The Graduate Program

Graduate Handbook


Most doctoral students will take ten courses for credit during their first two years at Columbia, usually six courses in the first year and four in the second. All required coursework taken are meant to be substantive courses in content (not language training courses). 

During the first year, entering students are required to take an introductory colloquium in historiography (GR8910), which is designed to introduce them to the history and current state of historical scholarship. This colloquium is intended to acquaint students with an array of interpretations and analytical tools, to sharpen their critical skills, and to help create a sense of community among graduate students in different fields. Students will ordinarily take a number of other colloquia (GR8000-8999) in their first two years. Colloquia involve intensive reading and discussion of secondary material. They usually involve some writing, but do not ordinarily require original research. Every student is also expected to take at least two semesters of organized research and writing, usually in graduate research seminars (also numbered in the GR8000-8999 range). In seminars, students work on research projects of their own devising under the supervision of a faculty member. These projects ordinarily involve extensive research in primary and secondary sources and the preparation of an original paper modelled roughly on scholarly articles in professional journals. The faculty understands that students will seldom be able to produce work comparable to most published scholarship within the time constraints of a seminar, but many seminar papers do eventually become the basis of published articles, dissertations, or books. Students applying for Advanced Standing are not exempt from any first-year course requirements and must complete all course work (including required research papers).

In addition to colloquia and seminars, students may, with the permission of the Director of Graduate Studies, fulfil their course requirements with upper-level undergraduate lectures (UN2000-2999) or seminars (UN3000-4999), normally with additional work required; courses from other departments at Columbia; and courses at other universities. For more information, please see the GSAS Student Guide for PhD Registration.

Columbia is part of the Inter-University Doctoral Consortium, which entitles our students to take courses, at no additional cost, at many major New York area universities: the CUNY Graduate CenterFordham, the New SchoolNew York University (including the Institute for Fine Arts), PrincetonRutgers, and Stony Brook). Under GSAS rules, students in their first year are not allowed to participate in the consortium although a student’s advisor may petition the Grad A&S to waive this rule. In some circumstances, students may fulfil part of their course requirements through independent reading and research projects under the supervision of members of the faculty, with the permission of the Director of Graduate Studies. Registering in courses through the Inter-University Doctoral Consortium requires an application and consultation with the DGS.

Anticipated dates of registration are listed in the University Registrar‘s calendar page. To view course information courses visit the Directory of Classes.

After selecting courses and obtaining any necessary approvals, students may register for classes via Student Services Online (SSOL).

A typical program of courses during the first three years of graduate work resembles the following:

  Fall Spring
First year 3 courses 3 courses; (1) GR8910 required
Second year 2 courses 2 courses


PH.D. Field Requirements

The various subfields in the history Ph.D. program have specific requirements of their own. This section outlines those requirements, but students should meet with advisors on a regular basis to confirm that there have been no changes in them and that they have fulfilled them. In all fields but U.S. History, passing one language exam is necessary for the M.A. Degree. In all fields fulfillment of all language requirements is mandatory for permission to take the oral examination.


Courses: In their first year of study, students are required to take a colloquium in African history in which they will produce a historiography paper. They are also required to take GR8910 Introduction to History and Historiography in the first year. All students are required to take a total of 10 courses for credit: 6 in the first year and 4 in the second.

Languages: Study of one African language is mandatory. Two language exams must be passed before the oral exams. One of the languages may be a European language, such as French, German, or Portuguese. The other must be an African language, such as Arabic, Bamana, Pulaar, Swahili, Wolof, Zulu, or another, as regional and research specialty may demand.

Orals: Comprehensive exams are to be taken in the fifth or sixth term. Fields are to be developed in consultation with the Africanist faculty. One field may be in a discipline other than history. Failing a field will require re-sitting that portion of the exam.

Dissertation Prospectus: Students are required to produce a preliminary proposal for dissertation research in the first weeks of the fifth semester. This proposal will serve as the core of funding proposals and of the eventual dissertation prospectus. The defense of the prospectus itself takes place after the oral exams.

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Courses: Students in Ancient history are required to take GR8910 Introduction to History and Historiography in the first year and GR8061 Topics in Pre-Modern European History at some point during the first two years (if offered). All students are required to take a total of ten courses taken for credit (6 courses in the first year, 4 courses in the second year). For students in Greek and Roman History at least three of these courses must be at the 2000-level, three at the 8000-level, and two in ancillary disciplines (epigraphy, numismatics, papyrology, law). All students need to plan their courses with their advisor.

Languages: Students are required to pass language exams in four foreign languages before taking the oral exam. All students need to pass exams in French, and German. Students in Greek and Roman History need to sit for both Greek and Latin upon their arrival at Columbia. Students are expected to pass the department’s language examination in at least one of these two languages within one year from the beginning of the first semester, and to pass the other classical language within two years from the beginning of the first semester. Exceptions will be made only for students who demonstrate, on entering the program, that their language preparation has been unusually weak; these students will reach an agreement at that time with their advisors about the maximum time they will take to pass the classical language exams. Students in ancient Near Eastern History need to pass exams in two ancient Near East languages before taking the oral exam.

Orals: Oral exams are to be taken in the sixth term. Students in Greek and Roman History may choose either of the following routes for the major field.

  1. A set of periods, namely three out of the following, the only limitation being that at least one period must be Greek and one Roman: 800-479 B.C. (Greek), 754-167 B.C. (Roman), 479-323 B.C. (Greek), 323-30 B.C. (Greek), 30 B.C. – A.D. 235, 167-30 (Roman), A.D. 235-565.
  2. A set of three thematic fields from the following list, covering all or most of classical antiquity (any chronological limitations must be agreed to beforehand by the student’s advisor): economic history, constitutions, social history, religious history, intellectual history, gender and sexuality, law, historiography, slavery, environmental history, warfare, political history. Students in Ancient Near Eastern History will be examined on all periods of Near Eastern history from 3200-300 B.C. for the major field. Candidates will also present a minor field, to be agreed upon with their advisors. Students who wish to delay their orals beyond the sixth semester, which is discouraged, will be required to seek the approval of the departmental Director of Graduate Studies.


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Courses:  Students normally take three courses a term in their first year and two a term in the second year.  The Colloquium in Atlantic History I (GR8176), The Colloquium in Atlantic History II (GRXXX) and the Research Seminar for Ph.D. students (GR8924) are required.  Five of the Seven remaining electives should be 8000-level courses. 

Languages:  Students must pass two language exams, typically French and Spanish, though these may be replaced by others as appropriate, and as research interests dictate.  Students who do not pass exams in both languages at the beginning of their first semester normally take a language course during the first academic year in the program.  At least one language exam must receive passing marks by the end of the second semester.  The second exam should be completed no later than the beginning of the fifth semester of study and in all cases must be concluded prior to sitting for orals. 

Orals: The purpose of the oral examination is to help students develop a general knowledge of several fields of history and scholarship so that they may be able to teach and write in areas beyond those of their specific research interests.  Students should plan take the oral exams no later than the end of the sixth term.  Orals fields in Atlantic history vary considerably depending on the area of concentration. Generally, though, candidates prepare in at least one trans-national field, typically ‘Atlantic History’, or the ‘History of the African Diaspora,’ or both; (2) and at least two regional fields selected from the following: Caribbean, Europe, North America, Latin America, or West Africa. The fourth field may be trans-national, regional, or thematic, or constituted outside the Department or in another area of History.  The selection of these fields and the faculty who will serve on the orals committee should occur at the end of the second year of study and in close consultation with the student’s advisor. 

Dissertation Prospectus: Students in Atlantic History complete and defend the dissertation prospectus no later than the end of the sixth semester of graduate study.

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Early Modern Europe, 1350-1750

Courses: First-year students in Early Modern European History are required to enroll in GR8910 Introduction to History and Historiography. Students are also advised to enroll in GR8061 Topics in Pre-Modern European History at some point during the first two years (if offered). Students are required to take two research courses during their first two years; they are strongly encouraged to take one each term, for a total of four. Normally the research requirement is fulfilled in 8000-level seminars, but students may substitute 3000-or 4000-level classes or independent study, if necessary, by arrangement with the instructor and the advisor. Students normally take three courses a term in the first year and two a term in the second year.

Languages: Students are required to pass language examinations in French and German before taking the oral exam. Other languages relevant to their research may in some cases be substituted for either French or German (with approval of their advisor).

