Public History Ph.D. Degree

The goal of the doctoral program in Public History is to train leaders in the public interpretation and application of history. We expect students to produce work that significantly advances the frontiers of Public History, both as a practical discipline and as an intellectual enterprise.

Faculty work closely with students in graduate seminars and colloquia, as dissertation advisers, and in imagining and implementing public outreach. For that reason and to gauge whether NC State’s Public History program fits their professional goals, prospective students should familiarize themselves with the doctoral handbook and contact faculty with whom they would like to work before applying to the program. The primary dissertation adviser will be a tenure-track member of the Public History faculty, with supporting mentors in both History and Public History fields.

Since we admit only four students each year with full financial assistance and benefits, the program is very competitive and selective. Applicants who already have graduate degrees may be given allowance for up to eighteen credit hours from their master’s work toward the doctoral degree.

Public History is unlike traditional historical studies in that students do not necessarily specialize in geo-temporal or historically thematic fields. Rather, students attend to how and why history is publicly employed—public interpretation, memorialization and commemoration, political appropriation, media uses, community activism and uplift, educational uses, digital dissemination, and so on. Still, during their careers at NC State, students are expected to read critically, analyze primary and secondary sources skillfully, and write rigorously. The doctoral curriculum is fairly flexible, to be tailored to the students’ professional aspirations. Although we do not have designated tracks of study, we recommend that students, in consultation with their primary adviser, conceptualize a curriculum structured in one of the following ways:

Early American public history: 7 public history courses, 7 history courses primarily in US, 2 interdisciplinary courses, dissertation focus on the public history of early America (pre-1877).

Modern American public history: 7 public history courses, 7 history courses primarily in US, 2 interdisciplinary courses, dissertation focus on the public history of modern America (post-1877).

World Heritage: 7 public history courses (with 587, 594, and 789 highly recommended), 7 history courses (5-6 in non-US history), 2 interdisciplinary courses, dissertation focus on public history in a geo-temporal or thematic topic outside US history.

Beyond in-class coursework, all doctoral students complete a practicum in their own special areas of interest (for example, history museums, historic sites or parks, historic preservation, heritage tourism, or historical publications). They also serve as teaching assistants in their first year of study and, in most cases, as independent instructors during their remaining years. Although many doctoral students do not plan to continue in academic education, the ability to relate history to audiences and help them understand the purpose and usefulness of historical study is a central part of being a public historian.

Requirements at a Glance

Public History Field (21 hours)

  • HI 596: Introduction to Public History
  • HI 642: Internship in Public History 
  • HI 791: Research Seminar in Public History

and four courses from the following:

  • HI 533: Theory and Practice of Oral History
  • HI 534: Theory and Practice of Digital History
  • HI 535: Spatial History
  • HI 563: Topics in History and Memory
  • HI 587: Cultural Resource Management
  • HI 588: Family and Community History
  • HI 589: Interpretation in Historic Sites and Parks
  • HI 591: Museum Studies
  • HI 593: Material Culture
  • HI 594: Cultural Heritage
  • HI 787: African American Public History
  • HI 789: Public History in International Contexts

History Field (21 hours)

  • HI 597: Historiography and Historical Method
  • 18 credit hours in history, at least 9 of which are in HI 792: Colloquium in History

Outside Field (6 hours)

6 hours in one category or a field designed in consultation with adviser and the Director of Public History. Students may want to consider completing certificate programs in their outside fields to complement their doctoral preparation.

Foreign Language Proficiency

The foreign language requirement ensures competence with one of the important tools of scholarship. Students are expected to make every effort to understand and appreciate works of historical research in other languages, even if relevance to their own topic of study is not immediately apparent. Documentation of foreign language proficiency exam passed during masters work at this or another institution may be submitted to fulfill this requirement. Or, students may meet the language requirement through completion of six credit hours in GIS, receiving a B or better in these courses, and obtaining certification from the instructor attesting to their proficiency in GIS for graduate work.

Doctoral Examination and Dissertation (24 hours)

  • HI 889: Doctoral Dissertation Seminar (1 credit hour for 2 consecutive semesters, beginning in semester preceding preliminary exams)

and 22 hours from the following:

  • HI 895: Doctoral Dissertation Research
  • HI 899: Doctoral Dissertation Preparation

Some good advice on dissertation writing may be found in Liena Vayzman's “Practical Advice for Writing Your Dissertation, Book, or Article.”