Ph.D. Requirements

Major requirements for the Ph.D. in History include successful completion of course and language requirements, service as a teaching assistant in the department, passing the written and oral examination, gaining approval for a dissertation proposal, and researching, writing, and defending the dissertation itself. Details for all requirements and regulations can be found in the History Graduate Program Guide. A typical path to completion looks like this:

Years One and Two

Students typically take three major courses each semester during years one and two, beginning with “The Historians Craft,” an introduction to the study of history required of all Ph.D. students. The remaining courses of the twelve required are chosen from departmental offerings, graduate courses in other departments, and occasionally directed readings. During the fall of the second year, all students take “Research, Writing, and Publication,” in which they write and refine an article-quality research paper, and "The Historical Profession," in which considerable time is spent on career planning, self-assessment, and pedagogy. During the second year students normally begin serving as TA or RA for department courses and faculty. The first and second summers are prime time to work on language skills or to conduct exploratory research. 

Qualifying Exams

In consultation with the DGS and their primary advisor, students identify an exam committee of three professors sometime during the end of the first year. Preparation for the written and oral exams provides an intensive immersion in their fields and a foundation for subsequent teaching and research. Students will normally schedule two of their examinations for the April or May of the second year. The third dissertation field will normally be taken at the beginning of the fall semester of the third year. In some cases, committees may decide that students should take all three exams at the start of the fall semester of year three. The examination is held in two parts, written and oral, with the oral occurring within ten days of successful passage of the written. The student should schedule both sections of the examination with the Graduate Studies Coordinator. The written examination consists of three individual exams, one from each examiner. Normally, each examiner presents several questions, asking the student to write on two.

Dissertation Proposal

A formal dissertation proposal should be presented and approved by December of the third year of study. Most students work on preliminary ideas and drafts during the second year and often conduct exploratory research during the summer after year two, frequently testing ideas in research papers. Students are also encouraged to use the dissertation proposal to apply for external fellowships to support research. 

Dissertation Research, Writing, and Completion

After completion of course work, language requirements, qualifying exams, and the dissertation proposal, students embark on full time dissertation research and writing. Many travel extensively to conduct archival research “in the field,” while others make use of the extensive library and archival collections at Notre Dame.  Students often present chapter drafts at academic conferences and submit articles for publication. Students defend their dissertation before a committee of four faculty prior to graduation.


The Department has installed four gateways in the first four years of study to insure student progress through the five-year program. The Graduate Studies Committee will review the status and performance of all students at each of these gateways.

Year One: A 20-page essay based on primary research undertaken during the first year will serve as the first major assessment instrument, along with course work. The essay will be presented in front of upper-level graduate students and faculty at the First-Year Graduate Student Conference (normally held in May), during which the student will present their work, receive feedback from the moderator, and participate in a panel discussion.

Year Two: The written and oral exams in two fields will act as the assessment instrument for year two. Students who, in consultation with their advisor and committee, opt to delay all three exams into the fall of the third year will be assessed on their performance in classwork, including a second primary research paper.

Year Three: The written and oral exam in a dissertation field and the dissertation proposal will act as the assessment instruments for year three.

Year Four: In the fourth year, doctoral candidates should write and receive advisor approval for at least one dissertation chapter by May 1.