Ph.D. Program

The purpose of the Ph.D. program is to train professional historians as scholars and teachers. During your course of study you will acquire the tools needed for an academic career: systematic knowledge of at least three broad historical fields; rigorous training in historical research and writing; familiarity with the most influential approaches to historical explanation; and awareness of interdisciplinary approaches to the past that draw from social sciences and other branches of the humanities. You will also receive multiple semesters of teaching experience. The program is demanding, so you should be prepared to devote full time to your studies throughout the calendar year.

People affiliated with the Department have access (through PennKey) to a PDF companion to the graduate program prepared by some of our Ph.D. students. The official guidelines below cover all the basics.

Incoming, first-year graduate students should consider using the summer prior to enrollment to prepare for graduate study in the following ways:

Read widely in the philosophy of history, the history of historical writing, and historical methodology. See these lists of books suggested by our faculty.

Choose and read carefully several important works of history in your field of interest and/or peruse back issues of a leading journal such as the American Historical Review. Done without the pressure of going to classes and writing research papers, such preliminary reading provides valuable background knowledge and enables incoming Ph.D. candidates to decide early on which historical problems they wish to investigate.

Give some thought to courses you want to take during the first year of graduate study, and to the shape of your eventual examination fields. The History Department's list of course offerings for the coming academic year is normally available in late spring.

It is ideal but not necessary to have reading competence in one or more foreign (non-English) languages before beginning the program. Prepare to pass a reading examination at Penn as soon as possible.

In the summer, all incoming students will receive important information concerning registration. 

Students should plan on arriving at least three days before the start of the Fall Semester. The university academic calendar, indicating the start of Fall Semester, may be found at the Almanac.

Before the initial meetings with academic advisors, students should have made tentative decisions concerning probable fields of study and how requirements for additional language and/or other technical competencies may be met. If changes need to be made after summer preregistration, this is easily done during the "Drop and Add" period at the beginning of the semester.

Each student will be assigned a faculty supervisor during the summer prior to arriving at Penn. Students are able to change supervisors at any point during their graduate training.

By the middle of their first year, students should form an "advisory committee" consisting of the supervisor and two other members of Penn History and/or the History Graduate Group.

Pre-candidacy students are required to meet annually with their advisory committee, in March, at the very latest by the beginning of spring break. At least one week before the committee meets, the student will submit a Progress Report to each member. Committee members are expected to review this report, students' grades, previous committee evaluations as well as individual faculty evaluations of course and TA performance before the meeting. The second-year review also includes an assessment of the student's portfolio, which will include the HIST 7000 paper along with a transcript of the student's graduate work done at Penn. It is the student's responsibility to submit copies of these documents to the Graduate Coordinator at least two weeks before the committee meeting.

At the advisory committee meeting, after preliminary discussion among the faculty members, the student will be admitted for a collective evaluation of academic progress to date and plans for future study. Topics will include remaining course requirements, precise fields of study, outstanding language and/or other technical competency requirements, and a tentative examination date. The advisory committees will also evaluate the academic performance of graduate students and make recommendations for financial aid. The advisor will prepare a signed report of the meeting for inclusion in the student's file. The report should offer clear and honest feedback about the student’s strengths, weaknesses, and status in the program, as well as satisfy the department’s and the graduate school’s need for regular and systematic evaluation of graduate students during their first two years in the program. The report will include an evaluation of the student's continued qualification for financial aid.

Each spring, the Graduate Committee will review these reports and other relevant materials as part of its assessment of each student’s progress and continuation in the graduate program. Advisory committee reports, as with faculty reports on a student’s course and TA performance, along with other non-confidential materials in students' dossiers, are accessible via the Graduate Coordinator.

Post-candidacy students must continue to have an annual progress meeting—at this point their advisory committee becomes their dissertation committee. ABDs may choose to hold this meeting in either October or March.

All Ph.D. candidates will prepare to pass candidacy examinations (aka "orals") in three fields:

1. A general field (aka "sweeps") defined by a long time span and a national or regional geographic framework, meant to enable graduates to teach standard survey courses (e.g., Modern U.S., Early Modern Europe);

2. A primary specialty field carved from the general field, defined more specifically either geographically, chronologically, or topically (e.g. Modern French Political History, American Women's History, Twentieth-Century African Labor History); and

3. A secondary field that has a theoretical, methodological, or cross-cultural emphasis (e.g. Issues and Methods in Demographic History, Comparative Race Relations in Historical Perspective).

