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History (MPhil / PhD)

A research degree offers you the opportunity to acquire a highly advanced set of conceptual skills developed in the pursuit of new knowledge, which can be applied within or beyond an academic or scholarly context. Research training in any academic discipline helps to channel creativity into critical innovatory reasoning. The legitimate authority of original, independent research depends upon persuasive analytical arguments supported by critically evaluated evidence.

An MPhil/PhD is an advanced postgraduate research degree that requires the submission of a substantial dissertation of 60,000 to 100,000 words. At Birkbeck, you are initially registered on an MPhil and you upgrade to a PhD after satisfactory progress in the first year or two. You need to find a suitable academic supervisor at Birkbeck, who can offer the requisite expertise to guide and support you through your research. Find out more about undertaking a research degree at Birkbeck.

In the 2014 Research Excellence Framework, History at Birkbeck was ranked sixth in the UK for the percentage of our research deemed world-leading or internationally excellent.

We provide a supportive context for research in the following areas: ancient Greece and Roman social and cultural history; late antiquity; history of medieval societies and cultures; British social, cultural and political history since 1400; French history since 1400; Italian history since 1500; the cultural history of early modern cities, especially London and Venice; the history of ideas from the sixteenth to the eighteenth centuries; Russian history since 1800; nineteenth- and twentieth-century American social and cultural history; Balkan history and the history of the Ottoman Empire and its successor states; West and Southern Africa in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries; the history of Japan and East Asia; the history of modern Germany, France and Italy; the history of science, medicine and psychoanalysis in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries; and the cultural history of death, warfare, race, gender and sexuality.

Highlights

  • Arts and humanities at Birkbeck are ranked fifth best in London, 18th in the UK and 87th globally in the 2019 Times Higher Education World University Rankings by Subject.
  • Birkbeck’s research excellence was confirmed in the 2014 Research Excellence Framework, which placed Birkbeck 30th in the UK for research, with 73% of our research rated world-leading or internationally excellent.
  • The Department of History, Classics and Archaeology is internationally recognised for innovative research, focusing on the interaction between cultural, social and political history, ranging from antiquity to the twenty-first century, and covering Britain, Europe, Africa, Asia and North America.
  • The School of Social Sciences, History and Philosophy welcomes all students interested in beginning a research degree. We combine a unique expertise in catering for part-time students with considerable success in attracting full-time students from the UK and overseas.
  • You will gain from working with internationally renowned specialist supervisors in your chosen field of research. You will broaden your range of academic and intellectual contacts and significantly widen your general experience of academic life and institutions. View the Department's full-time academic staff.
  • In recent years, a number of students have successfully applied for funding from the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) as well as other sources. Many of our students come from outside the UK. Some are studying for a research degree out of personal interest, while others are undertaking research with the aim of pursuing an academic career in due course.
  • Entry Requirements

    Entry requirements

    Good honours degree in a historical subject.

    International entry requirements

    If English is not your first language or you have not previously studied in English, the requirement for this programme is the equivalent of an International English Language Testing System (IELTS Academic Test) score of 7.0, with not less than 6.5 in each of the sub-tests and at least 7.0 in writing.

    If you don't meet the minimum IELTS requirement, we offer pre-sessional English courses, foundation programmes and language support services to help you improve your English language skills and get your place at Birkbeck.

    Visit the International section of our website to find out more about our English language entry requirements and relevant requirements by country.

    Visa requirements

    If you are not from the European Economic Area (EEA) and/or Switzerland and you are coming to study in the UK, you may need to apply for a visa.

    The visa you apply for varies according to the length of your course:

    • Courses of more than six months' duration.
    • Courses of less than six months' duration.
    • Pre-sessional English language courses.

    International students who require a Tier 4 visa should apply for our full-time courses (with the exception of modular enrolment certificates of higher education and graduate certificates), as these qualify for Tier 4 sponsorship. If you are living in the UK on a Tier 4 visa, you will not be eligible to enrol as a student on Birkbeck's part-time courses (with the exception of some modules).

    For full information, read our visa information for international students page.

  • Fees

    Fees

    Part-time home/EU students: £2296 pa
    Full-time home/EU students: £4327 pa
    Part-time international students: £6375 pa
    Full-time international students: £12625 pa

    Students are charged a tuition fee in each year of their programme. Tuition fees for students continuing on their programme in following years may be subject to annual inflationary increases. For more information, please see the College Fees Policy.

    Fees and finance

    From 2018-19, PhD students resident in England can apply for government loans of up to £25,000 to cover the cost of tuition fees, maintenance and other study-related costs.

    Flexible finance: pay your fees in monthly instalments at no extra cost. Enrol early to spread your costs and reduce your monthly payments.

    Fees discounts: If you are a member of a union that is recognised by the Trades Union Congress (TUC), you may apply for a 10% discount off your tuition fees.