Orals: Students normally take the oral exams by the end of the sixth term; they are encouraged to take the exam as early as possible during the third year. Students must have completed their language requirements prior to sitting the Orals exams. Orals fields in Early Modern European history vary considerably depending on the area of concentration, and will be decided upon in consultation with the student’s advisor. If a student fails any of the exam fields, at least two of the original Orals committee must convene for the re-examination.

Dissertation Prospectus: Students are encouraged to defend their dissertation prospectuses in their sixth term or early in their seventh.

Advanced Standing: Students with advanced standing are not required to take the second year of coursework, although they still must complete two terms of research courses and may wish to continue coursework beyond the first year. Although the sixth-term deadline noted above for orals coincides with the GSAS deadline for the M.Phil. for students with advanced standing, such students should discuss with their advisors an accelerated schedule for orals and the prospectus defense.


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East Asia

Columbia University offers a doctoral program in East Asian History to students registered in the Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures or in the Department of History. The faculty, requirements, teaching assignments, and degree (History-East Asia) are the same for all students, regardless of their departmental affiliation. The History-East Asia Coordinator who works with the Director of Graduate Studies in both departments oversees the program.

Courses: Students in East Asian History are required to enroll in a total of twelve one-semester courses for credit. Of these, one must be History GR8910 (Introduction to History and Historiography), to be taken in their first year, and one must be a bibliography course or the equivalent. Of the remaining ten courses, eight must be colloquia or seminars or the equivalent selected in consultation with the advisor. The remaining courses may include directed-reading courses. If you take two semesters of second-year Classical Chinese you may count these two courses as one seminar to fulfill your seminar requirement. Additional courses above the required twelve may be taken in consultation with the student’s advisor.

Languages: All entering students must take a diagnostic placement examination in the language of specialization during the registration period of the fall semester. The results will be forwarded to the History-East Asia Coordinator, to the Director of Graduate Studies in EALAC, and to the respective advisors. The Ph.D. language requirement is fulfilled by receiving a B+ or better in the required Asian language courses, or by demonstrating equivalent proficiency in the language placement examination. European language requirements can be fulfilled only by exam in the History Department or the corresponding language department. Students must pass all required languages before the Orals, and are encouraged to do so as early as possible.

 The Primary Language:

  • Chinese history. 5th-year modern Chinese, or the equivalent; two years classical Chinese, or the equivalent.
  • Japanese history. 5th-year Japanese (one semester of a translation-intensive course); one year classical Japanese, or the equivalent; one semester of Kanbun, or the equivalent. Students in pre-1900 history are expected to undertake additional training in Classical Japanese, Sōrōbun, Kuzushiji, Kanbun, and/or Classical Chinese, as recommended by the advisor.
  • Korean history. 5th-year Korean, or the equivalent.
  • Tibetan history. Third-year Tibetan or the equivalent; third-year classical Tibetan or the equivalent.

Second and Third Languages:

  • Chinese history. Pre-Qing history: three years of Japanese or the equivalent, subject to substitution of another Asian language by consultation with the advisor. A third Asian language may be recommended at the advisor’s discretion. All students are encouraged to take a reading course in French (FRENS UN1204) or German (German UN1115) and pass the reading exam, but the advisor should decide whether this is necessary. Qing and later: advanced proficiency in a relevant language, such as Japanese, Korean, Manchu, Mongolian, Tibetan, etc., chosen in consultation with the advisor. Demonstration of reading knowledge of a relevant European language is strongly advised.
  • Japanese history. For all: one European language, chosen in consultation with the advisor. Students are encouraged to take another Asian language or languages, and a second European language, if required by the advisor
  • Korean history. Pre-20th century: two years of classical Chinese, or the equivalent. 20th-century history: three years of Japanese, or the equivalent.
  • Tibetan history. For all students: reading knowledge of one European language or Japanese, chosen in consultation with the advisor. For all students: three years of modern Chinese or two years of modern Chinese and one year Classical Chinese, chosen in consultation with advisor. In exceptional cases in which Chinese is not necessary for research interests, this requirement may be waived in consultation with advisor.

First-year essay and research papers: All students, including those already holding an M.A., will write a first-year essay, to be completed by the end of the second semester. Students who enter the program without an M.A. can apply to their department to receive the M.A. degree upon completion of the first-year essay and other relevant requirements. Two additional research papers, normally written for a seminar, must be completed by the time of the oral examination. At least one of these papers must be based on research in primary sources, and at least one must deal with a topic outside the student’s major field of specialization. On completion of the first-year essay, continuation to the Ph.D. requires approval by the advisor, in consultation with the History-East Asia Coordinator and the Director of Graduate Studies in the relevant department. Students must submit a one-page progress form no later than February 1 of the first year.

 Orals: The purpose of the oral examination is to help students develop a general knowledge of several fields of history and scholarship so as to equip them to teach and write in areas beyond those of their specific research interests. The examination committee will consist of four examiners in four fields, one of which will typically be in the major field of specialization (e.g. modern Chinese history), two outside the specialization, and one outside East Asia (e.g. 20th-century France, Theories of Imperialism), the exact composition to be determined in consultation with the advisor.

 Teaching Assistantship: After the first year, all students in History and EALAC will have teaching or service assignments in the undergraduate East Asian program, offered mainly by EALAC and the Committee on Asia and the Middle East. These assignments will be determined through consultation among the History East Asia Coordinator and the Directors of Graduate Studies of History and EALAC.

 Dissertation Prospectus: Within six months of the oral examination or before leaving for field research (whichever occurs first), the dissertation prospectus will be defended before a committee of four faculty, including one outside the specialization or representing issues of method. The composition of the committee is to be determined in consultation with the advisor. The prospectus is usually a refined version of the grant proposal submitted at the beginning of the third year to outside funders for dissertation research in Asia.


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International and Global History

This field offers training in historical literatures, conceptual frameworks, and research strategies that transcend conventional area divisions. Students may work with a variety of faculty interested in transnational and comparative methodologies, and in the historiographies of world and international history, combining it with work in more specific areas.

Courses: First-year students are required to take GR8910 Introduction to History and Historiography, and GR8930 Approaches to International and Global History. Students will consult with their advisors in choosing four other courses in their first year, and four more courses in their second year for a total of 10 courses. At least six of the eight electives must be 8000-level courses, and at least one should be a research seminar.

Languages: Students are required to pass exams in at least two languages, as appropriate to their research and interests.

Orals: Oral exams are to be taken in the sixth term. Orals fields will be developed in close consultation with advisors, and will vary widely depending on the students’ research and teaching interests. They can be both thematic and geographical in scope. At least two out of the four examinations must be trans-regional in scope, and at least one must be in a specific regional history. Students will be required to retake the exams for any failed fields.


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Jewish History

Courses: All first-year students in Jewish History are required to enroll in GR8910 Introduction to History and Historiography. Other courses are to be chosen in consultation with the student’s advisor.

Languages: All students are required to pass the Hebrew language examination. Students in American Jewish History are required to pass a minimum of one additional language examination; language to be determined with the advisor. All other students must pass a minimum of two additional language examinations, languages to be determined by advisor.

Orals: Students are encouraged to take their Orals exams early in their third year. Students are required to take one subfield in Ancient Jewish History, one in Medieval and Early Modern Jewish History, and one in Modern or American Jewish History, plus a field in History outside of Jewish history, either geographical or thematic, to be agreed upon with their advisor.

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Latin America

Courses: First-year students in Latin American History are required to enroll in GR8910 Introduction to History and Historiography, and in the M.A. seminar, GR9660x-GR9661y Latin American Master’s Seminar. This seminar involves the writing of an article-length paper based on primary sources and a review of the relevant historiography. During their first or second year students must take the graduate colloquia on the literature of the field from the colonial and national period. All students are required to take 6 courses in the first year. In the second year students enroll in two courses each semester, at least two of which must be graduate colloquia. These requirements may be adapted for students with advanced standing.

 Languages: Students are required to pass examinations in three foreign languages before taking the oral exam: Portuguese, Spanish, and either French or German. Students might replace one of these with another language according to their research project.

 Orals: Orals are to be taken in the sixth term. The major field is divided into the colonial, nineteenth-, and twentieth century periods, with the minor field from outside the department or in another area of history.

