the exam if it believes the candidate is not adequately prepared.
  • Definition of Major Field: Students consult with their examining faculty to define their major fields. The Program Director reviews and approves all proposals. The major field must be covered in full historical depth, and with an awareness of global contexts. Major fields include American arts, history, literature, and media.
  • Character of the Minor Fields: Students consult with their examining faculty to define their minor fields. The Program Director reviews and approves all proposals. One minor field must be in a discipline different from that of the major, and both minor fields may be in other disciplines. Students may devise one minor in the same discipline as their major, but confined to a particular theme, area, medium, problem, or time period. In these cases, the minor field must be presented in great depth and defined so as to be distinct from the material in the major field.
  • Performance: At the conclusion of the Qualifying examination, without the student present, the chair polls the committee on the student’s performance. The student must perform satisfactorily in all fields, the major and both minors, and satisfy all examiners, in order to receive a grade of PASS. If a student fails, the student may take a second examination at a date decided by the examination committee and the Director.

Dissertation Prospectus

The prospectus is 20 double-spaced pages maximum (excluding bibliography) and briefly explores three aspects of the dissertation topic: previous scholarship on the subject, techniques and methods to be employed and documentary or other sources to be consulted. Before a prospectus is submitted to the program director for final approval, it must be approved and signed by the first and second readers of the dissertation. Dissertation readers must be members of the Graduate School Faculty of Boston University, either by regular or special appointment. Once approved, the prospectus is filed in the American Studies Program Office and with the Graduate School Records Office. The form needed for submission of the Dissertation Prospectus can be found here, and is due no later than six months before the dissertation defense. Samples of previously approved prospectuses can be found here.


Candidates shall demonstrate their abilities for independent study in a dissertation representing original research or creative scholarship. Recent dissertation titles can be found here. Candidates must undergo a final oral examination in which they defend their dissertation as valuable contributions to knowledge in their fields and demonstrate a mastery of their fields 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. All of the relevant forms and deadlines can be found on the GRS Website.

  • Intent to Graduate: Students must file the Intent to Graduate Form with the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences Office for the semester in which they intend to defend their dissertation. Deadlines vary, but typically the application for January graduation is due late September; for May graduation the deadline is in late January; for September graduation the deadline is in late May.
  • The Dissertation Committee: The dissertation is written under the supervision of the first and second readers who approved the prospectus. It is the responsibility of the student and the first reader to assemble the Dissertation Defense Committee, which consists of at least four members: the first and second readers, the examining chair, and at least one additional committee members. In some instances, students may have a third reader on their committee and one additional committee member. A maximum of six committee members is allowed. Students should finalize their additional committee members approximately two months prior to the defense. The majority of the committee, including the first reader and the committee chair, must be Boston University professional faculty. A Special Service Appointment is required for any visiting, adjunct, or emeritus committee members. Further details about the committee can be found here under the “Dissertation Committee Composition” dropdown menu. The manuscript should be given to the first and second reader at least six weeks before the defense. After all revisions have been made for the readers, the final version of the manuscript should be given to all other committee members at least four weeks before the defense.
  • The Dissertation Defense Schedule and Abstract: At least three weeks prior to the defense, students must submit their defense abstract of no more than 350 words along with their proposed defense schedule to the Records office. Prior to submission, the abstract must be read and approved by the first reader, the director of graduate studies, and the program director. Students must file this form along with a copy of their abstract.
  • Preparing the Manuscript: Click here for a pdf-version of “Research Guide for Writers of Theses and Dissertations,” which presents information on preparing the manuscript. At least three weeks before the defense, students must submit a draft of their dissertation to for format review. Additional details about formatting and draft submission can be found on this webpage under the “Dissertation Formatting Guide and Draft Submission” dropdown menu.
  • The Final Oral Examination: The defense usually lasts for ninety minutes. The examining chair and AMNESP administrator will receive the final paperwork from the Records office approximately one week prior to the defense. The first and second readers (and the third reader, if applicable) must sign the “Signature Page,” which should be brought to the defense by the student. All committee members and the Program Director sign the “Report of Examinations” form. The examining chair is responsible for collecting all signatures and returning the forms to the AMNESP office.

*Students may obtain an MA in the course of their work for the PhD or, in exceptional cases, as a terminal degree. PhD students leaving the program with a terminal master’s degree must complete 8 courses at the 700 level or higher (including AM 736 and AM 735), pass the language exam, and complete a major paper.