    Named in memory of Birkbeck’s former President, and one of the greatest historians of the twentieth century, the Eric Hobsbawm Postgraduate Scholarship fund offers financial assistance for research expenses (including travel, accommodation, conference fees and particular training needs) to doctoral students in the Department of History, Classics and Archaeology.

    The School of Social Sciences, History and Philosophy attracts funding for studentships that ensure researchers of the highest standard can pursue their research with us. Find out more about research funding opportunities at Birkbeck.

  • Our Research Culture

    Our Research Culture

    You will find the British Museum and the British Library just a few minutes' walk away from Birkbeck. Other nearby specialist centres of research include the University of London Institute of Historical Research, the School of Oriental and African Studies, the Wiener Library for the Study of the Holocaust and Genocide, the German Historical Institute, the Warburg Institute, the Wellcome Library for the History and Understanding of Medicine, the City of London Record Offices, the India Office Library and the Institute of Commonwealth Studies. The Public Record Office, the British Newspaper Library, the Imperial War Museum and other archives are within easy reach by public transport.

    Study resources also include a regular work-in-progress seminar for research students and staff, and various courses on ancillary skills, including how to read medieval and early modern documents, how to locate sources in various fields, languages and computing. The Department also offers PhD thesis-writing workshops and methodological masterclasses, in which historians discuss how they produce their work and overcome particular challenges. Increasingly Birkbeck is funding student-organised conferences and sponsoring special courses that teach non-English languages for reading and research. Research students also have access to events offered by the Bloomsbury Postgraduate Skills Network, which includes UCL, King’s College London, LSE and SOAS, among others.

    Besides over 30 regular research seminars at the Institute of Historical Research, there are also numerous specialist lectures and talks at neighbouring institutions during term-time.

    Student-run website Birkbeck History Research Students' Forum contains information about conferences and events, job opportunities, etc.

    Through our international links, it is now possible for Birkbeck PhD History students to visit the following partner institutions: Columbia University, USA; Queen's University, Canada; Università di Pisa, University of Verona and European University Institute (EUI), Florence, Italy (one-term exchange). Research students from these institutions may also spend six months studying at Birkbeck.

    Read more about our vibrant research culture.

  • How to apply

    How to apply

    Follow these steps to apply to an MPhil/PhD research degree at Birkbeck:

    1. Check that you meet the entry requirements, including English language requirements, as described on this page.

    2. Find a potential supervisor for your MPhil/PhD research. You can look at the Find a Supervisor area on this page for an overview, or search our Experts’ Database or browse our staff pages for more in-depth information. You may also find it helpful to view the research projects of our current students

    3. Contact the academic member of staff - or the department they teach in - for an informal discussion about your research interests and to establish if they are willing and able to supervise your research. (Please note: finding a potential supervisor does not guarantee admission to the research degree, as this decision is made using your whole application.) Find out more about the supervisory relationship and how your supervisor will support your research.

    4. Draft a research proposal. This needs to demonstrate your knowledge of the field, the specific research questions you wish to pursue, and how your ideas will lead to the creation of new knowledge and understanding. Find out more about writing a research proposal.

    5. Apply directly to Birkbeck, using the online application link on this page. All research students are initially registered on an MPhil and then upgrade to a PhD after making sufficient progress.

    Find out more about the application process, writing a research proposal and the timeframe

    RECENT RESEARCH TOPICS 

    • Socialist utopias
    • Chinese railroad labourers in the mid- to late nineteenth century
    • The cultural history of music in the French Revolution 
    • Technologies of social knowledge: scientific methodologies of conceptualising poverty in Britain, late nineteenth to early twentieth century 
    • The development of botany in sixteenth-century Italy and its influence on the theory and practice of therapy
    • Demonic possession in Early Modern England
    • The healing of scrofula - or the King's Evil - by the royal touch during the early modern period
    • The history of the Civil Rights League of South Africa (1948-1994)
    • The Burgundian nobility in the eighteenth century
    • The development of the ceramic industry and exchange networks in the province of Dacia by establishing a Roman Fabrics Reference collection
    • War neurosis in the civilian population in Second World War Britain
    • Terrorists and counter-terrorists in Hollywood film and television of the last two decades
    • The SS personnel of the Dachau concentration camp 1933-1939
    • Belsen medical students
    • The political and cultural career of Philip Sydney, Lord Viscount Lisle, Third Earl of Leicester, 1619-1698
    • Medical books and the distribution of medical knowledge in the early modern period. 

    Application deadlines and interviews

    You can apply, and start studying, at any time during the year.

    If you wish to apply for funding, you will need to apply by certain deadlines. Consult the websites of relevant bodies for details.

  • Finding a supervisor

    Finding a supervisor

    A critical factor when applying for postgraduate study in history is the correlation between the applicant’s intellectual and research interests and those of one or more potential supervisors within the Department.

    Find out more about the research interests of our academic staff: