The Department of History offers the master of arts and doctor of philosophy degrees as well as minor work for doctoral students in other fields. The program is designed to meet the needs of the Ph.D. candidate; most students earn the master's degree en route to the Ph.D. The department only occasionally accepts a student for terminal master's work.

The department trains resourceful researchers, committed teachers, and engaged public intellectuals. We offer a rigorous course of study that combines independent and collaborative work and that emphasizes scholarly and intellectual connectedness. The department strongly supports the Wisconsin Idea, the principle that education should influence and improve people's lives beyond the university classroom. For more than 100 years, this idea has guided the university's work. Students pursue a variety of careers, both inside and outside the academy.

Graduate students in the Department of History specialize in one of the following subfields or study programs, each of which sets its own programmatic requirements, consistent with Graduate School policies and subject to the approval of the department as a whole: African history; Central Asian history; East Asian history; European history; Latin American and Caribbean history; Middle Eastern history; South Asian history; Southeast Asian history; and United States history. See also Program in Gender and Women's History below. For details on the M.A. and Ph.D. requirements of the study programs, see the History Graduate Handbook or contact the graduate coordinator. For information about the faculty's areas of geographic and thematic specialization, see the department's faculty specialty page.

The department offers multiyear support packages to all incoming graduate students. Support begins with a fellowship in the first year and includes additional years of comparable support (teaching assistantships, project assistantships, and internal or external fellowships), provided the student makes satisfactory progress and performs well as a graduate assistant. Contact the graduate coordinator for details.

Other Degree Options

Bridge Program with Afro-American Studies

This is an academic partnership designed to allow students to complete the M.A. in Afro-American studies and the Ph.D. in history. It enables the Afro-American studies student who specializes in the history area to meet the basic requirements of the history M.A. while completing a degree in Afro-American studies. Students may apply simultaneously to the two departments or may apply to the Department of History after they begin their program in Afro-American studies, usually in the fall of the first or second M.A. year. For details, contact the graduate coordinator.

Joint Ph.D. in History and History of Science

Students who wish to obtain a joint Ph.D. in history and history of science, medicine, and technology are initially admitted to one of the departments, and should indicate interest in the joint Ph.D. program at that time.  After completion of a master’s degree in history or history of science, medicine, and technology (or an approved alternative), the student applies for admission to the other department and, at the same time, to a standing committee of the two departments for admission to the joint program. Having been admitted to the other department and to the joint program, the student then applies to the Graduate School for approval of the joint Ph.D. (See the Graduate School's academic policy regarding joint degrees for more information and deadlines.)  The student’s application to the standing committee should take the same form as required by the Graduate School and should be prepared in close consultation with department faculty/staff.

Students in the joint Ph.D. program are assigned a home department and follow the regulations of that department with regard to seminar requirements, language requirements, financial aid, and regulations for satisfactory progress. Since the joint Ph.D. meets the doctoral minor requirement of the Graduate School, no formal minor is required of students receiving a joint Ph.D. However, students who wish to have a minor field recorded on the transcript may complete a regular Option A or Option B minor, or the internal minor of the department.

The joint Ph.D. student’s work is supervised by a committee consisting of three faculty members (two from the home department). The preliminary examinations test the student’s competence in both history and history of science, medicine, and technology, balancing the material and fields between the two departments (e.g. two in each, or three in one and two in the other).  The number of prelim fields must equal the number required of students majoring exclusively in history or in history of science, medicine, and technology, plus one. Preparation of the Ph.D. dissertation is guided by the student's supervising committee. Satisfactory completion and defense of the dissertation constitute the final requirements for the joint Ph.D. degree.

Individual Joint Ph.D.

Students in other departments who wish to pursue a joint Ph.D. (one degree, two majors) with history must first be admitted to the history department. The proposal for the degree must be approved by the department's Graduate Council before it is submitted to the Graduate School. Students admitted to a joint Ph.D. will satisfy all the normal requirements of their field in history except the minor requirement.

Concentration in the History of Gender and Women

The concentration in gender and women's history offers training with a specific geographic area of specialization while also providing opportunities for students to explore their research interests in gender and women's history in a global perspective.

Students may enter this concentration through any of the department's study programs. Students who wish to be considered for the concentration in gender and women's history should indicate this on their Graduate School application.

Students in the concentration of gender and women will generally choose courses within and meet all the requirements of their geographic areas of specialization, while also meeting some additional requirements for the women's/gender history concentration and working under the supervision of a scholar active in the field of gender and women's history within their geographic area. All students in the concentration will take a team-taught core seminar on the comparative and transnational history of women and gender.

Prospective students should see the program website for funding information.

Minimum Degree Requirements and Satisfactory Progress

To make progress toward a graduate degree, students must meet the Graduate School Minimum Degree Requirements and Satisfactory Progress in addition to the requirements of the program.

Doctoral Degrees


Minimum Graduate Degree Credit Requirement

51 credits

Minimum Graduate Residence Credit Requirement

32 credits

Minimum Graduate Coursework (50%) Requirement

Half of the degree coursework (26 credits out of 51 total credits) must be completed in graduate-level coursework; courses with the Graduate Level Coursework attribute are identified and searchable in the university's Course Guide.

