History of Science

Academic Year 2023 – 2024

General Information

Dickinson Hall

Program Offerings:

  • Ph.D.
  • Certificate

Department for program:

Director of Graduate Studies:

Graduate Program Administrator:

Leanne Horinko (Graduate Assistant)


The goal of the graduate Program in History of Science at Princeton is to enhance our students' enthusiasm for the subject while also training them for the joint professional responsibilities of teaching and research. Under the aegis of the Department of History, the Program in History of Science treats science as an intellectual, cultural, and social phenomenon. Recognizing that the study of the history and social aspects of science requires special training and techniques not normally included in the education of professional historians or other scholars, the program provides qualified students with that special training while at the same time preparing them to teach and work in general history.

Our approach to graduate training is also distinctive in the extent to which it requires formal qualifications in other areas of history. Graduate students in this program are simultaneously members of the Department of History; in fact, their degrees are awarded in history. Faculty members in the program are also members of the Department of History.

The maximum period of regular enrollment in the program (as in the Department of History at large) is five years, including time spent on research in absentia. Students have the opportunity to be enrolled for up to two additional years in Dissertation Completion Enrollment (DCE) status if additional time is necessary to complete the dissertation.


Application deadline
December 1, 11:59 p.m. Eastern Standard Time (This deadline is for applications for enrollment beginning in fall 2024)
Program length
5 years
General Test - optional/not required

Additional departmental requirements

Sample of written work, 25 page maximum.

Program Offerings

Program Offering: Ph.D.


During the first two years, students pursue a pattern of course work aimed at preparing them for the general examination and training them in the research techniques of professional scholarship. Students normally participate in three graduate courses per term. Students lacking prior background are encouraged to take undergraduate courses to supplement their graduate training. Although the precise pattern of courses depends on the individual, students plan their programs within the broad outlines set by the general examination. Each course usually meets once a week for three hours. A course may be either the seminar type, centering on individual students preparing research papers, or the more general, reading type, aimed at having students gain a broad acquaintance with a subject or a mixture of both.

In addition to preparing for the general examination, students are advised to take seminars in the history of science that do not fall within their examination fields. Students focusing on European or American science are expected to take at least one course that deals with science, medicine, or technology in the non-Western world, and vice versa. Students are encouraged to look beyond the program as they pursue suitable coursework or language study related to their particular scholarly interests.


Program students should demonstrate a reading knowledge of two foreign languages as soon as possible after enrollment. French and German are normally recommended, but other languages relevant to the student’s prospective research may be substituted with the approval of the director of graduate studies. Candidates are normally not readmitted for a fifth term of study or permitted to complete the general examination until the language requirement has been satisfied.

The faculty of the Department of History set most of the language examinations. Examinations in some languages, however, may be administered by appropriate language departments at Princeton. Normally the examination consists of two passages to be translated, one with and one without a dictionary. Language examinations will be announced at the beginning of each semester. Other examinations should be scheduled in consultation with the director of graduate studies and (if appropriate) the department involved.

Additional pre-generals requirements

Writing Requirement
Students are required to write two research papers based on primary sources before sitting for the general examination. Students often write one of these research papers in the context of a graduate seminar and another based on independent research. The first must be completed and certified by June 15 of the first year of enrollment and the second by April 1 of the second year.

Responsible Conduct of Research
Students are required to fulfill the mandatory Responsible Conduct of Research seminar over the course of their first year.

General exam

The general examination is normally taken at the end of the second year and consists of three sets of written and oral examinations in (1) a major field in the history of science, medicine, or technology; (2) a minor field in another area of history; and (3) one of the following options: (a) a second special field in the history of science, medicine, or technology, (b) a second field in another area of history, or (c) a field in some related subject, for example, philosophy of science, science and technology studies, or anthropology of science. Precise definitions of fields, and special concentrations within them, are worked out in consultation with the director of graduate studies for the Program in the History of Science and appropriate faculty members in the field before the beginning of the fourth semester of graduate study.

Qualifying for the M.A.

The Master of Arts (M.A.) degree is normally an incidental degree on the way to full Ph.D. candidacy, but also may be awarded to students who, for various reasons, leave the Ph.D. program. Students who have satisfactorily passed all required coursework (with all incompletes resolved), fulfilled the language requirements in their field of study, and completed the two required research papers may be awarded an M.A. degree.


The Department of History tries to provide part-time teaching experience for most of the advanced graduate students who desire it. Teaching assistantships generally involve two to four classroom hours a week and should not interfere with progress toward completing the dissertation. Appointments are made by the department chair, according to the needs of the undergraduate teaching schedule, to advanced graduate students.

Post-Generals requirements

Students will normally participate in the department's mandatory Dissertation Prospectus Workshop in June of the second year.

To be eligible, students must have passed their general examinations and have done so no later than their fourth semester of enrollment, or have special permission from the Director of Graduate Studies to participate. Passing the Prospectus Seminar is a required part of degree work in the department. Students are expected to participate actively and devote their time and effort to completing a fully shaped prospectus before the summer is over.

Continuation as an enrolled student into the spring semester of the G3 year will be contingent upon approval of the prospectus. Students are required to have a meeting together with their adviser and first reader (or with their two co-advisers) in the weeks following the seminar. The purpose of this meeting is to provide an opportunity for the student to benefit from informal conversation with their key mentors regarding the intellectual and practical plans for the project. Their formal agreement is then given with the approval form, which should be signed by both the adviser and the first reader following the meeting, and which must be filed with the Graduate Office before December 1 of the student’s third year, or within six months of completing the general examination for students whose exams are split or delayed. 

Dissertation and FPO

Students devote their last three years of study to the research for and writing of a dissertation. The dissertation ordinarily falls within a special field in the history of science that constitutes part of the student’s general examination. Where research requires an absence abroad or elsewhere in this country, it usually takes place during the fourth year so that students may most effectively combine completion of the dissertation with the search for employment during the fifth year. Upon completion of the dissertation and its approval by at least two readers (usually, but not necessarily, members of the Department of History), the student takes a final public oral examination devoted to a defense of the dissertation and a discussion of its implications for further work.

The Ph.D. is awarded after the candidate’s doctoral dissertation has been accepted and the final public oral examination sustained.

Additional requirements

The regular academic program period concludes at the end of the fifth year and the Department encourages all eligible students to apply for Dissertation Completion Enrollment (DCE) status and reenroll. To qualify for DCE status, the Graduate School requires that doctoral students “must have drafted or written a significant portion of the dissertation (at least one full chapter) and be actively engaged in research and writing.” As part of the reenrollment process, fifth-year students should satisfy this requirement or its equivalent, and submit a Plan for Completion, consisting of a short narrative of their progress, describing the work they have completed to date and their timeline for completing the dissertation. Students will meet with their dissertation Advisor and First Reader (or co-Advisors) to review the Plan for Completion, after which the advisor should submit a signed form supporting the student’s reenrollment. The purpose of this meeting is to provide an opportunity for the student to meet with their advisory team to check in on the status of the dissertation writing and research. The signed form and approved narrative must be filed with the History Graduate Office before April 15 of the student’s fifth year.

Students who have exhausted their five years (ten semesters) of Graduate School funding and do not hold other outside fellowships may apply for departmental fellowship support for their sixth year. Continuation as an enrolled student and the awarding of such fellowships is contingent on demonstrated good progress toward the completion of the dissertation. 

Program Offering: Certificate

Program description

The History of Science Interdepartmental Graduate Certificate Program is aimed at enabling students who are taking seminars in the program, working closely with program faculty, and writing dissertations on aspects of the history of science, medicine, and technology to receive a formal credential in History of Science. Many such students prepare a generals field in history of science, technology, or medicine, but that is not a requirement for the certificate. The certificate will appear on the student’s official transcript after all requirements for the certificate have been fulfilled and a graduate degree has been awarded. Students who earn the certificate are also entitled to list the credential on their curriculum vitae. 

The Director of Graduate Studies for the Program in History of Science administers the certificate program. 

Students cannot be admitted to Princeton University through the History of Science Interdepartmental Graduate Certificate Program as it is not a degree program.

The graduate certificate program is open to Princeton University Ph.D. students from any department who are not enrolled in the Program in History of Science. Students must be currently enrolled to be eligible. Master’s students are not eligible to participate, nor are Ph.D. students in the Program in History of Science. Students who are interested in pursuing the certificate are encouraged to meet with the History of Science Director of Graduate Studies to discuss their plans before registering. Students register by submitting a form to the Graduate Program Assistant. Students must register by the end of their fourth year of enrollment.


Students must complete HOS 595: Introduction to the Historiography of Science, which is offered every other year, as well as two other history of science graduate courses or courses with history of science content, as determined by the Director of Graduate Studies for the Program in History of Science.

Please note, courses taken for the History of Science Interdepartmental Graduate Certificate Program cannot be audited.

