Director, Centre for Imperial & Global History
For anyone contemplating a research career in History, perhaps the most daunting thing is coming up with an original project. Whatever your period or area of interest is, there is likely a considerable body of scholarship on it already, and in some fields the volume will look simply enormous. How, then, can you work out what remains left to be done? Even more importantly, how can you craft a PhD proposal that promises to do more than simply “fill a gap”?
After all, if you aspire to become a professional historian you ultimately need to write a thesis that can plausibly be presented as a major academic intervention. You will have to sell what you do to hiring committees in that way. That sounds scary, especially if you have only recently completed your undergraduate degree and, perhaps, are faced with the challenge of your Master’s work at the same time as drawing up applications for PhD places and funding.
The good news is that your BA and MA work will already have given you many of the skills you need, notably the ability to search the web effectively and to skim read large amounts of material rapidly. Your dissertation work should also have helped you find out which aspects of your field are under-researched.
You should also take advice from potential supervisors. You mustn’t expect them to give you a PhD topic “off the peg”, but they can certainly give you guidance that can save you a lot of time. Talk to them in person and take note when something that you say seems to strike them as intriguing. Continue reading “Crafting your PhD proposal: Routes to originality in historical research”