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Graduate Program

PhD Program


The PhD program in history at the University of Missouri–Columbia is governed by a number of rules, regulations, and expectations. What follows is an explanation of these elements of the program.


To be admitted to candidacy for a PhD in history, a student must have earned an MA in history or a related discipline and have passed a qualifying examination. Students earning their MA in history at this university may, with the approval of their advisory committee, combine their qualifying examination with their MA thesis defense. Other students must take their qualifying examination no later than the beginning of their third semester in the graduate program at the University of Missouri-Columbia.

The basis for the examination will be a substantial research-based seminar paper written here. The exam will be oral, approximately one hour in length; the examiners will include the student’s adviser and at least two other members of the department. It is designed to ascertain the candidate’s intellectual capacity, aptitude, and preparation for PhD level work in history.

Advisor and Advisory Committee

A student will meet with his/her adviser no later than the semester following passage of the qualifying examination for students who earn their MA in history at the University of Missouri Columbia and prior to the qualifying examination for other students. The adviser and student together will plan the student’s classwork up to the comprehensive exams. They will also choose other members of the student’s doctoral committee. That committee will ordinarily consist of the adviser, three members of the history department who are on the graduate faculty, and one graduate faculty member from outside the department. The advisory committee must be approved by the dean of the Graduate School.

The committee will meet formally with the student to help the student to develop a major field, two broad historical fields, a historical field outside his/her area of major emphasis, and one field in a discipline other than history for the comprehensive examination. How s/he will meet the foreign language and/or historical research technique requirement (see below) will be defined and approved by the adviser and the committee. Members of the advisory committee shall meet regularly with the student to ensure he/she is making satisfactory progress.


To obtain a PhD in history at the University of Missouri-Columbia, a student must fulfill the following requirements:

  1. residency
  2. coursework
  3. foreign language and/or historical/research technique
  4. comprehensive examination
  5. dissertation and oral defense

A. Residency
A minimum of two semesters of full-time enrollment (9 hours each semester) or three semesters of part-time enrollment (6 hours each semester). Enrollment in all graduate courses requires the consent of the student’s adviser and the instructor(s) of the class.

B. Coursework
The minimum requirement for the PhD degree at the University of Missouri-Columbia is 72 hours of graduate credit beyond the baccalaureate degree. A student’s adviser and committee may require more. Customarily, students in history have more than 72 hours when they defend their dissertations. If a student has earned an MA degree at another institution, with the aproval of her/his adviser and committee, s/he may receive up to 30 hours of credit toward the 72 necessary for the PhD. If a student took additional courses beyond his/her MA degree at another institution, with the approval of her/his adviser and committee, s/he may receive up to a maximum of six hours of credit toward the PhD. Graduate School regulations forbid the awarding of more than six hours.

Two-thirds of the courses taken by a PhD candidate within the department prior to the comprehensive examination must be at the 8000 level. These may, and probably will, include History 8085 (Problems), History 8410 (Independent Readings PhD Exam), History 9089 (Research), but not History 9090 (Dissertation Research).

Every doctoral student who earned his/her masters degree at another institution must take History 8480, Historiography, unless excused by the Director of Graduate Studies. History 8480 is offered every winter semester.

C. Foreign languages and historical/research techniques
PhD candidates must demonstrate abilities in foreign languages appropriate to the completion of a doctoral dissertation in their proposed field of research. There are four different ways a student may fulfill this requirement. Which one is chosen depends on the area of his/her research interest. The adviser and committee must approve the method for fulfilling this requirement.

Candidates planning to write a doctoral dissertation in ancient history must demonstrate their competence in Greek and Latin, together with at least two modern languages (usually French and German).

For the ancient language, competence will be shown either by the successful completion of a translation examination designed by a history department faculty member with knowledge of the relevant language, or by the completion of courses at the 7000-level or 8000-level in the department of classical studies, or by other such proof as the adviser and other members of the advisory committee deem appropriate.

