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The Graduate Program

Director of Graduate Studies  and Admissions: Jefferson Cowie
Graduate Administrator: Mary Lyn Albritton

Any questions regarding the graduate application process that are not answered here and in hyperlinked webpages please send an email to:

The Graduate Program Handbook, including the complete guidelines for the graduate program, last updated December 2, 2020 are available here.

“Recommended Timing of Progress Through the Graduate Program” is available here.

A list of current history graduate students is available here.

Prospective applicants: after reading this webpage, please also consult the History Department's information on the application process and financial aid.


With more than forty full-time faculty members, the Vanderbilt History Department trains graduate students in a wide range of fields and methodological approaches, covering periods from antiquity to the present. A list of faculty working on particular geographic areas and thematic sub-fields can be found on the faculty web page. Links lead to detailed information on each member of the Department. Several graduate fields have web pages to the right of this page. Prospective applicants should feel free to contact faculty members in fields that interest them.

Graduate students in history benefit from a high faculty-to-student ratio, which enables us to provide more individual attention than many other programs. The size of each entering class varies slightly from year to year, with 8-10 students typical. In all, we have approximately fifty students, a talented and diverse group who come from many parts of the United States and from many other countries around the world. Prospective applicants may wish to contact current students who share some of their interests, using the graduate student directory.

Graduate students can take advantage of numerous programs of lectures, seminars and workshops offered by the History Department and by other departments and interdisciplinary centers and schools at the University. The Department sponsors the Vanderbilt History Seminar, which meets regularly. 

Many other opportunities for interdisciplinary engagement can be found at Vanderbilt University. The Robert Penn Warren Center for the Humanities houses on-going seminars in areas ranging from Circum-Atlantic studies to postcolonial theory, science studies, and pre-modern cultural studies. A partial listing of other centers and programs whose activities would be of interest to history graduate students would include the Center for Latin American Studies, the Center for Medicine, Health, and Society, the Max Kade Center for European and German Studies, the Department of African American and Diaspora Studies, and the programs in American Studies, Asian Studies, Jewish Studies, and Women's and Gender Studies. The History Department strongly encourages interdisciplinary work.


The History Department does not accept external applications for a terminal master’s degree. The M.A. is usually earned en route to the Ph.D. It is also available to Vanderbilt undergraduates who enroll in the 4+1 program in history. 


The Ph.D. requires 72 hours of graduate credit, including 45 “quality hours.” All graduate courses taken at Vanderbilt for a letter grade count as “quality hours.” The remainder of the 72 hours includes dissertation research and transfer credit where appropriate.

Transfer credit

On recommendation of the History Department and with the approval of the Graduate School, credit of up to 6 semester hours may be transferred from graduate schools in other accredited institutions when the student first arrives at Vanderbilt. Only those hours in which the student has achieved at least the grade B or its equivalent will be considered for transfer. After the student passes the qualifying examination and is formally admitted to candidacy for the Ph.D., additional credits may be transferred, up to a total (in very special cases) of 48 hours.

Combined credentials

It is possible to combine a doctorate in history with credentials from other departments and programs. Interdisciplinary graduate certificates, requiring 15–18 hours of course work, are available in American Studies, Diaspora Studies, Gender Studies, Jewish Studies, Latin American Studies, and Medicine, Health, and Society. In addition, the M.A. in Medicine, Health and Society is designed to be combined with a traditional Ph.D.

Language Requirements

All candidates for the Ph.D. must demonstrate a reading knowledge of a language or languages other than English. In U.S. and British history, one language is required. In all other fields, the minimum is two. Competence is ordinarily demonstrated by taking a written translation examination. The requirement must be satisfied before a student takes the qualifying examination.  

The language requirement for doctoral research: In addition to satisfying the basic language requirement, students are expected to develop proficiency in any languages required for their dissertation research.

For more details on the policy concerning languages, see the program guidelines.

The Doctoral Program

The time to completion of the degree is normally five to six years.

The First and Second Years

The first two years in the Ph.D. program are devoted to taking classes, writing two substantial research papers, passing the necessary language examination(s), and preparing for the qualifying examination. 

A full list of graduate history courses is available in the Graduate School Catalog. (Use the bookmarks in the left side of the screen to jump to the history section.) Information on courses offered in the current year (fall, spring) can be found on the History Department web site.

Students may enroll in graduate courses in other departments and interdisciplinary programs of the College of Arts and Science and in other schools of the university; they should consult with the DGS (Director of Graduate Studies) to make certain the course is suitable. The departments of African American and Diaspora Studies, Anthropology, English, French, German, Russian and East European Studies, Political Science, Sociology, and Spanish and Portuguese, regularly offer classes at the graduate level that are appropriate for history graduate students to take as part of their program. Interdisciplinary programs include Classical and Mediterranean Studies, the Graduate Department of Religion, Latin American Studies, Medicine, Health, & Society, and Women's and Gender Studies. Other schools include the Vanderbilt Law School, Owen School of Management, Peabody College of Education and Human Development, and the Divinity School.

