Doctoral Program


Qualifying Examination: 

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 with an MA from the University of Missouri:

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.

Students Who Earned Degrees at Other Institution:

All admissions of doctoral candidates who did not receive the MA degree from the department are provisional. These students must pass a qualifying examination no later than the beginning of their third semester of residence at MU. The exam will focus on a research paper the student wrote at MU.

About the Exam

The examining committee will be composed of the student’s advisor and at least two other history faculty members. During the consideration of prospective students, the committee on graduate admissions will consult closely with faculty best suited to advise them.

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. It is designed to ascertain the candidate’s intellectual capacity, aptitude, and preparation for PhD level work in history.

The committee reserves the right to reject otherwise qualified students if:

  1. this department cannot provide the applicant with an adequate program in his/her area of interest
  2. no faculty member is willing to supervise his/her work.

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.

Degree Requirements

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

  • residency
  • coursework
  • foreign language and/or historical/research technique
  • comprehensive examination
  • 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 is 72 hours of graduate credit beyond the baccalaureate degree. A student’s advisor 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 approval of the student’s advisor and committee, the student may receive up to 30 hours of credit toward the 72 necessary credits for the PhD. If a student took additional courses beyond the student’s MA degree at another institution, with the approval of the student’s advisor and committee, students may receive up to a maximum of six hours of credit toward the PhD. All credit transfers are determined by the Graduate School. See Graduate school regulations for current credit information. Two-thirds of the courses taken by a PhD candidate within the department prior to the comprehensive examination must be at the 8000 or 9000 level. These may, and probably will, include History 8085 (Problems), HIST 8410 (Independent Readings PhD Exam), but not HIST 9090 (Dissertation Research).

All doctoral students must take HIST 8080, Maximizing Graduate Studies in History. Every doctoral student who earned a master’s degree at another institution must take HIST 8480, Historiography, unless excused by the director of graduate studies. History 8480 is offered regularly. Students must enroll in a writing semester within the first four semesters after they enter the program.

C. Foreign language

Foreign Language: PhD students are not required to demonstrate competence in a foreign language for the degree. However, in fields where such languages will be necessary for success, advisors shall make clear to applicants what they expect in terms of language competence. Expectations must be clearly stated before or when offers of admission are sent. The student’s acknowledgment of these terms will be confirmed in a written response (including email) either separate from, or within, their acceptance of the offer of admission.

For those students in fields where one or more foreign languages are required, up to 6 credits of course work can be fulfilled through 4000-8000 level language courses.  Competence in foreign languages may be demonstrated in numerous ways, including exams administered by relevant faculty, the completion of language coursework as determined by the advisor, or the student’s completion of original research otherwise impossible without the required language(s).

D. Comprehensive examination

Preparation for the Comprehensive Examination

In the department of history, each doctoral student must prepare four 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 faculty advisor during the student’s first semester at MU. The advisor will help the student prepare for examination in in their major field. This will cover significant historical themes and historiographical trends in the specific period and area of the student’s prospective dissertation topic. The committee must consist of the student’s advisor, and three additional faculty. At least two of the additional faculty must be members of the history department.

Students pursuing a doctorate in US history must prepare for examinations in a chronological and/or geographical area of historical study that includes the student’s dissertation field, a second US history field that is chronologically tied to the student’s dissertation field, a chronological, geographical, and/or thematic area of historical study that is not directly related to the student’s dissertation topic, and one additional field that is thematically/chronologically/geographically appropriate. One of the faculty on the committee may come from an outside department. The committee and fields may be reconfigured with approval of the advisor and the director of graduate studies

Students pursuing a doctorate in a field other than US History must prepare for examinations in a chronological and/or geographical area of historical study that includes the student’s dissertation field, in two fields that are chronologically tied to the student’s dissertation field, a chronological, geographical, and/or thematic area of historical study that is not directly related to the student’s dissertation topic.  Students must write formal exams on at least three of the four fields, and may, depending on the desires of the committee and student, write on all four fields.

Areas of Study and Dissertation Topics

What the student learns in this discipline should assist the student’s understanding of and research on their dissertation topic. The student’s choice of a discipline to work in for the 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 the advisor’s approval of the discipline and the outside faculty member. The Graduate School must approve these selections as well.
Within the department of history there are seven broad areas of historical study.
• US history to 1865 (including the colonial period)
• US history since 1865
• Ancient history
• European history from the fall of Rome through the Reformation
• European history since the Reformation
• Latin American history
• Asian history

Documenting Exam Preparation

The advisor and the three 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.

Comprehensive Examination Requirement

Comprehensive exams may be scheduled at the end of an appropriate readings course as soon as the student and advisor agree that the student is prepared. All comprehensive exams should be completed by the end of the third semester in the program. The oral defense should be completed within thirty days of completing all written exams.  Comprehensive exams are administered by a committee consisting of the student’s advisor and four other faculty members, one may be 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 submit it to the students’ permanent file.

Comprehensive Exams Processes

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 dissertation field; the committee will determine the subjects of the other exams, and their number.

Special Note: All members can require the student to write on their areas of expertise. Therefore, the written examinations could cover all four areas.

All members of the committee will evaluate written exams 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. 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, the student 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 comprehensive exams will cover all four 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.

Criteria for Successful Completion of the Comprehensive 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.

Travel Funding

When students begin work on their doctoral dissertations, they may apply for departmental fellowships and travel grants to assist their research and writing.

E. Dissertation and oral defense

Dissertation and Oral Defense

Soon after successful completion of the comprehensive examination, the student and advisor will form a dissertation committee of five faculty members. One member of the committee must be from outside the department. The student, faculty advisor, and committee members will work together to develop a dissertation topic and a plan of research. Students should keep in regular contact with the advisor. Together they shall decide when written work will be read by other members of the committee.

Satisfactory Progress

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

Annual Review

Each spring, students must complete a Graduate Student Activity report in MyVita. The student’s faculty advisor will report and determine if the student is making satisfactory progress toward a degree. The student and advisor should meet to discuss the student’s progress, confirm expectations for the coming year, and address any concerns either one may have regarding the report.

If the advisor determines that the student is not making satisfactory progress, the advisor informs the student what needs to be done to rectify the situation. The student then usually has a year to return to making satisfactory progress.

Failure to do so may result in loss of financial aid or dismissal from the program.


The student may appeal any assessment to the director of graduate studies. If not satisfied, the student may seek the remedies described in the Graduate School catalog.

Funding Impact of Incomplete Reports

Completion of the Graduate Student Activity Report in MyVita by both student and faculty is mandatory to maintain eligibility for any form of financial aid from the department. Receipt of financial aid requires confirmation by a student’s advisor that the student is making satisfactory progress. No student in the program who applies for or who is seeking renewal of financial aid will be eligible for aid without a complete and up-to-date Graduate Student Progress System Report on file.

Rate of Completion

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 advisor 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.