The precise scope of general, primary, and secondary fields, the linkage between them, and the program of study for their completion (course work and independent reading) will be worked out by each student in consultation with his/her conference committee; decisions in all these areas are to be clearly spelled out in the reports of these meetings that are placed in the student's academic file. For the third field, students are encouraged to look for course work outside the Department.

Updated - EFFECTIVE Fall 2024

The Department recognizes that the language, quantitative, and other methodological training needed by particular Ph.D. candidates varies:

• Students in European history must demonstrate competence in at least two European languages.

• Students in Early American and in US history must demonstrate competence in at least one language other than English.

• Students in the history of other parts of the world must demonstrate competence in at least two languages other than English.

Competence in foreign languages is ascertained by written translation exams administered by the Department once per semester, typically in the first week or two. These exams are graded on a pass/fail basis.  Specific details on which foreign languages will be required and at what level will be worked out in conjunction with one’s advisor based on field and research plans

Typically, evaluators provide three texts of a few hundred words each, of which students choose two. In certain cases, it may be appropriate for an evaluator to ask a student to translate one text from a contemporary version of the language and one text from an older version of the language. Students have two hours to translate the texts into English. They may use a dictionary but no translation software. The Department tests for fidelity to meaning more than elegance. Expectations for proficiency are highest when the tested language is (one of) the student's primary research language(s).

Candidacy examinations cannot be scheduled until the language requirement has been satisfied. Note that continuation of a student’s fellowship depends on passing the candidacy examination according to the deadlines indicated below.

Language requirements should be satisfied during the first and/or second years of graduate study. Ph.D. candidates who require language skills beyond these defined minima in order to carry on research in their main area of specialization must satisfy their advisory committees that they have acquired such competency no later than the date of their Ph.D. candidacy examinations. Students in European and other non-US fields can be expected to read texts in the language(s) of their major fields in their coursework from the first semester. Please note that, in addition to its academic year offerings, Penn’s summer language courses—during one or both of the summer sessions—are available free to graduate students.

Pursuant to the requirements of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania's English Fluency in Higher Education Act, the University requires that all personnel, including graduate teaching assistants, who have instructional contact with undergraduates (which includes teaching, lecturing, tutoring, laboratory instruction, leading recitation or discussion sections, holding office hours, etc.) be evaluated and certified as fluent in the use of the English language in the classroom before undertaking any instructional duties involving undergraduates. Prospective graduate teaching assistants with questions regarding the evaluation or certification of their English fluency in the classroom should consult with their department or graduate group chairperson, or the English Language Programs

The Department expects that all Ph.D. students gain experience in teaching in preparation for their future careers. History Ph.D. students must serve as teaching assistants or graders for a minimum of two years during their time at Penn. Most Ph.D. students will meet the requirement by TAing or grading once per semester in their second and third years of graduate study. Teaching assistants will be closely supervised by their faculty supervisors, who meet with them regularly to discuss course materials and assignments and provide them with instruction and advice on pedagogical matters. Instructors with teaching assistants are expected to visit the TAs' discussion sections at least once a semester and to provide a written evaluation of their teaching assistants' performance.

TAs and graders will be assigned by the Graduate Chair, bearing in mind course needs and faculty and graduate student preferences. Preliminary assignments will be made during the month preceding the beginning of the semester, with final assignments to be determined no later than the first week of classes based on course enrollments and other pedagogical needs.

For students and faculty, the Department has developed guidelines on TAing and grading.

The University requires that every Ph.D. candidate complete a total of 14 units of course work with passing grades before taking the candidacy examination and beginning work on the dissertation.

Normally, one course equals one unit.

Recognizing the need for maximum flexibility in the ways that graduate students meet course requirements, the Graduate Group in History encourages each student to work closely with their advisor and advising committee to tailor the curriculum to meet their needs.

A student arriving with an M.A. in history (or closely related field) from another institution can, if they wish, petition to transfer up to 4 units of graduate-level course work, pending approval by the Graduate Chair in consultation with the student’s advisor. Such a petition should be submitted after the student completes one full academic year in the program, and after being evaluated by their committee as being in good academic standing, with all grades for first-year coursework submitted.

Students arriving with J.D. can, if they wish, petition to transfer up to 2 units of graduate-level course work, pending approval by the Graduate Chair in consultation with the student’s advisor. Such a petition should be submitted after the student completes one full academic year in the program, and after being evaluated by their committee as being in good academic standing, with all grades for first-year coursework submitted.

