The Penn State Department of History offers a small, focused, PhD program designed to prepare students for careers inside or outside academia. Our program admits students in five primary fields, which reflect faculty strength: 1) United States; 2) Latin America; 3) Early Modern Global; 4) East Asia; and 5) Middle East. By admitting only a few students in these five fields, the department can focus its resources on preparing students for a diverse range of careers. In addition to seminars in our five primary fields, we offer graduate coursework in the thematic areas of: 1) Environment, Science, and Technology; 2) Gender; 3) Transnational; 4) Race and Ethnicity; 5) Modern Global; and 6) Colonialism and Nationalism.
Upon admission to the department, graduate students join an intellectual community committed to excellence in scholarship and teaching. Our graduate students work closely with world-class faculty, graduate student colleagues, and undergraduates. Our graduate students benefit from small academic seminars, reliable financial support, faculty mentoring, a top-tier library, professionalization seminars, and options for interdisciplinary work.
The Department of History partners with the departments of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies; Asian Studies; and African American Studies to offer dual-title degrees. History graduate students in dual-title degree programs pursue interdisciplinary work through seminars and interaction with students and faculty in other departments. This diverse training facilitates innovative work at the dissertation stage and expands employment prospects.
Full Financial Support
All graduate students in good standing receive full financial support for five years. Students in our program initially work as teaching assistants, and later work as editorial assistants, research assistants, or research fellows. The department also supports participation in academic conferences and provides funds for summer study and research.
We work closely with our advanced students as they begin the job-seeking process to develop the skills and networks they need to succeed in a variety of careers. Among students who graduated from our department between 2017 and 2021, 77 percent are in academic positions (27 percent tenure-track, 23 percent postdoctoral fellowships, and 27 percent full-time researchers, administrators, or lecturers). Recent graduates have also found jobs in non-profits, think tanks, the federal government, and business.
How to Apply
We admit students into our program whose highest degree earned is a BA or BS or whose highest degree is an MA. Within our program we refer to students “entering with a BA/BS” and those “entering with an MA.” Students entering our program with a BA/BS typically spend three years in coursework, followed by two years of dissertation research and writing. Those entering with an MA typically spend two years in coursework, followed by two years of dissertation research and writing. Comprehensive exams take place during the final semester of coursework. If your highest degree is a BA or BS, then you will take three years of coursework upon entering the program. However, if your highest degree is an MA, you have the choice of entering with a BA/BS or entering with an MA. If your MA is an academically-oriented degree from a history program then you should enter with an MA. If your MA is pedagogically oriented or in a field other than history, we recommend that you enter with a BA/BS. The distinction between entering with a BA/BS and entering with an MA is important for our program, but everyone is expected to work toward the PhD. Therefore, when applying through the Graduate School, everyone should apply to the PhD program. Please do not apply to the MA program. Doing so will cause administrative difficulties. Those entering with a BA or BS will be able to earn an MA along the way toward the PhD, but that will be done in the context of formal enrollment in the PhD program.