Overview and entry requirements
The SOAS History Department is one of the world’s major centres offering supervision for research degrees in African and Asian history. It attracts students and scholarly visitors from all parts of the world. The top ratings given to the Department in the official national research assessments of 1996, 2001 and 2008 took into account the excellence of its research training, as well as the staff publication record.
The Department provides opportunities for well-qualified applicants to join large groups of students and staff working in or around their specialist fields of history. The unique combination of individual supervision, taught courses and seminars ensures that the large majority of students complete their degrees within four years.
See Department of History, School of History, Religions & Philosophies
Why study Research Degrees History at SOAS
In History we are 11th in the UK (QS World University Rankings 2021) 45th in the World (QS World University Rankings 2021).
SOAS students have unrestricted and usually free access to a huge range of seminars, conferences and workshops being held in SOAS or within easy reach. Most importantly, they attend a weekly regional history seminar – on Africa, South Asia, the Near and Middle East, East Asia, or South East Asia – and often special workshops on themes related to their research.
Close links are maintained with the nearby Institute of Historical Research and the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, which run their own research seminars. These give research students many opportunities to meet scholars who are visiting SOAS, and those based elsewhere in the University of London or in Britain. Attendance at classes forming part of taught courses in SOAS or elsewhere may also be possible by arrangement.
Library holdings in London are superb for many of the subjects studied in the Department. SOAS history students have free access to the nearby British Library (including the India Office and Oriental Collections), to the British Library Newspaper Library at Colindale, to the National Archives, and to a vast array of other collections, including the libraries of most other London colleges and universities.
A list of both current and recently completed PhD projects can be found on the PhD Students page.
How to apply
Minimum Entry Requirements: a BA and/or MA degree in History, with a merit or equivalent in the Masters Degree and a MA dissertation grade of 65% or higher. Applicants must provide a clear and coherent research proposal of 2000 words.
Inquiries relating to possible research topics should be directed in the first instance to the member of staff whose interests conform most nearly to those of the prospective student. For information on general or technical matters, please see below and the tab ‘structure’.
Inquiries on such matters should be sent either to Research Admission, firstname.lastname@example.org, or the History Research Tutor. Offers of admission will be made on the basis of an applicant’s academic record, references and proposed topic.
Those wishing to be considered for scholarships from or through SOAS are advised to make their applications as early as possible (for example, before January in the year of entry), as in most cases only those who are already holding the offer of a place will be considered for an award.
Although some theses rely mainly on materials in English and other European languages, a major advantage of taking a research degree in history at SOAS is that the School can provide instruction in many African and Asian languages.
Students requiring such instruction are advised to mention it at the time of application, and to discuss arrangements with prospective supervisors as early as possible after receiving an offer.
Before applying for a research degree, please read the following notes on How to write your Research Proposal.
Academic Staff and their Research Areas
Mode of Attendance: Full-time or Part-time
- We normally require a 2.1 bachelor's degree (or its equivalent) plus a Masters degree in appropriate subject area plus one reference. In exceptional cases we may accept applicants who do not meet these criteria if they show evidence of a strong Masters degree and/or appropriate level of relevant work experience.
International applicants should also see Doctoral School English language requirements
- Overseas fees:
Fees for 2021/22 entrants. The fees are per academic year. Please note that fees go up each year. Further details can be found in the Fees and Funding tab on this page or in the Registry Postgraduate Tuition Fees page
This departmental research handbook sets out the main stages of writing a MPhil or PhD in history, the department’s programme for research students, the supervision you can expect and the expectation from the research students.
We, the faculty members, value the active participation of the research students in the department’s academic life and we consider the research students a vital part of its research culture. The following is meant to ensure that you complete your research in the proscribed period and that you take the most out of your years in our department.
This handbook completes the School’s Code of Practice for Research Degrees, which is the main document for all questions linked to your research degree.
Every student has a three-person Research Committee. Co-supervised students have a four-person committee.
Your supervisor is your main point of contact and will be available for matters concerning your work and welfare. Normally, you will have the same supervisor throughout your study programme. If your supervisor is absent on research leave, you are expected to keep in touch, but your second supervisor will normally assume responsibility for administrative matters during this period.
As a first-year student you should arrange to meet your supervisor during registration week and fortnightly during term time. Your supervisor will schedule regular meetings with you once you have introduced yourself. In subsequent years students are expected to meet with their supervisors once a month or more frequently given their writing timetables. You will submit in coordination with your supervisor an annual report to the School reviewing the progress of the thesis. If you are not comfortable with your supervisor, you can request a change from the Research Tutor, although such changes are not undertaken lightly and will need approval from the Associate Dean of Research.
