Hallmarks of Historical Study at CU Boulder

As you weigh your options and consider the possibility of pursuing an M.A. or Ph.D. in History here in Colorado’s beautiful and dynamic Front Range, we want to point out a few of the key features that we think distinguish our program.

The CU-Boulder History Department boasts a nationally- and internationally-recognized faculty of scholars, teachers, and public servants. One of the most attractive features of our graduate program is its small size.  Annually, we matriculate an average of 2-5 students seeking the Ph.D. and 6-12 students working toward the M.A. This means that our students typically receive closer attention from faculty members than their counterparts in larger programs.

Our Community

Our department prides itself on its collegiality. We do our utmost to foster an atmosphere that is not just intellectually challenging, but also supportive and inclusive. We believe that our community and our profession require and benefit from the participation and leadership of students, faculty, and staff who come from a wide array of backgrounds and see the world through a wide range of perspectives.

The CU-Boulder History Department recognizes that tenure-track academic employment has become increasingly difficult to secure, but also that graduate study in our discipline offers excellent preparation for a variety of rewarding and socially valuable careers. We have therefore begun to devote additional time and resources to preparing our graduate students for non-academic professions. We have striven in recent years to strengthen our pedagogy at every level. Graduate students, who serve as teaching assistants as well as instructors-of-record in our department, have been integral to these efforts. Several of our students have brought the skills thus acquired to K-12 classrooms in both public and private schools. More recently, we have also launched an exciting initiative, the Roaring Fork Public Engagement and Professional Development Internships. In summer 2019, we awarded 6 students with internships at stipends of $5,000 each. With departmental funding and support, our graduate students had the opportunity to explore careers in academic publishing, archives, and museum work; they also enabled our students to bring their knowledge to bear—and, in turn, to learn from—experiences in local historical societies, as well as libraries in Boulder and on the Navajo Nation. Both the Roaring Fork Internships and our involvement in historical pedagogy demonstrate our department’s commitment to contributing to communities throughout Colorado and beyond.

Our Graduate Curriculum

Last but hardly least, two hallmarks of our graduate curriculum help to differentiate our program from many of our competitors. First, we require students to pursue a two-field degree. This means that you will divide your time between a major field (the U.S., Europe, or Asia) and what we call a Global/Thematic field. This approach helps our students to develop a breadth of historical and methodological expertise, as well as a fuller understanding of how transnational dynamics and comparative contexts have shaped national and regional histories. Second, we require our graduate students to submit and defend a portfolio in lieu of the “prelims” or “comps” that history graduate programs have traditionally required. The details of this portfolio differ for M.A. and Ph.D. candidates (for more on the details, please consult our Graduate Handbook, which lays out all of our program’s requirements and rules). The basic mission of the portfolio, though, remains the same at both levels:

  • to connect the coursework that students pursue through colloquia (graduate-level surveys of major fields), seminars (which emphasize the practice of research and writing), and readings courses (which round out our graduate curriculum through advanced exploration into more focused topics, often through transnational lenses);
  • to train students in the art and craft of revision;
  • to prepare students to teach courses of their own;
  • and to set up our students for success in their Ph.D. dissertation and/or post-graduate career.

Together, the portfolio system, coursework in both major and Global/Thematic fields, our department’s attention to pedagogy and careers beyond the academy, our commitment to inclusivity and pedagogy, and the opportunity to work closely with nationally- and internationally-recognized scholars make CU-Boulder an exciting and rewarding place to earn an M.A. or Ph.D.