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'Don't get a phd in history' - Does this apply to the UK?


Prophecies
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Hello everyone.

I've noticed threads warning about history phds in the USA. The academic job market is dead, public history is struggling, the degree is long and time-consuming. All valid points, but I'm curious about 3 year phds from the UK or even Australia. Does the same advice apply? 

I'm considering a Phd in history, following a Masters degree (all from the UK; I'm Australian). My field is Modern European History, with emphasis on Russia (culture, art, religion). Currently I tutor creative writing and run a growing YouTube history channel. I am very passionate about teaching history, outside schools and universities, to those without the opportunity. One of my dreams is to write a popular history books. I believe a Phd and Masters will equip me with the skills to write high-quality history. But much of the advice online steers towards American Phd programs, which seem more intense and longer. Any advice on UK History phds would be appreciated.

Obviously I haven't even touched on funding regarding UK / Aus. 

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I don't know the British or Australian scenes as well as I know the US one, but I'll give this a go. My sense is that the job market situation is at least as dire for UK PhDs as for US PhDs. The job market is ultra competitive in the UK. If anything, there is probably a greater oversupply of historians. British PhDs are also at a disadvantage on the US job market. The US assumption is that the training and mentoring UK PhDs receive is not as rigorous as that provided by US programs. UK theses are often a bit less developed given the time constraints. Funding is generally a lot worse--or, at least, much harder to come by--in the UK.  I think that Australian PhDs would have an even more difficult time in the US or UK job markets than British PhDs. I should also mention that the market for European history is particularly dire. 

On the flip side, spending three years doing a PhD is a very different proposition than spending 7+ years. It won't eat up all of your youth. So if you are interested in spending three years of your life doing something intellectually stimulating and potentially living in an interesting place, don't mind never getting an academic job, and have decent funding, I say go ahead with a UK or Australian PhD. I generally don't recommend investing that time into a US PhD. Also, the average reader of popular history books or consumer of YouTube content will be at least as impressed by an Oxford DPhil as a Berkeley PhD. You will certainly grow as a historian and writer.

 

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On 1/11/2022 at 9:33 PM, Prophecies said:

Does the same advice apply? 

 I am very passionate about teaching history, outside schools and universities, to those without the opportunity. One of my dreams is to write a popular history books. 

No, the UK is worse. and this is not what a PhD in history will train you to do.

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Oxford DPhil in Modern European History here (MPhil from Cambridge, for what it's worth). This is my first post on this forum, so forgive me if I'm not fully acquainted with the forums ettiquete yet. 

Dr Telkanuru's point that a PhD in history won't train you to write popular history is quite correct, at least in my limited UK experience.  A PhD will still give valuable skills to someone who wants to write on history as well as credentials, but if you already know that popular rather than academic history is your calling, you might be better off looking at the CVs of people who followed this path.

Regarding employment, I would advise caution. To my mind, William Pannapacker makes some interesting points, although sometimes he seems to go a bit too far. (You may find him on twitter.) To be clear I'm not advocating for Pannapacker nor saying he's always right. But he's a voice to listen to before making a decision.  

Edited by Yorgo
typos
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Thanks everyone. Public history in the UK is surely interesting, because you have individuals such as Tom Holland (without Phd) who hosts a podcast with Dominic Sandbrook (Phd). One of my favourite non-fiction books (about the Dresden bombings) was written by a contemporary British journalist, yet I enjoyed The SS Officer's Armchair, by an academic Jewish historian. One book I plan to read is 'The Man In The Red Coat' by Julian Barnes, who has a language and literary fiction background, which honestly, appeals to me. Very interested in bringing narrative and literary techniques to public history. As for Telkanurur's comments, there is plenty of expertise in Australian universities regarding public history, particularly at ANU. I've just enrolled in a subject (currently doing a certificate there) in biography and history. 

Yorgo, I once considered an Oxbridge Masters, but they seemed quite focused on specialisation and prep for an academic career, and I'm unsure that's my path. There are some great academics working there, however. I did find a Masters program in the UK (yeah, no funding, I know) that really piques my interest: MA in History from the School of Slavonic and Eastern European Studies, UCL. You can take elective modules in other departments, some narrowing in on public history. I appreciate the direction towards Pannapacker. Best of luck with your DPhil, us Modern European historians deal with such diverse sources and questions! 

Won't plan a Phd in the next decade after all. A Masters should help.

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  • 4 weeks later...
On 1/12/2022 at 3:33 PM, Prophecies said:

Hello everyone.

I've noticed threads warning about history phds in the USA. The academic job market is dead, public history is struggling, the degree is long and time-consuming. All valid points, but I'm curious about 3 year phds from the UK or even Australia. Does the same advice apply? 

I'm considering a Phd in history, following a Masters degree (all from the UK; I'm Australian). My field is Modern European History, with emphasis on Russia (culture, art, religion). Currently I tutor creative writing and run a growing YouTube history channel. I am very passionate about teaching history, outside schools and universities, to those without the opportunity. One of my dreams is to write a popular history books. I believe a Phd and Masters will equip me with the skills to write high-quality history. But much of the advice online steers towards American Phd programs, which seem more intense and longer. Any advice on UK History phds would be appreciated.

Obviously I haven't even touched on funding regarding UK / Aus. 

My two cents: Australian universities love to hire people who know Australia well/are from there and have US PhDs, especially from elite US universities. 

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  • 2 months later...

Hello everyone. I'm curious about thoughts on a Masters degree. I believe a Masters degree is the right path for me - I can narrow in on my interests, develop helpful skills, start a language, get advanced feedback on ideas and write a dissertation. There are several courses that interest me (all in the UK - please note that I qualify for a Youth Mobility Visa and can take it part time, which means I can work and according to the Australian government, I get a tax deduction on fees. However, I still pay international rates)

M.A in History from the School of Slavonic and Eastern European Studies, UCL. Tuition will cost (in USD) around $34,000 over two years. There are no scholarships. Supervisors are amazing with special interests lying in Germany and Russia. There are opportunities to take modules for other interests - French and medieval history, eg. 

M.A in Modern History from KCL. Some scholarships are available and the fees are slightly cheaper than UCL. The teaching seems less intense (fewer compulsory modules) and the modules interest me less. However, the selection of academics is fantastic. One focuses on Modern Germany, specifically Bavaria and the SS. The degree is also broader than the SSEES one. Get good vibes from KCL. 

Not really interested in Oxbridge rn - too narrow. 

Which one sounds better? Any suggestions for preparation before a Masters is surely welcome. I still read academic journals, for example. 

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