History of Science
Questions about these requirements? See the contact info at the bottom of the page.
Master of Arts (AM)
Eight Four-Unit Courses or the Equivalent, Including:
- Two seminars: Historiography of the History of Science (HISTSCI 3003A) and Research Methods in the History of Science (HISTSCI 3003B)
- Four additional graduate seminars (2000-level), of which:
- three must be offered by the Department of the History of Science (DHS)
- one must be outside the department.
Note that graduate reading courses and independent study courses do not fulfill the graduate seminar requirement.
- Two additional history of science courses, designated either “for undergraduates and graduate students” (1000-level) or “primarily for graduate students” (2000-level).
History of Science courses include:
- courses taught in other departments by members of DHS
- courses cross-listed under history of science in the online course catalog
- graduate-level courses offered by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the Science, Technology, and Society Program (a maximum of three courses may be taken at MIT).
All other courses count as outside the department.
AM students must prepare a master’s essay that presents an original argument about a topic in the history of science, medicine, and technology. It should be based on original research in primary sources, and it should engage carefully with relevant secondary sources. It should be 7,500 to 10,500 words in length, exclusive of bibliography and notes. It must be accompanied by a complete bibliography of cited works and references in an appropriate scholarly format.
Candidates for the AM must submit the AM Essay Topic Proposal form, available on the graduate program website, by March 1 of the AM year.
The master’s essay may consist of a paper written for a course in the history of science—HISTSCI 3003b or another graduate seminar—taken during the AM year.
Essays written for spring seminars must be submitted to the course instructor, DGS, and graduate coordinator by the last day of the reading period.
The master's essay may also be an independent work not connected to a course, but it is expected that the essay will have been substantially written and researched during the course of the student’s enrollment in the program; in this case, the DGS will designate a faculty member to grade the essay.
The essay must receive a grade of B+ or higher.
Residence and Progress:
Students must be in residence for one year of full-time study.
Eight courses must be completed with grades of B or higher.
All AM students will meet with the DGS and, where applicable, their advisor at the start of each term to review progress and approve plans of study.
Masters in Passing
Doctoral students who complete the doctoral course requirements (including submitting two research papers) are eligible to receive an AM degree in history of science with the approval of department faculty.
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Students must be in residence for a minimum of two years of full-time study. While in residence, students are expected to attend the department seminar.
Years 1 and 2: Coursework and Research Papers
Sixteen four-credit courses or the equivalent, plus a two-credit course, Colloquium on Teaching Practices, normally taken in the fall of the G3 year, including:
- Two seminars: Historiography of the History of Science (HISTSCI 3003A) and Research Methods in the History of Science (HISTSCI 3003B)
- Six additional graduate seminars (HISTSCI 2000-level or seminars “primarily for graduate students” in other departments), of which:
- four must be offered by DHS
- at least one must focus substantially on pre-1800 topics and one must focus substantially on post-1800 topics. (See the DHS graduate student program website for more details.)
- one must be taken outside DHS.
Note: The four seminars in DHS may include courses taught in other departments by faculty in the Department of the History of Science, courses cross-listed as HISTSCI, and graduate courses in science, technology, and society offered by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (a maximum of three courses may be taken at MIT). All other courses count as outside the department. Graduate reading courses or independent studies do not fulfill the graduate seminar requirement.
- Eight electives, of which up to five may be graduate-level reading courses in the history of science or other divisions, departments, or committees
- The Colloquium on Teaching Practices (two credits) taken in the first year of employment as a teaching fellow (normally the G3 year)
Note: The department does not accept transfer credits. However, students who matriculate into the doctoral program after receiving an AM degree in history of science or who take graduate courses as special students in the department are eligible to transfer up to eight four-unit courses.
In the first two years of graduate study, students must write two research papers, at least one for a departmental course. Papers must be between 7,500 and 10,500 words (exclusive of notes and bibliography); each must earn a grade of at least A-. At least one must display serious engagement with archival or other primary sources (which may include printed and/or digital materials and objects); the other may be based on fieldwork observation (e.g., ethnographic, participant-observer) or involve media production (e.g., interactive web, audio, video/photographic, museum exhibition).