 Dissertation Prospectus: Students are encouraged to defend their dissertation prospectuses no later than their sixth term or early in their seventh.


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Medieval Europe

Courses: Students are required to enroll in GR8910 Introduction to History and Historiography in the first year and GR8061 Topics in Pre-Modern European History at some point during the first two years (if offered). Students are also required to take two research courses during the first two years; they are strongly encouraged to take one each term, for a total of four. Normally the research requirement is fulfilled in 8000-level seminars, but students may substitute 3000- or 4000-level classes or independent study, if necessary, by arrangement with the instructor and the advisor. Students normally take three courses a term in their first year and two a term in the second year. Students who do not pass exams in two languages at the beginning of the first term are normally expected to take language courses during the first year.

Languages: Students are required to pass language examinations in French, German, and Latin before taking the oral exam. Students may also be required to take exams in additional languages relevant to their research. Entering students must sit for Latin and either French or German during the first set of exams after matriculation.

Orals: Students are required to take the oral exams by the end of the sixth term; they are encouraged to take the exam as early as possible during the third year. Orals fields normally include three fields in medieval subjects (defined geographically, chronologically, and/or thematically) and a fourth field in another era or another discipline.

Dissertation Prospectus: Students are encouraged to defend their dissertation prospectuses in their sixth term or early in their seventh; they may do so earlier.

Advanced Standing: Students with advanced standing are not required to take the second year of coursework, although they still must complete two terms of research courses and may wish to continue coursework beyond the first year. Although the sixth-term deadline noted above for orals coincides with the GSAS deadline for the M.Phil. for students with advanced standing, such students should discuss with their advisors an accelerated schedule for orals and the prospectus defense.


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Middle East

Courses: First-year students in Middle Eastern History are required to take GR8910 Introduction to History and Historiography. All other courses are to be chosen in consultation with the student’s advisor. All students are required to take 6 courses in the first year and 4 courses in the second year.

Languages: Students are required to pass examinations in two foreign languages before taking the oral exam. One language must be chosen from Arabic, Persian, Turkish, or Hebrew, and one from French, German, Russian, Italian, or Spanish.

Orals: Orals are to be taken in the Sixth term. A failure in one field would only require retaking the failed field. Failure in more than one field would necessitate retaking the entire exam.

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Modern Europe

The broad rubric of Modern Europe encompasses a wide array of fields and approaches. Some graduate students place particular emphasis on national fields or geographical areas, from the British Isles to Russia and from Scandinavia to the Mediterranean, but others organize their studies around an approach or theme, be it intellectual developments, social and economic relations, diplomacy, or global power. Our program makes possible a variety of research orientations, and further encourages transnational and comparative work. In all cases, students work out their program of study in close consultation with faculty.

Courses: First-year students are required to take GR8910 Introduction to History and Historiography. Students in Modern European History are advised to take GR8061 Topics in Modern History within the first two years (if offered). All students are required to take 6 courses in the first year and four courses in the second, chosen in consultation with the advisor. After approval by the advisor, the student should submit a copy of each paper for their file. All first and second year students participate in occasional colloquia and workshops organized by the European wing and will have opportunities to present their research in that setting.

Languages: Language requirements vary according to the field and research specialization of the student. Students are, however, required to pass a minimum of two language examinations before the orals in Western European fields (ordinarily in French and German, although one language may be substituted), three language examinations in the East Central European field, and two language examinations (ordinarily including Russian and French and/or German) in the Russian field.

Orals: Students prepare four orals fields, one of which must be in a field outside the student’s major area of interest or in a discipline other than history. Orals are to be taken in the fifth, or at the latest the sixth, term.

Dissertation Prospectus: The program is structured on the expectation that students will defend their prospectuses no later than the spring of the seventh year.


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Socio-Medical Sciences

The Ph.D. in Sociomedical Sciences is an interdisciplinary program, with study divided between the Mailman School of Public Health (MSPH) and one social science department in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. The aim of the program is to train researchers and teachers to apply social science theory and methods to the study of social factors related to health status and health care needs, social systems, and the relation between these systems and the populations they are designed to serve. Graduates of the program have typically been employed in academic positions either in social science departments or health professional schools, or have taken positions as analysts or evaluation researchers in health planning agencies or consulting organizations. For students who choose history as their social science discipline, the curriculum will be run jointly by the History Department and MSPH. Admissions decisions for the program in history are also made jointly by the MSPH and History. Students may obtain further information from the Division of Sociomedical Sciences, Office of Admissions, Mailman School of Public Health, 600 West 168th Street, New York, NY 10032, 212-305-3927, or by visiting the MSPH website.

Students in the Sociomedical Sciences Ph.D. program at the School of Public Health whose social science department in GSAS is History are required to take either G8910 Introduction to History and Historiography or G8500 The Literature of American History in the first or second year. The complete program of study is available in the student handbook for the Department of Sociomedical Sciences.

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South Asia

The South Asia fields works with students on a model of co-advisement.

Courses: In the first year, students in the South Asia History are required to take the GR8910 Introduction to History and Historiography, and five additional courses.

In the second year, students are required to take four courses.

Students are expected to have taken at least two graduate seminars in South Asia history over their first two years in the program. One of these two seminars will form the basis for producing the Masters Thesis. The Masters Thesis should be based on primary research and include a review of secondary literature. They are required to follow the deadlines for the Masters thesis listed in the Graduate Handbook – 2019.

Languages: Students are required to pass language exams in two languages, chosen in consultation with their advisors. At least one of the languages must be a modern South Asian language (i.e., Hindi, Urdu, Bengali, Tamil, Marathi, Sindhi, Kannada etc.); the other can be either a second modern South Asian language, or one selected from Sanskrit, Persian, French, Dutch, Portuguese, or German.

Students cannot opt-out of language requirements by demonstrating fluency in a South Asian language which is not among the primary research languages for their project.

Orals: Orals are generally taken in the fifth term. They consist of three major, and one minor field. The major fields should consist of the following:

  1. Ancient and Medieval South Asia
  2. Modern South Asia
  3. Comparative South Asia [conceives the study of South Asia through broadly global, transnational, or comparative framework]
  4. The Minor field can be geographic, chronologic, thematic or conceptual in content, and can draw from a different field (US, Early Modern or Modern Europe, East Asia, Intellectual, etc.) or different discipline (such as Anthropology, Art History, Architecture, Law, Philosophy, etc.).

Dissertation Prospectus: Students are expected to defend the dissertation prospectus in the sixth term. The prospectus is generally a 4-5,000 word document, with a substantial bibliography (that would draw on reading lists from the orals field).

The prospectus should outline the project’s methodology, discuss its relationship to current historiographic debates, outline the archives to be explored, and provide a plan of research.


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United States

Courses: In their first year, students in American History are required to take GR8910 Introduction to History and Historiography and five additional courses (at least two of which much be graduate colloquia and at least one of which must be a research seminar). In the second year, students enroll in three courses, at least one of which must be a research seminar. They also begin preparation for orals.

Languages: Students are required to pass one examination demonstrating proficiency in a foreign language. Although students in American History may receive the M.A. degree without having passed the language exam, no student can take the oral examination without having fulfilled the language requirement.

Orals: Orals are generally taken in the fifth term. The orals fields in U.S. history consist of three American fields—colonial history, nineteenth-century history, and twentieth-century history—and a minor field. The minor field may be drawn from another discipline such as political science, sociology, literature, etc., or a field of history outside the United States. It cannot be a subfield of American History such as Southern history or American women’s history, but may be a comparative field with some American content (such as comparative labor history, imperialism, etc.). Students may also petition the U.S. area chair for permission to be examined in only two of the three chronological fields in American History and two minor fields as described above. Those permitted to choose this option must have taken one course with substantial coverage of the chronological period of American history omitted from the examination.

Dissertation Prospectus: Students are expected to defend the dissertation prospectus in the sixth term.


Advanced Standing

Students who have earned a master’s degree in history or a related field before enrolling at Columbia may apply for Advanced Standing. Students with Advanced Standing are excused from the second year of coursework, and thus must complete only six courses for credit rather than ten to proceed in the program. Students with Advanced Standing do not submit a Master’s Essay and do not apply for the M.A. degree; they must, however, fulfil all language and other field-specific requirements.

For more detailed information about GSAS Policy regarding credit for graduate work done elsewhere students should consult the GSAS web page for Advanced Standing for Ph.D. students.

