RATE Doctoral Program Detailed Information

Students in the RATE program address important and enduring questions about rural and agricultural communities throughout world history, technologies developed and employed by these communities, and environmental contexts in which they operate. RATE’s unique focus brings diverse student and faculty interests into dynamic conversation about the past, preparing scholars to share and develop their expertise in a wide range of professional settings.

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 PhD degree.


Please contact Director of Graduate Education Kathy Hilliard before preparing an application for admission. You may reach her at khilliar@iastate.edu.


General Requirements:

A Ph.D. in RATE requires a minimum of seventy-two credits of graduate credit beyond the bachelor’s degree and forty-two credits beyond the Master’s degree. Students may enter the RATE program either with or without a Master’s degree but students without a Master’s degree in history will normally be required to earn an M.A. in history before progressing on to doctoral student status. Those with a Master’s degree in a field outside of history wishing to proceed directly to doctoral student status will be evaluated by the faculty of the RATE program on a case-by-case basis. Doctoral students must complete an additional forty-two credits of graduate seminars, research, and exam preparation; demonstrate a reading proficiency in a world language; pass written and oral exams in major fields of study (usually by the end of the second year of doctoral study), and complete and defend a dissertation. Attainment of a Ph.D. in RATE requires the successful completion of all the requirements at each level of the three designated levels of status: Master’s student, Doctoral student, and Doctoral candidate.

Requirements for a Master’s Degree:

Students who enter the RATE program without a Master’s degree need to first meet the requirements for a Master’s degree in history, which include thirty hours of graduate credit (24-27 credits of course work and 3-6 credits of research) and the writing and defense of a Master’s thesis (Plan I). Students who attain a Master’s degree at another institution may be admitted directly to doctoral student status with the permission of the Director of Graduate Education.

Master’s Program of Study:

By the beginning of their second semester of graduate study, students will select an area of concentration in: United States, European, or Global history. For those students intent on progressing to doctoral status, this concentration should be considered preparation for an eventual teaching field. Twelve hours of course work (non-research) are required to complete an area of concentration. Courses taken in this field should be general in nature and not particular to rural, agricultural, technological, or environmental history. Ideally, studies in the concentration area will inform the student’s major field of study as a doctoral student. Upon determining an area of concentration the master’s student will select an appropriate thesis advisor from the department’s tenure line faculty, and together they will select two other faculty members to form a Program of Study Committee. One member must come from outside the Department of History.

Master’s Coursework:

At least 30 credits of acceptable work, at least 21 of which must be in history. Students may take up to 9 credits of 400-level courses for graduate credit, or in rare cases 6 credits of 400-level courses and 3 credits of 300-level courses, although no history graduate student may take a 300-level history course for graduate credit. Also, no history graduate student may use HIST 490 or 495 for graduate credit, and no more than 6 credits of HIST 590, Special Topics, may be included in the minimum 30 credits submitted for the degree. A master’s student must earn a grade of ‘B’ or higher in all work at the graduate level in order to remain in good standing. Grades lower than ‘B’ will be cause for departmental review of the student’s status. Master’s students may take a maximum of 12 credits per semester. Those with teaching assistantships may enroll for no more than 9 credits per semester.

Master’s Thesis:

Under the direction of the student’s thesis advisor the student will write a master’s thesis based upon primary source materials. Students will register for 3-6 credits of research (HIST 699) while working on their thesis. After completion of the thesis, and in consultation with the thesis advisor, the student shall schedule an oral defense before the advisory committee following rules and timelines defined by the Graduate College. This will consist of a two-hour exam, and the committee will award a “no pass,” “weak pass,” “pass,” or “pass with distinction.” Students who fail the exam can retake it in the following semester, but a second failure will result in dismissal from the program. At a minimum, students must achieve a “pass” on their first attempt in order to advance to doctoral student status and proceed to the Ph.D. program.

Requirements for Admission to Doctoral Candidacy:

Upon completion of the Master’s degree, doctoral students are required to complete an additional 42 graduate credits (involving coursework, Special Topics, Directed Readings for exam preparation, and research credits), demonstrate a reading proficiency in a foreign language, and pass comprehensive examinations in their four fields of study. No more than 9 credits of HIST 590, Special Topics, and HIST 591, Directed Readings, may be included in the minimum 42 credits of doctoral study. Students will choose a major professor from the RATE core faculty, a Program of Study Committee, and establish a Program of Study by the end of their second semester in doctoral student status. Students will typically complete their preliminary exams by the end of their second year of doctoral student status.

Fields of Study:

In consultation with the major professor, doctoral students must select four fields of study. Typically two will be in U.S., European, or global history, or some combination of these, intended to develop broad teaching competencies. Alternatively, in consultation with their major professor, students may select one broad field and one specialty field reflecting their research focus as their first and second fields. Students will choose a third field in rural, agricultural, technological, or environmental history related to their anticipated dissertation topic. Lastly, students will choose a fourth field of study as approved by the major professor. This field might broaden the student’s research expertise or involve an interdisciplinary perspective or methodological approach that broadens the student’s intellectual development. All dissertations completed in the RATE program will contain a component related to rural, agricultural, technological, or environmental history, broadly defined.

First and Second Fields (any two of the following)

  • United States History to 1865
  • United States History since 1865
  • European History to 1500
  • European History since 1500
  • Global History to 1500
  • Global History since 1500
  • Specialty field (developed in consultation with your major professor)

Third Field (one of the following)

  • Rural History
  • Agricultural History
  • Technology History
  • Environmental History

Fourth Field

Coordinated with the Program of Study Committee and approved by the major professor(s) and the DOGE. Students will develop a field that expands their expertise in their field of specialization (if not already addressed via a specialty field, as above), or that broadens their disciplinary range via a comparative or methodological focus.