Your second supervisor is usually assigned to complement the thematic or regional expertise of the first supervisor. A second supervisor can be consulted during the first year of research, but their principal task is to examine the upgrade portfolio at the end of the year. In subsequent years students might arrange occasional meetings with the second supervisor to seek advice and to keep her or him informed of progress. This member is normally a second referee for grant and other applications. The second supervisor will also step in to fulfil the first supervisor’s administrative duties should the latter be on leave.
Some students will have two supervisors who see them through the programme. A co-supervisor is generally based in another department and the supervision is shared equally between the two supervisors. The co-supervisor from the student’s main department will take responsibility for the paperwork. If you have a co-supervision you will still have a ‘second’ supervisor within the department (in this case thus a ‘third’ supervisor).
During registration week, first-year students are also advised to meet the Research Tutor. From week one they will be seeing the Research Tutor regularly in the Methodology Seminar. The Research Tutor can offer moral support and general guidance, acting as both confidant and spokesperson. The Research Tutor monitors the progress of every student and signs the Upgrade Form at the end of the first year.
The Associate Dean for Research:
The Associate Dean for Research (ADR), together with the Faculty Research Committee, has responsibility for overseeing all faculty-related aspects of research student training. The ADR oversees the progression of all students through to graduation.
If arising problems related to supervision or training cannot be resolved with your supervisor, the Research Tutor and Head of Department, you should speak to the ADR regarding regulations and procedures.
The Postgraduate Research Section in the Registry supports students regarding administrative issues. All relevant forms can be found on their webpage
Registration Procedures for First-Year Students
During the Registration period, your supervisor and the Research Tutor will be available at advertised times to meet you in their offices. You will need to discuss any courses that you may want to audit or that you are required to take and pass (i.e. courses specified in your letter of acceptance from the School and/or language courses) with your supervisor.
Presence in London
Students are expected to be based at SOAS throughout their study, except for periods of fieldwork.
Logbook and Email
Each student has a personal electronic logbook that you can access via BLE https://www.ble.ac.uk/. The logbook must be completed every time you meet with your supervisor throughout your study programme, and all goals and deadlines agreed during the tutorial must be logged. The logbook is an online tool designed to support you in your academic and professional development and to help you build a broad and balanced skills profile. It also enables your supervisor(s) to follow your progress and advise you accordingly. Academic and faculty staff, as well as other students, will use your SOAS email to contact you with important degree-related information throughout your studies. If you use another email account make sure that all mail from your SOAS account is forwarded.
The School requires all students to complete their PhD within four years. It is crucial that students notify their supervisor, the Research Tutor and the Registry as early as possible if their study has to be interrupted for any significant period because of exceptional personal circumstances. These problems might be financial, personal or in relation to your role as a parent and/or carer. Please provide documentation in the form of medical certificates, letters of explanation, etc. where applicable. Be also aware that any extensions to your fieldwork beyond the usual 12 months period will result in a shortening of the writing-up period as the four-year rule will remain in place.
All first-year students are required to attend the weekly Methodology Seminar, the main forum for discussing current historical research, presenting your own research and engaging with the research of your peers. First-year students are also required to attend at least one regional research seminar (African History Seminar, Near & Middle East History Seminar, South Asia History Seminar, Southeast and East Asia History Seminar) as specified by the supervisor. During the third term students will normally present a full paper to their regional seminar.
Other training needs, for example in languages, are required for some first-year students as set out in the letter of acceptance to the research programme. Students are also encouraged to audit courses within the History department or other departments and faculties within the School as agreed with the supervisor. Students need to ask the respective course convener for permission before they can audit a course. Auditing is possible for lectures but not for tutorial classes so that languages classes are normally precluded. Arrangements for additional courses with other colleges of the University of London (such as UCL for European languages) will be made wherever possible, but cannot be guaranteed. The times of such required lectures are not to clash with your seminar commitments within the department. If the time slots for other lectures you wish to audit outside the department coincide with that of the regional research seminar or the Methodology Seminar, then these compulsory courses must take precedence.
'For the wide range of generic skills training courses offered by SOAS and other London institutions visit the Doctoral School's webpages The Institute of Historical Research (IHR) offers further courses.
|Typical Structure of 1st-Year Study
- Regional Research Seminar
- One Generic Research Skills Seminar
- Methodology Seminar (incl. presentation)
- Regional Research Seminar
- Regional Research Seminar (incl. presentation)
Second-year students are expected to attend the regional research seminar during their terms in residence.
Students in their third year attend the fortnightly Writing-Up Seminar, at which they will discuss draft chapters with fellow students. Third-year students are also required to attend the regional research seminar and will be expected to give one presentation to that seminar after their return from fieldwork. Fourth-year students are expected to attend the regional research seminar during their terms in residence. All students in residence attend the Department’s Research Seminar that will take place once or twice per term and in which members of staff discuss their current research projects.
All students are registered in the first year as MPhil students. They will submit their upgrade portfolio by Monday 11 May 2015. Good reason for any late submission must be supported by your supervisor and approved by the Research Tutor. Late submissions may require delays in examinations and a delay to the upgrade from MPhil to PhD status. The students will normally have their upgrade meeting by Friday 12 June 2015 . The meeting typically lasts for up to an hour and will be conducted by the research committee, but may also involve other members of staff, generally from the same section. In cases where either student or supervisor have concerns about the upgrade meeting, they can ask the Research Tutor, or another nominated staff member, to be present as an ‘external’ during the process. The group will discuss with the student on the basis of the portfolio the progress of the thesis and its future direction. On the basis of the portfolio and the discussion the student’s Research Committee decides that registration will be transferred to PhD, that registration will remain MPhil or that registration will be terminated. A student working well with their supervisor will find that there should be no need to worry about the last two categories. The committee might also decide to set further requirements over the summer, such as revision of one or several pieces of the written work before taking the final decision in September. No student is given permission to leave for fieldwork until a decision has been made about upgrading. After upgrading, PhD status is backdated to the original date of registration for the MPhil.
The expectations concerning length and content of the upgrade portfolio varies according to the section, but the departmental expectation is that it is in the region of 20,000 words (all-inclusive, i.e. including bibliography, appendices etc.). Please discuss with your supervisor the section-specific expectations for the upgrade portfolio. The portfolio will typically contain:
- Methodology Paper: This will be based on your presentation in the Methodology seminar and includes the revisions after discussion in the course. This paper is an extended research proposal that presents your project by paying particular importance to the sources and by placing it into the wider methodological and theoretical developments of your field. The paper should include the following sections, but is not necessarily limited to them:
- statement of the problem: Why does this research need to be conducted? What is the rationale for it?
- literature review: This provides the background and context for the research problem. It shares with the reader the results of other studies that are closely related to the project and relates it to the larger, ongoing dialogue in the field. It basically delineates the ‘jumping-off place’ for your study. How will your study refine, revise, or extend what is now known?
- questions and main arguments/hypotheses: What are the main questions that you ask in your project and what do you expect the main findings to be?
- approach: Does your study employ a particular historical approach? How is your project situated in the field in methodological and theoretical terms? This section is closely related to the literature review where you already gave an indication of your approach by your choice of the literature that you discuss. Here you can show in more detail the wider background of your project.
- sources: What are the sources you will use for answering your research questions? What are the methodological challenges in using them? Have these or similar sources been used before? What will be your specific way to employ them? How does the choice of sources frame/limit your results?
The Methodology Paper should represent about 40% of your portfolio.
- Core Chapter: This will be based on the presentation that you give to your regional research seminar in term 3. There are two main options for this:
- The preferred option is that you show in this chapter by way of one case study how your research proposal translates into actual research. Together with your supervisor you will define one topic for which you have access to a sufficient number of primary and secondary sources. Obviously access to primary sources can be difficult before you undertake your second-year research. However, the main point of this paper is not that you submit a finished piece of original research, but that you give your upgrade committee a sense of how you envision your project in practice.
- If you decide in consultation with your supervisor that due to the lack of primary sources option 1 is not feasible you can submit a paper on historiography, placing the significance of your research topic in the context of what has already been written on the topic. Obviously this will overlap with the Methodology Paper and you will have to make sure that there is sufficient distance between the two.
- The Core Chapter should represent about 40%-50% of your portfolio.
- Chapterisation of the thesis: This outlines how you envision the thesis to progress, chapter by chapter.
- Fieldwork Proposal: This sets out where, and for how long, you intend to go during the fieldwork year, and what sources you intend to consult there (archives, museums, oral informants, archaeological sites, etc). Considerations of feasibility, access (visas, permission, travel conditions), personal security, and ethics may all be important. Overall, this is a practical, rather than an intellectual exercise. If you project does not require fieldwork, please outline the accessibility of your sources.
