Doctoral Degree Requirements

The department offers the PhD degree in one of three areas of concentration: East Asian, modern/contemporary, and Europe before 1750. Incoming students are admitted directly into the doctoral program; the MA degree is granted in the second year as a step toward the doctorate. All graduate coursework done before the MA is granted counts toward PhD requirments. Requirements for the PhD include:

Course work

The PhD requires 14 graduate-level classroom courses, most of which are normally completed in the first two years. The normal course load is three courses per semester (9 credits). The 14 courses must include:

A total of 72 credits is required for the PhD. The 14-course requirement accounts for 42 credits. The remaining 30 credits may be amassed through various independent study options and additional courses if necessary. 

Note: If a student enters the PhD with an MA from an outside institution, some of these requirements are bypassed. See the Graduate Handbook, Section 2, for more details.


Students in modern/contemporary or Europe before 1750 must demonstrate reading proficiency in two foreign languages pertinent to their dissertation area. Students in East Asian must have at least three years of college-level Japanese or Chinese with a grade of B+ or better (or have equivalent knowledge), and must demonstrate reading proficiency in one additional language pertinent to their dissertation area. The language requirement must be fulfilled within the first two years. Additional languages may be necessary depending on the dissertation topic.

The MA thesis and degree

Normally, the MA degree is granted at the end of the second year of study as a required step toward the PhD. The MA degree requires:

The MA thesis is a 25- to 30-page paper with an original argument based on original research. The thesis functions as a demonstration of the student’s ability to carry out research and writing of PhD caliber. Ideally, the thesis is based on a seminar paper written in the first year, which is then reworked and polished over the following summer and fall. In some cases, with the approval of a faculty advisor, the student may embark on a new paper not already written in a seminar.

Fourth semester review

In their fourth semester, all students (with the exception of those who entered with an MA in art history) undergo a review for continuation in the PhD program. Students submit a dossier including:

The faculty then reviews the dossier to make sure that the student’s work demonstrates the ability to carry out a dissertation successfully. More specifically, the faculty looks for evidence of ability to carry out original research in the student’s field, to master secondary literature, to frame an original argument, and to write lucidly. 

If the faculty makes a positive determination, the MA degree is granted and the student is officially continued in the PhD program. All graduate coursework done to this date counts toward the PhD degree. A dissertation committee is named, consisting of the student’s advisor and two other history of art and architecture faculty members.

If the faculty determines that the student’s work does not merit continuation in the PhD program, the student may be granted a terminal MA degree if the student has met the MA requirements and if the faculty by majority vote deems the MA thesis creditable.

Preliminary exam

In the fifth semester, the first of the student’s annual PhD committee meetings is held.  The student present a one-page description of the dissertation topic, and the student and committee together decide on comprehensive exam areas and procedures. Once the faculty as a whole reviews and approves the dissertation topic and exam areas, the "prelim" is passed.

Comprehensive exams

Students normally take their comprehensive exams in the fourth year, after they have completed their course work requirements. The exams have two broad goals. The first goal is to test whether the student has sufficient knowledge of the field to carry out the dissertation. The student should be able to articulate "the shape of the field" and should be conversant with current trends in scholarship. The second goal is to test whether the student has sufficient knowledge to teach one or more broadly defined areas.

The comps consist of three exam areas, which are formulated by the student and the PhD committee working in consultation with one another. The format is a written exam for each of the three areas, followed by an oral exam with the committee. Students are encouraged but not required to have a faculty member from outside the department participate in the exams.


The dissertation is a book-length research project designed to make an original scholarly contribution to the student’s field. Ideally, students begin to focus their dissertation topic early in their graduate career, within the first two years. The MA thesis can be a piece of the dissertation project. As soon as possible, students should design their curriculum to enrich and advance their dissertation project.

After a successful fourth semester review, a dissertation committee of three faculty (including the student’s advisor) guides and mentors the student. Upon passing the comprehensive exams, the student prepares a dissertation prospectus that must be approved by the dissertation committee and by one faculty member from outside the department. Once the student completes the dissertation itself, the student must pass a dissertation defense, normally a two-hour conversation with the committee (including outside faculty member).

Time to degree

The degree is designed to take six or seven years to complete, depending on the student’s field. Actual time to degree varies depending on many factors, including the language preparation and/or specialized skills needed to conduct dissertation research. (Students in East Asian, for example, may need to learn classical as well as modern languages, and to learn archaeological methods.)

Note: For more details on degree requirements, the student-advisor relationship, and other related matters, please see the Graduate Handbook.

Doctoral degree requirements

Further information