This handbook provides an overview of the Ph.D. Program in History and details program requirements and regulations. For more general information and regulations pertaining to all students at the Graduate Center, see the Graduate Center Student Handbook. If you have questions about matters not fully covered in these handbooks, feel free to ask the Executive Officer or the Deputy Executive Officer
Major and Minor Fields
Credits and Courses
First (Written) Examination
Second (Oral) Examination
Dissertation Proposal Process
Dissertation Defense (Final Examination)
Masters of Philosophy and En-Route Masters
Tuition and Academic Levels
Leave of Absence
Withdrawal from the Program
Professor Joel Allen, Executive Officer
Professor Julia Sneeringer, Deputy Executive Officer
The Ph.D. Program in History is designed to train historians in the most rigorous canons of scholarly research. From the first semester of coursework through the final awarding of the doctorate, students enrolled in the program will focus their energies on research and writing. In addition, students will take reading courses in their major and minor fields designed to prepare them for teaching careers and to establish the necessary background for their research. Students should be able to complete most of the coursework in two years. They will then prepare for advancement to candidacy, the technical term for work on their dissertations, by taking a comprehensive oral examination in their major and minor fields, followed by the submission of a dissertation proposal. Students admitted to the program should expect to spend between five and eight years working toward their Ph.D. degrees.
Up to thirty transfer credits may be awarded for graduate history courses taken at accredited universities. Transfer is not automatic, but is arranged in consultation with the Executive Officer. Students should email the Executive Officer at the beginning of their third semester. In the email students should make a case for which courses they’d like to transfer, and should specify the total number of transfer credits requested. Please note: Only credits from courses with grades of B or better can be transferred. Only history courses are transferred, though the Executive Officer has the authority to award credits for courses substantially concerned with history. No transfer credits will be given for graduate-level course work taken while a student was enrolled in an undergraduate degree program. No transfer credit shall be awarded for independent study courses or thesis work. Transfer credits shall not be granted if ten or more years have elapsed from the time the course was taken.
Fellowships and Financial Assistance
Some students receive financial assistance on entering the program in the form of multi-year named fellowships, multi-year teaching fellowships, research assistantships, or one-year renewal tuition stipends and fellowships. Students who enter the program without financial assistance may apply for assistance for subsequent years, and most students who do well ultimately receive at least some financial support. (Also, as students complete their course work, their tuition declines.) The Graduate Center houses several centers that provide in-house employment for students who need to work while pursuing the Ph.D.
Students in the Ph.D. Program in History are eligible for several different types of awards:
Federal and state aid, including work-study, loan programs, and New York State Tuition Assistance, is administered by the Financial Aid Office. In all cases, federal and state aid is based solely on financial need. Applications are made through the Financial Aid Office annually.
Institutional aid, including graduate teaching fellowships, graduate assistantships, Provost Enhancement Fellowships, university fellowships, and named fellowships, is awarded to students based primarily on merit, though need is taken into consideration. Entering students are automatically considered for these awards. Current students apply through the History Program in the spring of each academic year by filling out an application.
For more information, please visit the Financial Aid website.
CUNY part-time adjunct teaching positions are available for advanced students. Only students who have completed their first year of coursework are eligible for such assignments. Students should inquire about the availability of courses at individual CUNY campuses.
There are a variety of outside awards and assistantships available to Graduate Center Ph.D. students in history. Students have, in the recent past, worked as research assistants for the Humanities Center, the Gotham Center, the Center for Media and Learning/American Social History Project, the Center for the Study of Philanthropy, the LaGuardia/Wagner Archives, the Social Science Research Council, the New-York Historical Society, the Rockefeller Foundation, and New York City-based research institutes, media firms, independent scholars and writers.
Each student must have an advisor through every stage of the Ph.D. Program. The Executive Officer or Deputy Executive Officer may serve as advisors for entering students or until such time as students are able to select advisors in their major fields. Students should have selected their own advisers, with the Executive Officer's assistance and approval, by midway through their second semester--at the latest.
Advisers assist students in choosing courses, selecting a minor field of study, and preparing for their written and oral examinations. Students must also consult with their advisers on the language requirements in their fields. When a student is ready to choose a dissertation sponsor and mentor, that mentor usually is the student's primary adviser.
