Graduate Degrees

The graduate program in history provides advanced training in historical research and writing leading to the Doctor of Philosophy degree. Once admitted to the Ph.D. program, a student in exceptional cases may work for a Master of Arts degree, but the department does not accept applicants for an M.A. For further information, contact the director of the graduate program for the Department of History.

Admission Requirements


An applicant should have an undergraduate degree or an M.A. degree in history or a related discipline. Promising students trained in other fields will also be considered.


All applicants must take the general test of the Graduate Record Examinations. The subject test in history is not required. In addition, applicants must submit at least three letters of recommendation from college-level instructors and a sample of written work from a college-level history, social science or humanities course. This material should be submitted to the director of the graduate program for the Department of History.


For complete information on the doctoral programs, prospective applicants should address inquiries to Graduate Admissions, Department of History, SOS 153, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA 90089-0034. Information on the programs is also available online at usc.edu/schools/college/history/programs/graduate.

Degree Requirements

These degrees are under the jurisdiction of the Graduate School. Refer to the Requirements for Graduation and the Graduate School for general regulations. All courses applied toward the degrees must be courses accepted by the Graduate School.

Master of Arts in History

The department does not accept applicants for a Master of Arts degree in history. The M.A. degree is intended only as a transitional degree in the process of completing requirements for the Ph.D. in history.

Foreign Language/Research Tool Requirement

Students are required to demonstrate competence in one foreign language, with the exception that none is required of majors in United States history.

Course Requirements

All students must enroll in HIST 500 Introduction to Graduate Historical Studies, and it is recommended that it be completed in the first year of residence.

Thesis Plan

Students must take a minimum of six graduate courses, including HIST 500 plus HIST 594ab Master’s Thesis. No more than two 400-level courses may count toward this total. A thesis must be written and defended.

Comprehensive Examination Plan

This plan requires the approval of the student’s guidance committee chair to substitute a comprehensive examination for the thesis. If approved, the student completes eight graduate level courses, including 500, with no more than two 400-level courses counting toward this total, plus written exams in three fields, one of which may be in another department. Examinations are normally offered in October and April. An oral examination may be given at the discretion of the guidance committee. Examinations are graded on an honors, pass or fail basis. Any student who receives a grade of fail in two examinations is considered as not having qualified for the degree. A student who receives one fail must retake an examination in that field at the next scheduled examination period. An examination cannot be retaken more than once.

Doctor of Philosophy in History

Application deadline: December 1

The history profession nationwide combines a traditional emphasis on geo-temporal fields (e.g., U.S. in the 19th century; medieval Europe) with a new emphasis on trans-nationalism, comparative history and interdisciplinary investigation. The USC program is at the forefront of these trends. Following the traditional emphasis, each graduate student must declare a major field in a geo-temporal area at the time of application to the program. Major fields of study include: China, Japan, Korea, Latin America, Middle East, American/United States, medieval Europe, early modern Europe and modern Europe. The purpose of the major field is to prepare students broadly for teaching and research.

By the beginning of his or her second year in the program, each graduate student must declare a minor field and an area of specialization. The minor field is intended to broaden skills beyond the geo-temporal boundaries of the major field; the area of specialization is intended to deepen the student’s scholarly training in the chosen area of the dissertation. The minor field may be chosen from the list of major fields (i.e., a student entering the program with American/U.S. as a major field might select “modern Europe” as a minor field), or it may be conceived comparatively, thematically or cross-disciplinarily. Possible minor fields include: Latin America; pre-modern Japan; the colonial Americas; gender and sexuality; visual culture; and anthropology. Possible fields for the area of specialization include: 19th or 20th century U.S. intellectual history; visual culture of the 20th century; modern European cities; and the American West. These lists are not exhaustive and are meant to suggest only possible courses of study.

For the major field, each student must take a minimum of four courses; for the minor field two courses; for the area of specialization three courses. Either the minor field or the area of specialization must be outside the major field of study, transnational or outside the discipline of history. Each student must consult with his or her adviser in putting together these fields of study.

Foreign Language/Research Tool Requirements

Students are required to demonstrate competence in two foreign languages to be selected in consultation with the faculty adviser. Students in United States history may substitute competence in quantitative methods for one foreign language. The requirements in this category must be met before a student is eligible to take the qualifying examination.

Course Requirements

All entering students (including those with M.A. degrees) are required to take HIST 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 these seminars must be in the major area of study. Students must complete a minimum of 60 units of course work. No more than 8 units of the 60 may be in HIST 794 (dissertation writing). Students must complete at least 30 units of graduate course work within the History Department.

Screening Procedures

The performance of every doctoral student is formally evaluated by the full faculty of the History Department, normally at the end of the spring semester and before a student has completed 24 units toward the degree. Unsatisfactory progress toward the degree requires either remedy of the deficiencies or termination of the student’s graduate program. After successfully passing the screening procedures, each student establishes a guidance committee which then supervises preparation for the qualifying examination.

Guidance Committee and Qualifying Examinations

Each student must set up a guidance committee by the end of the third semester in residence. It includes at least five members, at least three of them from the History Department, and at least one of them from outside the History Department (this person must be a tenure-track faculty member from a Ph.D. granting program). The guidance committee will oversee the student’s written and oral qualifying examination, which should be taken by the end of his or her fifth semester in residence and no later than the end of the sixth semester. The examination covers the major field, minor field and area of specialization. Students prepare for these exams by developing, in collaboration with their guidance committee, reading lists for study in their major field, minor field and area of specialization.

The qualifying examination consists of two parts: (1) Three four-hour written responses, based, respectively, on the major field, the minor field and the area of specialization; (2) a two-hour oral session, which may include some discussion of the written exam. Students with one fail or more than two low-pass grades on the written responses will not be permitted to sit for the oral segment of the examination. The guidance committee determines whether a student may retake any parts of the examination graded low-pass or fail.

A student must wait at least six, but not more than nine, months to retake any part, or all, of the qualifying examination. No part of the examination can be retaken more than once.


After students have successfully completed their qualifying examinations, they will select a dissertation committee consisting of at least three members, including at least two from the History Department. These individuals will be in charge of guiding the dissertation to completion. Within six months of passing the qualifying examination, students must submit a formal dissertation prospectus to all members of the dissertation committee and pass a one-hour prospectus defense convened by that committee. Some students (e.g., those whose major field is East Asia) can, with the approval of their dissertation committee, petition the Graduate Studies Committee for an extension of this six-month deadline. After passing the dissertation prospectus defense, a student is admitted to candidacy for the Ph.D. degree. The student will thereafter concentrate on the dissertation. After a student becomes a doctoral candidate, he or she must register for HIST 794 Doctoral Dissertation each semester thereafter until the dissertation is completed.


Students should seek advice on their program of studies from the director of the graduate program, the professor in their major field of study and other members of their guidance committee.