Students who transfer the maximum 4 units will be expected to complete their comprehensive examination on an accelerated schedule.

Whether students transfer 1 to 4 units, they are still expected to be enrolled full-time during the three-year period of their coursework.

History 7000

The Department requires one two-unit course of all students: HIST 7000. This course focuses on historical method, practice, and research. It combines theoretical, methodological, and substantive materials. It is designed to span the geographical and chronological fields represented in the Graduate Group and may be taught by more than one faculty member. In fall term, the seminar concentrates on historiographical and theoretical literature. In spring term, each student undertakes specialized individual research on a particular aspect of the general topic that falls within their major field of interest, and at the end of the term each submits a substantial article-length paper presenting their findings. Such papers are jointly supervised by the seminar instructor(s) and the academic advisor of each student. Grades are determined by the seminar instructor(s) in consultation with advisors. Each student must submit a copy of the HIST 7000 paper, as soon as it is completed, to the Graduate Coordinator for inclusion in their file.

Second-Year Research Requirement

In the second year, graduate students are required to write another original, primary-source based research paper. This paper may be completed as part of the requirements of a graduate course or a graded independent study. Graduate students' advising committees will certify that the second-year research requirement has been met by reviewing the paper. Students must place copies of their second-year papers in their files by September of the third year.

Prospectus Workshop

The Department prefers that Ph.D. students take the prospectus workshop in the summer after their second year of study. If a student comes to the program with a M.A. in History, they may ask to take the workshop after their first year. In certain cases, a student may postpone the workshop to the following summer with the written permission of their advisor. Every student must secure advisor approval of a topic before entering the workshop, and the final proposal must be approved by the advisor in the following fall, and by the advisory committee at its first meeting after the workshop. Every student in the workshop will be awarded one-time summer research funds.

Colloquia and Research Seminars

Each year the department will offer 5000-level and 6000-level colloquia and 7000-level research seminars. Although primarily intended for advanced undergraduate students, 4000-level courses may be taken for graduate credit by satisfying additional requirements set by the instructor.

Colloquia are reading and discussion courses on special topics or covering broad chronological periods or geographical areas; they are designed to give students command of relevant historiographical literature. Colloquium instructors always require some kind of written work in these courses as well, such as a historiographical essay, an annotated bibliography, or a series of analytical book reviews.

Courses in Other Departments

We encourage graduate students to take courses in other departments at Penn, when pedagogically appropriate. Many of our faculty are involved in interdisciplinary research, belong to cross-departmental centers, and appreciate the value that study in the methods, theory, and practice of other disciplines can bring to history. In addition, there are many extra-departmental historians and historically-oriented scholars in departments as diverse as English, Sociology, Comparative Literature, Political Science, Anthropology, Law, Social Work, Education, Art History, Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, East Asian Studies, South Asian Studies, Religious Studies, Architecture and Planning, and others. Many graduate students participate in the Urban Studies and Women’s Studies graduate certificate programs. Students who wish to enroll in courses outside the History department should consult with their advisors about courses that may be relevant to their courses of study.

After completing one year at Penn, Ph.D. students may enroll in courses at partner universities through the Exchange Scholar Program. This requires the permission of the Graduate Chair.

Graded Independent Studies

Many graduate students meet their course requirements by enrolling in graded independent study courses. These courses provide the opportunity to work closely with a faculty member on a topic not covered by regularly offered courses,  to conduct research outside of the setting of a formal seminar, or to prepare for candidacy exams. All independent study courses require the instructor's written permission. A maximum of four independent study courses may be counted toward the total of fourteen needed for the Ph.D. degree. Students who demonstrate need for independent studies can arrange with the graduate coordinator by filling out this required form.

Graded independent studies normally involve: 1) completion of a specific reading or research project; 2) regularly scheduled tutorial sessions with the supervising instructor during the course of the semester; and 3) submission of a substantial paper at the end of the term in which the course is taken.


In certain fields, it makes pedagogical sense for a student to attend an appropriate undergraduate course taught by a supervising faculty member. The student will also meet separately on a regular basis with the faculty member and submit graduate-level written work, including a substantial paper. Enrollment in a preceptorial requires the permission of the supervising faculty member. Students wishing to arrange preceptorials are encouraged to discuss the option with faculty members well before the beginning of the semester.