One of these essays may be an independent work not connected to a course, but it is expected that the essay will have been substantially written and researched during the course of enrollment in the PhD program. In this case, the DGS will designate a faculty member to grade the essay.
The first paper should be submitted by June 1 of the G1 year to the graduate program coordinator, cc’ing the course instructor. Ordinarily, this essay is written in the context of the required Research Methods course.
The second paper should be submitted by April 1 of the G2 year to the graduate program coordinator. Ordinarily, this is written in the context of a departmental or external graduate seminar.
By the end of first term of the G2 year, one of these papers should be shared and discussed with one of the student’s advisor (normally the chair of the student’s General Exam Committee).
Grades and Assessment
Eight four-credit courses must be passed at a grade level of B or above in the first year of study.
The grade of incomplete (INC) is given in extraordinary circumstances. The decision to give an incomplete is at the discretion of each faculty member. Students with more than one INC on their record at the end of a term will receive a letter of warning from the department and are at risk of being placed into "unsatisfactory status."
Harvard Griffin GSAS policy requires that academic work must be completed, and the grade converted to a letter grade before the end of the next registration period (for example, coursework for an incomplete received in the fall of 2022 must be completed before the first day of registration for the fall of 2023). A petition for an extension of time for incomplete work signed by the course instructor and director of graduate studies must be submitted to the Harvard Griffin GSAS Dean of Student Affairs Office for any coursework completed after the end of the next registration period.
All courses must be graded before a student is permitted to teach. Students with outstanding course requirements (excluding the Teaching Colloquium normally taken in G3 year) are not permitted to sit for the general examination.
Students’ progress is reviewed each year by the department at a May faculty meeting in which a determination is made of students’ qualification for continuing graduate work in light of both departmental and Harvard Griffin GSAS requirements.
Advising and Progress
The Director of Graduate Studies (DGS) serves as the primary advisor to all first-year PhD students. In addition, first-year students are strongly encouraged to seek guidance about their academic and course plans from other faculty whose research interests correspond to their own. Students are encouraged to take courses with faculty they might ask to serve on their General Examination Committee.
During the second year, students are jointly advised by the DGS and the chair of the student’s General Exam Committee.
First- and second-year students meet with the DGS at the start of each term for the first two years to discuss their plan of study. Students also meet with the graduate program coordinator at the beginning of each term, submitting a completed History of Science Doctoral Degree Requirements Worksheet. This is to ensure that students are fulfilling the necessary requirements.
The formal advisor during the third year is the chair of the student’s Prospectus Committee. Upon acceptance of the prospectus, the chair of the Dissertation Committee becomes the student’s primary advisor.
Starting in the G3 year, students and advisors both complete an annual progress report (due in April) and meet to discuss progress and academic plans. This form is available on the HoS graduate program website. All students’ progress is reviewed each year by the department at a May faculty meeting in which a determination is made of students’ qualification for continuing graduate work in light of both departmental and Harvard Griffin GSAS requirements.
The DGS and the department chair are always available to provide support and advice at any stage of the graduate program. Students are encouraged to seek help from either of these individuals if any part of the advising process seems not to be working as it should.
For more information about advising procedures and resources, see the HoS Advising Timeline and the HoS Advising Best Practices documents available on the HoS graduate program website.
All students must demonstrate proficiency in at least one language other than English upon submission of the dissertation prospectus in November of the G3 year (see below). The language(s) in question should reflect students’ research interests and ordinarily will be agreed on in consultation with the DGS and intended dissertation director at the beginning of the first year of graduate study; the list may be revised as necessary to reflect students’ changing intellectual trajectories. Some students may enter with all the language preparation they will need for graduate study in their chosen fields. Others may have an elementary or intermediate knowledge of a language or languages and may improve on that knowledge by taking additional coursework, including first-, second-, or third-year language courses and/or the reading courses offered by some departments, whether during the regular academic year or in the summer.
