About the Program

Northwestern's Ph.D. program in history owes its national reputation to an outstanding faculty of scholar-teachers, a flexible and well-articulated course of study, and a record of recruiting, training, and placing diverse and talented graduate students.

The renown of the faculty is best indicated by the frequent award of research fellowships and of scholarly and pedagogical prizes to its members. As of May 2016, current members of the faculty have won 18 grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities, 13 years of study at the National Humanities Center, 11 fellowships from the American Council of Learned Societies, 7 terms as Fellows of the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton, 8 Guggenheim Fellowships, 37 awards for their books, and 9 prizes for their articles. The Department's total of 25 college and university teaching prizes won by current colleagues is the highest of any academic unit at Northwestern. In addition, 12 members of the faculty hold endowed professorships and 4 are members of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Northwestern's program is distinguished from many others by its relatively small size. Just 12 to 15 students enter each year; most choose one of five regional concentrations for the Ph.D.:

  • African history
  • American history
  • Asian history
  • European history
  • Latin American history

A small, highly selective program has a number of advantages. It allows close faculty student interaction and small seminars. It permits exacting criticism of sources, research procedures, and writing skills. It encourages the exchange of ideas among students working in different geographical areas, an exchange that often inspires path-breaking scholarship. It fosters flexibility in designing courses of study. For example, students with serious interests in more than one geographical area may develop an individually tailored program in comparative or global history; very few history departments provide such an option. Finally, it enables faculty to concentrate their placement efforts on a relatively small number of students.

The program of study for the Ph.D. seeks to prepare students for distinguished careers as teachers and scholars. It is therefore designed to help students achieve a comprehensive grasp of particular historical fields and processes; develop critical skills in respect to sources, texts, genres, theory, and methods of inquiry; and carry out original research that makes a significant contribution to historical study.

The department encourages students to think about history in conceptually sophisticated ways and to acquire a frame of reference for their research based on grounding in geographical and cross-disciplinary fields outside of their specializations. Thus, in addition to courses within each field of specialization, the department's offerings include seminars that provide a common experience of history as an open-ended discipline with a wide range of conceptual and methodological possibilities.

The character and small size of the graduate history program provide optimal support to graduates seeking employment in today's job market. The department is particularly proud of the teaching experience and mentoring offered to graduate students, which equip them to compete for faculty appointments with a record of demonstrated capacity in the classroom. Indeed, because of the department's long standing dedication to excellence in both teaching and scholarship, graduates of Northwestern's Ph.D. program currently occupy professorships in history at major colleges and universities throughout the country.