Major and Minor Fields
Major Field: Students are required to prepare one major and one minor field. The following are the major fields:
Early Modern Europe (1300-1750 A.D.)
Modern Europe (1750 to the present)
United States (Colonial times to the present)
Middle Eastern History.
For most of these major fields, entering students will enroll in a two-semester reading course, the Literature Survey (see below).
Minor Field: The minor may complement the major but may not be a subdivision of it. Students are not required to do research in their minor fields, nor are they required to take the comprehensive written exam in the minor field. They will, however, be examined in their minor field on their second (oral) exam. Courses will be credited toward the minor only if a student receives a grade of B+ or higher.
Students may fulfill their minor requirement in three different ways:
1) Students may minor in any of the fields designated as major fields. If the major field offers a two- semester Literature Survey, a student can fulfill the minor requirement by successfully completing that sequence. So, for example, a student majoring in United States history may complete a minor in Latin American history by taking the two-semester Latin America Literature Survey.
2) In addition to the fields designated as major fields, the History Program offers a number of designated minor fields. These include Public History, Intellectual History, the History of Medicine and Public Health. Lesbian and Gay History, Urban History, and World History. Students choosing one of these minor fields or a major field that does not have a Literature Survey can fulfill the minor by taking three three-credit reading courses, at least two of which must be taken in the Graduate Center History Program.
3) All ad hoc minors require the approval of the EO. For all ad hoc minors the student must submit a list of courses (or alternatively plans for an independent study or independent reading list with examination) to the EO, and if the minor is new, the student must submit a justification. The EO can approve the minor or refer it to the curriculum committee.
The First Year: Courses and Requirements
The State of New York allows Ph.D. students eight years to complete their degrees, seven years for those entering with a Master's degree. Because the dissertation is the most important thing students will do to earn their degree, and the main thing most prospective employers will be interested in, the curriculum is designed to get them through their coursework and exams as quickly as possible so that they can devote the bulk of their years here working on the dissertation. This explains why the first-year of their matriculation is the most structured of all, devoted mostly to required courses. By the end of the first year, all students will have written a substantial research paper, roughly equivalent to a Master¹s thesis, and will have taken the first (written) exams.
The First Year Paper
Every entering student will enroll in a two-semester seminar (or its equivalent) that will culminate in the production of a substantial, research-based, first-year paper. Generally the program offers one first-year seminar in U.S. history and one in European and non-U.S. history. The first semester of the first-year seminar is devoted to discussions of methodology and preparation of a paper topic. The professors running the seminars will provide students with two critical services: First, they will set a series of deadlines for the formulation of a research topic, the preparation of a bibliography of secondary works, the writing of a historiographical essay, and finally, by the end of the first semester, a well-developed research proposal with a bibliography of primary sources. Students will be graded on these proposals. Second, the professors will direct students to the faculty members who can provide students with the substantive advice they need to pursue their topics. In the Spring semester, seminar students will research and write their papers, while continuing to meet as a course. Students will meet a second series of deadlines for the production of a preliminary introduction, early drafts, complete drafts, and final papers, and will read and critique each other's work as it develops.
The first year paper is a critical requirement of the program, and students who fail to complete the paper satisfactorily cannot continue to the second year.
The Literature Surveys
Every student entering the program will register for one half of the two-semester survey of the scholarly literature of their chosen major. Students majoring in U.S. and Modern European history will complete the second half of the literature survey in the Spring semester. Students in the smaller majors generally will complete the second half of the literature survey in the Fall semester of their second year.
Students fulfill the requirement for the First Examination by passing exams in each of the two required Literature survey courses in their Major field. The take-home exams, in which students are required to answer two of four essay questions, are given during the semester’s examination week and test broad, general historical and historiographical knowledge for the period covered in the course. The exams are sent via email and students have eight hours in which to compose and send a reply. No collaboration is permitted, but students may consult and cite appropriate sources. The exams must be taken at the end of each of the semesters of the two-part Literature Survey.
If there is no survey course being offered the student should arrange to take these courses through independent study and then complete the final exams as described above.
First-year students normally register for three classes per semester. In addition to the required Literature Survey and first-year Research Seminar, students will register for one of the three-credit elective courses offered in the History PhD program.
