Ph.D. Requirements

Major requirements for the history Ph.D. include successful completion of course and language requirements, service as a teaching assistant in the department, passing the general qualifying examination, gaining approval for a dissertation proposal, and the research, writing, and defense of the dissertation. Details for all requirements and regulations can be found in the History Graduate Studies Guide. A typical path to completion looks like this:

Year One

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 second semester all students take “Research, Writing, and Publication,” in which they write and refine an article-quality research paper. Students often use the summer to work on their language requirements or to conduct exploratory research. 

Year Two

All students take the required “Historical Profession” during the fall semester, which examines the values and skills of the profession and spends considerable time on pedagogical skills and strategies. This is also the first of four semesters students spend as teaching assistants. Students are also expected to complete a second major research paper during year two. Most students complete their course work during the second year and begin preparing for examinations and the dissertation proposal. 

Qualifying Exams

In consultation with the DGS and their primary advisor, students will identify an exam committee of three professors. 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 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. 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. The oral exam is a meeting of the student and committee during which the student defends their written work and explores the topics in further detail with the faculty.

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. A successful proposal results in admission to doctoral candidacy.

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 considerable library and archival collections at Notre Dame.  Students often present chapter drafts at academic conferences and submit articles for publication. Candidates defend their dissertation before a committee of four faculty.


The History 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, normally based on primary research undertaken during the first year, will serve as the major assessment instrument for the first year along with course work. The essay will be presented in front of the faculty at the First Year Research Conference. A faculty member other than the student’s advisor will comment on the paper at the conference and provide a written critique of the essay.The DGS will record the results and, in consultation with the advisor, offer the student a first-year evaluation with suggestions for addressing weaknesses and building on strengths.

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 committees opt in an extraordinary circumstance to push all three exams into the fall will be assessed on their performance in classwork, including a second primary research paper.

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

Year Four: Committee approval of one dissertation chapter by May 1 of the fourth year constitutes the fourth and final gateway before the dissertation defense itself.