The M.A. and Master's Essay

To proceed in the program, students without Advanced Standing status must complete the requirements for and apply for the M.A. Degree by the end of the fourth semester. The requirements for the M.A. are the completion of six courses for credit, passing one language examination (with the exception of the U.S. Field), and the submission of a Master’s Essay. These requirements are normally met during the first year. Students who have not fulfilled these requirements by the end of the fourth semester may be removed from the program.

Students normally use a paper written in a research seminar as the Master’s Essay, although the precise nature of the work should be discussed with the student’s advisor. Students must submit a copy of the Master’s Essay to the PhD Program Coordinator. The Essay must include a title page with the student’s name, the advisor’s name and signature, the date, the title of the essay, and the following statement: “This essay is submitted to the Columbia University History Department in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts.” Master’s Essays should not exceed 50 pages.

The degree application must be submitted to the Office of the Registrar by following this link: For October and February degrees, the Master’s Essay must be deposited with the Ph.D. Program Coordinator two weeks before the degree date. For May degrees, the Master’s Essay must be submitted to the Ph.D. Program Coordinator by April 15.


The deadlines are as follows:

If you are graduating in… Then you apply by…
October September 1st
February November 1st
May December 1st



Language Requirements

All candidates for the Ph.D. are required to demonstrate proficiency in foreign languages. Language requirements vary considerably from one field to another, both in their number and in the particular languages required (see Ph.D. field requirements). Students must pass at least one language exam by the end of the second year in order to receive the M.A., and all language exams required by their fields before the oral examination. Any student whose program requires successful completion of one or more language examinations in the first year will not be advanced to the second year and will not receive the M.A. unless that requirement is met.

For most students, fulfilling a language requirement involves passing an examination that requires the translation from a foreign language into English of a passage of historical writing. Except in the case of some East Asian languages, coursework itself does not fulfill the language requirement, which can only be met by passing the department’s language examination. Students may take language courses during the academic year or during summer to help them prepare for the departmental language exams, but such courses do not substitute for courses required for the degree. Graduates may apply (“petition”) to be exempted from the exam in a relevant research language if they hold a degree or diploma from an institution operating in the language for which they seek exemption. This petition is to be addressed to the Department’s Language Officer. Non-native English speakers may also petition the department for permission to translate passages into their native languages, rather than into English. This petition is also to be addressed to the Department’s Language Officer.

Language exams are offered four times during the year (late August/early September, late December, February, May), and students may take the exams as often as they need until they pass them. In exceptional circumstances, the Director of Graduate Studies may authorize a special exam for a student, upon the recommendation of the departmental officer supervising language exams. 

In the examination, dictionaries may be used, but no other aids are permitted; computers are forbidden. Exams are evaluated by individual faculty members and assigned pass/fail grades. No exam will be failed until it has been read by at least two faculty members who agree on that assessment. Students may discuss a failed exam with the departmental officer in charge of language exams or with the faculty members who graded the exam. The exam is graded principally for accuracy, and students are urged to provide translations that track the original text closely. At the same time, the passage should be translated into grammatical and comprehensible English, so that odd idioms or convoluted constructions of the original text should be rendered in their closest English equivalents and not translated entirely literally. Students should review their exams to make sure that their translations make sense in English; if they do not, they cannot be correct.

Applicants are strongly encouraged to develop a capacity to read scholarly work in the language or languages required for their proposed field of study before enrolling in the Ph.D. program.

The Oral Examination and M.Phil.

Once students have completed their coursework and fulfilled their language requirements, they are ready to prepare for and take the oral examination: a two-hour examination in four fields before four members of the faculty. The purpose of the oral exam is to help students develop a general knowledge of several broad areas of history, to deepen their knowledge of their own particular fields, to acquaint them with a range of interpretations of critical issues in their fields, and also to prepare them to teach and perhaps also to write in areas beyond their specific research interests. Three of the fields are usually within the student’s principal area of interest (e.g. Europe, the United States, East Asia, etc.) and are known collectively as the “major field.” A fourth area, the “minor field,” must be in an area of history substantially different from the student’s own, or in a discipline other than history.

Beginning in the second year, all students should assemble orals committees of four members of the faculty, one for each field on the oral examination and should prepare reading lists for each field. Such reading lists will ordinarily include both material students have already read, in courses and elsewhere, and new material read specifically for the oral examination. Students should ask their advisors and faculty with whom they are doing the exams for sample lists. They can also consult reading lists prepared by graduate students who have already taken the oral examination, some of which are available through the Graduate History Association (GHA). The length and character of the individual reading lists are determined in consultation with the appropriate examiners.

During their preparation for the oral exam, many students meet periodically with the faculty examiners. Students can also structure oral preparations with an independent study/reading course. Many students also form reading groups with other graduate students to facilitate their preparation. The faculty expects students to prepare extensively for these exams, but no one can be expected to prepare exhaustively.

Students are expected to file an Oral Exam Proposal in the first few weeks of the term in which the exam will be taken. The form is available from the PhD Program Coordinator in the department office. The examination itself, usually taken in the third year, is divided into four half-hour segments, one for each field. Each faculty examiner examines the student on their list (in half hour). After all examiners have done their examination, the faculty confer amongst themselves on the outcome of the examination. The student is expected to pass all the oral fields in order to proceed to candidacy. If a student fails one of the orals fields, they can re-sit for that field once more. 

After completing all course and language requirements and passing both the prospectus proposal defense and the oral exams, students receive the degree of Master of Philosophy (M.Phil.). Many universities do not offer the M.Phil., which simply signifies that a student has reached the stage widely known as A.B.D. (“all but dissertation”). Once a student has successfully passed the oral examination, the PhD Program Coordinator will submit the application for M. Phil. to the GSAS.

Note important deadlines for the M.Phil. on this page.

 Instructions for Scheduling Oral Exams

  1. The student is responsible for scheduling a date with their Orals committee. The student should first check with the PhD Program Coordinator before scheduling Orals.
  2. If the student is unable to resolve a mutual Orals date with the committee, then the student should speak with the PhD Program Coordinator ( who will then take responsibility for organizing a date with the committee.
  3. Once a date has been set our Graduate Administrator will find a location, or schedule over Zoom, and send out a formal announcement of the date to the committee, and prepare Orals paperwork to be delivered to the chair of the committee the day before the defense is to take place. The PhD Program Coordinator will send out a reminder to committee members and the student two days before the scheduled exam.
  4. After the defense, the Oral examination paperwork should be returned to our PhD Program Coordinator, who will then document the results and file the application for the degree of M.Phil. with Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.
  5. Upon successful defense of the Oral exam, the student should see the PhD Program Coordinator to request that their name is placed on the roster for a post-MPhil study space in Butler Library.
The Dissertation Process: prospectus, writing, application, defense, registration status, graduation

Prospectus:  For the prospectus defense, students must also choose several other members of the faculty who, along with the sponsor, will read the prospectus and engage the student in a discussion of it. Prospectus committees normally consist of four or five members of the faculty. The prospectus itself should be approximately 15 double-spaced pages in length. It should include:

  1. A clear statement of the topic and a formulation of the particular historical problem that the project will address. It should position the topic within existing historical literature, explain the research approach or methodology to be used, and discuss the sources to be consulted.
  2. A tentative outline of chapters, with brief summaries of their proposed contents.
  3. A preliminary bibliography, listing the principal secondary sources and the major archival or other primary sources to be used.
  4. A tentative schedule for research, writing, and completing the project.

The student should download the Report of the Dissertation Proposal Committee form in advance and have the committee members sign it immediately after the prospectus defense. The completed form should be given to the PhD Program Coordinator for processing.

To maintain satisfactory academic progress, all work for the MPhil degree and the prospectus defense (including successful oral examinations per field requirements) must be completed within four years from initial registration, unless the student receives two Residence Units of advanced standing, in which case all MPhil degree requirements and the prospectus defense must be completed within three years from initial registration. Students must defend the prospectus successfully by May 31 of their fourth year. Failure to comply with this requirement will indicate a lack of satisfactory academic progress toward the degree. This policy also applies to Arts and Sciences students who have not yet completed a seventh semester in their doctoral program (and for students with advanced standing, to those who have not yet completed a fifth semester).

