Boston College's History Department attracts talented graduate students from around the nation and around the world. We offer M.A. and Ph.D. degrees with training in a number of regional and thematic specialties. For the master’s degree in teaching (M.A.T.) program administered by the Lynch School of Education and Human Development, see M.A. Programs in that section.
Doctor of Philosophy in History
The Ph.D. degree in History is offered with concentrations in United States, medieval, early modern European, modern European (including British/Irish/British Empire), Asian, and Middle Eastern history. We also offer course work in African and Latin American history.
Students will be assigned an advisor upon admission to the program. The advisor oversees the student’s progress in preparing for comprehensive exams and in developing a dissertation topic.
Course and Residency Requirements: Students entering into the Ph.D. program are required to complete 39 credits, 36 of which are taken prior to comprehensive exams. All students in the Ph.D. program are required to pursue two semesters of full-time study during the first year and must, in the course of their studies, complete at least two seminars and at least two colloquia (one in the major and one in a minor area) in addition to the required Colloquium for Doctoral Studies.
Plan of Study: By the conclusion of the first semester, and after full consultation with their professors and the Director of Graduate Studies, students file a plan of study leading to the comprehensive examination. This plan of study consists of three areas of concentration. Usually faculty require that students take at least some formal coursework in each field and expect students to develop and master a reading list of important books and articles. With the approval of the advisor and the Director of Graduate Studies, students may select a discipline related to History or a topic within that cuts across traditional geographical or chronological boundaries. When considered necessary to a student’s program, the department may require advanced-level work in a related discipline, either as a minor field or as supplemental work. This plan of study may be reviewed, evaluated, and revised whenever necessary. However, changes must be approved by the faculty advisor and the Director of Graduate Studies.
Language Requirement: The language requirement is specific to Ph.D. candidates’ major field of study. Medievalists must pass three language exams, one of which must be in Latin. U.S. historians must pass one language exam. In all other fields (Europe, Asia, Africa, Latin America, Middle East), Ph.D. candidates must pass two language exams. Students will pass one language exam during the first year in the program, and the second (and third, if applicable) exam before taking the oral comprehensive examination. Students may substitute competency in a field of particular methodological or theoretical relevance to their program of study for competency in a second foreign language. To do so, students must petition the Graduate Committee and explain the nature of the field and its importance to the plan of study, particularly the dissertation. Work done in that field must be documented. The student’s faculty advisor is responsible for certifying that the student has satisfactorily acquired the appropriate skills and knowledge.
The Comprehensive Exam: The student’s oral comprehensive examination will be conducted by an examining board composed of three faculty members. A written examination may be substituted for an oral exam at the joint discretion of the student and the student’s committee.
The Dissertation: In the spring semester of the third year, students take the Dissertation Seminar in which they write their dissertation proposals. Dissertation proposals must be approved by the student’s advisor and the Director of Graduate Studies. Proposals must be completed by the end of the semester following the passing of comprehensive exams and filed with the department. The completed dissertation must be defended at a public oral defense and approved by the dissertation committee and the Director of Graduate Studies.
Master of Arts Programs
The M.A. degree in History is offered with concentrations in United States, medieval, early modern European, and modern European (including British/Irish/British Empire) history. We also offer course work in Asian, African, Latin American, and Middle Eastern history. The Master of Arts in Teaching (M.A.T.) program for secondary school History teachers is administered by the Lynch School of Education and Human Development. It requires admission to both the Lynch School of Education and Human Development and to the Department of History. For further information on the M.A.T., please refer to the Lynch section on Master’s Programs in Secondary Teaching or call the Lynch School of Education and Human Development, Graduate Admissions Office, at (617) 552-4214.
Requirements: M.A. students are required to take a total of 30 credits or ten courses. Students are required to take at least one colloquium and one seminar, in addition to the required Colloquium for Master’s Students. Classes with a number above HIST4000 count toward the degree. Students are not allowed to complete the M.A. program by attending only summer sessions; at least four courses (12 credits) must be taken during the regular academic year.
Plan of Study: All candidates for the M.A. in History are encouraged to pursue an individual course of study developed in conjunction with their faculty advisor and selected by the student during the first year in the program. In selecting courses and seminars, students are urged to widen their chronological and cultural horizons while deepening and specifying one special area of concentration.
Students must choose a major and minor field. As many as seven courses (21 credits) can be taken in the major field. The minor field is made up of a minimum of three courses (9 credits), at least one of which must be at the 7000 level or above. Minor fields can be chosen from the same list of major fields or can be thematic or topical. Such fields, for example, could include social or labor history; or could concern race, gender, or sexuality in the writing of history. Minor fields must be approved by the Director of Graduate Studies.
Students may take up to three courses outside the Department of History. Most students take courses in other Morrissey College of Arts and Sciences departments; these do not require approval. If a student wishes to take courses outside of Arts and Sciences(e.g. the Lynch School of Education and Human Development or the School of Theology and Ministry), then the student must obtain written permission from administrators of that program as well as the Director of Graduate Studies. Boston College is also a member of the Boston Area Consortium with Boston University, Tufts University, and Brandeis University. Students are allowed to enroll in one course per semester at one of these universities.
In addition to the departmental offerings, it is possible to do minor fields in archival management and in cultural heritage/public history through the Graduate School of Library and Information Sciences at Simmons University.
Language Requirement: M.A. candidates are required to pass one foreign language reading examination before graduation. Students who are concentrating in Medieval History must take the Latin exam. The use of dictionaries is permitted. Students who fail an exam are welcome to retake the exam until they obtain a passing grade.
Exam and Thesis: Students must complete a comprehensive exercise. This can take one of two forms:
(1) An oral comprehensive exam administered by the student’s advisor and a faculty member from the minor area;
(2) A 6-credit thesis in their final year in the program, culminating in an oral defense of the thesis before a committee of two faculty members.
Certificate in Digital Humanities
In our increasingly digitized world, the question isn’t whether to use digital technology, but how. Institutions of higher education, as well as employers in many other sectors, recognize that digital humanities skills such as text analysis, mapping, and coding have transformative potential. BC’s Graduate Certificate in Digital Humanities offers a coordinated curriculum that is feasible for graduate candidates to complete alongside existing degree requirements. The program combines interdisciplinary methodological training with discipline-specific coursework to provide students with training and institutional recognition of their accomplishments in this fast-growing field.
A joint effort of the History and English Departments and the Boston College Libraries’ Digital Scholarship Group, the program offers M.A. and Ph.D. students the opportunity to diversify their skill-sets and produce projects such as digital archives, data visualizations, online exhibits, and scholarly websites. This project-based approach puts a premium on collaboration and interdisciplinary inquiry. In the process, Certificate holders will enhance their employment prospects in both traditional academia as well as in publishing, government, museums, libraries, archives, and other alt-ac fields.
Applications to the M.A. and Ph.D. Programs
The deadline for applications to the Ph.D. program in history is January 2 and the deadline for applications to the M.A. program is February 1. Ph.D. and M.A. applicants must submit official undergraduate and graduate transcripts, at least three letters of recommendation, a statement of purpose emphasizing intellectual interests, a writing sample (a paper written for a recent course or one written expressly for the application), and all the application forms. Applicants may choose to submit GRE scores as well.
The History Department has a highly competitive Ph.D. program, but one which guarantees five years of funding to all incoming Ph.D. students contingent upon satisfactory academic performance and progress towards the degree, as well as satisfactory performance in teaching as evaluated by the faculty of the Department of History.
Students interested in the Doctoral or Master’s programs should write to:
Director of Graduate Studies
Chestnut Hill, MA 02467