Things loosen up after the first year. Students have completed the required first year courses, passed their first exams, and produced a substantial piece of research. Schedules become more flexible. Students may register for more electives or for full-credit courses in other departments (pass/fail courses are not permitted).
In the second year, students will normally complete their second research paper and begin working on the minor field, most often by enrolling in the relevant Literature Survey of the proposed minor field. In their third year, students should enroll in a research seminar with the goal of producing a paper that will, ideally, represent a first, research-based version of the eventual dissertation proposal.
Ideally, students will choose courses that will allow them to make connections with professors who can serve on their orals committees.
Interdisciplinary Certificate Programs are open to students enrolled in one of the existing doctoral programs offered at the Graduate Center. In addition to fulfilling the requirements of their doctoral program, students can choose to complete a Certificate Program. Students who fulfill the requirements of a certificate program have this noted on their transcripts when they graduate. Please click below to read the requirements for each certificate:
· Africana Studies
· American Studies
· Critical Theory
· Film Studies
· Interactive Technology and Pedagogy
· Medieval Studies
· Global Early Modern Studies
· Women's Studies
Credits and Courses:
The Ph.D. Program in History requires 60 hours of approved graduate coursework, including transfer credits. A full load is three courses per semester. All schedules must be approved by the Executive Officer, the Deputy Executive Officer, or the student¹s advisor. Most required courses have five credits; elective courses have three credits. There are two types of required courses, research seminars and literature surveys. Electives are strictly reading courses.
Literature Surveys: Most majors and minors require completion of two five-credit Literature Surveys. These are comprehensive reading courses developed cooperatively by the faculty and designed to introduce students to the major issues in the field. First-year students will immediately enroll in the major survey. If there is no survey course being offered the student should arrange to take these courses through independent study and then complete the final exams as described above.
Research Seminars are courses in which students produce a substantial paper based on primary sources, and also demonstrate familiarity with the historiography of the field. Every student must produce three research papers as part of their required coursework. Two of the three research papers must be on different subjects. All incoming students enroll in a year-long research seminar. Second-year students must produce a second research paper in one semester, either by enrolling in a seminar or by arranging an independent study with a professor. The third research paper should be a preliminary investigation into the student's dissertation. Ideally, the third research paper will result in an extended dissertation proposal that is already based on some primary research.
A research seminar will be given in each spring semester to provide a forum for students to fulfill the requirement of the second, or as the case may be the third research paper. The seminar will count for five credits.
Colloquia are three-credit reading courses. The traditional weekly reading assignment for a colloquium is a monograph or the equivalent in articles and/or primary source materials. Faculty may also assign writing assignments on a regular basis, but these are not research courses and will not be counted as such for purposes of fulfilling the research requirements of the program. Normally students will enroll in at least one colloquium per semester.
Independent Study: In cases where the reading and research courses needed to complete the major or minor are unavailable, students may register for an Independent Study with individual faculty members, with the permission of the Executive Officer. Currently, the Graduate Center has imposed a cap on the number of courses, including independent studies, which all Programs can offer. Therefore, the Ph.D. Program in History can offer only a very limited number of independent study courses per semester. If a student wishes to do an independent study, he or she must first confer with a faculty member who will direct the independent study. Students should be aware that while faculty members receive little or no compensation in their teaching schedules for an independent study, they may find reward in directing investigation into a mutually intriguing topic. Thus, students should take the initiative to define a specific project, one that relates to a professor's expertise and interest, before they ask for faculty sponsorship. Independent studies generally involve substantial reading, regular meetings, and significant written work. The student must then prepare a description of the course and give a rationale for why this course can be done only in the format of an independent study. The faculty member who will direct the independent study must agree with the description and the rationale. Independent studies may be taken as either research seminars or colloquia.The student and faculty member should then forward this information to the Executive Officer for approval before the registration period begins.
Incompletes: It is imperative that in all but the most extraordinary circumstances students complete their work by the end of the semester. Incompletes are only awarded to students who are doing passing work, but have not completed all course requirements. Students with more than two incompletes will not be eligible for financial assistance from the program, nor will they be recommended for teaching positions.