Dissertation Writing: After defending the prospectus, the student will embark on the preparation of the dissertation. Students should think of writing a dissertation as the first step in writing a book, which most Columbia dissertations eventually become. Students will work on their dissertations under the supervision of their sponsors, and most also seek help from other members of the faculty, often including the members of the prospectus defense committee. There are also both formal and informal dissertation-writing workshops for students in many fields. Maintaining a continuing relationship with the sponsor and other members of the faculty is an important part of the process of developing a dissertation. So is sharing work with other graduate students. There is no fixed length for a dissertation, although it should approach – in both length and scope – the expectations of a published book. Successful dissertations take many forms, but virtually all are based largely on primary sources and set out to make original contributions-empirical, interpretive or, ideally, both-to the field. Typically, the student applies for a Dissertation Writing Fellowship (DWF) for the next year, her or his fifth in the program.

Dissertation Application: The last step before receiving the Ph.D. is the formal defense of a completed dissertation. No defense will be organized unless the sponsor and second reader have signified that in their judgment the dissertation is acceptable and thus warrants a defense and final examination. It is the responsibility of the sponsor, not the student, to choose the members of the defense committee, but sponsors will ordinarily consult with students about who would be appropriate for the defense. A defense committee ordinarily includes five people, three of them members of the History Department faculty, and two of them “outsiders,” either from departments other than history at Columbia or from other universities. “Outsiders” from other universities may be historians.

Students intending to defend the Ph.D. dissertation must file an Application for Dissertation Defense. The form should be filled out by the student and sponsor, and delivered to the PhD Program Coordinator. The Department then schedules the defense. It is important to submit a defense application early in the term in which the defense is expected; students should consult the PhD Program Coordinator for the relevant deadlines.

Dissertation Defense: Despite the confrontational name of the exercise, the defense is usually a collegial conversation between the student and the faculty members of the committee during which the candidate is asked to explain aspects of the work and to answer questions about it. Often, the members of the committee see their task as offering advice on how to revise the dissertation for publication. The student begins the defense with a brief explanation of the project before fielding questions and comments from the members of the committee. A defense ordinarily lasts approximately two hours.

When a committee member can only participate from afar, an accommodation may be made by employing audio or video conferencing during the defense. A maximum of two members of the dissertation defense committee may participate remotely, but the committee chair and the sponsor must be present at the defense.

The dissertation defense committee may convene when one member is prevented from participating by extreme circumstances at the time of the defense. Such a last-minute absence will count toward the total of two members allowed to participate remotely. If possible, the absent member should submit before the defense a report containing comments, questions, and a provisional vote on the dissertation’s approval. The committee chair will convey these questions to the candidate at the defense and rule on the quality the responses made. If circumstances prevent the submission of a report before the defense, the absent member’s report should be sent as soon as possible after the defense to the dissertation defense committee chair and to the Dean of the Graduate School. The committee vote will not be considered final until the report is reviewed and the defense committee chair determines whether any further action is warranted.

Once the dissertation is successfully defended, it must be converted into what the Graduate School considers acceptable physical form and officially submitted to the University, along with a submission card (provided to the student at the defense) signed by the sponsor and the department chair. The PhD Program Coordinator can sign the submission card on behalf of the chair if the chair is not available. Students have six months from the time of the defense in which to make further revisions, but many students submit almost immediately after the defense, particularly if the defense is close to the time of Commencement. The submission of the completed dissertation is the last step before the awarding of the degree.

Registration status: All students must be registered during the term (including summer) in which they distribute the defense copies of the dissertation. Filing early in the semester is recommended to ensure approval of the defense committee before the deadlines. Provided that all required Residence Units are met, students who are distributing and/or defending must register for either M&F or ER. Students who are defending while on teaching or research appointments, or who are also completing pre-dissertation degree requirements register for ER; all others, including those on Dissertation Writing Fellowships, should register for M&F. These rules apply to the summer as well as to the fall and spring semesters.

If U.S. students (citizens or permanent residents) distribute any time between the first day of the fall semester and the day before the start of the spring semester, their final registration is in the fall semester.

If U.S. students (citizens or permanent residents) distribute any time between the start of the spring semester and the day before the start of summer session, their final registration is in the spring.

If U.S. students (citizens or permanent residents) distribute any time between the start of summer session and the day before the start of the fall semester, their final registration is in the summer.

International students in F-1 or J-1 status must consult with the International Students and Scholars Office regarding their registration requirements.

Deposit and Graduation: The deposit, and not the defense, is the final requirement for the Ph.D. and professional degrees. After the successful defense and complete deposit of the dissertation, the degree is awarded on the next subsequent conferral date, in October, February or May of each year. Students must clear all outstanding accounts in order to receive their degree. See the GSAS site for more information on the deposit and award of the degree.

For complete information on the Dissertation process please visit the GSAS Dissertation Office page.

Expectations: awareness of requirements, satisfactory progress, grades, leaves, time to degree

Awareness of requirements: All students must be familiar with the GSAS rules and guidelines as explained on the GSAS web site. Students should pay special attention to information regarding registration and the submission of material for degree-granting dates. It is not the responsibility of the DGS, the chair of the department, the student’s dissertation sponsor, or the departmental staff to ensure a student’s compliance with official GSAS regulations. Exceptions and/or exemptions from any of the department or the GSAS requirements or schedules are granted, if at all, with reluctance and after consultation with and/or written request to the appropriate officer. Students should consult with the DGS as early as possible with any question concerning requirements, overall progress toward the degree, deadlines, etc.

Satisfactory Progress: The Graduate School considers progress to be minimally satisfactory when progress is such that a student completes the M.A. degree within four semesters of full-time study, the M.A./M.Phil. Degrees within eight semesters of full-time study, and the M.A. /M.Phil. /Ph.D. within 18 semesters of full-time study (see below for implementation of nine-year limit). Students who receive credit for an M.A. completed elsewhere must complete the M.Phil. within six semesters and the Ph.D. within sixteen semesters. In addition, doctoral students whose programs require a dissertation prospectus or proposal must defend it successfully within eight semesters of first enrolling in their doctoral program. (Students with two Registration Units of advanced standing must defend successfully within six semesters). Students must maintain a minimum cumulative GPA of 3.0. Please visit the relevant GSAS page for more information.

In addition to achieving satisfactory academic progress, students are expected to remain in compliance with all applicable administrative policies and procedures of the University, such as those of the Columbia Libraries, University Apartment Housing, etc.

Consequences for failing to make academic progress or to adhere to applicable administrative policies and procedures may include academic or administrative warning, probation, suspension, or dismissal.

Grades: Graduate students in the Arts and Sciences who receive a mark of Incomplete have to submit missing work to instructors by the following deadlines: December 31 for Incompletes earned in the previous spring semester or summer session, and June 30 for Incompletes earned in the previous fall semester. GSAS will no longer grant extensions beyond that year to submit work to remove a mark of Incomplete. Dates for the end of a given semester are available on the Registrar’s website. Leaves of absence and withdrawals stop the clock on Incomplete deadlines.

Leaves: GSAS has policies for leaves of absence. Graduate students may also contact, the PhD Program Coordinaotr, with questions. The period of the leave stops the completion clock and is not counted as part of the time allowed for completion of the degree requirements.

Time to Degree: The time it takes students to complete the requirements for the Ph.D. varies considerably. A very few students complete their degrees in four or five years. Most take six or seven. Some take longer. The official time limit for receiving the Ph.D. is seven years, and students who exceed that limit must petition the department and the Graduate School for an extension each year. Extensions are not automatic. Students who request extensions must present evidence of significant progress toward completion.

Implementation of Nine-Year Limit: The nine-year limit for completion of the Ph.D., effective Spring 2011, is described here. Please note that there are different policies for students who entered before Fall 2011 and students who entered in Fall 2011 and subsequently. For more information contact

Teaching as a Graduate Student

Teaching is an integral part of the Ph.D. program in history. Every student must teach for at least two semesters prior to receiving the degree, but the vast majority of our students will teach much more than that, either as part of the terms of a multi-year fellowship or through short-term Teaching Assistantships or both. Teaching is an educational experience for those engaged in it. But it also, of course, carries responsibilities to the students you teach and to the instructors in whose courses you are working. In turn, instructors have certain responsibilities to you.

Although the department strives to match students to courses in their own fields, it is not always possible to do so. Students in smaller fields, in particular, are normally expected to do a certain amount of their teaching in fields that are not their own. But all students should be assigned teaching within their fields for at least two semesters.

