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Degree Requirements


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

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. See our recommended timetable for when each of the steps of the program should ideally be complete.

The requirements to complete the doctoral program are detailed below.

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.

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.

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.

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 Director of Graduate Studies (DGS) 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 Gender & Sexuality 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 three courses in the fall semester and four 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. 

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. 

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

The qualifying examination takes place by May of the second 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.

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. 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 four 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.

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.

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.

The dissertation must constitute an original and unique contribution to knowledge, based on independent primary research. The student’s adviser directs the research and supervises the writing of the dissertation; other members of the dissertation committee may read preliminary drafts and suggest changes where appropriate. Students should aim for a final length of approximately 250 to 350 pages, double-spaced.

Updated August 2022

If you would like additional information on the following courses, please contact the instructor by clicking the email link beside their name. Additionally, please consult YES for a full list of History mezzanine courses (5000-level) and relevant graduate courses in other departments.    

HIST 6100 Introduction to Historical Methods and Research, Wednesday 9:10am - 12:00pm, Benson 200, Professor Moses Ochonu  
This course examines major trends in historical writing, from ancient to recent times. It seeks to introduce students to the "historian's task" and the various ways scholars/writers have approached it.

HIST 8050. Studies in Comparative History - Cultural Hist:Theories & Meth ods, Thursdays 9:10am - 12:00pm, Furman Hall 226, Professor Celia Applegate

HIST 8050. Studies in Comparative History - US & World/Empire , Tuesday, 1:10 - 3:00pm, Furman Hall 330, Professor Paul Kramer

HIST 8200. Third Year Seminar, Wednesday, 12:10 - 3:00pm, Benson 200, Professor Marshall Eakin

HIST 8300. Studies in Early Modern European History - Early Modern Cross-Cultural England , Wednesdays 3:10 - 6:00pm, Benson 200, Professor Joel Harrington


Check out our  Graduate Program Handbook for a more in-depth look at the program.