The Department of History offers doctoral degrees in African, American, Asian, and European history. The PhD program is distinguished by the strength of its faculty and by its commitment to training students broadly and as a community. Through guided steps of coursework, preparation for the comprehensive oral examination, archival research, and dissertation writing, students learn to develop and execute original research designs leading to scholarly publications that make original and important contributions to the historical discipline. 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. To that end, all incoming doctoral students together take a core of classes in African, American, and European historiographies to learn about histories and methodologies outside their chosen field. PhD students also serve as Teaching Fellows in a wide range of lecture courses, acquiring professional and pedagogical skills under the guidance of faculty mentors. The department’s graduates have become professors at research universities, colleges, and community colleges, and staff members at research libraries, museums, and archives.
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.
See the below for a general timeline of these requirements. For more information about each, see the following pages:
Academic Progress Timeline
End of First Year
Students begin their coursework towards the PhD. 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. See PhD Coursework for more information.
1) Take and pass 8 approved courses, four of which must include the following:
- GRS HI 800: European Historiography
- GRS HI 850: American Historiography
- GRS HI 870: African Historiography
- GRS HI 801: The Historian’s Craft
2) Take and pass a research seminar that results in the production of a major research paper of 25-40 pages. The paper should examine a topic approved by the course instructor as well as the student’s main advisor. HI801 can serve as this research seminar.
3) Pass at least one foreign language exam. This can be accomplished in one of three ways:
- Complete an exam given by faculty members in the history department who specialize in your language of choice. Language exams are normally administered during the semester.
- Complete a language reading course numbered 621 through the Graduate School. Please note that these courses may not be taken for credit toward the doctorate.
- Students who have passed a reading examination at another accredited graduate school can petition the Director of Graduate Studies to waive the departmental requirement.
End of Second Year
1) Take and pass 8 more courses. These courses may take any of the following three forms:
- Courses offered at Boston University numbered 500 and above.
- Approved courses offered within the Boston Consortium
- Directed Reading Seminar
- Directed Research Seminar
2) These 8 courses must include another research seminar that results in the production of a second major research paper of 25-40 pages.
3) Pass a second foreign language exam through one of the three methods described above.
4) Begin preparing for the oral qualifying exams.
- Select a major and a minor field.
- Create an orals committee consisting of four examining faculty in the chosen fields.
- Create reading lists for the minor field and each area of the major field in consultation with the individual examiners.
By the End of Third Year
1) Take and pass qualifying oral exams. See the PhD Qualifying Exam Page for more information.
- Before taking the exam, students must have completed their coursework as well as both research papers and language requirements.
- Before taking the exam, students must submit the PhD Qualifying Oral Examination Approval Form to the department.
2) Students who have completed all coursework and qualifying exams are considered ABD (“All But Dissertation”). See the ABD page for more information.
3) Submit the dissertation prospectus for approval by the first and second reader. Once approved, the student must submit the Dissertation Prospectus Approval Form.
4) Research and apply for grants to fund archival research.
Fourth Year and Beyond
1) Apply for grants and fellowships.
2) Conduct archival research.
3) Write up the dissertation.
4) Complete four semesters of HI 900: Dissertation Workshop, and present annually on research.
5) Complete the dissertation.
6) File a GRS Intent to Graduate Form for the Doctoral Degree.
Please note that PhD candidacy (and thus financial support) expires on its fifth anniversary – that is, five years after taking orals. When students are entering their seventh year, and anticipate needing more time to complete degree requirements, they can submit a petition to the Graduate School for an extension.
Further Program Requirements
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 primarily be in the form of teaching fellowships; non-service fellowships are offered the first full year and the fifth year with an approved Dissertation Prospectus. 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.
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.
Satisfactory Academic Progress
The Graduate School of the College of Arts and Sciences and the Department of History guarantee five full years (12 months each) of financial support for Ph.D. students who maintain satisfactory academic progress. This support will be primarily be in the form of teaching fellowships; non-service fellowships are offered the first full year. Only those students who are making satisfactory and sustained progress toward the completion of their degree within the specified time periods will be awarded financial support.
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.
In the Department of History, making Satisfactory Academic Progress toward the doctorate is defined as:
- Earning no more than two failing grades in their coursework. History defines a grade of B or lower as a failing grade. The Department regards any incomplete grade (I) older than 12 months and any withdrawal (W) as a failing grade.
- Maintaining a GPA of 3.3 or higher.
- PhD students who do not meet these standards over two semesters – who fail two courses or whose GPA falls below 3.3 – will be placed on academic probation. This status automatically triggers a conversation with the student, their advisor, and the DGS about past performance and how best to improve that performance going forward. PhD students who remain on academic probation risk withdrawal of their funding.
- Taking and passing qualifying exams by the end of their third year.
- Submitting and receiving approval for a dissertation prospectus within 12 months of their qualifying exams.