Students may demonstrate proficiency in one of the following ways: (1) completing two terms of foreign-language coursework and receiving a grade of A- or higher in the courses; (2) completing a summer Reading Knowledge or other summer language course approved in advance by the DGS and receiving a grade of A- or higher; (3) completing upper-level coursework in a language other than English; (4) making substantial use of non-English texts in one or more seminar papers or in the preparation of general examination fields and prospectuses; or (5) passing a language exam offered by the department. Proficiency is assumed in the case of native speakers and bilingual students, as long as they are skilled in both reading and speaking.
To document proficiency, students must email the graduate program coordinator, cc’ing the advisor and the faculty member who certifies the student’s language skills. Students should list the language(s) and the means by which proficiency has been demonstrated. Students taking language reading courses at Harvard Summer School or in an external institution should have a transcript sent to the graduate program coordinator.
As students’ fields of study develop, they may find that they need to acquire new languages or further develop their skills in ones they already know. This should be discussed by students and their advisors on a regular basis as part of the advising process.
Year 2: The General Examination
PhD students in the history of science normally take the general examination at the end of the spring term of the G2 year. The aim of the general examination is to deepen and expand students’ historical knowledge for the purposes of both research and teaching. It is an oral examination in three fields, each one directed by a different faculty examiner. Students are not expected to demonstrate an encyclopedic command of detail but, rather, to give evidence of understanding the main historical developments in each field, mastery of the chief historiographic traditions associated with a particular content area, and an ability to discuss particular sciences or topics within relevant historical contexts.
The three examiners constitute the student’s General Examination Committee, one of whom serves as chair. Each field is chosen in consultation with the DGS, the chair of the committee, and individual committee members. Two fields should be directed by faculty in the Department of the History of Science (or in certain cases by faculty approved by the department to direct a field related to the history of science, technology, or medicine). One field should be directed by a faculty member outside the department, and students should consult carefully with the DGS and their intended chair about the scope of that field and who might be asked to direct it. Occasionally, a single field may be split into two subfields, each of which is directed by a distinct faculty member.
Once the student has agreed with each committee member about the title of their field, and the chair of the committee has approved all of them, students should submit the General Examination Application and a completed Doctoral Degree Requirements Worksheet to the graduate program coordinator. This should happen by early November of the G2 year. These applications are reviewed and then voted on by department faculty at the following faculty meeting.
During the G2 year, students normally enroll in a directed reading course (HSCI 3001) with each of the directors of their three fields during either the fall or spring term. Preparation for the exam may take place in the fall or spring, or it may extend over both terms. In any case, preparation should involve at least seven meetings between student and faculty member. At the beginning of preparation for each field, the student and director of each field will agree on a set of texts that constitutes the reading list for that field. This list may be revised over the course of preparation in consultation with the director of each field.
Early in the spring term, it is the student’s responsibility to coordinate with their General Examination Committee to determine the date and time of the exam. The examination should be scheduled for two hours: 90 minutes for the exam and 30 minutes for the committee to review the exam and discuss the result with the student. Once the date and time have been determined, the student should inform the graduate coordinator who will secure a room and add it to the schedule.
General examination applications will normally only be considered once students have completed all required coursework from the G1 year (and have no outstanding incomplete grades). Moreover, at the time of the exam, students should have completed (or should be actively enrolled in) all required coursework for the degree. A rising G3 student who has not passed the general examination will be allowed one term in which to complete any outstanding course and writing requirements as well as to sit for and pass the examination. The department may ask students who have not completed this process and passed the examination by the end of the first term of the G3 year to withdraw from the program.
For more information about general examination fields and the exam itself, consult the HoS General Examination Procedures document available on the HoS graduate program website.
Year 3 and Beyond: Teaching and the Dissertation
All students are required by the department to participate as teaching fellows or course assistants in at least one course offered by department faculty. Students may not teach during the DCF year and so should plan accordingly. All students are required to complete the Colloquium on Teaching Practices (two credits) offered in the fall, with opportunities for additional sessions in the spring.
Rising G3 students must attend the fall Bok Center Teaching Retreat as well as the department teaching retreat held in late August/early September. The Bok Center offers numerous teaching workshops and resources to enable teaching fellows to hone their teaching skills.