In the first year, history students usually enroll in 3 courses in the fall semester and 4 courses in the spring semester, including a 1-hour independent study. 

The History Department requires all students to take a two-semester introduction to methods and research, History 6100 and 6110, in the first year. These courses are designed to familiarize students with a range of theoretical and methodological approaches. History 6100 focuses on recent trends in historical scholarship. In 6110, students write a major research paper. It is linked with a one-hour independent study (History 8000) with a specialist in the student's field. In addition, all students of U.S. history take History 6400 and 6410, "Readings in American History” in either their first or second year. All students in Latin American History take History 6500, "Readings in Colonial Latin American History" and History 6510 "Readings in Modern Latin American History" in either their first or second year.  History 6400/6410 and History 6500/6510 are offered every other year.

During the second year, students continue their course work and complete all required language exams as well as a second substantial research paper. By the end of the fall term, each second-year student, in consultation with their adviser and the DGS, chooses a Ph.D. Committee consisting of the dissertation director, two other members of the Graduate Faculty from the History Department, and one from outside the Department.  

The Qualifying Examination

The qualifying examination takes place by May of the second year, or in some cases, by December of the third year. The examination is administered by the student’s Ph.D. committee. 

Fields for the qualifying examination: Vanderbilt does not have predetermined fields of study. In consultation with their advisers and the DGS, students define fields for the examination that meet their interests and needs, following these basic guidelines:

Each student must demonstrate mastery of a major field and two minor fields.

●The major field is typically defined as a long time span and either a regional or a national geographic framework (for example, Europe 1600–1789 or modern Latin America). A large topical field such as modern medical history, Anglo-American legal history, or the Reformation may also be appropriate. 

●One of the minor fields may be a subfield of the major field, defined by topic and/or geography. An example would be a major field on modern Latin America combined with a minor field on Brazil. A topically or geographically defined minor may cover a shorter time period than the major field, e.g., a major field on the U.S. since 1865 and a minor field on American diplomatic history in the twentieth century, or a major field on Europe, 1600-1789 and a minor field on France, 1715-1789. If the major field covers a sufficiently long chronological span, the minor field may be defined as a shorter time period within that span. An example would be Latin America/colonial Latin America. Except in the case of the U.S., a minor field should not ordinarily be a subfield of the history of a single country. 

●The other minor field must be distant from the major field in terms of topic, chronology, and/or geography. Typically, this field will have theoretical, cross-cultural, and/or interdisciplinary components (e.g. comparative slavery, postcolonial theory and history, comparative nationalisms). This field may be primarily based in a department other than history, such as the department of African-American and Diaspora Studies, or in an interdisciplinary program that trains students at the graduate level, such as Jewish Studies or the Graduate Department of Religion. 

The qualifying examination has both written and oral components. The written portion normally includes two questions on the student’s major field and one on each of the minor fields. The oral component can cover any aspect of the student’s fields and may include follow-up questions on the written component. 

When the student has passed both parts of the qualifying examination, the Ph.D. committee shall recommend to the Graduate School that the student be admitted to candidacy for the Ph.D. 

All students are expected to conduct preliminary dissertation research, and to begin drafting a dissertation prospectus, during their second summer in the program.

Third Year

In the spring of the second year and the fall of the third year, all students take History 8200, the Prospectus Seminar, which aids students in completing the dissertation prospectus and beginning work on the dissertation itself. 

A formal proposal for the dissertation is due by mid-fall semester of the third year for those students who passed the qualifying examination the previous spring; for those taking the qualifying examination during the fall semester of the third year, the prospectus should be completed by spring break. Members of the student's Ph.D. committee will meet to approve the prospectus two or three weeks after the prospectus is received.

Students serve as teaching assistants or graders for a total of 4 semesters beginning in the third year. The spring term schedule includes History 6300 (“The Art and Craft of Teaching History”), an introduction to teaching methods and teaching practicum, which is designed to familiarize students with techniques for lecturing, leading discussions, designing examinations, and evaluating undergraduate work. 

Fourth Year and Beyond 

From the fourth year forward, students will normally enroll in History 9999, Dissertation Research, each semester they are in residence.

The dissertation should be completed within four years after admission to candidacy for the Ph.D. The candidate will defend the dissertation at a public examination conducted by the Ph.D. committee.


All students gain experience as teachers in the teaching practicum course (History 6300) and also as teaching assistants, serving as graders and section leaders. Some advanced Ph.D. students will have the opportunity to teach their own courses in the summer sessions. The services of the Center for Teaching are available to teaching assistants to help them improve their classroom skills.

Fellowships and Financial Aid: for information, click here.
General Information about the application process, including the link to begin your application, click here.