Graduate Program

Faculty and Fields of Study

To prospective students

You already know that Cornell's Department of History has a topnotch faculty covering a wide range time periods, geographic regions and methodologies. As a student in our program, you will also be able to work with members of the wider Graduate Field of History, which includes scholars whose main appointment is in other colleges and programs at Cornell but who are able to supervise dissertations of Ph.D. students in History. Our website lists both members of the Department and the Field of History. 

In addition, thanks to Cornell's distinctive committee system, students in history may have any other full-time faculty in the University as members of their Special Committee.   Committees of students currently enrolled in our program contain members of the departments of English, Government, Asian Studies, Science & Technology Studies, Archeology, Classics, Near Eastern Studies and Development Sociology, among others.  

If you are considering Cornell, we would encourage you to cast your net wide and look at faculty and courses in departments across the University.

The Special Committee and the A-exam

The program is designed to accommodate the specific needs, backgrounds, and objectives of individual students.  Thus, upon entering the program the Ph.D. student chooses three faculty members to serve on the Special Committee; the chair of the committee, an expert in the student's main field of concentration, will become the candidate's dissertation advisor. The two other members of the committee represent fields of study (the "minor fields") in which the student also has a strong interest and will become competent to teach.  The Special Committee members and the student fashion the program of courses and advanced research tailored to student's individual needs. 

No later than the end of the third year, each student will take an A-exam, demonstrating his or her proficiency in one major and two minor fields.  To encourage flexibility, the requirements that a student must fulfill before taking the A exam are kept to a minimum.  The requirements include:  taking seven graduate-level seminars including History 7090 (Introduction to the Graduate Study of History); demonstrating proficiency in two languages other than English (for those studying African, British and US  history, only one foreign language is required); completing at least one major research paper before the end of the second year.  

Graduate Courses

During your first two or three years of the program, you will have the opportunity to take a range of advanced seminars. Some of these may help prepare you for your A-exams directly, by introducing  you to the most significant writing in your own major and minor fields of study; others may be thematically organized, bringing together students and readings across a range of specialties around broader conceptual problems. The department regularly offers two classes designed to develop your professional and research skills: History 7090 (required of all first-year students) and History 6000 (the Graduate Research seminar, dedicated to the production of a major research paper by each student).  You can see what courses have been available for graduate students in the current academic year by looking at our Fall and Spring course rosters. Graduate courses have course numbers in the 6000s or 7000s

The dissertation

The Ph.D. dissertation is a piece of publishable scholarship which constitutes an original and substantial contribution to the discipline of history. You do not need to have a well-defined dissertation topic when you enter the Ph.D. program. The readings you do in your seminars and exam preparation, and the major research paper that you produce within the first two years, will help you to hone in on a topic. Students begin full-time dissertation research and writing after completing A-exams. 

Access to libraries and archives is a major concern for any prospective dissertation writer. Cornell's boasts a superb research library, with a rich and growing set of digital databases and superb special collections in (among many other things) witchcraft, Iceland, History of Science, and the History of Sexuality.  Link to: Library Rare Book Room websiteGeneral Library Catalogue.

For travel to other libraries and archives, the department and the graduate school actively mentor students in identifying and applying for research travel grants. The Graduate school maintains a searchable database of grants for researchers. Cornell's Einaudi Center for International Studies is a clearing house for information about international research grants, administers FLAS programs and awards internal long and short term travel grants.  The Judith Reppy Institute for Peace and Conflict Studies, the Feminist, Gender and Sexuality Studies Program, and the Einaudi Center all offer fellowships for which Cornell graduate students are eligible to apply on a competitive basis.  Link to: Einaudi Center funding information.

Learning to Teach

Your teaching experience at Cornell will prepare you for a career in academia, or for any other career that requires communication skills. Your first experiences, in your second and third years will be as a teaching assistant in a lecturer course, where you will have a chance to run a discussion section. Once you have some experience, you will be ready to design and teach your own First Year writing seminar. Because FWS’s are small classes focusing on specialized topics, you will be able to teach a subject about which you are passionate. Recent FWS’s taught by History graduate students have included Empire and Democracy: Ancient to Modern, "Centuries of Bloodshed? Violence in the Middle Ages, All Over the Map: Cartography in the Making of Boundaries, Places, and Histories, Revolution & Renewal: China's Modern Transformation, and The Prize and the Peril: African Nations at Fifty.  Link to: Knight Institute Writing Program.

Financial Aid

Admitted Ph.D. students are guaranteed five years of full funding from Cornell, which will cover tuition, living stipend and health insurance. This includes four summer living stipends.  Normally, during your first and final years of study you will receive a fellowship, with no teaching responsibilities. In other years, your financial aid package will require you to serve as a TA in a lecture course or to teach your own First-Year Writing Seminar. 

Many students are able to extend the period of time during which they are funded with internal or external grants.

Application Procedures

In addition to the application requirements of the Graduate School (three letters of recommendation, an academic statement of purpose, a personal statement and transcripts), the Field of History requires all applicants to submit a writing sample (an academic paper or essay that demonstrates their ability to do historical research, 20-25 pages). Non-native speakers of English must take the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL), or the IELTS exam (need combined score of 7.0, or higher). TOEFL scores cannot be more than 2 years old at time of application. (Exceptions to TOEFL exam are listed here: Exam scores must be included in the application by the December 15 deadline. Faculty may also choose to interview prospective students via telephone. See graduate school information regarding tests scores - TOEFL, IELTSPlease note: We no longer require or consider the GRE as part of the application process.

To apply for graduate study, go to this web site, for the on-line application (application should be available starting around Sept. 15).  All supporting documents (writing sample, letters of recommendation, etc.) should be submitted with the application. For any questions or concerns regarding your application, contact the graduate field coordinator, Barb Donnell, at Completed applications (including all supporting documents) must be received by December 15th in order for applicants to be considered for admission in the following academic year. Late or incomplete applications will not be considered after the deadline. You are advised to please contact the graduate field coordinator before the deadline to make sure that all of your required documents for the application have been received. Admissions decisions are made by late February.

Due to the large and very competitive pool of applicants each year, the field of History does not admit students for a Masters degree only.

Students are strongly encouraged to contact the faculty they would like to work with to make sure that they are accepting graduate students and will be on campus to supervise their work. Any questions about applying to our program or about the history graduate program in general can be directed to our Director of Graduate Studies, Paul Friedland,

If admitted to the Cornell history PhD program, see the Field of History ‘rules’ of graduate study.

Job Placement

Click here to view our graduate job placement records.