Faculty course instructors hold weekly meetings with teaching fellows to guide them in leading discussion sections and grading assignments and exams.
Consult the Department Teaching Manual for additional information.
The Dissertation Prospectus
Students are expected to begin preparing to write their prospectuses following the completion of their general examination at the end of the G2 year. To help facilitate this process, the department normally holds two “Prospectus Study Days” (in late May and early September).
During the summer or early in the fall term, students will assemble a Prospectus Committee in consultation with their General Examination Committee chair, presumptive primary advisor, and/or the DGS. The Prospectus Committee normally consists of three faculty members, of which one is the chair. (While Dissertation Committees may have more than three members, the Prospectus Committee is made up of exactly three members except in exceptional circumstances.) At least two members of this committee should be members of the department. Students are encouraged to include junior faculty on their Dissertation Committees.
Over the course of the G3 year's fall term, students develop a draft of their prospectus in consultation with their Prospectus Committee, which will approve its submission to the department faculty as a whole. Prospectuses are to be submitted to the graduate program coordinator at least one week before the December history of science faculty meeting (usually by the Thanksgiving break). The faculty discuss prospectuses at this meeting and vote on their approval.
Students are expected to submit their prospectuses in the fall of the G3 year; in all cases, however, approval must be obtained before the end of the G3 year.
After obtaining faculty approval, students present their prospectuses to the history of science community in a department seminar, usually in the spring of the G3 year.
For more information about the prospectus process and requirements, consult the HoS Prospectus Guidelines document available on the HoS graduate program website.
Once the student’s prospectus has been approved by the department, a Dissertation Committee is formed. Normally, the chair of the Prospectus Committee becomes the chair of the Dissertation Committee and the student’s primary advisor. The chair of the Dissertation Committee must be an eligible member of the department, as must at least one other member of the committee. (The names of faculty members available for the direction of the PhD dissertation are listed in the course catalog under History of Science 3000.) Students are encouraged to include junior faculty on their committees.
Timetable for submission of the dissertation
Students must submit a final, complete draft of the dissertation to their committees no later than six weeks prior to the “dissertations are due on” date specified by Harvard Griffin GSAS. All students must submit a PDF of the submitted dissertation with the signed dissertation acceptance certificate to the graduate coordinator.
Committees will read and comment on the dissertation draft and ask for any revisions no later than three weeks prior to the same date.
Students will make any necessary changes and submit the dissertation in its final form to the committee and to the department no later than one week prior to the “due on” date.
The dissertation should be an original contribution to knowledge. It must conform to the online description, Formatting your Dissertation, on the Harvard Griffin GSAS Policies website.
Note: Students planning on graduating should meet with graduate program coordinator a few months before planned graduation date to review graduation logistics.
The dissertation defense in history of science ordinarily takes place after the members of the Dissertation Committee have approved the dissertation. The dissertation defense is not required to receive the doctoral degree, but students often find the forum useful as they further their research. The graduate program coordinator will assist students in setting a defense date.
Duration of Study
Work for the degree should be completed within a total of six years. Normally, students take a Dissertation Completion Fellowship during the year that they complete the dissertation. However, in cases in which the dissertation is not completed, the Graduate School permits students to remain enrolled in the PhD program for one year following the Dissertation Completion Fellowship year. An extension beyond this one-year limit may be considered by the department and the Graduate School in extraordinary circumstances.
 Requirements apply to all students entering the program AY 2016–17 and after; students who entered the doctoral program in the fall of 2015 may opt to follow a modified version of the AY 2016–17 course requirements; students who entered the program before 2015 are subject to the former course requirements. The Colloquium on Teaching Practices requirement applies to all students entering the program in AY 2022–23 and after. Students who entered in AY 2020–21 and 2021–22 are strongly encouraged to take the Colloquium. Teaching Colloquium requirement applies to all students entering the program in AY 2022–23 and after. Students who entered in AY 2020–21 and 2021–22 are strongly encouraged to take the Teaching Colloquium.
Graduate Program Coordinator
Department of the History of Science
Science Center 371
Cambridge, MA 02138