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Course Outline

The PhD in History



Duration:             3-4 years full-time

                             5-7 years part-time

Firstly, if you are interested in part-time study then you will find this page particularly helpful: Please do feel free to read the information on the full-time PhD as well, as much of it will still pertain to the part-time PhD.


How is the PhD taught?

It is taught by individual supervision – you can read more about this here:

There are lots of opportunities on offer: you can gain instruction in specialist disciplines, such as palaeography, languages, and computing; you can undertake training in professional skills appropriate for historians; you will be able to attend research seminars and workshops, and lots more. There is also now training available in transferable skills, such as communication, self-awareness and team-building. Although you will be focusing on your own research for most of your time, we want to help you to become a well-rounded and successful PhD candidate.



What are we looking for?

We see the primary purpose of the PhD being the preparation and presentation of a substantial piece of original research. From the very beginning of the PhD course, the student focuses on the writing of the doctoral dissertation. History is a broad subject which covers many areas, and we are always very excited to see the sheer range of research proposals submitted. When looking at this, we consider:

  • Whether it represents a significant contribution to learning through the discovery of new knowledge, the connection of previously unrelated facts, the development of a new theory or the revision of older views;
  • Whether it takes due account of previously published work on the subject and you are therefore well-read;
  • Whether the thesis is clearly and concisely written, without exceeding the maximum limit of 80,000 words (excluding footnotes and bibliography).

If a research proposal is likely to take significantly longer than three years to complete, we don’t tend to accept it. However, if your topic seems feasible within the time-frame then we will be very interested!



Are there any course requirements?

Please also see the ‘Requirements’ tab in the prospectus on Graduate Admissions page:

For full-time PhD candidates, we require that you pursue supervised research in residence in Cambridge for nine consecutive terms (three calendar years). ‘In residence’ means living within a distance of 10 miles from the centre of Cambridge.

The dissertation must be submitted by the end of the twelfth term, earlier if possible.

In terms of applicant requirements, you can see our language and academic requirements on the link provided above. Otherwise, we encourage people from all backgrounds to apply – we are a multicultural university and in your life as a PhD candidate, you will meet people from all over the world! The PhD is intellectually demanding so consider whether you have the self-motivation to pursue research at a high level of scholarship, and whether you have the enthusiasm to keep going when the going gets tough. You will not be alone in your studies, though – there are plenty of people here to help, including supervisors, administrators, college tutors, as well as many others.

PhD students are expected to begin their studies at the start of the term they choose to enter, usually October, January, or April. You will be in residence continuously throughout the year, apart from short breaks for research.

As the full-time PhD requires full-time study, we ask that students do not take any outside employment (even part-time employment).