Discussion and Reading Groups

Graduate students prepare for Ph.D. candidacy examinations and for careers as professional scholars by more than just taking courses. They are encouraged to take an active role in their own training by deciding independently what kinds of topics interest them most and what they should do on their own to learn more about them. Small student-organized discussion groups are ideal for this purpose as well as for developing scholarly and professional outlooks in a professor-free environment. On occasion, faculty members may also organize non-graded, informal reading groups for interested graduate students.

Incomplete Course Work

It is in the interest of graduate students and faculty alike that all work be completed by the end of the semester in which the course is taken. Some professors require this. There can be severe penalties—specifically, ineligibility for financial aid—for students who do not complete their course work in the allotted time.

What follows is a year-by-year normative description of what the Graduate Group in History expects Ph.D. students to accomplish during their first three years at the University of Pennsylvania. The fourth and fifth years are devoted to dissertation research and writing, and application for post-doctoral fellowships and/or teaching and research positions. All students will be required to take HIST 7000 (the first-year proseminar); at least one introductory colloquium or independent study in the region of specialization; and, during the second year, one course with a significant research component (such as a research seminar or a research-oriented independent study). In addition, all students must participate in the Prospectus Workshop, normally in the summer after their second year of study.

First Year

All full-time students will take HIST 7000 and at least two other substantive courses during each semester of their first year of graduate study. By the end of the first academic year of study, all full-time first year Ph.D. candidates should have accumulated a total of six course units.

Second Year

Full-time students will take two courses during each semester of their second year of graduate study. One course—either a seminar or a tutorial—must include a significant research component, resulting in an article-length research paper. In addition, students will gain valuable experience as teaching assistants. During these semesters, students will be registered by the Graduate Coordinator for HIST 8000 (Pedagogy in History), to coincide with their teaching assistantship.

At the end of their second year, most students will participate in the Prospectus Workshop. Through a process of discussion and revision, each participant prepares a grant/fellowship proposal for a book-length history project (ideally but not necessarily their future dissertation). The first several sessions are spent in seminar. Thereafter, students conduct research for the remainder of the summer. Information gleaned from this research is incorporated into a final draft, which the student must place in their file before scheduling the candidacy examination.

A student may, with the permission of their advisory committee, postpone their participation in the workshop until after their third year of study. If so, this should be decided at the second-year advisory committee meeting.

Third Year

Ph.D. candidates with M.A. degrees from other institutions and who completed their course requirements in the second year will have taken their Ph.D. candidacy examinations at the end of that year, so that the summer following may be devoted to dissertation research. All other full-time students may take up to two graded courses plus HIST 8000 each semester, so that by the end of their third year of study, they will be prepared for their candidacy exam and ready to conduct dissertation research in their area of specialization.

Graded independent studies normally involve:

1) Completion of a specific reading or research project; 2) regularly scheduled tutorial sessions with the instructor during the semester; and 3) Submission of a substantial paper at the end of the term in which the course is taken.

Generally, graduate independent studies are numbered as follows:

• HIST 9100 Independent Study in Early American and American History
• HIST 9200 Independent Study in European and Russian/Soviet History
• HIST 9300 Independent Study in East Asian, Southeast Asian, and South Asian History
• HIST 9400 Independent Study in Middle Eastern History
• HIST 9500 Independent Study in African History
• HIST 9600 Independent Study in Latin American and Caribbean History
• HIST 9700 Independent Study in Trans-regional History

For graduate students who wish to pursue a graded independent study, here is the procedure:

Once you have a clear idea of the topic you would like to study, find a faculty sponsor who can supervise your work. Only a member of the Department's standing faculty or the History Graduate Group may offer an independent study to a History student. This is at the professor's discretion.

When you and your faculty sponsor have decided upon the topic and the terms of your independent study, please complete the required form and return to Joan Plonski, who will register you for the course.

As part of their preparation for the Ph.D. in History, Penn students may choose to obtain a certificate in world history, designed to help them meet the demand for teachers of world or cross-cultural history courses at the college level.

A student interested in the certificate should discuss with their advisory committee ways in which they might integrate world history into their program of study. They may make world history their third field or they may design a broadly comparative third field that incorporates the requirements for the certificate. They are encouraged to consult with faculty on the world history committee to help them develop an appropriate bibliography that will address theoretical and methodological issues, as well as more specific studies whose themes and regional emphases compliment the student's program.


Five courses at the graduate level and one audit of an undergraduate course:

• Two (2) courses in comparative history or transregional/transnational history (e.g., comparative nationalism, colonialism, capitalism, slavery, or women's history; world economic history, international politics, empires and migration, intra-Asian, intra-African exchanges and connections).

