Distance learning PhD in History?

Discussion in 'General Distance Learning Discussions' started by ArielB, Nov 10, 2022.

  1. ArielB

    ArielB Member

    I'm starting a MA in History program in January, but I am thinking ahead to pursuing a PhD when I finish.

    There don't seem to be a lot of options. Here are the ones I've found (and only one is in the US):

    Liberty University - totally out of the question for me

    The rest are in the UK and are research-only PhDs (which I'm not opposed to):

    University of London
    University of Aberdeen
    University of York
    Birmingham University

    The ones in the UK would be interesting, but the areas of research that they have available (based on the Professors) are somewhat limited (Birmingham seems to be the best for more broad research areas; my interest will probably be in Ancient History and they have a great department for that).

    The research only PhDs are definitely of interest to me, but I'll have to have a really well developed topic going in, since part of the application process requires you to submit a Research Proposal. The costs are not inexpensive either (average of 10,000 UK pounds part time or double that for full time).

    Does anyone know of any other programs? My Google search hasn't turned up anything, but you never know. My preference would be in the US, but I'm ok with foreign schools if they have a decent reputation. It's surprising to me that there aren't more programs available because History is well suited for distance learning in general. Plenty of BA and MA programs for it.
  2. freeloader

    freeloader Member

    You mentioned Ancient history, if your interest is in Roman, you might look at the Classics PhD program at the University of Florida. That is doable by distance.

    Union Institute and University Humanities program, University of the Cumberlands PhD in Leadership with concentration in history are two other degrees that come to mind.

    As to why schools in the US aren’t offering PhD’s in history by distance, I have a few thoughts:

    1) It isn’t a very valuable degree. Most PhD’s in history, even from well-ranked universities don’t get full-time university jobs. I attended but did not graduate from a PhD program typically ranked in the 20-30 range. We had a decent placement rate, but that was because we had a lot of foreign students who went “home” to teach in Asia or Latin America. Among the people from the US, Canada, and Western Europe, perhaps 10-15% got permanent teaching jobs in universities, with probably half being professors and half being instructors. Lots of people (myself included) went into public history, librarianship, or related fields, at least initially. Most of my friends have left history behind. I am an accountant. I have friends from my program who workin in marketing, radio, finance, one person become an RN, etc.

    You get a job as an academic historian based on your research, your advisor, the location/reputation of your PhD program, your publication history, and a host of other factors. Distance limits a lot of that, see point 2.

    2) I don’t actually think it is a degree that lends itself to online instruction. Undergrad in history is all about learning facts and regurgitating them. Grad school in history is all about learning how to do historical research and write academic history—journal articles and books. I did 3.5 years of coursework (MA and PhD programs). I had 1 class with exams and it was purposely designed to make sure you had enough actual knowledge of US history to pass the US history comprehensive exam. Every other class had an historiographical essay or research essay as the assignment/assessment.

    During each class, typically 2.5hrs/week, we would talk about the book we read for the week and dissect it. What sources did the author use (I learned to skim the book and read every word of the footnotes/end notes), how and why were the sources used, what was the narrative framework of the book, what were the historiographical interventions in and of the book, etc.

    I’m not saying you couldn’t do that virtually, you absolutely could. But a quality PhD program done virtually would still require you to read 700-1000 pages per week and spend around 7-10 hours in zoom sessions talking about books.

    At that point, why not just do the program in-person?

    Could you create a PhD program in history that wasn’t so burdensome? Sure. But, when you sit down in an interview and are asked high-level questions about historiography and methodology, are you going to be able to answer them? Maybe, maybe not. But I can guarantee you the majority of the 300 other people who applied for that job can answer them.

    3) Teaching. While you would be hired as an assistant professor as a researcher, you need to be able to teach. Teaching assistants get that experience and provide cheap labor for their schools. Online, you aren’t going to have this experience. FWIW, I was specifically told not to fail students when I was teaching because it would lead to bad average grades in my classes and poor evaluations. I had a good friend who was lucky enough to get a tenure track job at a very good school despite poor evaluations from her students. She lasted a year and failed too many students. Brilliant researcher, but was fired because she didn’t like grade inflation and passing students who didn’t show up for class. It is an uphill battle, for sure, but not having that teaching experience would really hurt you if not entirely disqualify you.

    4) Time. History PhD’s, because of the nature of the work historians do, are among the longest to complete. The average when last I checked was around 7.5 years. I don’t think online programs are going to want people sticking around that long and the students are not going to want to stick around that long, paying tuition.

    Maybe you don’t want to become a history professor. That’s fine. But, I would say if you don’t, you are much better served to get a relevant degree in the area you want to work in—public history, museum studies, librarianship, etc. I quit listing that I was a PhD candidate when two museum directors called me within a week to tell me the same thing—we didn’t interview for jobs in our museums because we thought you would leave us ASAP to get a teaching job. You may find a strong bias against people with that degree and may well end up leaving it off when not pursuing academic jobs.

