PhD Program in History and Middle Eastern Studies

The joint program in History and Middle Eastern Studies is designed for students interested in enriching their program of study for the PhD in History with firsthand knowledge about the Middle East based on literacy in its languages and an understanding of its history. As a student in an interdisciplinary program you are a full member of the Department of History cohort, but also have an intellectual home at CMES and access to CMES faculty, facilities, and resources.

Students in the joint PhD Program in History and Middle Eastern Studies fulfill all the requirements for the PhD in History in addition to the language and area studies requirements established by the Committee on Middle Eastern Studies.

Language Requirements

Students are expected to develop Middle Eastern language skills (in Arabic, Hebrew, Persian, or Turkish) that will enable them to work at the highest levels of scholarship and teaching in their chosen field. Depending upon the student’s specialization, another Middle Eastern language may be substituted with the approval of the Committee on Joint PhD Programs. Native speakers of these languages will be required to master a second Middle Eastern language. Proficiency in the Middle Eastern language is tested by a language professor in the fourth field of the general examination, a single written examination of two parts. Students must also pass the History Department’s language exam in French, German, Russian, or Italian before taking general examinations.

Program of Study in History and MES

Coursework in the first two years includes a minimum of sixteen half-courses. History doctoral students usually take four courses each semester of their first two years in the program. In the first semester of their first year, students must complete the following courses: an introductory seminar on methodology, “History 3910—The Writing of History: Approaches and Practices,” and at least two half-courses of seminar work for a letter grade—one in Middle Eastern history and one in Western history. All coursework must be completed before one takes the General Examinations.  

A list of current Middle East–related courses is available on this site at the beginning of each semester; the History Department course catalog is available on the Harvard Registrar’s website.

History PhD candidates take departmental oral examinations usually in the spring of their second year of study. Candidates must pass these examinations before they may continue their PhD work. More details are available on the History Department’s website in the Graduate Program Requirements section.

Dissertation

In the third year doctoral students identify a three-member dissertation committee and topic. Students then prepare a dissertation prospectus and present it at the Department’s annual student prospectus conference, which is held during the third week in January. Satisfactory progress of PhD candidates in the writing stage is determined on the basis of the schedule a student arranges with his or her advisor.

Timeline for Student Progress and Degree Completion

  • Coursework: One to three years.
  • Examinations: General exams must be passed by the end of the second year, and no later than the third year of study.
  • Dissertation Prospectus: Must be approved by the end of the third year.
  • Dissertation Defense and Approval: The candidate’s dissertation committee decides when the dissertation is ready for defense. The doctorate is awarded when the candidate passes a defense of the dissertation.
  • Graduation: The program is ideally completed in six years.

For more details on these guidelines, see the Middle Eastern Studies section of the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences (GSAS) Student Handbook and the Department of History's guidelines for PhD students. Admissions information can be found in the Applying to CMES section of this site and on the GSAS website.