Graduate student teaching in the Department of History usually takes one of four forms: a readership, teaching assistantship, Core lectureship, or a teaching scholarship.

  • Readers assist instructors in undergraduate lecture courses in grading midterms and final exams, and in evaluating papers (and drafts of papers). A reader is typically responsible for 30 to 50 students a term and should expect to spend no more than an average of ten hours per week on work related to the course, which may include some administrative responsibilities. Readers typically have little or no direct interaction with students. They are expected to attend the lectures in the courses in which they are working.
  • Teaching Assistants conduct weekly discussion sections for students in undergraduate lecture courses and are also responsible for evaluating midterms, final exams, papers, and drafts of papers. A teaching assistant is typically responsible for two discussion sections, which together contain 30 to 35 students. Communication with students may also include regular office hours, e-mail communication, electronic bulletin boards, and other meetings. Teaching assistants should expect to spend no more than an average of 15 hours a week on work related to a course, which may include some administrative responsibilities. They are expected to attend the lectures in the courses in which they are working. 
  • Students with teaching assignments must register for HIST GR8990 Colloquium/Seminar in Teaching in each semester that they teach. Section numbers are provided by the History Department PhD Program Coordinator.
  • Any student who has received the M.Phil. (the degree awarded after the successful completion of the oral exam) is eligible to apply to teach in the two central courses of Columbia’s core curriculum, Contemporary Civilization (CC) and Literature Humanities (Lit Hum) as a Core Lecturer. If appointed, the student will be able to devise their own syllabus, receive full funding for two years of teaching in the program, including a stipend slightly higher than those awarded to students doing departmental teaching. The student will also receive a summer fellowship (currently $3,000) after teaching in the program for at least a full year. The selection process for CC and Lit Hum is competitive, but the History Department traditionally receives 2-3 appointments per year. Preceptorships in African Civilizations and Primary Texts of Latin American Civilizations are announced separately.
  • Additionally, students with the M.Phil. may also qualify to devise their own seminar syllabus for consideration in their department’s curriculum by teaching in the GSAS Teaching Scholars Program. Teaching Scholars will receive a full Teaching Assistantship for the year in which they teach that will include tuition, facilities fees, stipend, and health insurance. Additionally, students selected will be awarded $1,000 for the summer before the year in which they are scheduled to teach their proposed course to support their efforts to develop and prepare the course and its attendant materials. No student will be designated as a Teaching Scholar more than twice in her or his graduate career.

Training: The department and GSAS Teaching Center provide training for graduate student teachers through an intensive one-day workshop early in the fall and follow-up workshops during the term. In these sessions, students receive advice on how to lead discussion sections, how to manage technology, how to handle grading and commenting on students’ work, how to advise students writing papers, and other issues likely to confront teachers. Workshops for more advanced students also address issues that will confront Ph.Ds. once they begin teaching on their own: creating syllabi, drawing up reading lists, preparing lectures, etc.

Privileges: Readers and Teaching Assistants are entitled to a number of privileges. They may check out books for extended periods and are exempt from fines for overdue items (except for Barnard course reserves, materials from Health Sciences libraries, and books that are not returned when recalled). They are also entitled to additional memory on the CUNIX system (your email account) and free printing of 100 pages a week from network printers. And they are entitled to 500 pages of photocopying of course-related materials through the History Department copiers. (Students teaching for instructors at Barnard or in departments other than History must make copying arrangements through the home department of the course.) Students also can expect free desk copies of the books assigned in the courses they teach. Professors (with the help of the department’s Communications and Development Administrator) are responsible for ordering desk copies for their Teaching Assistants from publishers.

Electronic Resources: The History Department has one slide projector, one overhead projector, two digital projectors, and one TV/VCR that both faculty and Teaching Assistants teaching sections can use. These items must be reserved in advance with the department’s Communications Coordinator. Only sections meeting in Fayerweather Hall can use the department’s electronic resources. If a section meets outside of Fayerweather Hall, Teaching Assistants should contact the Academic Department Administrator for assistance with the University Audio/Visual office.

Selection of Teaching Assistants: 

TA assignments are made by the DGS with the assistance of the PhD Program Coordinator. Faculty and students should address any concerns to the DGS.

Preliminary assignments:

Initial assignments are based on the preference form students are asked to complete, with attention to past assignments and in function of anticipated enrollments. Students who do not complete the form will be assigned where they are needed with attention to their field.

Second- and third-year students who have completed the TA preference form generally have priority. All students are expected to TA in order to complete the degree requirement (aka, the instructional requirement) of two semesters of teaching in their second and third years.

Students on teaching fellowship should expect that they may be asked to teach outside their field. However, it behooves both students and faculty to coordinate lecture offerings with availability of TA’s.

Following initial enrollment of undergraduates, preliminary assignments are made and circulated to the faculty for their approbation. They are then sent to GSAS, which must approve them. Once GSAS has signed off, formal letters are issued; assignments remain contingent.

Formal assignments:

Up through the first two weeks of term, assignments may change in function of enrollment, changes in fellowship status (e.g., outside grants), changes in course offerings, or in exceptional cases at the discretion of the DGS.

Students and faculty who ask that a formal assignment be changed should be aware that—unless enrollment changes—changing one assignment almost invariably means moving another student.

TA assignments are always contingent on undergraduate enrollment. We generally expect, based on historical patterns, that most courses may shrink by as much as 20% in the first weeks of the semester (students in the College generally over-enroll, anticipating that they will drop at least one course). Conversely, bucking this general trend, some courses see their enrollments increase.

The DGS will do what is possible to maintain stable and equitable assignments in light of enrollments, teaching fellows’ academic and professional needs, and faculty requests. The capacity of rooms represents an important limiting factor.

If the re-assignment of a TA is necessary, G2 students are least likely to be moved because their schedules are less flexible due to their other coursework. Students who have completed coursework and met the degree requirement are more likely to be moved; in practice this category includes most G3 students and all students G4 and above.

Alternate assignments:

Exceptionally, and with the approval of GSAS, post-MPhil students in good standing with the appropriate skillset who are not needed as TA’s may be assigned to alternate academic tasks.

Fourth-year students may apply to defer the last year of TAing to the fifth year in order to pursue dissertation research during the fourth year. Such students should send a letter making the request to the Director of Graduate Studies by April 1 of their third year. The student should ask the dissertation sponsor to write a supporting letter. Such requests will be forwarded to GSAS and granted, depending on the necessity of being away from Columbia for a prolonged period during the fourth year and the teaching needs of the department.

Prior to the start of each semester, the History Department will work with faculty members and teaching assistants to determine the days and times for discussion sections. The department will communicate the time preferences to the Registrar’s Office, which will work to find rooms at the requested times. This will generally be done at least a month before the beginning of the semester. If the lecture course is likely to enroll large numbers of first-year students (who enroll at the end of August), the department might reserve more times and rooms than the pre-registration numbers would initially indicate. The availability of funding outside of the History Department for students beyond the fifth year (such as teaching assistantships in American Studies, SIPA, CC, IRWAG, etc.) should be made known to all eligible students, along with procedures for selection, to the extent that they are known by the History Department. After first checking with the History Department about teaching possibilities within the department, students should contact these programs and centers independently.

Getting Ready to Teach: Getting ready for a semester of teaching is a joint responsibility of the TA and the instructor. Well before the semester begins, the instructor should order desk copies of assigned books for TAs, distribute to all TAs a copy of the syllabus, and select section times – ideally early enough for undergraduates to enroll in sections at the time of registration. Professors and TAs should meet before the start of the semester to review the goals of the course, the nature of the assignments, and the role of sections in the course. Teaching Assistants should have a sense of what the instructor expects of students enrolled in the course. Sections should begin no later than the second week of class. The assignment of students to sections should be completed by the second class. The instructor and the TAs ordinarily share in the task of organizing the sections. Professors and their teaching assistants should meet weekly to discuss content, pedagogy, grading, and any problems that arise in the course. Professors should meet with readers before every grading assignment (exam or paper) to discuss content and expectations. Faculty should provide guidelines to TAs for grading.