Candidates planning to write a doctoral dissertation in medieval history must demonstrate their competence in Latin and any other languages necessary for the completion of the dissertation together with at least two modern European languages (usually French and German). Students entering the PhD program will normally have demonstrated competence in Latin as part of their MA studies. Students without such competence must be continuously enrolled in Latin language courses until such time as they can demonstrate competence.

For Latin, competence will be shown either by the successful completion of a translation examination designed by a history department faculty member with knowledge of medieval Latin, or by the completion of an adviser-approved upper level Latin course with a grade of A.

Competence in the modern languages will be shown either by the successful completion of a translation examination designed by a history department faculty member with knowledge of the relevant language, or by passing the ETS language examination with a minimum score of 500, or by the successful completion - earning a grade of B- or above - of an upper-level language course in any modern language department of the university.

  • Candidates planning to write a dissertation in European history must be competent in two foreign languages. Competence may be demonstrated either by successful completion of a research paper, the sources for which are predominantly in the foreign language under consideration, or by successful completion of a translation examination designed by a history department faculty member with knowledge of the relevant language, or by passing an ETS language examination with a minimum score of 500.
  • Candidates planning to write a dissertation in American history shall have a competent reading knowledge of one foreign language.

    Competence in a foreign language shall be demonstrated in the ways described above for candidates in European history.
  • Candidates planning to write a dissertation in Asian, African, or Latin American history shall demonstrate a competence in such languages as their advisory committee requires for their research.

D. Comprehensive examination

  1. Preparation: In the department of history, each doctoral student must prepare five fields for the comprehensive examinations. The selection of those fields and the faculty who will be the examiners in each should be begun by the doctoral candidate and her/his adviser during her/his first semester at MU.

    The adviser will help the student prepare for examination in her/his major field. This will cover significant historical themes and historiographical trends in the specific period and area of the student’s prospective dissertation topic.

    Two other members of the history faculty will help the student prepare for examinations in two chronological and/or geographical areas of historical study that are appropriate for his/her dissertation topic.

    A fourth member of the history faculty will prepare the student for an examination in a chronological, geographical, and/or thematic area of historical study that is not directly related to his/her dissertation topic.

    A fifth faculty member from a department other than history will prepare the student for examination in an outside field. This will cover the methodologies and research findings of another academic discipline.

    What the student learns in this discipline should assist his/her understanding of and research on her/his dissertation topic. The student’s choice of a discipline to work in for his/her outside field is potentially as wide as the number of programs and departments in the university. That choice is not confined merely to departments in the College of Arts and Science. The student must have his/her adviser’s approval of the discipline and the outside faculty member. The Graduate School must approve these selections as well.
  2. Within the department of history there are nine broad areas of historical study:

    US history to 1865 (including the colonial period)
    US history since 1865
    Ancient history
    Medieval Europe
    Early Modern Europe
    Modern Europe
    Latin American history
    Asian history
    African history

    The three history faculty who, together with the adviser, will help the student prepare for the comprehensive examinations, must each test him/her on material in a different broad area. Thus the student will be working on three different broad areas, plus the dissertation field. The three faculty members may, in consultation with the student, define the broad area as narrowly or as widely as they choose.

    The adviser and the four other faculty members must explain how they want the student to prepare, what they want the student to master, and which criteria they will use to assess the examinations in their particular field. These explanations must be in writing, and copies of each placed in the student’s permanent file.
  3. Examination:
    Students may take a comprehensive examination only after fulfilling their residency, coursework and foreign language and/or historical research technique requirements. It will be administered by a committee consisting of his/her advisor and four other faculty members, one from a discipline other than history. These should be the faculty members who helped the student prepare for the examinations. Sometimes it may be necessary to find substitutes.

    The Director of Graduate Studies and the Graduate School must approve any substitutions, and new committee members must describe their expectations in writing for the student and for his/her permanent file.

