Online history graduate programs are scholarly programs, meaning they tend to focus on performing academic research, while also supporting continued study of historical events. Individual programs could also potentially cross over with all different subject areas—from literature, to politics, to the arts. Thus, a degree in history may complement many different disciplines by filtering them through a historical context.
Online history graduate programs offer masters and doctoral degrees, as well as certificates, in a convenient digital format. Students could pursue a range of concentrations, including options like Historical Preservation, while developing general history expertise and key academic and professional skills.
History happens everywhere you go—and so can your history education. Online history graduate programs enable you to study from your own computer, laptop, or tablet, from wherever is most convenient for you, provided that it’s compatible and you have a reliable internet connection. That’s a pretty unique opportunity. For one, there’s the flexibility. If you’ve already begun your career, you could continue your passion for learning in a history graduate program without necessarily having to put that career on hold.
Of course, convenience and flexibility aren’t the only reasons to earn an online history degree—though they’re certainly compelling ones. Online programs could also offer unique support systems for students of history. For example, you could have access to a wealth of research materials through online scholarly journal databases, so you could put a dent in your research from anywhere. And since you can take your education with you on the road, if you want to, you could perform some of that research while visiting the same location you’re studying. Video
conferencing, chat, and document sharing could also make it possible to have the same collaborative experience you might find in the classroom!
The history of the world covers more than just 10 and a half chapters. It’s a vast discipline that stretches through the rise and fall of civilizations, across continents and cultures. Rather than covering the whole spectrum of human history—a sizable task—some graduate programs are dedicated to one particular corner of it. That could be a certain era or century (say, the eighteenth century), a specific culture (e.g. the history of China), or one issue as it progressed over time (women’s rights, or racial equality, for example).
Some programs may even focus on a singular event, like the Holocaust or Pearl Harbor. And more. . . . These are only a few examples of the unique options you might encounter.
The specific options available for you to tailor your study may vary. That could depend on the school you attend, your degree level, the faculty currently teaching in that program, and other factors. For more information about your options, reach out to the schools you think you might be interested in.
Online Masters in History programs aim to promote more than just a knowledge of history. They also build fluency with research practices and develop writing and communication skills that you could utilize in education, discussion, and writing. In most cases, history masters programs award a Master of Arts (MA) to students who complete the program. However, this might vary, as a few schools may instead award a Master of Science (MS), Master of Education (MEd), or even a Master of Philosophy (MPhil).
Though the differences between degree types in history programs are often nominal, the MEd and MPhil may have a few distinct differences. For example, Master of Education degrees tend to be awarded by schools of education, meaning the program in question would be geared toward history teachers. Meanwhile, a Master of Philosophy is sometimes seen as a step between a masters and a doctorate, so the programs might take a bit longer to complete.
The majority of online history master's degree programs require students to complete a capstone or masters thesis as a prerequisite to graduate. A history thesis, in essence, is a long research paper, typically resembling the ones you might have written throughout your program. They tend to rely on secondary sources, and demonstrate your fluency with current and influential historical research as well as your ability to draw conclusions and whether you have a general understanding of your topic of study.
A capstone project or seminar may also be a requirement. This is likely to be similar to a thesis, in that it centers on research. Some potential differences include that it might be done in groups, could be a more practical type of project, and might be offered in conjunction with a regular course.
Some PhD in History programs may be available fully or partially online. History doctoral programs generally focus on research. Specifically, they aim to advance current knowledge and scholarship of history by helping students to produce new research. As such, while a good portion of the curriculum centers on analyzing and discussing history and our understanding of it, PhD programs encourage students to perform and author their own research of history.
In most PhD in History programs online or otherwise, doctoral candidates have some choice as to their area of concentration. At the doctoral level, this concentration generally indicates the subject you’ll be researching and writing about for your dissertation. Because of this, some programs may give you considerable freedom when selecting your area of study, provided there are potential faculty mentors at that school who know enough about the topic to guide you through your dissertation.
But what is a dissertation? A history dissertation is, in essence, a complex research project. It may rely on a combination of primary and secondary research sources. A doctoral dissertation would typically aim to provide new knowledge and perspectives to the larger body of research, rather than primarily demonstrating fluency with existing research, like you do at the masters level.