Evaluations: As graduate students are both teachers and students, the evaluation must address both issues. Undergraduates should complete teaching assistant evaluations -provided on a separate departmental form (an online system is under development) – as part of course evaluations; those evaluations will be made available to TAs after grades for the course are in. Instructors may also ask their TAs to complete course evaluations that assess both the pedagogical success of the course and the use of TAs in it. At semester’s end, instructors should provide some feedback to TAs about their work in the course, either in a meeting or in writing. The department keeps files of undergraduate evaluations. Graduate students may make photocopies of their evaluations to use as part of a teaching portfolio for the job market, or for applications for other Columbia teaching positions (e.g., CC, LitHum, etc.).

Dealing with Problems: Students who are experiencing problems with their teaching that they cannot discuss with the instructor should contact the department’s Director of Graduate Studies. Continuing grievances should be resolved first by bringing them to the Director of Graduate Studies or the Department Chair. If they cannot be resolved at this level they may be brought to the Assistant Dean for Graduate Teaching in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.

Graduate Student Input on Job Searches and the Role of Graduate Liaison

As per university guidelines, graduate students may not serve as formal members of search committees. That said the views of graduate students should play a role in hiring decisions. The History department encourages all graduate students to offer their input on searches, and attend talks, dinners and meetings with candidates. No confidential materials may be distributed to graduate students; only the search committee and the voting members of the department can view these materials. Graduate students can only access candidate CVs and their published works. The search committee incorporates graduate student views into the search report on the basis of which the decision is made and voted upon by faculty.

To that end, the Director of Graduate Studies in consultation with the Graduate History Association representatives will nominate a graduate liaison for every search, who researches in a field of relevance to the search in question. The liaison will serve as the point person who would commit to attend all of the candidate talks and remind other graduate students to attend; coordinate and host the meetings of the graduate students with each candidate; read the candidate materials they are allowed to access; and collect graduate student feedback on all candidates into a report that would be submitted for consideration by the search committee.

The Director of Graduate Studies will ensure that liaisons are comfortable with assuming the role, as the expectation is for all liaisons to feel enabled to be as honest and forthcoming as possible about theirs and other students’ feedback on candidates, regardless of whether advisors or other faculty with whom liaisons may work are serving on the same search committees and might hold differential positions on candidates. In a similar vein, any graduate student nominated to serve as a liaison on a search has the right to decline the nomination, and should feel no pressure to participate in this formal way if they so choose.

Annual Student Evaluation and Progress Reports

Evaluation: At the end of each academic year, members of the faculty review the progress of students in their fields, especially of students in their first and second years. Students who are judged not to have made satisfactory progress by the Graduate Education Committee will be asked to withdraw from the program.

Students should speak to the DGS or to their academic advisor if they encounter difficulties that may impact their academic performance.

Progress Reports: All students who have completed their M.Phil. as well as students in their eighth semester who are required to complete their M.Phil. by May, must complete and submit a report of dissertation research and writing progress, with a schedule for completion, to their sponsor each spring, until they are ready to distribute their dissertation.

The progress report must be completed online at Student Services Online (SSOL) by the student and the sponsor. Sponsors completing the response to the progress report must be a current Columbia faculty member who has access to a Columbia e-mail account, and who is willing to complete the report in SSOL by the due date. If your sponsor is a former Columbia faculty member who does not have an active UNI account, the report must be completed by a secondary reader or by your program’s Director of Graduate Studies.

Before beginning the progress report, please log into SSOL and confirm that the correct sponsor is listed with your account. If this is not the case, send an e-mail to both your program’s graduate coordinator or DGS and to so that we may enter your current advisor/sponsor into your profile before you complete the report.

Students should familiarize themselves with both Department and Graduate School rules concerning satisfactory progress.

Registration Categories: RU, ER, M&F, Leaves

Residence Unit (RU): The Residence Unit is a full-time registration category for one semester (whether or not the student is taking courses), which provides the basis for tuition charges. Six Residence Units-including the two for the M.A. degree-are required for the M.Phil. and Ph.D. degrees.

Extended Residence (ER): After completing six Residence Units, students are required to register for Extended Residence in any term in which they are holding a university teaching appointment, they are taking a class, or completing a degree requirement other than the dissertation defense.

Matriculation and Facilities (M&F): Advanced students who are neither holding a university teaching appointment nor are completing a degree requirement can satisfy the continuous registration requirement by registering for Matriculation and Facilities (M&F), which allows them to make use of various University facilities. A Ph.D. student registers for M&F if he or she is writing or distributing the dissertation (for instance, while holding a Dissertation Writing Fellowship) and is not engaged in any of the following: taking a course, holding an appointment as a teaching or research fellow, or completing a degree requirement other than the dissertation defense. In all other cases a Ph.D. student must register for either a Residence Unit or Extended Residence.

Students may not register part time; Continuous Registration must be maintained until all requirements for the degree are satisfied. Students are exempted from the requirement to register continuously only when granted a leave of absence.

Graduate students may contact the DGS questions.

Financial Matters: Fellowships, Stipends, Grants, Taxation


All entering students are admitted with multi-year fellowships, known as Hofstadter Fellowships, which carry five years of funding (or four for those with Advanced Standing). Fellowship awards provide full tuition, 9 month stipend, basic health and insurance fees available through the University, on a yearly basis. Students are responsible for all other fees such as the student activity fee, one time transcript fee, international and University facilities fee, on a yearly basis.

Students on such fellowships teach for three years (two if granted Advanced Standing), beginning in the second year. They do not teach in the first year and, usually, in the last fellowship year. In all cases, continuation of the fellowship is subject to satisfactory performance.

U.S. citizens or Permanent Residents who are recipients of fellowship awards that include teaching or research responsibilities are required to complete the financial aid forms for the federal aid programs. Students must submit the Columbia University Application for Loan and/or Federal Work-Study and must have completed the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The financial information contained in these documents will NOT alter the amount of the fellowship award from GSAS.

Students have a number of opportunities to secure additional or substitutional funding:

Contemporary Civilization and Literature Humanities: Any student who has received the M.Phil. (the degree awarded after the successful completion of the oral exam) is eligible to apply to teach in the two central courses of Columbia’s Core Curriculum, Contemporary Civilization (CC) and Literature Humanities (Lit Hum). If appointed, the student will receive full funding for two and sometimes three years of teaching in the program, including a stipend slightly higher than those awarded to students doing departmental teaching. The selection process for CC and Lit Hum is competitive, but History Department students have traditionally received a significant number of such appointments. The student will also receive a summer fellowship (currently $3,000) after teaching in the program for at least a full year.

The University Writing Program: This opportunity is intended for students who will be beyond their guaranteed-funding years (typically years 1-5) in the academic year. Appointments are for two years, except for instructors who will begin teaching in their seventh year of graduate study.  They will be appointed for one year only. In the first year, most instructors teach one section of University Writing per semester. During their appointments, some instructors may be assigned to serve as consultants in our writing center.

These appointments will carry a combined stipend and salary of at least $29,350  or whatever the Academic Year Fellowship entails. Additional benefits involving tuition and fees vary, and will be described in individual offer letters.

 The student will also receive a summer fellowship (currently $3,000) for the summer after the second year of teaching in the program. The program is subject-oriented and is, therefore, an attractive funding option for history graduate students. This funding can carry the student through the sixth or seventh years in the program.

Teaching Scholars Program: Any student who has received the M.Phil. (the degree awarded after the successful completion of the oral exam) is eligible to apply to the Teaching Scholars Program. Students will receive a full Teaching Assistantship for the year in which they teach that will include tuition, facilities fees, stipend, and health insurance. Additionally, students selected will be awarded $1,000 for the summer before the year in which they are scheduled to teach their proposed course to support their efforts to develop and prepare the course and its attendant materials. The Teaching Scholar’s classroom assignment during the semester in which he or she is not teaching the proposed course will be determined by the department after it assesses its overarching curricular needs.

Other Fellowships: There are many other opportunities for fellowship support, some from within the university and others from outside. The Graduate School maintains an extensive listing of external fellowships available to graduate students. Some of the major fellowships students regularly apply for are listed below (for details and deadlines, please visit the Financial Aid Office website.