Additional requirements

Research Requirement

Students pursuing the certificate program engage in relevant research that is presented and discussed in the History of Science Program Seminar. Students are expected to regularly attend and participate in the Program Seminar for at least two full semesters. The Program Seminar serves to foster scholarly community among the faculty, students, and visiting fellows of the Program. We meet each week that classes are in session for a ninety-minute seminar, typically to discuss a pre-circulated work-in-progress; the format of our reading varies but has included draft dissertation chapters, drafts of articles, dissertation prospectuses, book proposals, and grant proposals. A member of the community offers a formal commentary on the pre-circulated material and then the floor is open for wider discussion. The hours invested in two full semesters of Program Seminar, which include weekly reading and participation, are comparable to an additional semester-length course.

Each student must complete two presentations in the History of Science Program Seminar. One must consist of pre-circulating a piece of original research—engaging with history of science methods or addressing content related to the history of science, technology, or medicine—intended for inclusion in their dissertation, submission to an edited collection or academic journal, or other research paper. The second may be an additional piece of original research, a formal commentary, a draft of their dissertation prospectus, grant proposal, or other format approved for discussion by the convener of the seminar. Completion of these two presentations will be certified by the Director of Graduate Studies for the program.


  • Director of Graduate Studies

    • Jennifer M. Rampling (acting)
  • Executive Committee

    • D. Graham Burnett, History
    • Angela N. Creager, History
    • Michael D. Gordin, History
    • Katja Guenther, History
    • Matthew L. Jones, History
    • Erika L. Milam, History
    • Keith A. Wailoo, History
  • Associated Faculty

    • Elizabeth M. Armstrong, Schl of Public & Int'l Affairs
    • Ruha Benjamin, African American Studies
    • He Bian, History
    • Daniel Garber, Philosophy
    • Brooke A. Holmes, Classics
    • Federico Marcon, East Asian Studies
    • Ryo Morimoto, Anthropology
    • Beth Semel, Anthropology
    • Emily Thompson, History
    • Janet A. Vertesi, Sociology

For a full list of faculty members and fellows please visit the department or program website.

Permanent Courses

Courses listed below are graduate-level courses that have been approved by the program’s faculty as well as the Curriculum Subcommittee of the Faculty Committee on the Graduate School as permanent course offerings. Permanent courses may be offered by the department or program on an ongoing basis, depending on curricular needs, scheduling requirements, and student interest. Not listed below are undergraduate courses and one-time-only graduate courses, which may be found for a specific term through the Registrar’s website. Also not listed are graduate-level independent reading and research courses, which may be approved by the Graduate School for individual students.

HIS 503 - Research Ethics and the Dissertation Prospectus (also HOS 503)

The course includes an intensive two-day, 12-hour training program in eight sessions designed to introduce post-generals students in History and History of Science to key issues of responsibility in research, including: problems in sources, data collection and processing; responsible authorship and peer review; human subjects, oral history, and intellectual property; collaborative research; research misconduct; and history in society. Each session is introduced by one or more faculty members. Students are assigned readings as well as on line resources. The dissertation prospectus part of the course includes eight additional 3-hour sessions.

HIS 519 - Topics in the History of Sex and Gender (also GSS 519/HOS 519)

A study of the historical connections linking sex and gender to major social, political, and economic transformations. Comparative approaches are taken either in time or by region, or both. Topics may include family, gender, and the economy; gender, religion, and political movements; gender and the state; and gender and cultural representation.

HIS 586 - American Technological History (also HOS 586)

This reading course introduces History Department graduate students to historical literature on American technology from the Colonial Era through the Twentieth Century. A chronological survey of technological development highlights the variety of ways scholars have understood technology from a historical perspective. A small number of students from other departments may be admitted with the Professor's approval. These students must meet with the Professor prior to the first class meeting to review their qualifications.

HOS 594 - History of Medicine (also HIS 594)

Problems in the history of medicine and the medical sciences. Topic varies from year to year. Representative subjects would include the history of health and disease, medicine and the body, and the history of the mind and mental illness.

HOS 595 - Introduction to Historiography of Science (also HIS 595/MOD 564)

Introduces beginning graduate students to the central problems and principal literature of the history of science from the Enlightenment to the 20th century. Course is organized around several different methodological approaches, and readings include important works by anthropologists, sociologists and philosophers, as well as by historians of science.

HOS 599 - Special Topics in the History of Science, Technology, and Medicine (also HIS 599)

This course explores special topics in the history of science. The precise topic varies from year to year.

HOS 599A - Special Topics in the History of Science, Technology, & Medicine (also HIS 599A)

This course explores special topics in the history of science.