History Ph.D. students at The Graduate Center may, with the approval of the Executive Officer, register at no additional cost for doctoral courses at Columbia University (Graduate School of Arts and Sciences), New York University, Fordham University, the New School for Social Research, Rutgers, Princeton, and SUNY-Stony Brook. Only students who have completed at least two semesters and are between their 2nd and 6th year of enrollment are eligible to take courses in the consortium. They may not register for courses that are normally offered at The Graduate Center. All registrations must be approved by the host institution. There is a two-course limit per semester.
Once you have decided to take a course offered by a partner institution, you must fill out the Permit Out form which is available here. Your Executive Officer must sign the form. Bring or email (firstname.lastname@example.org) the completed and signed form to the Office of the Vice President for Student Affairs (Room 7301). If the form is approved you will then be given the Inter-University Doctoral Consortium Registration Form. At that point you must fill out all of the information on that form and obtain all required signatures from both the Graduate Center and the host school. You must then submit the completed and signed form to the Office of the Registrar (Room 7201) no later than the end of the drop and add period (the end of the third week of classes).
If you choose to drop the course at any time before the end of the drop and add period, you must submit a Drop form, signed by your Executive Officer, to the Office of the Registrar (Room 7201). You must also inform the host college that you have dropped the course.
No coursework: All students are required to be in status each semester. This means that students must either be registered or be on an approved leave of absence. Individuals who are not in status will be considered withdrawn from the Graduate Center.
If you are Level 2 but are no longer taking classes, you should Register on Record (ROR) and register for 7 Billable WIUs.
If you are Level 3, sign up for Hist 90000 "Dissertation Supervision" using the CRN assigned to your advisor. Do not enroll for any WIUs.
First (Written) Examination
Students fulfill the requirement for the First Examination by passing Final Examinations in each of the two required Literature survey courses in their Major field. The open book, at-home, eight-hour exams, in which students are required to answer two of four essay questions, are given during the semester’s examination week and test broad, general historical and historiographical knowledge for the period covered in the course. The exams must be taken at the end of each of the semesters of the two-part Literature Survey. If there is no survey course being offered the student should arrange to take these courses through independent study and then complete the final exams as described above.
N.B.: A failure to complete the exam is counted as an automatic failure.
First Examinations are written by the professor who is teaching the Literature survey and graded by committees of three faculty members (the professor currently teaching the survey and two prior survey instructors, selected by the Executive Officer).
Grading the examinations is a collective responsibility of the examiners. Exams are rated as "Pass", or "Fail" (the professor teaching the survey may also give a more definite mark for the purpose of calculating the final grade for the course).The examiners follow the rubric here.
Students are informed of their First Examination grades by the Assistant Program Officer. They are not informed as to how individual faculty members graded their examinations.
Students receiving a "fail" rating the first time they take one of the exams must retake the exam by the middle of the following term. They may register for the second section of the survey, but they must retake and pass the first section before taking the second final. Students who fail the exam are given written comments by the committee members. They are encouraged to meet with the exam committee to develop a course of preparation for their reexamination. Students must pass the exam the second time they take it or they are asked to leave the program.
The History Program requires all students to demonstrate a reading knowledge of at least one foreign language; many fields require more than one foreign language. The choice of languages in which the student is examined must be approved by the student’s adviser and the Executive Officer. Competency in the foreign language(s) is not a requirement for admission. However, language proficiency is taken into consideration in the evaluation of applications, and it is expected that students will come with advanced reading skills in the primary language of the field of their application. Students must fulfill all other language requirements before taking their oral examination. In exceptional cases, students may petition their advisor and the Executive Officer to substitute a single language exam by certification of proficiency of another research skill, such as statistics or a programming language, for which an academic justification in light of the student’s research plans must be provided in writing.
Students demonstrate competence in a foreign language in one of the following four ways.
1) Students may take an exam in which they are given two hours to translate a brief passage written by a contemporary historian. Translations must be written in idiomatic, intelligible English, convey the major points made by the authors, and do so without major grammatical errors. Students are permitted to use one dictionary during the examination. The exam will be given on a computer which does not have internet access.Students should contact the APO about setting up a time to take an exam. The exam is graded pass/fail.
To prepare for the exam, students may study on their own, take a class at the CUNY Language Reading Program or take an undergraduate language class at a CUNY college via e-permit. (Please note, however, that most language courses emphasize conversational skills, but the PhD proficiency exam is purely written translation).If you are interested in a class, please email the Executive Officer and the APO for more information.