• Two (2) courses on a region or a national area located on a continent different from that of a student's major field. At least one of these courses must be taken within the Department of History.

• One (1) course on "problems of global history/approaches to cross-regional history." Such methodological courses tailored to the world history certificate are offered by different faculty on a rotating basis.

  • Over the course of their studies, students should audit a broadly comparative or transregional introductory undergraduate lecture course. Depending on faculty availability and course offerings, ideally this should be HIST 0001.

Certificate in World History (PDF)

The "qualifying evaluation" is a first-year assessment conducted by the student's advisory committee in its March meeting for review by the Graduate Committee later in the spring term.

At least a week before the committee meets, the student will submit a progress report to each member. Committee members are, prior to the meeting, expected to review the student report, the student transcript, and course evaluations.

The "second-year review" is similar: an assessment of the student's portfolio, which includes the 700 paper and at least one other significant paper from the first year, along with a Penn transcript, and the previous year's committee report. It is the student's responsibility to submit copies of the required papers to the Graduate Coordinator at least four weeks before the committee meeting.

The advisory committee meeting will typically begin with discussion among the faculty members. Then the student will be invited to join the discussion of their academic progress, and plans for future study. The advisor will prepare a signed report of the meeting for inclusion in the student's file. This report will include a clear recommendation about the student's continued financial aid. The advisor will then write the evaluation letter to the student, with a copy to the Graduate Chair (see above, "Advisors and Advisory Committees").

The qualifying exam is complete once the Graduate Committee's conduct its spring review of letters and other relevant materials, and makes its final recommendation about the student's continuation in the program.

The Department prefers that students take the Prospectus Workshop in the summer after their second year of study. However, students who entered the program having already completed a year or more of graduate training may request to take the workshop after their first year at Penn. Also, a student may defer the workshop to the summer after their third year with the written permission of their advisor and the DGS. Each student must have their advisor's approval of their topic before entering the workshop, and the final proposal must be approved by the advisor in the following fall, and by the advisory committee at its first meeting after the workshop.

The Ph.D. candidacy examination (aka "orals") may not be scheduled until all University and Graduate Group courses and technical competency requirements have been met. This includes all coursework, two research papers (including one for HIST 700), an approved prospectus, and the language requirements. Students whose entire graduate careers have been at Penn will take the examination no later than the end of the spring term of the third year of graduate study. Students who enter the program with approved graduate-level credits from another institution may take the examination before the start of their third year at Penn. In special circumstances, a student may, with approval of their committee and the Graduate Chair, delay their examination beyond spring term of their third year. However, except in cases of University-approved leaves of absence, no student may take the candidacy examination (or reexamination) after fall semester of their fourth year at Penn.

The examination shall be comprised of at least three fields, chosen in consultation with the student’s advisory committee. One of those fields may involve a discipline other than history, with a faculty examiner outside the History Department and the History Graduate Group.

The Ph.D. candidacy examination committee may be the same as the student’s advisory committee and eventual dissertation committee, but that is not required.

The examination may consist of both oral and written parts, although the specific format in each case will be determined by the student's committee. The examination must include the principal field of the candidate's dissertation research. It may be based on the following materials

1. Reading lists drawn up by the candidate in consultation with the members of the conference committee

2. A list of historical problems agreed upon by the candidate and the conference committee and that has been used as a guide in choosing courses and preparing for the examination.

3. Essays on the literature of specified historical problems that have been submitted by the candidate prior to the examination and used by members of the examining board as the basis for their questions.

4. A particular approach or emphasis within primary and/or secondary fields.

5. An acceptable dissertation prospectus should be completed before these exams and may figure in the examination discussion.

In order to pass the candidacy examination for the Ph.D. a student must secure the unanimous agreement of the members of the examining committee. The advisor must file a written evaluation of the candidate's performance that includes an unambiguous statement of opinion as to whether the candidate passed. In cases where unanimity does not exist, the student may have a reexamination of one or more fields, at the examiners' discretion, within 6–8 weeks of the original examination. If, upon this reexamination, one member of a committee of three (or two members of a committee of four or more) votes the examination a failure, the student's candidacy for the Ph.D. degree is terminated. So that the possibility of arbitrary veto of the candidate may be prevented, however, all of the other members of the examining committee may jointly petition the Graduate Chair to grant another re-examination with a substitute faculty member competent to examine in the failed field or fields. Their petition must be unanimous.

