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How do I Earn a History PhD?

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  • Written By: G. Wiesen
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 16 September 2018
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A Doctorate of Philosophy (PhD) in history can be received by completing a history PhD program at a graduate school. Most graduate schools require a bachelor’s degree or similar four-year degree for admittance, as well as completion of other requirements, and some programs require that you have a master’s degree in history or a related field before admittance. You should also consider the various requirements of such programs, such as language requirements or knowledge of different research methods. A history PhD is typically received only after you have completed extensive coursework and written a doctoral dissertation you present and defend as a final examination.

The first step toward a history PhD is usually to receive a bachelor’s degree in history or a related subject. You will want to look at different schools and graduate history programs while you work on your four-year degree, since you should apply during your undergraduate work. Most programs will require several letters of recommendation from advisers or professors, and you may also need to take tests such as the Graduate Record Examinations (GRE). All of this typically needs to be done before you can even begin applying, so starting early can make the process a great deal easier.

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Different history PhD programs may require a master’s degree or a bachelor’s degree, so you should be sure you have enough education for such a program. Those that only require a four-year degree will typically award a master’s degree “en route” as you complete your coursework for a PhD. Many programs also require mastery of one or more foreign languages for a degree, often requiring languages associated with whatever field of history you specialize in.

For example, you may need to be fluent in Greek and Latin to receive a PhD in ancient history, or Latin and German for a PhD in medieval European history. A history PhD can be a very extensive program with a great deal of time invested and some schools estimate as many as eight years of work and research to receive a history PhD after completing your bachelor’s work. Your first year or two will typically be spent taking required courses, many of them seminars intended to help you refine your research abilities or begin working on your dissertation.

You will likely have one or more dissertation advisers to ensure you are working in the proper direction, and to offer you guidance as you work on your dissertation. Once you have completed the necessary coursework, the last few years you will likely spend doing research and working on your dissertation. You will usually receive your history PhD once you present and defend your doctoral dissertation before a panel of experts and professors who will challenge and evaluate your work.

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