Ph.D. Program

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.

During the first semester of full-time study, doctoral students choose a faculty advisor, who oversees the student's progress in preparing for comprehensive exams and in developing a dissertation topic.

The Ph.D. is a research degree and requires special commitment and skills. While the degree is not granted for routine adherence to certain regulations, or for the successful completion of a specified number of courses, there are certain basic requirements.

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Course Requirements

Students in the Ph.D. program must complete a minimum of 39 credits (13 courses). Thirty-six credits must be completed before the oral comprehensive exam. All students in the Ph.D. program are required to pursue full-time study in the first year. Students must take at least one seminar in each of their first two years and at least three colloquia (the Introduction to Doctoral Studies, one in a major area, and one in a minor area) before the comprehensive exam.

Only history courses numbered 4000 or above count towards the doctoral requirements. In the first year, students take three courses per semester; in the second, two courses per semester. In the third year, students take two courses in the fall, complete their comprehensive exam, and then take the Dissertation Seminar in the spring. By the end of the third year, Ph.D. students should have completed all 39 credits. After the Dissertation Proposal is signed and filed, students officially enter into doctoral candidacy (informally known as All But Dissertation or ABD).

Plan of Study

At the start of each academic year, students meet with the Director of Graduate Studies to go over their plan of study, which is a schedule of courses that will prepare students for the comprehensive examination. For the comprehensive exam students must prepare three areas of concentration or fields, typically two major and one minor. In exceptional circumstances students may pick four areas of concentration, two major and two minor. For each area of concentration, students must identify a faculty member who will serve as an examiner.

In consultation with the examiner for each area students develop a reading list of important books and articles. Most faculty members require students to undertake formal coursework in preparation for the comprehensive exam. With the approval of the advisor and the Director of Graduate Studies, students may offer for their minor field a discipline related to history or a historical topic that cuts across traditional geographical or chronological boundaries. If necessary to a student’s program, the department may require advanced-level study in a related discipline, either as a minor field or as supplemental work. This plan of study may be reviewed, evaluated and revised as necessary. However, changes must be approved by the faculty advisor and the Director of Graduate Studies.

Fields of Study

American History

  • Early America
  • U.S. to 1877
  • U.S. since 1860
  • Urban
  • Race
  • Environmental
  • Religion
  • Political 
  • Foreign Policy
  • Gender and Sexuality

Latin American

  • Colonial Latin America
  • Modern Latin America


  • Early Medieval
  • Late Medieval

Early Modern European

  • Intellectual and Cultural
  • Religion
  • Gender and Women

Modern European

  • Modern Europe
  • Contemporary Europe
  • Intellectual and Cultural
  • Imperialism
  • Modern Germany
  • Modern Ireland


  • Japan
  • Middle East
  • India and South Asia
  • East Asia


  • Global
  • Imperialism
  • Atlantic World

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. US historians must pass one language exam (beginning with the class entering in the fall of 2021). 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

An oral comprehensive examination for Ph.D. students is conducted by an examining board composed of three faculty members, two from the student’s major area and one each from the minor area. (Students preparing four areas will be examined by four faculty members.) A written examination may be substituted for an oral exam at the discretion of the student and the examining board.

Students must take their oral comprehensive exam before the start of the spring semester in their third year of study. As preparation for the comprehensive exam, students select three areas for study and complete the necessary coursework for those areas. They must ask three different faculty members to serve as examiners and in consultation with the faculty prepare a reading list for each area. Students are advised to constitute their orals committee by the end of their second year so that they can prepare for orals during the summer before their third year. Each student is responsible for setting an exam date and time in consultation with the faculty examiners. After doing this, student should contact the Graduate Assistant who will reserve a room and prepare the necessary paperwork. The exam itself will last two hours, and each professor will have a chance to ask a number of questions regarding their field.

Dissertation Proposal

In the spring semester of the third year, students enroll in the dissertation seminar in which they draft a dissertation proposal. The proposal is an overview of the dissertation question, research agenda, methodology, likely source base, relevant historiography, and a timeline for research and writing. The proposal will be graded by the faculty member teaching the dissertation seminar. During this semester, students should also assemble a dissertation committee, which typically will consist of their academic advisor, who will serve as chairand at least two other faculty members. With the permission of their advisor and the Director of Graduate Studies, students may select committee members from outside the department. The proposal must be approved by the student’s dissertation committee. The proposal and the signed proposal approval form must be submitted to the Graduate Assistant who will add it to the student’s file.

The Dissertation

Upon admission to doctoral candidacy, students research and write their dissertation, which is an original contribution to knowledge based on extensive primary and secondary research. The completed dissertation must be approved by a committee of three readers - the faculty advisor and two other faculty members - and approved by the Director of Graduate Studies. It must also be defended at a public oral defense.

Ph.D. Placements


Chair and Professor of History

Wheaton College

Distinguished Research Professor

University of California, Los Angeles

Postdoctoral Fellow

Princeton University, Society of Fellows

Director of Undergraduate Studies

University of Notre Dame

History Teacher

Selma City Schools

Assistant Professor

Waseda University, Tokyo

Research Fellow

International Peace Institute


Honors Program, Boston College


Harvard College Writing Program

How to Apply

The application deadline for the Ph.D. program is January 2. The submission of GRE General Test scores is optional. To start an application, please visit the Admission page of the Morrissey College of Arts and Sciences.

Discernment for Doctoral Students

An internship program through BC's Institute for the Liberal Arts supports career exploration for Ph.D. students.

Learn More