The Doctoral Program in History

The Doctoral Program in History is an intensive course of study consisting of research seminars, historiographical colloquia, and independent research, culminating in the dissertation.  

Course work
Foreign Language Proficiency
Advisers and Committees
Qualifying Examinations
Dissertation Submission & Defense

Each of these requirements is met with the help and consultation of a student’s faculty adviser and committee.

Students are required to submit annual self-evaluations (due in late April) of their progress through the degree program.




Coursework is expected to be taken at the graduate level, although students may take up to four 400-level courses toward completing the field requirements (outlined below) with the prior consent of their adviser.  Required courses include:

First-year students typically take three graduate level courses each semester, which count toward field requirements and help prepare them for qualifying examinations at end of the second year.  Second-year students typically take two courses per semester while preparing for exams and also working as Teaching Assistants.  

Students may count a limited number of credit hours taken in graduate programs at other institutions toward their program requirements, but only in consultation with the Director of Graduate Studies and the Graduate Studies Advisor.

Major Field

Upon application to the program, students should formally declare a major field of study. The purpose of the major field is to prepare students broadly for teaching and research. The department offers major fields in the following areas:

  • China
  • American/U.S.
  • Japan    
  • Medieval Europe
  • Korea
  • Early Modern Europe
  • Latin America    
  • Modern Europe
  • Middle East

The course requirement for the major field is a minimum of 4 courses. Students should consult with their adviser for the particular course requirements of their chosen major field.

Students may, with the support of their adviser, petition the Graduate Program Committee for an alternative major field.

Minor Field

No later than the beginning of the second year of study, students should formally declare a minor field of study. The purpose of the minor field is to broaden the student’s teaching and research expertise beyond the geotemporal boundaries of the major field.

Some students will choose a minor field from the list of major fields of study, or a subset of those fields. Other students may opt for a transnational or comparative field, or a thematic field, or a trans-temporal field, or a discipline outside history. Possible minor fields would therefore include:

  • Modern Europe
  • Premodern Japan
  • The Colonial Americas
  • Post-Medieval Europe
  • Gender and Sexuality
  • Visual Studies

This list is not exhaustive, and is meant to suggest possible courses of study.

The course requirement for the minor field is a minimum of 2 courses.

Depending on their areas of interest, some students may substitute a second major field for the minor field, or complete two minor fields.

Either the minor field or the area of specialization must be (1) outside the major field of study, (2) transnational, or (3) outside the discipline of history.

Area of Specialization

No later than the beginning of the second year of study, students should formally declare an area of specialization. The purpose of the area of specialization is to deepen the student’s scholarly training in a chosen area.

The area of specialization may be approached in one of two ways: as a thematic field, or as a research field involving intensive preparation for the dissertation. Possible areas of specialization would therefore include:

  • 19th Century Intellectual History
  • Visual Culture
  • Urbanism
  • Modernity
  • Women's History
  • The American West
  • British History
  • History of Science and Medicine

This list is not exhaustive and is meant to suggest possible courses of study.

The course requirement for the area of specialization is 3 courses.

Either the minor field, or the area of specialization, must be outside the major field of study, or transnational (including thematic clusters), or outside the discipline of history.

General Coursework Requirements:
  • All entering students (including those with M.A. degrees) are required to take History 500 in their first semester of study.
  • All students are required to take two 600-level research seminars in the History Department, at least one of which must be in the major area of study.
  • Students must complete a minimum of 60 units of coursework, of which no more than 8 units may be in History 794.
  • While the Department will in many cases honor graduate study completed elsewhere, students must complete at least 30 units of graduate course work within the USC History Department.
Foreign Language Requirement

All students must demonstrate one of the following:

  • Proficiency (advanced reading ability and conversational ability) in one research language other than English 
  • Competence (reading ability) in two research languages other than English.  Faculty members in each graduate field will set additional language requirements as necessary for research in that field. 

Proficiency and competence in languages will be assessed in two-hour translation examinations administered by History faculty at the beginning of every semester.  Proficiency exam includes an oral component.

All students must pass departmentally administered language examinations before proceeding to qualifying examinations for the doctoral degree.

Qualifying Examinations

The qualifying examination consists of 2 parts:

  • three 4-hour open-book written examinations (to be taken on-campus) based on the reading lists for the major field, minor field, and area of specialization (students who take two minor fields will combine them into a single examination);
  • one 2-hour oral examination, which may include some discussion of the written exam already completed

Students prepare for qualifying exams by developing, in collaboration with appropriate faculty, reading lists for study in their major field, minor field, and area of specialization. The qualifying exams should be completed no later than the 6th semester of residential study (Study abroad thus does not count towards these semester limits).


The prospectus is a chapter-length paper that sets out the historical problem at the heart of a student's proposed dissertation, explains the importance of the topic, discusses the historiography, proposed methods, and available evidence for the dissertation, and lays out a plan of research for completion of the dissertation.  Prospectuses are due and must be defended within six months of Qualifying Examinations.

Advisers and Committees:

While many graduate students enter the program with a clear sense of which faculty member(s) they intend to work most closely with, the Department will assign each first year student an interim faculty adviser. This first-year adviser helps the student acclimate to the program and oversees their first year of coursework.

By the second year, students should have a clear idea of which faculty they intend to have oversee their advanced coursework and dissertation as their graduate adviser. By the end of their fourth semester of residential study in the program, students are required to constitute a Guidance Committee.

Guidance Committees consist of at least 5 members (including at least 3 from within the History Department, and at least 1 from outside the department — who must hold a tenure-track position in a PhD-granting program).

The Guidance Committee oversees the Qualifying Examinations. The relationship between the Guidance Committee membership and the structure of the qualifying exams should be worked out in consultation with the student’s graduate adviser and the members of the Guidance Committee.

After students have successfully completed their qualifying examinations, they should select a Dissertation Committee—consisting of at least 3 members (including at least 2 from the History Department)—who will be in charge of guiding the dissertation to completion.

Additional information about the dissertation and defense is available from the University's Dissertation website.

  • Department of History
  • 3502 Trousdale Parkway
  • Social Sciences Building (SOS) 153
  • Los Angeles, CA
  • 90089-0034