Program Requirements

Successful completion of the graduate program in History requires the timely fulfillment of all program requirements as outlined below. Please refer to the Graduate History Guidelines for more detailed information and departmental policies.


Nine graded graduate-level courses must be successfully completed before a student may take the general examination. Courses include: graduate seminars offered by the History Department; graduate seminars in other departments; graduate seminars offered at other universities, and undergraduate lectures adapted to become graduate-level seminars.

First-year students are expected to enroll in three courses each semester (including HIS 500 in the fall). Second-year students ordinarily enroll in two courses the first semester and one course the second semester. Alternatively, second-year students may take three courses in the fall and devote the spring semester entirely to preparing for the general examination.

Research Papers

Since training in research is one of the most significant elements of graduate education, the Department expects each student to write at least two research papers during the two years they are involved in course work. Students ought to keep in mind the possibility of using their research papers to investigate areas for dissertation topics. It is highly desirable to do some early research in the language(s) of the prospective dissertation. Each of the two research papers must be certified as an acceptable research paper by the respective instructor in advance of the departmental deadline.


Each student must fulfill the departmental language requirement in advance of the general examination.

The minimum requirement of the Department is a reading knowledge of either French or German (or Spanish in the case of American History). Within each field, the faculty decides what additional languages are required and the necessary degree of proficiency. In rare cases when the student, the student's adviser, and the Director of Graduate Studies all agree that the substitution of another language is reasonable, appropriate, and academically sound, some other language may be used in place of French or German.

General Examination

Students are expected to pass a written and oral examination in each of three fields before the end of their fourth semester of graduate study. The examinations in the three fields constitute the general examination. The general examination tests the student's acquaintance with the events and historiography of a given period or topic; the student's grasp of the issues involved in the study of these periods or topics; and the student's ability to follow, construct, and criticize historical interpretations of these issues.

Each student chooses one major field and two minor fields in consultation with the Director of Graduate Studies. Students prepare for general examination fields by taking courses and by further reading on their own. In all areas, students should normally plan to have at least two courses containing substantial general readings as a basis for a major field, and at least one for a minor. General examinations are typically given during the May exam period of the second year.

RCR / Prospectus Seminar

All students who are advanced to Ph.D. candidacy following the general examination are required to participate in a two-day seminar on the Responsible Conduct of Research. This seminar provides training and discussion on topics relevant to historians and supports Princeton University’s policy of providing education in the Responsible Conduct of Research to all graduate students.

Students are also expected to participate in a month-long dissertation prospectus seminar in June of the second year. Each student will present a draft of their prospectus and a designated commentator will respond. The discussion then opens up to all participants for questions with the goal of preparing each student to undertake the independent work of researching and writing the dissertation.

The dissertation prospectus must be formally approved by the student's dissertation supervisor before December 1 of the student's third year. Continuation as an enrolled student is contingent upon approval of the prospectus.

Dissertation / FPOE

The dissertation should represent an original and significant contribution to knowledge and should be based on primary research. The final requirement of the program is the successful defense of the dissertation at the Final Public Oral Examination (FPOE). If a candidate successfully sustains the defense the Ph.D. degree will be conferred by the Trustees of Princeton University.

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