Public History Ph.D. Degree

The doctoral program in Public History is designed to train professional historians and public
historians, with courses selected from groups embracing two primary fields in Public History (i.e., museum studies, heritage studies, public memory, digital history, or other fields developed in consultation with public history advisers), a secondary field in History (focused on a traditional geo-temporal or thematic field), an Interdisciplinary field that is relevant to the dissertation topic, and at least 24 hours of dissertation work. 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 are not required to take the GREs and may be given allowance for up to eighteen credit hours from their master’s work toward the doctoral degree.

The doctoral curriculum is fairly flexible, to be tailored to the students’ professional aspirations. Public history is unlike traditional history in that students do not 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. Of course, understanding the public usage of history requires a strong historical foundation as well. 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 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. 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'sPractical Advice for Writing Your Dissertation, Book, or Article.”