- Timetable outlining your writing-up plan up to submission. The point of this is to demonstrate that you have an adequate schedule to bring the thesis to a successful conclusion within a total of three years. Few theses are completed within that time-limit, but it is important that any extra time does not bring the total to more than four years. The implications are (1) that the topic chosen – and the depth or extent of research required – must be manageable in the time; and (2) that each student’s personal timetable should be based on the outline for 36 months, to allow for unavoidable slippages.
- Upgrade form and Research Ethics Checklist. This form has to be completed in consultation with your first supervisor. The form is available at http://www.soas.ac.uk/registry/pgresearch/forms/
The form refers to 'disciplinary guidelines'. Please consult:
. Royal Historical Society http://www.royalhistoricalsociety.org/rhsstatementonethics.pdf
. and specifically for those doing oral history, http://www.ohs.org.uk/ethics.php
In addition the ethical guidelines by the Association of Social Anthropologists are very useful and cover many issues that also come up in historical projects
Your project will obviously change once you have more first-hand experience of field/archival research. Yet, the point of the upgrade meeting is to show the committee the intellectual and practical feasibility of the project and to outline the argument as a whole.
Once upgraded to PhD status, most students leave for ‘fieldwork’ for one or several periods that begin at or after the end of the third term of the first year. It is recommended that students return to SOAS on full registration not later than the start of the third term of their second year. Variations of this pattern may be necessary, but must be approved in advance by the supervisor and research tutor. You and your supervisor must complete the Fieldwork Application form and submit it to Registry. On this form you are expected to outline your research plans for the next 12 months, including overseas university contacts and a description of arrangements for supervision while in the field. Fieldwork of longer than 12 months must be supported by your supervisor and approved by the Associate Dean for Research. You have to be aware that such an extension shortens your writing-up period.
You are expected to keep in touch with your supervisor throughout fieldwork. Some students prefer to send a regular monthly report of their activities; while others submit a longer mid-term fieldwork report after the first six months. You and your supervisor must agree on your planned method of reporting prior to departure. At the end of the year, your supervisor must complete an annual assessment form for you and will need to know what you have been doing. Any requests for extended stay made from the field must be supported by your supervisor and approved by the Associate Dean for Research, so regular contact with your supervisor is essential.
Not all students have their fieldwork funding in place and in these cases this issue occupies considerable first-year concern and effort. So while working on methods and training, a student is expected to identify and apply to any relevant sources of fieldwork funding as arrangements for fieldwork and grant applications should be completed in good time. Your supervisor can offer guidance, but, aside from writing references, a supervisor is not expected to locate sources of income for you. Finding funding, writing applications, and collecting the necessary supporting material are all part of your research training and transferable skills that will serve you after the completion of your degree.
You find a list of scholarships options for Research Students (not only for fieldwork) under
Information on funding specifically for history students can be found at the
and the Royal Historical Society http://www.royalhistoricalsociety.org/.
History Research students are entitled to apply for the Arts & Humanities Faculty’s Conference Allowance for Research Students
Extension of Writing-up (continuation) status (Fourth Year)
All students who do not submit within three years may enrol for a maximum of three terms on Extention of Writing-up (continuation) status (cf. the Postgraduate Research Handbook for details). In order to move to this status, students must submit a portfolio that includes two thirds of the thesis in draft form, a detailed outline for each of the remaining chapters (giving an overview of content, questions, sources, structure), a chapterisation of the entire thesis and a timetable up to submission . Students will submit this portfolio before the end of August of their third year of enrolment to all members of their supervisory committee.
Teaching as GTA
Students have the chance to apply for a position as Graduate Teaching Assistant, running one or several tutorials for courses offered in the department (or, if relevant, in other departments). Students normally teach in their third and/or fourth year. Those not leaving for fieldwork might also consider teaching in their second year. Teaching experience is crucial for your career after the PhD and helps you to master a wider thematic array of themes. Your supervisor has to support your application and will happily do so if your thesis progresses well. All students can participate in the Academic Teaching Development Programme which leads to accredited certificate. GTA positions are normally advertised in early summer.
Submitting the Dissertation
The major task for all students from before the beginning of their third year is to develop a realistic strategy for collating and organising research materials, and writing the thesis.
You are expected to have completed a draft of your thesis by the end of the third year. You must submit the thesis for viva voce by the end of the fourth year. You will find all necessary information and forms for submitting your PhD on the pages of the Postgraduate research section
Deciding whether the dissertation is near completion should be done in consultation with your supervisor (and possibly second supervisor). You should discuss well in advance of submission potential examiners with your supervisor who will make the final decision. Every student will normally be examined by two examiners: At least one of whom will be external to the School. While a student may have had previous contact with their examiners, it is normally expected that the examiners will not have read large parts of the dissertation nor will they have engaged in extended discussions of the thesis with the student beforehand. Your supervisor will seek approval of the nominated Examiners from the Department’s Panel for Approving Examiners.
