The History Department and Graduate Program

The University of Virginia, founded in 1819 by Thomas Jefferson, is a medium-sized state university of 17,500 students. It is also, as Jefferson envisioned, an institution which attracts students from all parts of the nation and the world.

The graduate program in history is designed to provide professional training in history, with the expectation that most of its Ph.D. graduates will take teaching positions in colleges and universities. In recent years our graduates have accepted appointments at Brown, Cornell, Duke, Princeton, Rutgers, Texas, Utah, the University of Wisconsin, Yale, and the University of Michigan, as well as at smaller colleges such as Davidson, Reed, Kenyon, William and Mary, and Williams and at regional universities such as Alabama, Florida State, North Carolina at Greensboro, and Texas A&M. Some of our graduates take non-academic positions: in recent years these jobs have included positions in banking and business firms, university libraries, government agencies, congressional staffs, and the Foreign Service. The department has a Placement Officer who helps Ph.D. candidates secure academic positions and cooperates with University Career Services to direct graduates to opportunities in other fields.

The Corcoran Department of History offers courses of study leading to M.A. and Ph.D. degrees. Students can earn a terminal M.A. or an M.A. degree en route to the Ph.D after the second year in the program. In addition, the department offers, in collaboration with the University of Virginia School of Law, a joint J.D./M.A.program in legal history. Approximately forty history graduate students are in residence in Charlottesville each year, of whom ten to twelve are in their first year of graduate work. 


Faculty and Fields

Graduate instruction and research are offered in the following fields of world history.

American History—Colonial and early national, southern, social, cultural, economic, intellectual, and nineteenth and twentieth-century political and diplomatic history are strongly represented. In addition, American history offerings are enriched by the existence of an excellent legal history program, whose director teaches American legal history; the Miller Center of Public Affairs; the International Center for Jefferson Studies connected to Monticello, and the Carter G. Woodson Institute of African-American and African Studies, established in 1981, which bring research scholars from all over the country to Charlottesville. Many history graduate students also take advantage of the strong courses in American literature given by the English Department, and relevant seminars in Anthropology, Art History, Religious Studies, Sociology, and Politics.

East Asia—There is a growing East Asia program with courses on Japan, China, and Korea. Students train in languages and related disciplines. The department brings scholars from around the world to participate in the instructional program.

Early Modern World—Ph.D. students focusing on the early modern world, ca. 1400-1800, study with faculty members whose work incorporates a broad range of geographic specializations and methodological approaches to the early modern world.

Europe—Here the department can offer unusually broad coverage, with courses in French, German, Italian, British, and Russian history, as well as separate fields in Ancient, Medieval, and Jewish history. Social, cultural, and intellectual history, as well as political and diplomatic history and the history of science are well represented. Extensive resources outside the department in European literature and languages may be drawn upon, including a Center for Russian and East European Studies. In recent years Ph.D. students trained in the department in European history have won Fulbright, Mellon, FLAS, DAAD, German Marshall, and other fellowships to carry on their doctoral research abroad. The University also has several of its own fellowships for study abroad, including an annual exchange program with the Ecole Normale Supérior in Paris.

International History—The History Department has great strength in international history, a capacious field of study that has developed a rich historiography in recent years. Historians working in this area tend to examine subjects that cross borders and are unmoored from a purely national historical context. For example, international history includes the history of imperialism and colonization, economic and financial arrangements among states, diplomacy and statecraft, comparative ideologies, human rights, the cultural dimensions of international relations, war and its impact upon society, migration and refugees, genocide, epidemics and public health, cross-border movements of ideas, goods, and people, and the place of non-governmental organizations in the modern world. Core faculty in this field include William Hitchcock, Melvyn Leffler, Erik Linstrum, Jim Loeffler, Christian McMillen, Brian Owensby, Jeff Rossman, Steve Schuker, David Singerman, and Philip Zelikow.

Jewish History—The Jewish history program leads the field in its concentration on linking traditional areas of scholarship, such as Zionism, antisemitism, and the Holocaust to emerging fields in the larger arena of historiography, including the history of human rights, forced migration, and genocide, legal history, the history of international institutions, and memory studies. Faculty have also worked closely with Jewish Studies specialists in musicology, art history, and literature to promote new directions in cultural history, including sound studies, visual aesthetics, and the history of emotions.

Latin America—Four historians of Latin America, along with a large Spanish and Portuguese department, offer opportunities for study of the colonial and modern periods, with special attention to Spanish South America, and Brazil.

Middle East—Three historians of the Middle East cover the early modern and modern periods, with support from area specialists in Religious Studies, Politics, and Middle Eastern Languages and Cultures. The program’s strengths are in the interdisciplinary study of the early modern Mediterranean and Ottoman Empire and 20th-century state formation, colonization, gender, and war. 

Science, Technology, and the Environment—Seven historians at the University of Virginia conduct research on subjects related to history of science, history of technology, and environmental history. Ph.D. students in this program may work with professors in the Department of History as well as with professors with joint appointments in History and the School of Engineering, which has a program in Science, Technology, and Society.

South Asia—The study of South Asia and India is enhanced by strong supporting faculties in Anthropology, Religious Studies, and Languages, all associated with the University's Center for South Asian Studies and one of the country's leading South Asian libraries.


Resources and Advisors

All history graduate students draw heavily on Alderman Library, a research library of four million volumes, with a working collection suitable for advanced studies and research. Alderman, an open-stack library, is easy to use and is located at the center of the University grounds. The Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library holds about ten million manuscripts and rare books; the collection of material on American southern history is among the richest in the country, as is the collection in American literature. In addition, many history students take advantage of the immense resources of the nearby Library of Congress and of other unique historical depositories in Washington, D.C., such as the Folger Shakespeare Library and the United States National Archives.

A graduate student entering the department will probably note first that the moderate size of the student body and the relatively large size of the faculty has created an informal and mutually supportive scholarly community. Each entering student is assigned a faculty advisor but is encouraged to seek advice from other teachers and ultimately to choose a thesis advisor on the basis of individual interest. Ultimately, all students work with a committee of selected advisors. And because classes include students at all stages of their graduate careers, beginning students quickly meet advanced students and learn to benefit from their experience.



It is wise to begin planning for graduate study at least a year before one's intended date of entry. Requests for transcripts and letters of reference should also be made early to allow time for confirmation from the Department and for follow-up if necessary. Notice of admission and awards of financial aid are made once each year, in spring, for the coming full academic term. The Department will notify applicants of missing elements of their application files, but responsibility for submitting a complete application eligible for review rests with the applicant. For additional information, see Application Procedure.


Housing and The Student Body

The University itself is cosmopolitan. About a third of the undergraduates in the College of Arts and Sciences come from outside the state, as do the great majority of the students in the graduate school. An assiduous recruiting program has resulted in a significant and gratifying increase in minority enrollments as well as international students.

Student housing includes dormitories for single men and women and married-student units constructed by the University. There are also many apartment units and townhouse complexes within convenient walking distance of the University. Most graduate students live in off-grounds housing. Applications and information for on- and off-grounds housing can be found on the Housing Division web page.


The information contained on this website is for informational purposes only. The Graduate Record represent the official repository for academic program requirements.