Pre-Dissertation Fellowships

  • Jacob K. Javits Fellowships
  • Sciences Po Exchange
  • Foreign Language and Area Studies (FLAS) Fellowships
  • Ford Foundation Fellowships for Minorities
  • J.P. Morgan Chase Fellowships
  • Dolores Zohrab Liebmann Fellowships
  • National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowships
  • Paul & Daisy Soros Foundation Fellowship for New Americans
  • Social Science Research Council Fellowships
  • GSAS International Travel Fellowships
  • German Chancellor Scholarship Program
  • American Institute of Indian Studies Junior Research Fellowship
  • GSAS Summer at Reid Hall Fellowship
  • W. Stuart Thompson Memorial Fellowship
  • Fulbright-Hays Doctoral Dissertation Research Award
  • German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) Fellowship
  • Fulbright Institute on International Education Fellowship
  • IREX Fellowship

Dissertation Write-Up Fellowships

  • American Association of University Women
  • Columbia University Whiting Fellowship
  • Dwight Eisenhower/Clifford Roberts Graduate Fellowship
  • Josephine De Karman Fellowship Trust
  • Charlotte W. Newcombe Dissertation Fellowship
  • Doris Quinn Dissertation Fellowship

All students those with funding and those without it are strongly encouraged to apply for different fellowships every year. If the student has no other funding, the advantages of an outside fellowship are obvious. Even if the student is already funded, an outside fellowship can provide additional years without teaching obligations, additional support for travel and research, and a higher level of financial support than a Columbia fellowship alone would offer. Unfunded advanced students who are not beyond their seventh year in the program and who win outside dissertation fellowships (of at least $8,000) that provide full support can petition GSAS to have their Matriculation and Facilities and health insurance fees covered during the time of their fellowship.

Summer Research Fellowships: The Graduate School provides an annual summer research stipend as part of the multi-year funding package for doctoral students. Students must be in good standing and making satisfactory academic progress in order to receive this funding. In addition, they should provide their department with a written description of their proposed summer research project and submit an end-of-summer report to their department. Departments will forward the end-of-summer reports to the Graduate School for review.

In recent years, the Department of History has been able to award additional summer awards to students within and past their 5th year of funding. Although we cannot predict from year to year the exact number of awards we will be able to make, we are confident that a number of these fellowships will be available every summer.


Students without Teaching Appointments: Students without teaching or research responsibilities will receive 4 stipend checks over the academic year. Checks are available at the start of registration in September and January and at the start of the month in November and March.

Students with Teaching Appointments: Students who are appointed Teaching Fellow or Research Fellow also receive 4 stipend checks as described above which equals 2/3 of their total stipend. The remaining 1/3 of the stipend is processed as 9 monthly checks that are sent directly to their departments at the end of each month.

Stipend checks will be available for students to pick up at the Cashiering area in 210 Kent Hall. Students must be registered and are required to show a valid CUID card. International students must have a Social Security number or need to show a receipt of application in order to receive their stipend checks.

Travel Funds:

Travel funds are available to students through the J. Bartlett Brebner Fund. A fund bequeathed to the department by the late Professor J. Bartlett Brebner provides limited awards to graduate students for travel expenses related to the presentation of papers at academic conferences and meetings of scholarly organizations. Students beyond their seventh year of study in the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences are not eligible. To apply please review the attached policy statement carefully and complete the attached application form, which is editable in Adobe Reader and Apple Preview. Submit the completed form and required documentation for approval by email to the Director of Graduate Studies and copy the Academic Department Administrator and Business Manager. Names and email addresses are listed on the form and policy statement. Only applications submitted by the deadlines below will be considered.


U.S. students and Permanent Residents: Income tax is not withheld on fellowship stipends paid to U.S. students and Permanent Residents. However, all grant aid (scholarships, fellowships) that exceeds the cost of tuition and required fees, books and related classroom expenses is subject to U.S. income tax. Also subject to tax are any amounts received representing payments for teaching and research. The Controller’s Office at Columbia withholds income tax amounts earned through research or teaching appointments. W-2 forms will be issued for amounts earned and withheld for research or teaching appointments only. The student is responsible for accurately reporting stipend amounts and for making estimated tax payments if appropriate.

International students: Financial aid received by international students is subject to U.S. income tax. Income taxes for international students are withheld from university payments for teaching and research in the humanities and the social sciences. Fellowships awarded to international students are subject to taxation and 14% federal withholding on the amount in excess of tuition and fees. International students should receive the 1042-S form as tax documentation for their fellowship.

The United States has tax treaties or agreements with roughly 40 countries and territories under which their citizens may be exempt from all or part of U.S. income tax. Treaties are negotiated for the avoidance of double taxation and the prevention of fiscal evasion with respect to taxes on income and capital. Treaties vary from country to country, and tax exemption may vary based on an individual’s status (student, professor, etc.) and the number of years that individual has been in the U.S. For more information about tax treaties see the Department Treasury’s Publication #901, United States Tax Treaties.


Facilities: Labs, Graduate Lounge, Carrels, Lockers, Libraries, Photocopies, Telephones, Fax, Building Access

Computer labs: The University has multiple computer labs throughout the university. History students also have a computer lab/graduate lounge is located in 611 Fayerweather Hall and is accessible via card swipe. For all first time users please swipe your card twice. If it does not work after two tries, please email the Director of Academic Administration and Finance.

Graduate lounge: The lounge should be a place for quiet reading and study and may also be used for TA/student meetings. Faculty and staff are not permitted to use the space and students may use it as they see fit.

Graduate students will be responsible for the upkeep and general cleanliness of the lounge.

All mail for graduate students will be placed in the graduate lounge.

Supplies may be ordered directly through the Business Manager.

Assignment of study spaces in Butler Library: The department has access to research spaces for post-MPhil students on the 7th, 8th and 9th floors of Butler Library. History has a total of 24 spaces at this time. Note that research spaces are allocated by GSAS according to the number of eligible students per member department. Eligibility criteria are as follows:

  1. Ph.D. Students must have earned the MPhil.
    2. The Department must support the application for a post-MPhil research space.
    3. Ph.D. Students must be within six years of first date of registration in the PhD. program and must have submitted an approved academic progress form through SSOL within the past year.

Lockers: the department has access to 34 combination lockers located on the 3rd floor of Fayerweather Hall. Only graduate students currently enrolled in the Department of History’s Ph.D. program are eligible for these lockers. Students in possession of a study space or an office are not eligible for these lockers. The Graduate Administrator sends out notice of locker lottery at the beginning of each academic year. Students are awarded lockers based on a lottery system. Students may possess these lockers for the academic year in which they are awarded.

Graduate photocopies/printing: the photocopier in the graduate student lounge is for TA’s to copy teaching materials. Copies for other uses should be made at Butler Library. Students should also print at Butler Library using their weekly student allotment.

Telephones: There is a telephone in the graduate student lounge from which students can make local calls. The telephones in the main office are reserved for departmental use.

Fax machine: The fax machine in the main office may be used for local numbers and to receive faxes from any source. Please see the office staff for assistance with the fax machine. The fax machine line number is (212) 851-5963.

Building access: Regular hours for the Department are 9 a.m.-5 p.m., Monday through Friday. Students can enter the Graduate Lounge after hours via Avery Library or by calling the Department of Public Safety by dialing 99 or (212) 854-5555.

Student Resources: Personal Information, Dossier Service, Forms, Important Contacts, and Webpages

Updating personal information: If a student’s permanent or local address changes he or she should update their information on Student Services Online (SSOL).

To report issues and grievances: Students should first seek guidance from the DGS and if necessary from the Chair of the department. Outside of the department, students may contact GSAS or the Office of the University Ombudsman.

Students on visas: if at any point you encounter an issue or if you have questions about your visa or status, please see the Department Coordinator for advice. You may also contact the Office of International Students and Scholars directly.

Dossier service: Graduate School of Arts and Sciences (GSAS) and the Center for Career Education use Interfolio, a dossier service vendor for all credentials and letters related to search processes. All students must open an account online with Interfolio and referees can either upload online or mail their letters of recommendation to the service.

To assist in learning how to use this new service, the Center for Career Education has created an Interfolio Dossier Tip Sheet that provides both an overview of the available features and step-by-step instructions for using the system. This information can be found on the Center for Career Education website. Interfolio’s website further information.

Columbia resources:

GSAS forms and pages:


We hope current students will find this handbook useful as a guide to our doctoral program and as a reference tool for navigating administrative and bureaucratic procedures.

Prospective students are encouraged to consult the Admissions and FAQs pages for more information or to contact the Chair, the Director of Graduate Studies, or other appropriate faculty with questions about the doctoral program.