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Department of History

Research programmes

Durham attracts some of the strongest postgraduate students from the UK and internationally, and within the History Department we support these students to develop themselves and their careers. We see our postgraduates as an important and distinctive part of our research community and we place an extremely high value on the contribution which our postgraduate students make to the department.

The History Department at Durham has an impressive range of research expertise: geographically, our world-leading researchers range from America to China and from South Africa to Scandinavia; chronologically, from the fourth century AD through to contemporary history; thematically, across across social, cultural, intellectual, gender, media, political and economic history.

We can offer you research supervision leading to MA, MLitt and PhD qualifications in a broad range of subects, through both full and part-time study. You will work closely with our academic staff, who are world-leading experts in their fields.Training is provided to assist you in developing your research skills. All postgraduates are encouraged to share their work with the departmental and wider community, by means of departmental seminars, afternoon workshops, postgraduate-led one day conferences, and by means of publication.

A research degree gives you the opportunity to develop a topic in an original way and so to make your mark on the discipline of History. It is examined by an extended piece of written work and taught through close supervision. All students in History at Durham have two supervisors to help and guide them in their work. We offer two research degrees in History:

MA by Research: This is a one year full-time (or two years part-time) programme of research and writing, and is examined through a thesis of up to 50,000 words. If you demonstrate an aptitude for research, this degree can lead to postgraduate research at a higher level (e.g. PhD). Successful completion of a Bachelors degree, in History or a related subject, with a 2:1 or above is required for entry onto this programme.

PhD: The PhD programme formally takes three years full-time (or six years part-time) of research and writing, though some students may complete the writing-up of their thesis during a fourth year. The PhD is examined by a thesis of up to 100,000 words and an oral examination (viva voce). A PhD thesis is a substantial piece of original, research which demonstrates the ability of the student to undertake independent academic work. Successful completion of a Masters-level qualification, in History or a related subject, with a merit or above is required for entry onto this programme.

If you intend to study for the PhD and do not already hold a Masters degree (or equivalent), we will normally ask that you register for one of our MA programmes in the first instance. We will often recommend that you take a Taught Masters because it provides research training.

For studentship and scholarship awards and other financial opportunities, see our funding page.

In addition to advising on the direction, shape and content of the thesis and the methodology of the research, supervisors discuss research students' training needs with them and work out a programme of training to ensure that students are best placed to undertake their research. A range of general and specialist research training will be available for you individually and in groups, organised by the department; there are also more general research preparation courses organised centrally. Your individual training needs will be assessed at the start of your degree, and this process is repeated annually.

Departmental Training:

  • seminars and workshops on key research skills;
  • access to taught Master's modules, where appropriate (e.g. for specialist skills such as Latin or Palaeography);
  • training in teaching methods with feedback, normally from 2nd year onwards;
  • specialist training provided by supervisors specific to individual research needs.

University Training:

  • Faculty Induction Course at the start of your first year;
  • Training Needs Analysis to identify your specific training needs;
  • courses/workshops on research (e.g. 'Managing your research project', Managing the student-supervisor relationship', 'Your intellectual property rights');
  • dedicated Careers Service;
  • access to University information technology courses.
  • Early Medieval Western Europe (c. 400-1100): Anglo-Saxon England; Britain, Scandinavia and Europe in the Viking Age; Merovingians, Carolingians Ottonians; intellectual, social, gender, political and religious history; history of science; cults of saints and conversion; visual culture; manuscript studies and history of the book; and interdisciplinary studies relating history to theology, archaeology, and literature.
  • High and Late Medieval Western Europe (c. 1000-1500): Britain, Scandinavia, the Low Countries; France, Germany, Italy; cross-cultural links between Continental Europe and the 'peripheral' regions of Britain and Scandinavia; intellectual, religious and political history; social and economic history; urban and rural history; bandits; medieval court culture, late-medieval European political culture; visual culture; history of the book and manuscript studies; history of science; interdisciplinary studies relating history to theology and literature.
  • Early Modern Western Europe (c. 1450-1800): Britain (and its colonies) and Continental Europe (France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Portugal); political, intellectual and religious links between Britain and the Continent; social and economic history; capitalism and industrialisation; social and cultural history of medicine, gender and sexuality; court culture; diplomatics; visual culture; political culture; intellectual history; ecclesiastical history; urban, rural and landscape history; interdisciplinary studies relating history to theology, archaeology/architecture and literature.
  • Britain since 1750: history of politics and political culture; government; the monarchy; the financial system; intellectual history; liberalism; statesmanship; social and cultural history; national identity; religious history; social policy and welfare reforms; militarism; cinematic culture; propaganda and rumour; theory of history.
  • Continental Europe since 1750: cultural, intellectual, political and social history of France, Russia, Germany and central Europe; dictatorship; film and propaganda; visual and material culture and heritage; aesthetics; revolution and revolutionary culture; Romanticism; urban history; inter-ethnic relations and the histories of minorities; regionalism; sport; terrorism; cultural diplomacy; modernity; history of memory; landscape history; theory of history.
  • American History: Native American socio-cultural history; oral history; cultural policies; politics and labour; civil liberties and state repression; working-class conservatism; popular refom; public history and digital history.
  • History of Africa: modern history of the Sudans, East Africa and the Horn of Africa, South Africa; justice; borders and boundaries; land and livestock; politics and democracy, elections and parliament; authority and governance; collective violence; revolution; faith and politics; colonial control and repression; state-society relations; social change; identity; gender theory; social movements.
  • History of China: late imperial/early modern and modern (twentieth-/twenty-first-century) China; human and animal medical history (and the relationships between the two); history of science, textual transmission, ritual, and the multiplicity of linguistic and cultural realms; social, cultural and gender history; modernity; cinema and drama; discourses about female crime and criminality; social and economic change; educational history.

To obtain advice about possible research topics, please contact the Director of Research Postgraduates, Dr Cherry Leonardi, or individual members of staff (for details see our staff pages); you might also wish to look at the pages of our current research students.


Please send all postgraduate enquiries to this email address: admissions.history@durham.ac.uk