Program Rules & Requirements

Program Overview:

The goal of the doctoral program is to train students to become both skilled scholars and conscientious teachers. The curriculum provides year-specific guidelines in which students complete courses of study, participate in teaching, and conduct research for their dissertation.

While most students complete the degree in six to seven years, the university allows for up to ten years to complete all requirements for graduation. See Student Progress for more details.

Graduate Program Requirements by Year:

The First Two Years

The first two years of study are dedicated to fulfilling the language requirement, to coursework, and to preparing for and taking the general exam.

The language requirement, which is based on a student’s field of research, may be fulfilled in two ways: by passing a written translation exam, or by being certified in the language by an instructor of the language or by an advisor. Exams are offered the week before classes begin in September, and also again in January.

Coursework: typically consists of four courses for each of the first four semesters.

All first-year students participate in History 3900: The Writing of History, which is offered in the fall, and is taught jointly by two faculty members. In addition to History 3900, students may take courses offered by faculty members from the department, or with faculty members affiliated with other departments.

In the second year, students usually register for a series of History 3010s in both the fall and spring semesters. These tutorial-style courses are designed to prepare students for the general exam, taken in the spring of the second year.

Year Three

Passing the general exam qualifies students to begin teaching in the third year.

Coursework: all students participate in History 3920hf, the Colloquium on Teaching Practices, which meets at intervals in the fall and spring semesters under the guidance of a senior faculty member and a teaching fellow.

The Colloquium provides a forum for discussing issues relating to teaching both at Harvard and beyond.

Teaching: Most students teach sections of lecture courses, and, in some cases, in sophomore and junior tutorials.

Dissertation Prospectus Conference: Also in the third year, students formally begin their dissertation by participating in the dissertation prospectus conference held in January.

Year Four and Up

In the fourth year, students may teach or change their residency status to conduct research and write the dissertation away from Harvard.

The fifth and subsequent years are dedicated to completing the dissertation.