Prior Coursework Requirements: Graduate Work from Other Institutions

With program approval, students are allowed to count up to 12 credits of graduate coursework from other institutions.

Prior Coursework Requirements: UW–Madison Undergraduate

With program approval, students are allowed to count up to 7 credits of UW–Madison undergraduate coursework.

Prior Coursework Requirements: UW–Madison University Special

With program approval, students are allowed to count coursework numbered 300 or above taken as a UW–Madison University Special student, up to a maximum of 15 credits.

Credits per Term Allowed

Non-dissertator students:15 credits
Dissertators: 3 credits related to their dissertations

Program-Specific Courses Required

Contact the program for information on any additional required courses.

Doctoral Minor/Breadth Requirements

Doctoral students must complete a doctoral minor.

Overall Graduate GPA Requirement


Other Grade Requirements

The Graduate School requires an average grade of B or better in all coursework (300 or above, not including research credits) taken as a graduate student unless conditions for probationary status require higher grades. Grades of Incomplete are considered to be unsatisfactory if they are not removed during the next enrolled semester.

Probation Policy

The Graduate School regularly reviews the record of any student who earned grades of BC, C, D, F, or Incomplete in a graduate course (300 or above), or grade of U in research credits. This review could result in academic probation with a hold on future enrollment or in being suspended from the Graduate School.


Every graduate student is required to have an advisor. An advisor is a faculty member, or sometimes a committee, from the major department responsible for providing advice regarding graduate studies. An advisor generally serves as the thesis advisor. In many cases, an advisor is assigned to incoming students. Students can be suspended from the Graduate School if they do not have an advisor.

To ensure that students are making satisfactory progress toward a degree, the Graduate School expects them to meet with their advisor on a regular basis.

A committee often accomplishes advising for the students in the early stages of their studies.

Assessment and Examinations

Doctoral students are required to take a comprehensive preliminary/oral examination after they have cleared their record of all Incomplete and Progress grades (other than research and thesis). Deposit of the doctoral dissertation in the Graduate School is required.

Time Constraints

Doctoral degree students who have been absent for ten or more consecutive years lose all credits that they have earned before their absence. Individual programs may count the coursework students completed prior to their absence for meeting program requirements; that coursework may not count toward Graduate School credit requirements.

A candidate for a doctoral degree who fails to take the final oral examination and deposit the dissertation within five years after passing the preliminary examination may by require to take another preliminary examination and to be admitted to candidacy a second time.

Language Requirements

Contact the program for information on any language requirements.

The department requires an applicant to have a bachelor's degree from an accredited institution, with a minimum overall grade point average of 3.0 (on a 4.0 scale), and a minimum 3.0 grade point average in history courses taken as an undergraduate (although successful applicants generally have far higher GPAs). The department occasionally admits superior students who have not had the equivalent of a history major. The department requires the Graduate Record Exam. The GRE must have been taken during the five years preceding application to the graduate program. Those taking the GRE need take only the general aptitude portion of the exam.

Applicants must also submit official transcripts from all colleges attended, three letters of recommendation, the selection of study sheet, and a statement of purpose (personal statement). All fields require a writing sample. International students must submit Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL), International English Language Testing System (IELTS) or Michigan English Language Assessment Battery (MELAB) scores if English is not the language of the country of the student's permanent residence. Upon admission, they must also take the SPEAK test, the institutional version of the Test for Spoken English, in order to hold the teaching assistantships that constitute an element of multiyear support packages.

Each applicant is judged on the basis of previous academic record, letters of recommendation (especially those provided by historians or scholars in related fields), the personal statement, the writing sample, and other criteria including GRE scores.

Admission is highly competitive. The deadline for application is December 1. Although the department may review exceptional applications arriving after that date, most slots are filled in the review that occurs in January. 

Knowledge and Skills

  • By the end of their degree work, students receiving a doctoral degree in the history department are expected to achieve the learning goals specified for the master's degree as well as the following learning goals.
  • Articulates research problems clearly and understands the limits of current theories, knowledge, or practices in the discipline of history.
  • Pushes the boundaries of current historical knowledge in formulating research questions, in the selection or use of primary sources, or in interpreting evidence.
  • Demonstrates breadth of historical and cultural knowledge.
  • Is able to articulate the broader significance of their work to scholars in other fields or disciplines and to the broader public.
  • Is able to design and teach courses at the undergraduate or graduate level.

Professional Conduct

  • Fosters ethical and professional conduct.

Faculty: Professors Sweet (chair), Bernault, Boswell, Chamberlain, Cohen, Cronon, Desan, Dunlavy, Enstad, Hansen, Hirsch, Johnson, Jones, Kantrowitz, Kleijwegt,  Koshar, Mallon, McCoy, McDonald, Michels, Mitman, Neville, Plummer, Reese, Roberts, Scarano, Sharpless, Sommerville, Stern, Sweet, Wandel, Winichakul, Wink, Young; Associate Professors Cheng, Dennis, Enke, Hall, Kodesh, Ratner-Rosenhagen, Shoemaker, Thal; Assistant Professors Bitzan, Callaci, Chamedes, Chan, Ciancia, Dinces, Haynes, Hennessy, Ipsen, Kim, Kinzley, Lapina, Murthy, Taylor, Ussishkin, Whiting