Ph.D. students may be granted a leave of absence for military duty, for medical reasons, or for family leave; any of these may require documentation. Military, medical, and family leaves “stop the clock” on time to completion. A personal leave for other reasons may be granted with the approval of the Graduate Chair in consultation with the Graduate Dean, but does not, absent exceptional circumstances, “stop the clock.”

Notification of permission/denial of leaves of absence will be communicated in writing by the Graduate Chair. The terms of the leave will be specified at the time the leave is granted, including the extent to which the student will have access to resources, facilities, or campus—either physically or remotely—during the leave period. Requirements for return may be imposed by the Graduate Chair in consultation with the Graduate Dean; such requirements will be provided in writing to the student when the leave is approved.

Leaves of absence from Ph.D. studies are typically granted for one or two semesters. Leaves for longer periods are approved only in exceptional circumstances (e.g., mandatory military service). Students may request an extension of a leave, to be approved by the Graduate Chair in consultation with the Graduate Dean. Extension requests should be made by the student at least 30 days before the expiration of the original leave of absence.

For more information, refer to the Graduate Division’s policy statement.

Ph.D. candidates are generally expected to begin full-time research on their dissertation projects immediately upon passing their Ph.D. candidacy examination. During the third year of graduate study (or earlier, in the case of students with approved prior graduate-level coursework) candidates will submit a dissertation proposal to and receive the formal approval of all members of their advisory committees. Students are required to provide the Graduate Coordinator with printed copies of their proposals and their committee's approval, to be deposited in their files.

After the approval of the dissertation proposal and after passing the Ph.D candidacy examination, the student, in consultation with their advisor, should select at least two additional faculty members to serve on the dissertation committee, who may or may not have previously served on the exam committee.

At least two members of the dissertation committee, including the principal advisor, must be members of the Graduate Group in History (which in addition to History faculty includes certain Penn faculty affiliated with, but not members of, the History Department). The third member should also be from the Graduate Group in History, or, if necessary, from another department within Penn or from another university, college, or scholarly institute. Adding a member to the dissertation committee from outside Penn requires compelling intellectual and/or professional reasons and must be approved in advance by the Graduate Chair. When students have established their dissertation committee, they must inform the Graduate Coordinator of its composition in writing.

The principal academic advisor of a Ph.D. candidate will direct the research and supervise the writing of the dissertation while other members of the committee may read preliminary drafts and suggest changes where appropriate. In all cases the dissertation must be read and approved for its defense by the candidate's main advisor.

When candidates are ready to have the final drafts of their dissertations printed, they should review the Provost Office's rules governing the form in which dissertations are submitted. This is very important, for that office will refuse to accept theses with too-narrow margins, incorrect pagination, or other flaws, thus delaying the awarding of Ph.D. degrees.

Doctoral candidates in the final stages of their dissertation writing should also be sure to consult the calendar published in the Graduate Studies Bulletin in order to know the various deadlines for applying for the degree, submitting finished dissertations to their first and second readers for their approval, and depositing the completed thesis at the Graduate Faculty office. Either the candidate in person or their designee should "deposit" the dissertation. It is not the responsibility of the Graduate Chair, any other faculty member, or the department administrative staff to do this.

The doctoral dissertation must be submitted and accepted no later than ten calendar years after matriculation into the Ph.D. Program. Should the dissertation not be submitted and accepted within this time, the student will be dropped from Ph.D. program.

The Dissertation Defense is one of the most important moments in a graduate student’s career and in the life of the History Department. The Defense aims to accomplish two goals. First, it will provide an occasion for the presentation and recognition of completed doctoral work. Second, it will furnish the opportunity for discussion and formal evaluation of the dissertation.

The timing of the Defense will be set by the student, in consultation with their Dissertation Committee, on a date no earlier than four months before the deadline for submission of the dissertation and no later than one month before the deadline for submission of completed dissertation materials. Students should send their dissertations to the members of their committees two or three weeks prior to the Defense. The time and place of the Defense shall be announced on the department’s calendar of events.

The chair of the student's Dissertation Committee and at least one other Committee member from the Graduate Group in History must be present. In the event that the Committee chair is unable to attend, she or he may either participate by conference call or delegate this responsibility to another member of the Committee. The Defense must be open to all faculty and students within the Graduate Group in History. Broader public attendance will be left to the discretion of the student in consultation with their Committee.

The Dissertation Defense shall consist of two parts, which need not take place at the same time.