In some cases, online programs may require students’ presence on campus a few times over the course of this project. For example, you might need to propose your topic, meet with your advisor in person, or present your project and defend it. As such, you may want to be aware of any on-campus requirements in your online program well in advance, in case there are any scheduling concerns.
Often, doctoral programs include a language requirement, a teaching requirement (though this may be less common in online programs), or both. Asking that students have at least a reading knowledge of a second language (usually one related to their area of study) ensures that they’ll be able to perform original research based on primary sources, many of which may not be in English. The teaching requirement, meanwhile, would offer practical career skills, and help students learn what to expect in their careers if they go the university professor route.
Online graduate certificates in history typically center on a single topic. This could be things like holocaust studies, archival studies, or the history of specific cultural rituals or beliefs. Potential programs are therefore fairly diverse, and what’s available could vary wildly between schools. Programs offered could depend on the faculty currently teaching there (and their areas of expertise), the courses already being offered in a degree program, or the interest and demand for programs.
History graduate certificates, because they’re not degrees, usually require fewer courses. Often, they’re designed to build upon prior education (e.g. to provide additional expertise in one topic beyond the masters degree you already earned).
Masters, post-masters, and doctoral certificates may all be available. For more information on program topics, requirements, and the types of courses you’d need to take, reach out to the school in question.
In online historical preservation graduate programs, students may earn master's degrees, doctorate's degrees, or graduate certificates. The topics covered could range from identifying and preserving historic structures in the community, to preserving artifacts for study and display in museums, to archive preservation. Historical preservation graduate programs may emphasize creative skills, conservation, urban planning, and history. Some may even touch on archeology or architecture. What areas in particular are emphasized may vary by what program you choose.
In many cases, historic preservation graduate programs may have field work requirements. In online programs, you may be required to organize these yourself. However, that could vary, and some programs may skip this requirement. Additionally, some online programs may have limited on-campus requirements for things like lab work. For more information on in-person requirements, areas of concentration, degree types, and other details, reach out to the school you’re interested in.
Students of history develop a wide range of talents relevant to personal and professional life. And that’s beyond just a knowledge of how we got here—though that’s not something to be discounted. Being a history expert means understanding that history is more than just a chain of events. It means learning from the experiences of people who came before, and using that knowledge to inform how we move forward. Studying history online, you could develop that unique perspective, while also learning how to share that expertise with others.
You could also learn valuable critical thinking skills. For example, you might learn about history from all different viewpoints—winners, losers, and everyone in between. That experience could help build media literacy, and strengthen your ability to discern conflicting viewpoints. It could also help to build fluency in social and political discourse and to see how that discourse relates to different places and groups.
And that’s not all. History students may also develop research skills that could apply throughout life and in a variety of professional areas—in addition to developing self-directed learning skills. You could get practice in finding and evaluating source materials, and communicating what you learn through writing, teaching, and other presentation styles. Whether you go on to pursue history scholarship or something else, the ability to find reliable sources, write clearly and effectively, and communicate complex ideas could be invaluable.
Of course, the skills and knowledge you develop in your graduate history program are ultimately up to you. The experiences you take advantage of, and the skills you hone all hinge on the courses you take and the opportunities you seize.
Earning a graduate degree in history might support a variety of personal and professional goals. For example, the communication and research talents you develop through research could become useful whether you end up in the classroom, in a museum, or even a cubicle. That said, if you’re interested in a career more directly related to your history graduate degree, you may have a number of options available.
A few careers a history buff could pave a bright future in include:
The specific prerequisites and compensation for each of these positions may vary. Some may also require additional specialization. For example, in a museum, you may need to have expertise tailored to the types of collections you’d be working with. Additionally, the minimum education you might need could also vary.
GradSchools.com can help you begin your search for online history graduate programs. First, use the menu to narrow down your options. You can select your preferred degree level or certificate, as well as your concentration, if any. Then review the sponsored program listings that align with your search criteria.
Click on the name of different online history graduate programs to learn more about them and get in touch with schools. Then fill out your applications, and take the first step toward earning your online history degree!
[i] bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/postsecondary-teachers | [ii] bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/curators-museum-technicians-and-conservators.htm | [iii] bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/historians.htm