Jul 24, 2024  
USC Catalogue 2021-2022 
USC Catalogue 2021-2022 [ARCHIVED CATALOGUE]

History (PhD)

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Application deadline: December 1

The history profession nationwide combines a traditional emphasis on geo-temporal fields (e.g., United States 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 the 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/United States 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; premodern 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 Requirements

Students are expected to satisfy language requirements before the end of their second year in the program, and this requirement must be met before a student is eligible to take the Qualifying Examination. Students may demonstrate competence in two foreign languages or proficiency in one.

  • Competence in a language denotes the ability to read and translate passages into English. 
  • Proficiency in a language denotes advanced reading ability and conversational ability for spoken languages. For non-spoken languages, proficiency denotes advanced reading and translation abilities.

Students must contact the Director of Graduate Studies to set up and schedule their language exams. Competence in languages is assessed in a two-hour translation examination (with dictionary) or by a student passing a reading course in the language offered at USC. A student aiming for proficiency must first take the translation exam, and upon passing, must schedule an oral examination with a faculty member designated by the Director of Graduate Studies in consultation with the adviser. 

The choice of languages shall be worked out with the adviser and must be approved by the adviser and the Director of Graduate Studies. An adviser may also require a student to meet more than the department’s minimum requirement, e.g., by requiring a second language at the level of proficiency or a third at the level of competence.

Course Requirements

All entering students (including those with MA 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 794a , HIST 794b , HIST 794c , HIST 794d , HIST 794z  (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 qualifying exam committee which then supervises preparation for the qualifying examination.

Qualifying Exam Committee and Qualifying Examinations

Each student must set up a qualifying exam 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 PhD granting program). The qualifying exam 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 qualifying exam 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 qualifying exam 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 PhD degree. The student will thereafter concentrate on the dissertation. After a student becomes a doctoral candidate, he or she must register for HIST 794a , HIST 794b , HIST 794c , HIST 794d , HIST 794z  Doctoral Dissertation each semester thereafter until the dissertation is completed.

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