    To be sure, a lot of what I said applies in other fields as well. History is one of a handful of fields, perhaps including English/Comparative Literature, Classics, and very few others where the PhD has one purpose and one purpose only—to train you to teach at the college level. You might find some private schools who like the status of your degree, but by no means all of them. Public schools will hate it because they have to pay you a lot more and your PhD does nothing for them as far as they see it.

    PhDs in business, science, engineering, math, economics, sociology, psychology, and most other disciplines have value in industry, but not history. A PhD in history for a non-academic is, most of the time, a vanity at best and an actual hinderance to career prospects at worst.

    P.S., if you think you want to become a history professor, you realistically need to attend a top 15 program and/or get super lucky. I got some wonderful advice that I was following from a professor outside the Top 15 who had an excellent track record. 1) when you graduate, have a dissertation that is essentially ready to publish as a book, 2) take at least 2 papers to academic conferences each year you are in grad school, 3) publish at least 1 thing each year you are in grad school, starting with encyclopedia entries, book reviews in small journals, and working you way up so that when you finish you have published at least 3 articles in significant journals, and 4) maintain a file of all of the research ideas you come across for things you might want to work on. When you go into an interview, you should be able to lay out a 30-year research agenda. You may end up doing none of it, but it shows you are aware of the state of your field and take research very seriously. Oh, and 5) be a lenient grader.
    Last edited: Nov 10, 2022
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  3. ArielB

    ArielB Member

    I get it. But for me, I'm already an executive in tech. I just want to do it for me.
    RoscoeB likes this.

    TEKMAN Semper Fi!

  5. SteveFoerster

    SteveFoerster Resident Gadfly Staff Member

    I was waiting for the part that sounded hard to do by distance and it never came.

    As to why one might want to do a program like that remotely, not everyone in a position to devote that much time to a doctoral program is also in a position to move. Considering how important the right fit is, would you rather choose from every school within forty miles of you, or from every school everywhere?
    RoscoeB likes this.
  6. ArielB

    ArielB Member

  7. ArielB

    ArielB Member

    Exactly. There isn't a program like this on-campus at any of the colleges near me. Plus, I have a job, so this would be a part time endeavor for me.
  8. sanantone

    sanantone Well-Known Member

    If you don't like Liberty, you probably won't like this school either, but I'll link to it just in case.


    This program is primarily focused on the Holocaust and the history of anti-Semitism, but they it also covers some other past genocides.


    University of Florida's classical civilization and Latin & Roman Studies programs only have small differences. They are not for the faint of heart.

  9. sanantone

    sanantone Well-Known Member

    University of Memphis offers an online Doctor of Liberal Studies that allows you to create a concentration. I looked at their Fall 2022 course schedule, and they do offer online history courses at the doctoral level. They also offer a lot of directed reading courses that are supposed to be independent study. They do have history prefixes.


    You could probably design your Harrison Middleton University program to focus mostly on history, but keep in mind that the university is nationally accredited and might limit your employment options if you decide to teach history part-time.


    This is not a history program, but it includes some study of history as a general humanities program.


    This is another humanities program with some history in it.

  10. ArielB

    ArielB Member

    These are interesting, but both universities seem to be Christian. I am not a Christian, so I'm not sure that those institutions would work for me.

    The Doctor of Liberal Studies at Memphis actually looks really interesting - thank you for that!
  11. ArielB

    ArielB Member

    This one is interesting... the college is also in PA, which is where I live, so that's a plus. I'm not sure I'd want to focus my dissertation on the Holocaust or Genocide in general, but it's nice to know that there is an option for this.
  12. Jahaza

    Jahaza Member

    If you're an executive in tech and have the money to pay out of pocket, you're better off finding a job where you can work remotely, move to a place that has a good Ph.D. program, and studying part time in person.

    If you don't need a fellowship, have good grades and recommendations, and aren't a weirdo, you should be able to find somewhere that will accept you on that basis, maybe not Harvard or Yale, but someone is likely to take your tuition dollars.
  13. ArielB

    ArielB Member

    I can't just move. I do work remotely, but I have a house, wife, children, kids. It's not easy to just pick up and move somewhere! lol
  14. Tireman 44444

    Tireman 44444 Well-Known Member

    You can always talk to the department chair. Tell he/she where your ideas lie in a potential topic. See if you can blend it
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  15. ArielB

    ArielB Member

    I see from your signature that you're doing one at the University of South Africa. What is that like?
  16. Tireman 44444

    Tireman 44444 Well-Known Member

    You might want to DM me

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