UCLA » College » Social Sciences » History
United States


  • Eric Avila: Ph.D., University of California, Berkeley, 1997.
    20th-century U.S. - urban, cultural, race and ethnicity
    310-825-9106; eavila@ucla.edu
  • Peter James Hudson: Ph.D., American Studies, New York University, 2007.

    20th-century U.S. political-economic, business, and cultural history; History of Capitalism; Imperialism and anti-Imperialism; Caribbean; Pan-Africanism and African Diaspora 
    310-825-2347; pjhudson@ucla.edu

  • Janice L. Reiff: Ph.D., University of Washington, 1981.
    U.S. 20th-century social and urban history; Digital humanities; Historical methods
    310-825-5029; jreiff@ucla.edu
  • Craig Yirush: Ph.D., The Johns Hopkins University, 2003.
    U.S. history; Early modern British Atlantic; Church-state relations in colonial America
    310-825-3078; yirush@history.ucla.edu


With more than twenty-five distinguished faculty members in the field of U.S. history, the UCLA Department of History offers one of the country’s broadest, most diverse, and successful graduate programs in the subject. Faculty expertise ranges from the pre-colonial history of the Americas to the present. The faculty believes that students in our field should receive a common core education in U.S. history as well as having the opportunity to expand and rethink the field through further training and research that is individualized, specialized, and creative. We encourage interdisciplinary, transnational, and comparative study to take advantage of UCLA’s renowned strengths, not just in the History Department, which is the largest and perhaps most comprehensive in the country, but also across the humanities, social sciences, arts, and, where appropriate, the sciences.

Resources for graduate study at UCLA are exceedingly rich. The Young Research Library is one of the five largest in the nation, and there are additional superb rare book collections in all periods of American history at the nearby Huntington and Clark libraries. Furthermore, UCLA is home to an array of interdisciplinary research centers and programs, many of which run lecture series, hold conferences, sponsor research programs, offer classes, and provide fellowships to graduate students in corresponding fields of study. US history graduate students have been especially active in the Center for the Study of Women, the Institute of Industrial Relations, and the four research centers for American ethnic studies (the Chicano Studies Research Center, Bunche Center for African American Studies, American Indian Studies Center, and Asian-American Studies Center). Students have also interacted with Area Studies research centers (Centers for African Studies, Southeast Asian Studies, Japanese Studies, etc), Environmental Studies, Seventeenth and Eighteenth Century Studies, and more that could not be listed comprehensively. These centers and their programs offer excellent opportunities for inter-disciplinary research and discussion.

Requirements for the Doctorate in U.S. History

As a candidate for the M.A. and Ph.D. degrees, a student must meet (a) the general requirements set forth by the Graduate Division and (b) the specific requirements of the field that follow here. We confer M.A. degrees along the way to the Ph.D. We do not offer a separate M.A. program or admit students only for the purpose of obtaining an M.A.


In accord with university regulations set forth by the Graduate Division, a minimum of nine courses must be completed to be eligible for the M.A. degree and Ph.D. degree. Courses taken to fulfill M.A. degree requirements may also be used to satisfy Ph.D. requirements. These courses should be completed in the first two years of graduate study.The U.S. history program maintains the following particular requirements:

Core seminar series
Students are required to take History 246 A, B, and C, the core seminar series for first-year students in the U.S. field. The 246 series is intended to provide a broad core survey of U.S. history and historiography, as well as an opportunity to develop critical skills in historical interpretation, analysis, and a wide discussion of methodologies in historical scholarship. The 246 series should prepare you to begin study for the written comprehensive exams (see below), help you to develop sufficiently broad knowledge to teach undergraduate survey courses in U.S. history, and acquaint you with a wide body of historiography and a range of methodologies within which (or from which) they will later be able to define and distinguish their own original research.

The content of the 246 series is always meant to be comprehensive, but it can never be totally encompassing of all that is or might become part of U.S. history. The syllabi change each year, depending upon the faculty teaching in the series and developments in the historical literature. Keeping this in mind will help you to learn how scholarly knowledge is organized, evaluated, and changed, as well as how certain traditions, interpretations, and scholarly practices are created and conserved. Construed this way, the 246 series is an opportunity to learn about history as a scholarly discipline that itself has a complex history of change, continuity, and connections to other scholarly disciplines and other historical events and processes.

Two-quarter research seminars
Students are required to complete TWO two-quarter graduate research seminars, in which they write substantial papers based on original research. Several two-quarter research seminars are offered every year in U.S. history and more are offered in other fields within the History Department. When appropriate to specific research interests and scheduling exigencies, one of these required research seminars may, upon successful petition to the department’s Graduate Affairs Committee, be effectively completed by a continuing sequence of two graduate courses resulting in an original research paper of equivalent magnitude. This alternative route toward completing a required research seminar typically entails a one-quarter graduate seminar followed by a graded directed studies course (History 596) with the same professor.

Students who enter the program with an M.A. degree in History or a related discipline are required to complete only one two-quarter research seminar in the History Department. However, although only one research seminar is required in such cases, it may be wise and your faculty advisor may suggest that you should take a second two-quarter research seminar or a continuing sequence of two graduate courses to write another research paper for the experience of working in a particular sub-field or with a particular professor.