2) Students may transfer in a language from a Master's degree program. Please note that the language must apear on the transcript.
3) Students may take a class at the CUNY Language Reading Program and receive a grade of B+ or better on a Level II examinations. Please note: It is the final exam grade, not the course grade, which counts. There is a separate tuition charged for all LRP programs.
4) Students may ask for their native language to be accepted. Please write to the APO for more details.
Second (Oral) Examination
Students must take their Second (Oral) Examination within one semester after completing their coursework. By then the student must have passed the First (written) Exam, fulfilled the language requirement, and completed the requirements for the Minor. The Second Exam covers the student¹s Major and Minor fields and is conducted by a committee of four faculty members (two examiners in the Major field, one in the Dissertation field and one in the Minor field) selected by the student and his/her adviser and approved by the Executive Officer. All four members must be active (non-retired) members of the doctoral faculty in History.
N.B. For the purposes of this examination and all references in the following paragraph, the dissertation field is considered part of the Major.
The student must contact their committee to decide on a mutually agreeable date and time for the oral exam. The following must then be communicated to the APO at least four weeks in advance so that a room can be reserved:
1) each committee member's name, home college,email address and field they are examining
2) the date and time of the exam
3) whether all will be physically present or via Zoom
Students are expected to master 160 books, or forty books for each of the four examiners. Students must contact the members of their Second Examination Committee at least six months in advance of their examinations to confer on a reading list and discuss the topics on which they may be examined. The normal procedure is for the student to draw up the initial lists of books and topics and to revise them in consultation with their examiners. The general topic headings and the lists of books form the basis for the oral examination.
Second Examinations are graded as “Pass”, “Pass with Distinction”, or “Fail”. Students have two chances to pass their Second Examinations. Students who fail all sections (Major and Minor) are required to retake the entire examination in the following semester. Those who fail only the Major sections are re-examined the following semester by the three members of their original committee from the Major field. Those who fail the Minor section are re-examined by the committee member in the Minor field and an additional professor in the Minor field (the additional professor to be chosen by the Executive Officer, in consultation with the student’s Adviser). Students who fail either part of the Examination twice are dropped from the program.All committee members must write to the APO with exam results individually; the collective result will be communicated to the registrar.
As soon as possible, no longer than one semester after passing the oral examination, every student must submit a dissertation proposal to a proposal committee. The student will select, with the approval of the dissertation advisor, two faculty members to serve as the second and third member of the committee. All three members must be active (non-retired) members of the doctoral faculty in History. Under their supervision the student should prepare a dissertation proposal of no more than ten pages of text, plus appendices. The proposal must include the following:
1. A statement of the problem.
2. An examination of the present state of scholarship on this problem.
3. A strategy for dealing with the problem.
4. The possible significance of the findings.
5. A critical bibliography with special attention to new or seldom used materials.
The student contacts their committee to decide on a mutually agreeable date and time for the dissertation proposal defense. All members of the Committee should receive copies of the proposal at least two weeks in advance of the proposal defense.
The following must then be communicated to the APO at least four weeks in advance so that a room can be reserved:
1) each committee member's name, home college, and email address
2) the date and time of the exam
3) whether all will be physically present or via Zoom
Dissertation Proposals are graded as “Pass”, “Pass with Distinction”, or “Fail”. All committee members must write to the APO with exam results individually; the collective result will be communicated to the registrar. Students have two chances to pass.After the meeting the committee may ask the student to revise and re-submit the proposal for a second meeting or it may authorize the sponsor to approve the requisite changes. The second meeting must be scheduled within two months or no later than the first week of following semester. If the committee does not approve the revised proposal at its second meeting, the student will be dropped from the program. He or she may appeal to the entire Executive Committee. If the Executive Committee rejects the appeal the student will be dropped from the program.
At the proposal defense, the committee will decide if it wants to have the student report on progress in one year or two years. The report on progress shall take the form of a substantial piece of writing. The committee does not have to meet but can reach a conclusion by e-mail on whether or not the student’s progress is sufficient; all members of the committee shall supply written comments to the student. If the members of the original proposal defense committee are not available to review the progress report other committee members may be substituted.
A student who has attended the GC for more than 16 semesters will receive a Satisfactory Progress Review Report from the registrar, and will be required to attend the Dissertation Workshop course offered every Spring.
