For Current Students

Students admitted to graduate study in 2009 or before are still governed by the program rules at the time of their admission.

For these rules, download a pdf of the History section of the 2008-09 Brandeis University Bulletin. The section details the requirements for the American or Comparative History Programs.

As of 2010, however, all new graduate students will be admitted to the single graduate program, the requirements of which appear below.

Students may enter the doctoral program with an M.A. degree (usually from another university), or earn an M.A. in history en route to the doctoral degree. Admissions decisions are based solely upon demonstrated achievement and scholarly promise, without regard to field, region or method of study.

The Graduate Program in History at Brandeis trains students to research, write and teach history at the highest level. It emphasizes the need for broad perspectives on urgent problems, rooted in a thorough and in-depth knowledge of the past. Through courses, supervised research, and teaching fellowships, history faculty at Brandeis prepare future historians for the excitement and challenges of a career devoted to exploring and explaining the past.

All doctoral students receive tuition waivers and fellowships, renewable for a total of up to five years based on satisfactory progress. Students must maintain an average of A- or above. In their second and third years, students staff department courses as Teaching Fellows. We strive to match students with courses that will best serve their professional interests. Students also teach a University Writing Seminar in their fourth or fifth year, the specific timing to be arranged in consultation with the Director of Graduate Studies in History and the Director of University Writing.

Program of Study

The doctoral program in history embraces the eclecticism of the discipline and the initiative of graduate students to design flexible courses of study that advance their unique interests. The first two years in the PhD program are devoted to coursework intended to provide the foundation of knowledge and experience necessary for embarking on a dissertation. Students normally take a total of sixteen semester courses over these two years. These courses include Directed Research, Regional Colloquia, Thematic Seminars, Field Courses, and Pedagogy. The specific requirements for coursework are minimal; in addition to their Directed Research, all students normally complete Introduction to Doctoral Studies in History, at least one Colloquium, and at least one Thematic Seminar.

The sine qua non of preparation for dissertation work is primary-source research, which is a central focus of the first year. Half of a student’s workload each semester that year consists of Directed Research, working with a Brandeis historian (chosen in consultation with the Director of Graduate Studies) to complete an article-length essay analyzing primary sources. General guidelines on first-year research papers appears here.

All first-year doctoral students must take at least one 200-level course in addition to Introduction to Doctoral Studies.  During their second year doctoral students must take at least two graduate seminars.  MA students must enroll in at least two graduate seminars over the course of their year at Brandeis.

During the first or second year, each student typically takes at least one course designed to introduce major themes and scholarly approaches to historical study of a given region. These Regional Colloquia are currently offered in American, European, and World History.

Additional courses are selected in consultation with faculty members to best meet the specific needs and interests of individual students. These electives may include Field Courses devoted to in-depth study of a particular era or methodological approach, and Thematic Seminars, broad and transnational courses of interest to historians irrespective of regional specialization. In addition, students normally take at least one course outside the discipline of history, whether at Brandeis or within the Graduate Consortium.

Pedagogy courses are taken in the second year, accompanying students’ work as Teaching Fellows.

Residency Requirement

The residency requirement for doctoral students in History is three years.

Language Requirement

All students are expected to demonstrate proficiency in at least one foreign language by the end of their second year. Many specializations require proficiency in two or more foreign languages. Proficiency is normally tested by a written translation exam, offered each semester. Students may use alternative means of demonstrating proficiency on petition to the Director of Graduate Studies.

Comprehensive Examination

Outside Field

Before taking the oral exam, all doctoral students must obtain a certificate from a Brandeis professor confirming that they have taken a course in either (a) a discipline outside of history that complements historical studies, such as anthropology, sociology, or literary studies, or (b) the history of a country or region outside of their main research focus.  The certifying professor may also require that the student prepare a reading list or a proposed course syllabus.  The selection of course and professor should be made in consultation with the Director of Graduate Studies.

Major Field
After completing the certification of an Outside Field, students must pass a comprehensive oral examination in their major field of historical interest.  Within the major field the candidate will be examined by two professors in two broadly conceived subfields, to be determined by the student in consultation with the examiners and the Director of Graduate Studies for 30-45 minutes each.  Frequently these subfields will be defined chronologically but sometimes a student may wish to focus on a thematic or a methodological field.  Eash examining professor will ask the student to prepare a list of some 50 to 75 books that are crucial to the student's field of inquiry.  Normally students must pass their exam by the end of the fourth or beginning of the fifth semester.  Students with compelling reasons to make different course arrangements before the general examination may petition the graduate program to do so.


After completing the qualifying examination, students begin research on their dissertation. Working with a primary advisor and a second reader (both from the Graduate Faculty in History unless approved by the Director of Graduate Studies), students prepare a proposal of 15-30 pages describing the dissertation’s topic, source base, and historical significance. The prospectus will be presented publicly to the faculty and graduate students in the History Department. After the proposal is presented and accepted, the student will be considered advanced to candidacy.

When ready to defend their completed dissertations, students consult with their primary advisor and the Director of Graduate Studies to constitute, formally, the dissertation committee. Normally that committee includes the primary advisor, second reader, and an outside reader drawn from the faculty of another university. With the approval of their committees, students arrange a public dissertation defense.