Research seminars are intended to give you a chance to experiment in researching and writing on different topics, or utilizing different methodologies. Sometimes these research papers become pilot studies for a dissertation or even a chapter of the dissertation, but they are also important when they do not lead directly to a dissertation topic. Learning that a particular topic is not feasible or attractive for a dissertation can be quite valuable. So, too, is the experience of conducting research on a topic different from that which will become the subject of your dissertation. Research seminar papers should approximate the size and style of published journal articles, and occasionally the best papers are indeed publishable.

Breadth Requirements

All students in the U.S. field must take ONE graduate level seminar in History outside the U.S. field and ONE graduate level course offered in an outside department. Knowing a field and a discipline requires some sense of its boundaries, and this is best done by learning something of other fields and disciplines. Studying even briefly in another field and discipline can also provide access to diverse methodologies, knowledge about other societies linked in common historical processes, opportunities for comparison, and/or a deeper knowledge of the culture(s) of communities you might be studying. On a practical level, the committee of faculty you must assemble for your oral Ph.D. qualifying exam (see below) must include one member from outside the U.S. field in the History Department and one member from outside the History Department. Taking courses outside the field is thus also an opportunity to develop relationships and knowledge that you will need to select these committee members.


The ability to perform research in one language other than English must be demonstrated by passing a departmentally-administered reading examination, successfully completing the third-year level of university language instruction, or by satisfying the departmental examiner(s) that it is one’s native language.

Doctoral Written and Oral Examinations

  • Written Comprehensive Examination

The written comprehensive examination must be passed to earn the M.A. degree and to continue to the oral qualifying examination for admission to candidacy for the Ph.D. degree. Students must take the written comprehensive examination after 12 months in residence. The written comprehensive examination is administered once a year at the beginning of the Fall Quarter. Students who fail the examination may retake it the following year. The examination may be retaken only once. Students failing the exam a second time will not continue in the program.

The examination committee consists of the three faculty members who taught the History 246 series in the previous year. If any of these faculty members are unavailable, preference is given, in replacing such members, to faculty members who have taught History 246 in recent years. The written examination is intended to test a broad understanding of American history both before and after the independence of the U.S. All facets of history (political, social, diplomatic, etc.) are included. An ability to synthesize factual information, sometimes across long chronological periods, is essential. Knowledge of the scholarly literature and of the principal historiographical controversies arising out of it is tested along with the student's interpretive capabilities. Passing the examination implies that the student is qualified, in the judgment of the U.S. field, to teach courses in U.S. history at the college level. Questions related to the planning of such courses may appear on the examination.

Note on M.A. Degree

The M.A. degree will be conferred when a student has met all requirements established by the Graduate Division and successfully completed all course requirements, the language requirement, and passed the written comprehensive exam. All requirements for the M.A. degree should normally be completed before the end of a student’s second year in residence. In exceptional cases, the faculty of the field may decide that the M.A. degree will be terminal and that a student may not be allowed to continue in the program. Such a decision requires a 2/3 vote of the field’s faculty present at a meeting to consider the case, and must then be approved by the department’s Graduate Affairs Committee.

  • Oral Qualifying Examination and Dissertation Proposal

Before admission to candidacy for the Ph.D., students must write a dissertation proposal and pass a two-hour oral qualifying examination. Students must have completed all prior requirements before taking the oral exam. Students with any outstanding incompletes will not be permitted to sit for these exams. The oral qualifying exam is normally taken during a student’s third year.

The dissertation proposal must be written in consultation with your faculty advisor and other members of your oral examination committee. The proposal should contain:
(a) a statement of the dissertation topic;
(b) a historiographical discussion of the major literature bearing on the topic;
(c) a statement of the methodology to be employed; and
(d) a research plan and survey of the sources sufficient to demonstrate the viability of the topic.

The proposal must be approved by the dissertation advisor prior to the oral examination and copies must be given to each member of the examining committee in sufficient time before the exam.

Students select the composition of the oral examination committee in consultation with their advisor and with the agreement of the faculty they ask to serve on the committee. The committee must include four faculty members, including the student’s advisor. Normally, two committee members come from the U.S. field. One must come from a field in the History Department other than the U.S. field, and one must be a faculty member in another department. Students must receive the Department's approval of their committee at least three months before the oral qualifying examination is taken. For more information on how to form a doctoral committee, please consult the Graduate Student Intranet. To obtain this approval and file to take the oral qualifying exam, students must obtain a copy of the “Field and Committee Approval Form for Orals” from the History Graduate Office and then submit the completed form.

In the oral examination, you will be questioned about your dissertation proposal and, in connection with your proposal and your preparation with the members of your examination committee; you may also be questioned on related fields of study. Three major outcomes are possible:
(1) The exam is passed, in which case the student continues on to write a dissertation.
(2) When the exam is not passed, by majority vote of the committee the student may be allowed to continue in the program with the requirement of a second oral examination or a dissertation defense.
(3) The exam can be failed outright, in which case the student will not be allowed to continue in the program.

Dissertations, Advisors, and Dissertation Certifying Committees

To obtain the Ph.D. degree, you must meet all of the requirements stipulated by Graduate Division and your dissertation must be approved by your Dissertation Committee. Normally the committee is derived from the oral examining committee, though changes are possible and not uncommon. Dissertations are original and highly individualized research projects, overseen by the faculty advisor and committee, though principally the responsibility of the student herself. You should maintain contact with your advisor and other members of your Certifying Committee when researching and writing your dissertations.