    The comprehensive exams are given in two stages. The first is a series of at least three written exams. The second is an oral examination, which is conducted if the student passes the written portion. A report of the decision, signed by all members of the committee, must be sent to the Graduate School and the student no later than two weeks after the comprehensive exam is completed. One of the written exams must be in the major field; the committee will determine the subjects of the other exams, and their number. N.B. All members can require the student to write on their areas of expertise. Therefore the written examinations could cover all five areas.

    All members of the committee will read the written exams and discuss them within two weeks after their completion. If they determine the student has not successfully completed the exam, they will inform him/her immediately and discuss the results. Failure ends the comprehensive exam at this point. The committee must provide the student with an outline in writing of the weaknesses and deficiencies of his/her work.

    A copy of this must be placed in the student’s permanent file. If at any time the student believes that parts of the exam are unclear, or the decision of the committee is incorrect, or the advice given by the committee is inadequate, s/he may send a written request for clarification and rectification to the committee. A copy of this request should be sent to the Graduate School as well. The committee must respond to this request in writing within two weeks and a copy must be filed with the department and the Graduate School.

    At least 12 weeks must pass before a student who failed can take the comprehensive exams again. If the committee determines that the student did satisfactory work on the written examinations, they will schedule an oral examination. This second stage of the comprehensives will cover all five fields. Each member of the committee will test the student. At the end of the oral examinations, the committee discusses the student’s performance on each field and on the entire examination. This discussion includes both the written and the oral parts of the whole process. Then they vote pass, fail,or abstain on the student’s total performance on the exam.

    To complete the comprehensive exams successfully, the student must receive a vote of pass from at least four of the five examiners. Should two or more votes be negative or abstentions, the committee follows the same procedure outlined above for failure to pass the written part. These students must repeat the entire examination, not just the fields failed, and not just the oral portion. If the candidate fails the second examination, the examining committee must enter on its report to the dean of the Graduate School a recommendation to prevent the student’s further candidacy.
  4. Dissertation and oral defense
    Soon after successful completion of the comprehensive examination, the student and adviser will form a dissertation committee of five faculty members. One member of the committee must be from outside the department. The student shall develop with her/his adviser and committee a dissertation topic and a plan of research. S/he should keep in regular contact with the adviser. Together they shall decide when written work will be read by other members of the committee. [See Current Working Dissertation Titles.]

Satisfactory Progress

The department requires PhD candidates to make satisfactory progress towards completion of their degree.

Every January the adviser must meet with the student. After discussion of his/her record for the last year, the adviser determines whether the student has made satisfactory progress and, with the student’s participation and concurrence, establishes goals for the next year. A written copy of these findings will be given by the adviser to the student. S/he must sign a copy of this report, certifying he/she has understood the assessment, and agrees to meet the expectations outlined in it during the next 12 months.

The adviser then sends the “Faculty Adviser Report on Graduate Student Progress” form to the Director of Graduate Studies. It becomes part of the student’s permanent record. If aspects of a student’s performance are unsatisfactory in the adviser’s judgment, s/he must correct them during the next year. Failure to do so, or the failure to meet the agreed-upon goals for a year, can have serious consequences. These may include loss of financial aid or even dismissal from the program. The student may appeal any assessment to the Director of Graduate Studies. If not satisfied, s/he may seek the remedies described in the Graduate School catalog.

A PhD student must successfully complete the comprehensive examination within a period of five years beginning with the first semester of enrollment as a PhD student. For an extension of this the student must petition the Graduate School by submitting a request to the adviser who, in turn, submits a written recommendation to the Graduate School. The Director of Graduate Studies will also make a written recommendation. In addition, the dissertation must be successfully defended within five years of passing the comprehensive examination. On petition of the candidate and the candidate’s department, an extension of time may be granted by the Graduate School.

The department's doctoral program graduates go on to academic jobs. See Placements of Recent PhDs.


Professor Robert Smale
Director of Graduate Studies
office: 217 Read Hall
phone: 573-355-4152

Nancy Taube
Graduate Studies Administrator

office: 101 Read Hall
phone: 573-882-9461