Ph.D. Program in Rural, Agricultural, Technological, and Environmental History – Overview

To cope with the exigencies of the Covid-19 pandemic, the History Department is suspending funded admissions to its RATE PhD program for one year.  We continue to welcome applications on a rolling basis from prospective students whose academic and professional trajectories do not require financial support from the university. Please contact Dr. Kathy Hilliard [], Director of Graduate Education, for more information about our programs and the application process.

The RATE program is dedicated to the close examination of pervasive and enduring questions about rural and agricultural communities throughout world history, the technologies developed and employed by these communities, and the environmental contexts in which they operate. RATE is the only doctoral program in the United States to offer this unique focus. The program, however, defines the areas of history it addresses broadly, to include a wide array of faculty and student interests. Students are admitted either after completing an MA in history elsewhere, or they may obtain an MA in history at Iowa State while progressing toward the Ph.D. degree.

Quick Facts:

The RATE program requires thirty semester hours of graduate credit for the MA and an additional 42 for the Ph.D. (72 hours in total). In some cases, the MA may be recommended as the terminal degree. Students who continue beyond the MA are expected to pass a qualifying examination covering four general fields selected by the student, complete a dissertation, and defend it orally in the Ph.D. final examination.

RATE generally enrolls about a dozen students, at various stages of the doctoral program.

Recent dissertations have included studies of the development of agricultural communities in California, the creation of farm safety programs in the mid-twentieth century, adoption of technological and scientific innovation by mid-twentieth century midwestern farmers, and work, family and community in communal societies. If you are uncertain whether your research interests match our program’s areas of focus, please contact the Director of Graduate Education

Recent graduates are employed at a number of institutions, including Mount Mercy College in Cedar Rapids, Illinois College, Mount Royal University at Calgary, Southern Indiana University and Cal Poly – San Luis Obispo.


The History Department endeavors to provide five years of funding to all students enrolled in the RATE program, typically in the form of teaching assistantships. Beyond that point, students may apply for additional funding which, if available, will be awarded on a competitive basis. All funding is contingent on students making good progress toward their degrees, and on the department’s annual budget. Students are encouraged to seek outside funding as well.

For more information, see the Department’s full RATE program here.