The majority of students are successful in their PhD examination, but there are regularly minor amendments to be made, or up to 12 months further work to be done. Total failure in the PhD is rare, but possible. The best way you can ensure success is to allow yourself to be guided by your supervisor. That is, while your research makes you the expert on your subject, it is your supervisor who best understands what constitutes an acceptable PhD thesis. Working together with your supervisor (rather than avoiding them) leads to the most positive outcome.
Regulations for part-time students are the same as above with the following exceptions: Part-time students are expected to see their supervisors monthly in years one and two and as needed during the subsequent period. They attend the Methodology Seminar and give the methodology presentation in the first year of their enrolment. They give the presentation to the regional seminar and have their upgrade meeting in the second year of their enrolment. The other elements of the first year (attendance at regional seminar and auditing/taking other courses) will be agreed with the supervisor. They will attend the third-year writing-up course after completing their fieldwork.
At the beginning of each year arrangements are made for the election of student representatives: one from the first year and one from the third-year cohort. Representatives attend the departmental meetings and play an important role in identifying issues that need to be taken up by the Department. We, the faculty members, greatly value the contributions of student representatives to the department meetings. Student representatives from the department will also have a chance to serve on Faculty- and School-level committees. Faculty office staff will assist student representatives in setting up e-mailing lists for the research programme and in organising meetings and events (i.e. making room bookings). These may include informal meetings with staff or with other students, year forums, workshops, or social events as students see fit.
Familiarise yourself from an early date with the principal sections of the SOAS main library. All SOAS research students may have access to University of London college libraries, especially those of UCL and LSE, the British Library and the University of London library (Senate House).' The Institute of Historical Research’s library is indispensable for students in the department and your supervisor can advise you on further specialized libraries that are of relevance for your project.
History in London
As with any other discipline London offers an enormous range of history-related events. A good starting point for research students is the History Lab, based at the Institute of Historical Research (IHR). The IHR runs numerous seminar series that will be of interest to many students http://www.history.ac.uk/. The Royal Historical Society, organises also regular lectures and other events. Your supervisor will be able to advise you on institutions and events that are of specific interest for your thematic and regional focus.
Students are also encouraged to actively participate in the SOAS Research Students' Association that publishes for example its own research journal, SOAS Journal of Postgraduate Research.
You should get in touch with the relevant regional centre(s) at SOAS to receive information on their activities.
The information on the programme page reflects the intended programme structure against the given academic session. If you are a current student you can find structure information on the previous year link at the top of the page or through your Department. Please read the important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules.
SOAS has a Careers Service which is available to all students, free of charge, while they are studying at the school and which will help you in a variety of ways. Supervisors can provide especially those students wishing to pursue an academic career with advice and suggestions for applications for post-docs and other sources of funding.
However, it is your responsibility to find other possible sources of post-doctoral funding and for working out an appropriate application timetable with your supervisor. References for applications are normally provided by the supervisor and other members of staff whom the student knows well, but more general references may be provided by the Research Tutor or Head of Department.
The History Lab Plus offers useful advice for early career historians.
The School has an Alumni Office which aims to keep in touch with all graduates. For us as faculty members, the careers of our students after the PhD are of great importance. It is also important to know the employment destinations of our students in order to advice current students and to reflect upon the programme we offer.
We greatly appreciate if you keep in touch with us and the other members of the SOAS community. We also always welcome you to attend our regional seminars and other public lectures, if you happen to be in London.
Postgraduates have gone on to work for a range of organisations including:
- Afghan Aid
- Amnesty International
- Church of England
- Dar Al Hekma College
- Department For Transport
- Högskolan Dalarna
- Home Office - UKBA
- Hongik University, South Korea
- Dutch National Council for Culture
- Savannah Publications
- The Jewish Chronicle
- The Royal Institute of International Affairs
- World Youth Service Society Japan
SOAS History postgraduates have gained positions including:
- Community and Events Fundraiser
- Senior Learning and Impact Advisor
- International Director
- Head of Africa Department
- Senior Advocate
- Senior Information Management Officer
- Civil Servant
- Lecturer in History
- Associate Professor
- Account Manager
- Political Editor
- Manager and Research Fellow
A Student's Perspective
For postgraduate students, the greatest attraction of SOAS is its research culture. There simply isn’t another institution with such a concentration of academic expertise on African and Asian history.