Part One shall be an open presentation by the candidate on the main aspects of the research reported in the dissertation, followed by questions, comments and a discussion period. The chair of the Dissertation Committee shall act as the moderator of this discussion and shall have discretion to decide whether questions are germane to the topic of the dissertation. After discussion is completed, the Committee will decide privately whether the dissertation has been satisfactory. The Committee has the following alternatives:

1. To accept the dissertation without any recommended changes and sign the Report of the Dissertation Defense. The graduate student should also have prepared the formal title page of the dissertation in accordance with Graduate Division rules, so that the Committee may sign it at that time.

2. To accept the dissertation with recommendations for changes, and, except for the chair, sign the Report of the Dissertation Defense. The chair will check the dissertation and, upon their approval, sign the Report of the Dissertation Defense.

3. To recommend revisions to the dissertation and not sign the Report of the Dissertation Defense until the student has made the recommended changes and resubmitted the dissertation for the Dissertation Committee’s approval. The Committee members sign the Report of the Dissertation Defense if they approve the revised dissertation.

4. To recommend revisions and convene a second meeting of the Dissertation Committee to review the dissertation and complete the student’s Defense.

5. To rule the dissertation unsatisfactory. In that circumstance, the student fails.

The student passes if one member of the Committee refuses to sign the Report of the Dissertation Defense, but the other members of the Committee agree to sign, before or after the approval of the recommended changes. Two or more negative votes constitute a failure of the candidate to meet the dissertation requirement. In cases of failure, the Dissertation Committee must specify in detail and in writing the nature of the deficiencies in the dissertation that led to failure. This statement is to be submitted to the History Department’s chair of graduate studies, the Dean of the Graduate School, and the student. A second Defense may be permitted with the approval of the Department’s graduate chair and the Dean of the Graduate School. If the student fails this second Defense, or if a second Defense is not permitted, the student’s standing in the graduate program will be terminated.

Part Two shall be a private discussion between the student and the Dissertation Committee. This private meeting shall offer the opportunity for further questions and candid evaluation of the dissertation. At the discretion of the committee, this meeting shall either follow immediately the public presentation or it shall be set at a later date.

Effectively all History Ph.D. students are recipients of five-year fellowships awarded by the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences upon admission. Application for fellowship monies is made simply by applying to the program.

Since awards are made for the purpose of accelerating study toward advanced degrees, all fellows must register on a full-time basis unless they have already completed the courses necessary for their degrees, in which case the student then registers for dissertation. All award holders must maintain good academic standing according to the standards set by the Graduate Group, including a GPA or B+ or better.

Beyond the five-year fellowship package awarded at admission, a variety of other fellowships are available through the external grant-giving entities, the University, the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences, and the Department. These can assist summer research, provide an extra year for dissertation writing, allow for further language study, or otherwise expand opportunities for doctoral study. Competition for these fellowships is generally announced by email to students during the course of the academic year.

External Fellowships

Applicants and students with outstanding academic records are strongly urged to apply for external fellowships in their fields of interest. There are numerous prestigious fellowships, many of which are more lucrative than institutional awards. The Department announces opportunities by email as information is provided to us; students may also consult Career Services.

Students receiving any award, large or small, from a source external to the University are expected to notify the Graduate Chair.

The amount of the SAS award is subject to possible adjustment in the event that the recipient receives another fellowship in years 1–5. The University does not permit full-ride fellowships to be added together. However, History students can usually defer ("bank") one fully-funded year of their five-year package if they win an external fellowship of equal or greater monetary value.


Because Arts & Sciences fellowships are intended to enable the recipient to work full-time toward the Ph.D., a student is not permitted to accept employment without the permission of their graduate group chair in any month in which he or she receives a fellowship stipend if that employment is not compatible with continued progress toward the degree at a full-time rate as determined by the Graduate Chair and the Associate Dean for Graduate Studies.

As a general rule, students on fellowship may accept employment that requires less than twenty hours of work per week (e.g., as a grader, tutor, or hourly research assistant). Employment requiring twenty hours or more per week is not permitted without written approval by both the Graduate Chair and the Associate Dean for Graduate Studies.

To help enforce these restrictions and to promote a more egalitarian distribution of funding opportunities, monthly payments from all University sources to students on fellowship may not exceed 130% of the student’s stipend. Any exceptions must be approved by both the Graduate Chair and the Associate Dean for Graduate Studies.