Dissertation Defense (Final Examination) and Deposit
The final examination in the Ph.D. Program is an oral defense of the dissertation. The dissertation defense committee may be composed of three, four or five members. Three must be active (non-retired) members of the PhD Program in History; the others may come from other programs or from outside The Graduate Center. Students may, with permission of advisor, invite visitors, faculty and/or students, to their defense.
Before a dissertation defense can be scheduled, two members of the committee must approve the dissertation as being ready to be defended. At least six weeks in advance of when the student hopes to take the examination, the student is responsible for contacting the committee to decide on a mutually agreeable date and time for the defense. At this time, the student is also responsible for getting a copy of the completed dissertation to each committee member. The following must then be communicated to the APO at least four weeks in advance so that a room can be reserved:
1) each committee member's name, home college, and email address
2) the date and time of the exam
3) whether all will be physically present or via Zoom
Immediadely following the defense, the committee members must write to the APO with exam results individually; the collective result will be communicated to the provost's office.
All decisions by the dissertation defense committee are determined by majority vote. The committee has four options:
1) Approved as presented.
2) Approved with minor revisions. The Chair and EO must sign the Approval of Revised Dissertation form (provided by the APO) before the deposit.
3) Approved with major revisions. The Chair and two other members of the committee must approve the resubmitted dissertation. The committee and EO must submit the Approval of Revised Dissertation form (provided by the APO) before the deposit.
4) Failed. The student can be reexamined at the discretion of the Executive Committee, with the approval of the Provost.
The next step is the depositing process. Please carefully read the instructions here - https://libguides.gc.cuny.edu/dissertations/deposit-procedure
Master of Philosophy and En-Route Master's Degree
History students may choose to apply for the en-route M.A. degree. To qualify, the student must have completed 30 credits in the History Program. No transfer credits are allowed. The completed credits must include successful completion of the two-semester literature survey in their major field of study (grade B- or higher). In those major fields that do not offer a literature survey, students must complete at least 10 credits of equivalent work, to be determined by the Executive Officer. Students also must successfully complete the first-year research seminar, in which they have submitted a major research paper that demonstrates the capacity for historical research and analysis, equivalent to a Master’s thesis. Interested students should consult with the Executive Officer before asking the Assistant Program Officer for the required paperwork.
Any GC doctoral student who is making normal progress toward the Ph.D. degree is automatically eligible to receive an M.Phil degree upon advancement to candidacy. This occurs when all degree requirements except the dissertation and Final Examination have been met. When the student has advanced to candidacy, an application-for-degree form is sent to the student along with the notice of advancement to candidacy. The M.Phil degree is awarded by The Graduate Center.
Students who have met the requirements may choose to apply for either, both or neither of these Master's degrees.
Tuition and Academic Levels
Tuition fees based on academic levels, with the fees decreasing as a student moves from one level to another.
LEVEL I - Students who have completed fewer than 45 credits and/or have not passed their First Examination
LEVEL II - From the semester following the completion of 45 credits and passing of the First Examination to advancement to candidacy
LEVEL III - From the semester following advancement to candidacy; that is upon passing the Second Examination (Orals)
Students should note that they will be considered as having reached Level III only upon the completion of the following: at least 60 credits (grades of INCOMPLETE do not count), all specific course requirements for the area of specialization, the requirements for the minor field, all required language examinations, and the First and Second Examinations.
Leave of Absence
A Leave of Absence will be granted to a student wishing to interrupt doctoral study for up to one year. The request should be made in writing, prior to the semester during which the leave will be taken. Each request, preferably for the period of one semester, must be approved by the Executive Officer and be cleared by the Director of Financial Aid, the Chief Librarian, the Bursar, the Business Office, Director of Residence Life (if applicable) and the Provost's Office. Requests for an extension for no more than one additional year must follow the same procedure. A student cannot be granted a total of more than two years (four semesters) of leave during his/her entire period of matriculation. Official leave of absence time is not counted toward the time limit for completion of degree requirements.
Withdrawal and Readmission
Written notice of voluntary withdrawal from the program must be approved by the Executive Officer and forwarded to the Registrar. All applications for readmission are handled by the Registrar. Written approval of the Executive Officer is required.