Program of Study Committee:

The Graduate College requires the establishment of a Program of Study Committee. This committee will be chosen during the student’s first year of study, although it may be changed later if the student’s plans have changed or become more firmly fixed. The Program of Study (POS) Committee must include five members of the graduate faculty. The complete Program of Study Committee includes:

    • the major professor under whose direction the Ph.D. dissertation will be written; in some instances two major professors may be appropriate, in which case the two major professors will serve as co-directors of the Ph.D. dissertation;
    • three other faculty in the Department of History, one of whom may be a long-term adjunct who is (or is eligible to be) an associate member of the graduate faculty and who is expected to be employed throughout the duration of the student’s candidacy; if the dissertation is co-directed, just two other history department faculty will serve on the POS committee;
    • one faculty member from outside the RATE program, possible outside the Department of History.

At least three members of the Program of Study committee will serve as examiners for the written/oral examinations in the student’s first three fields. All five committee members shall serve as examiners for the oral defense of the dissertation.

Course Requirements for the Program of Study:

The student and the major professor(s) will jointly develop a Program of Study (POS) for doctoral studies distinct from the POS for the Master’s degree with a strong emphasis in RATE courses. The doctoral Program of Study should be submitted no later than the end of the second semester in doctoral student status. On the Program of Study form, all post-bachelor’s degree coursework is included and must include a minimum of 72 credits. Doctoral students must complete at least 18 credit hours of work in graduate seminars beyond the history master’s degree. In consultation with the program director, a major professor and/or DOGE may require courses specific to the POS. At least 18 credit hours will be completed doing dissertation research (HIST 699) once the student has reached doctoral candidacy. Coursework should be chosen carefully in order to prepare the student for his or her selected fields.


Students must earn at least a ’B’ in all work taken for graduate credit. Course grades, however, are not the entire basis for evaluating student performance. Students’ progress will be evaluated on an ongoing basis by their advisor and the Graduate Committee.

World Languages Proficiency:

The RATE program requires that all doctoral students demonstrate a reading proficiency in a world language, generally before they are allowed to progress to doctoral candidacy. The circumstances for meeting this requirement should be supervised by the major professor and should be considered as part of the Program of Study. A doctoral student may use the same world language in which they demonstrated proficiency for a previous degree. Language requirements will ideally be met by the time the student becomes ABD, either by passing a written exam administered within the department or by successfully completing (with grades of ‘B’ or higher) one year of language courses. The number of languages necessary to the completion of the dissertation will be determined in cooperation with the student’s POS committee. In NO instance can a demonstrated competency in statistics and computer-based research be substituted for the language requirement at the doctoral student level.

English Language Requirement:

The Graduate College requires that all students must meet a Graduate College English requirement before completing twelve credit hours of graduate work at Iowa State University. Check with the Graduate College or the English Department for more details.

Preliminary Examinations:

Doctoral students should plan to take their examinations early in their fourth semester of study at doctoral student status. Exams will consist of four different four-hour exams over two weeks. Field examinations will consist of a written and oral component. Students will be graded within the following range:

    • Pass with distinction
    • Pass
    • Pass – poor
    • Fail

In the first two instances the student may proceed to Doctoral Candidacy without conditions. In the third instance, the student may be required to complete additional course or written work. A “Fail” requires retaking the examination, but no sooner than six months after the failure. In most cases the student will be required to withdraw from the program after failing examinations. In no instance may an examination be taken more than twice. In the event that five years pass between the preliminary examinations and the final oral defense of the dissertation, the student may be required to retake the preliminary examinations.

Requirements for Degree CompletionDissertation and Final Examination:

Each doctoral candidate shall write a dissertation on a topic selected by the candidate with the approval of the major professor. Candidates will register for at least 18 credits of dissertation research (HIST 699). The dissertation must address some aspect of rural, agricultural, technological, or environmental history, broadly defined. The candidate will be required to prepare and defend orally a formal dissertation proposal, which defines the subject area and problem to be the researched, suggests a tentative thesis, and demonstrates knowledge of the research materials for the dissertation. The dissertation shall be written under the primary direction of the major professor or co-chairs of the committee, but in consultation with the other committee members upon authorization by the major professor. The Final Examination, which is oral, is intended principally as a defense of the dissertation. The exam will be administered by the Program of Study Committee upon the completion of the dissertation by the student. Normally only the candidate and committee members are present, and other observers may only be invited with the permission of the Program of Study Committee. Candidates must consult the Graduate College for details on university dissertation requirements, format, and time schedules.

Dismissal Policy:

Graduate students in the RATE program may be dismissed for the following reasons:

    1. Failure to identify a major professor and committee of study within twelve months of admission.
    2. Failure to file a Program of Study form within twelve months of admission.
    3. Failure to earn grades of B or above in any courses.
    4. Inability to meet program requirements in a timely manner.
    5. Failure of the preliminary examinations twice.
    6. Failure to complete the degree requirements in five years if entering the program with an MA degree or within seven years if entering the program with a BA degree.

The RATE faculty will notify the student in writing of his or her deficiencies and meet to decide the disposition of its case. The student will be notified in writing of the outcome. Dismissals may be appealed through the program coordinator to the RATE program faculty who, meeting as a committee-of-the-whole, will hear and decide the matter. The dismissal of part-time students will be determined by the program coordinator in consultation with the program committee.

For additional information:

Contact the program coordinator, currently Professor Kathleen Hilliard.