SAS imposes no restrictions on employment hours or payments during months when a student does not receive a fellowship stipend. Thus, a student who is not receiving aid during the summer may work as much as he or she chooses, and a student who has an opportunity for lucrative summer employment may opt to decline or defer stipend payments in the summer.

Teaching Opportunites

Ph.D. students in History are required to TA or grade four times as part of their fellowship. They are not required to teach their own course(s). However, various funded teaching fellowships are available at Penn (within and beyond the School or Arts & Sciences) to advanced graduate students—e.g., the Communication within the Curriculum Program.

In addition, the Department often assigns graduate students to teach (for pay) evening or summer courses in conjunction with the College of Liberal and Professional Studies. Those wishing to be considered for these positions should respond to the Department's call(s) during the course of any given year.

Finally, each academic year, many local/regional colleges and universities advertise one-time opportunities to teach a single history course as an adjunct instructor. With the blessing of their advisor and committee, an ABD may choose to pursue such an opportunity if it would specifically enhance their CV without delaying their progress to degree.

The Department has a limited amount of discretionary funds it can award to graduate students for scholarly purposes. The Department Chair and the Graduate Chair try to be fair, consistent, and transparent about these small grants.

Travel Subventions

The School of Arts & Sciences allocates monies for professional development travel not to individual departments but to SAS Administrative and Financial Services, SASGov, and GAPSA. Those three offices are the go-to sources on campus for this category of support: ("Travel Subvention Form," year round) (year round) (mid-semester deadline)

However, if applications do not succeed, or if students face expenses beyond what the University will cover, they can apply to the History Department. Travel grants from the Department will be up to $500 per student per academic year. We give priority to students who are scheduled to present papers at conferences. Before applying to the Department for travel support, students must first apply to the entities above.

The Department has no specific deadline and considers applications on a rolling basis. The process is easy. A student sends an email to the Graduate Chair, with the Graduate Coordinator and the advisor copied. The message will briefly describe why the student is requesting the funds, and when and how much they have requested and/or received from the University in the past twelve months, either for this request or other previous requests. A simple budget must be included in the message.

Book Subventions

If any current Ph.D. student in good standing secures a contract with an academic press for a monograph or (co-)edited anthology, and if that academic press requests a publication subvention, the Department will contribute up to $500.


The Executive Committee of the Graduate Group (aka "Grad Committee") consists of the Graduate Chair and six other faculty members, each appointed for a term of one year. The Committee membership shall represent the Department's various areas of interest.

Normally, three graduate students shall be elected by their peers to advise the committee. New appointments will be made each year. Two Graduate Student Representatives ("Clio reps") will come from the second-year cohort, and one from the group of ABDs, thus representing different stages of the graduate student experience. The Graduate Student Representatives on the Executive Committee will have the same rights and responsibilities as the faculty members when deliberations concern educational policy. They will not participate in deliberations on personnel matters—e.g., admissions and financial aid.

Changes in Policies and Procedures

The Graduate Committee will periodically review its policies and procedures and recommend any necessary substantive changes to Departmental faculty. Changes will take effect if the faculty approve them and shall go into effect in the September following their approval. Faculty and graduate students will be notified via email of any significant changes.


The Graduate Committee, in consultation with the Graduate Dean, shall determine the number of qualified students to be admitted into Ph.D. program. The Committee shall determine the qualifications of applicants on the basis of their transcript, CV, personal statement, writing sample, and references. In all cases where an applicant indicates a desire to work in a specific area represented on the Graduate Group faculty, the professors in this field must approve the applicant's admission before the student is accepted. No student—however well qualified—will be admitted if the Graduate Committee judges that the candidate's needs cannot be met by the Graduate Group.

Grievance Procedures

A student who feels wronged due to violations of the Department's regular procedures may, at their discretion, file a formal written grievance with their advisor and/or the Graduate Chair, who will then convene a joint meeting composed of the aggrieved student, the Graduate Committee, the student's conference committee (if necessary), a representative of Clio, and/or the Department Chair, in order to achieve a mutually satisfactory resolution of the complaint. In the event of failure, the matter will, at the discretion of the student, be referred for decision to the Dean for Graduate Studies and/or the University Ombudsman.

University Policies

Students should consult the Graduate Division of the School of Arts & Sciences and the Vice Provost for Graduate Education for additional guidelines regarding Ph.D. studies.

All policies are subject to change by the Graduate Committee of the Department of History, the Graduate Division of the School of Arts & Sciences, and the Office of the Provost.