History graduate programs are research-based, programs that allow students to focus their attention on the history of specific eras, regions, cultural groups, or even a set of historical events. Course topics sometimes cross over with politics, the arts, anthropology, and other liberal arts subject areas.
Graduate history programs are offered from masters through doctorate levels, in both campus and flexible online settings. At the graduate level, programs often incorporate classroom discussion as well as research practices and authorship, and hone skills that could be applicable throughout life.
History graduate programs provide an opportunity to explore your passion in depth and learn about not only the past, but society today. History is more than just a timeline. It’s the story of our society, and the complex paths we took to get to where we are.
Because the subject is so vast, many students at the graduate level choose to focus on a particular corner of it. That could be anything from the American Revolutionary War, to the Holocaust, to the Cold War, to the Japanese Shogunate. Whatever it is you’re drawn to in the history books, you could dedicate your graduate history program to learning all about it.
Of course, while that passion for learning is a big reason for people to opt for history, it’s not the only one. History graduate programs also hone a number of skills that could be applied throughout life. From research practices to analyzing data, to writing well, to teaching others, the skills you may develop in your history program could be relevant no matter what path you take in life or in your career.
Some history graduate programs may offer a concentration in historic preservation. Historic preservation centers on understanding artifacts in their historical context, and working to make sure they remain intact and accessible for generations of future study. As such, the programs tend to be interdisciplinary, touching on subjects like anthropology, archeology, and the scientific aspects of archives and preservation.
While individual programs may vary, historic preservation graduate programs often emphasize a specific aspect of preservation. You might choose between programs focusing on design, conservation, history, or planning. These emphases may align with the types of careers the programs are designed to support, or the subjects the curriculum spends the most time on. Additionally, historic preservation programs often have field-work requirements, so that students can get hands-on experience working with and preserving artifacts, assisting with museum collections, and generally applying their expertise in real-world settings.
|Medieval and Renaissance Studies
|North Carolina State University
|North Carolina Central University
|M.A. in History with an Emphasis in Education
|Grand Canyon University
History graduate programs may vary widely, each one emphasizing a different aspect of history, approach to historical research, or era. In some cases, programs may offer formal program tracks or concentrations aligning with these interests. Other programs might not, but may still enable students to select the courses in their curriculum that align with the area they want to study.
Some history programs may even be multidisciplinary. For example, a student focusing his or her studies on the U.S. civil rights movement may end up studying sociology and politics for additional context. Other programs might touch on the history of law. You might even get the opportunity to learn more about gender studies, literature, or art! Some history graduate programs even include a foreign language component, to ensure that you’re able to work with primary sources over the course of your graduate research. In some cases, relevant language proficiency may be a prerequisite for acceptance, so be sure to check directly with your favorite graduate history programs.
Most history masters programs award a Master of Arts, or MA in History upon completion of the program. Some programs may also offer a Master of Philosophy or MPhil degree. This degree type is not overly common in the United States. In the schools that do offer it, MPhil programs tend to be somewhat longer than MA programs, and may be seen as a step between a history masters and doctorate.
History masters programs often require students to complete a masters thesis in order to graduate. A thesis is a lengthy, in-depth research paper that demonstrates mastery of your area of study, familiarity with current and influential history research, and general writing, research, and academic competence. Some masters in historys program may offer a non thesis option. However, if you’re planning to later earn your PhD, be aware that some doctorate programs may require applicants have thesis or other research experience to be considered.
A variety of paths of study may be available in history masters programs. Most programs (though not all) are likely to ask students to select a concentration. This could be based on geographic area, a certain topic or demographic, or chronology. The concentration you choose (if any) would likely inform the type of master's thesis you end up writing, as well as the types of courses you take. (For example, if you choose a history concentration focused on gender, you might end up writing your thesis about women’s suffrage.) Other history masters programs may already be focused on a specific subject, such as Medieval Studies or Military History. In this case, the course list and requirements are already tailored to the topic.
Most history masters programs require applicants to hold a bachelors degree and have obtained a minimum GPA. Past coursework in history may also be required. Other admission materials may include a writing sample, a statement of purpose, test scores and recommendations. Programs vary, so contact an admission advisor to find out more.
History doctoral programs may go beyond learning about history from other people, and move toward equipping you to study it yourself. As such, the field of study you choose for your doctoral program could have a huge impact on your experience there. In some ways, this is similar to the concentrations you might be asked to select at the masters level. However, in doctoral programs, significantly more time is likely to be spent conducting and writing research on this topic. The specific topics you could concentrate on may vary considerably, depending on the school, the faculty currently teaching there, your advisor, and other factors. As such, it may be useful to know what you’re interested in researching prior to applying, so that you can focus on finding a program that can support your particular interests.
Some PhD in history programs also emphasize professional skills necessary to take doctoral program experience and apply it. With respect to history, this often has to do with teaching effective history classes at the college level; writing, editing, and publishing original research; giving conference presentations; and archival work.
One important factor in earning a doctorate in history is your dissertation. In most doctoral programs, the dissertation is one of the final steps toward earning the degree. It’s also one of the most involved. History doctoral dissertations generally take the form of extended research projects. You generally complete these on your own under the guidance of a mentor or advisor. Some programs may even dedicate a full year or two to the completion of this project. History dissertation research could involve studying primary sources, talking to experts, and even visiting sites in person.
Graduate certificates in history are offered at the masters, post-masters, and doctoral level. This generally indicates the level of the courses you’d need to complete in order to earn the certificate, as well as the prior education requirements. History graduate certificates tend to be narrowly designed to explore a single topic, such as eighteenth-century studies, historic preservation, historical research, or heritage management. Often, these are meant to enhance prior education and experience, or to support specific careers or research interests. Graduate certificate programs are typically fairly short compared to doctorate and masters history programs, and may be earned through successful completion of several courses.
Graduate history programs are offered in a range of convenient formats, making study possible for students of all different learning needs and lifestyles. Whether you prefer to study in the classroom or on the go, full time or part time, options may be out there that work for you.
The curriculum you find in your history graduate program is likely to vary considerably, depending on the school you choose, the faculty currently teaching there, your area of study, and other factors. As such, while there are likely to be thematic similarities between programs, most of the details are likely to be unique.
That said, many graduate history programs offer courses in a few basic categories. For example, you could attend courses focused on a certain era in history. This could include topics like Imperial Russia, the Civil War, World War II, or 20th-Century America. Or you might look at a certain issue throughout history. This could include the dominance of different religious belief systems throughout history, the plight of the working poor in different periods, or race and gender in American society in different centuries. Some programs may even look at political ideologies and structures, and how they have influenced history or change over time, like American Conservatism, Marxism, or capitalism.
History graduate degrees are fairly versatile. In addition to the subject knowledge, they build up research skills, written and verbal communication, critical thinking, not to mention a better understanding of people and society. As such, people holding advanced history degrees may find careers in a broad spectrum of industries. This could include business, government, law, and education. That said, there may also be more history-specific opportunities for students to aspire to.
[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