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Scholarly Environment

Graduate Students

The history department recruits graduate students of diverse backgrounds from across the globe. Currently, the program includes students with bachelor's or master's degrees from a wide array of institutions, from small private liberal arts colleges to large public research universities, located across North America as well as in several countries overseas. While many students enter the program within a year of graduation from college, a significant number have been out of school for many years. In evaluating a candidate for admission, the department is less concerned with the date of a qualifying degree (or the prestige of the granting institution) than with the intellectual accomplishments and aptitude of the individual. The result of this policy is a student body that is refreshingly heterogeneous; students in the PhD program in history at Northwestern enjoy an atmosphere of diversity that enriches and informs their learning.

Whatever their background, Northwestern graduate students customarily garner an impressive array of awards and recognitions while proceeding toward the Ph.D. Among the numerous prestigious awards recently won by our students are two Charlotte W. Newcombe Fellowships; Fulbright fellowships to China, Italy, the Philippines, Slovakia, and South Korea; Social Science Research Council fellowships to Angola, Uganda, and Oman; the Northwestern University Presidential Fellowship; the Northwestern University Franke Graduate Fellowship; the Korea Foundation Grant; the Marandon Fellowship from the Société des Professeurs Français et Francophones d'Amérique; the Smithsonian's Graduate Student Fellowship; the Young Scholarship Award from the China Times Cultural Foundation; and fellowships from the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations and the Economic History Association.

The department's placement record is equally strong. Northwestern graduates occupy professorships in history at well-respected colleges and universities throughout the country, among them Barnard College, Binghamton University (SUNY), Boston College, Boston University, Bowdoin College, Brown University, The Citadel, City College of New York, Columbia University, Cornell University, Dartmouth College, Duke University, Grinnell College, Louisiana State University, Loyola University, Marietta College, New York University, North Dakota State University, Penn State University, Princeton University, Purdue University, Rice University, Roosevelt University, Rutgers University, St. Norbert College, St. Thomas University, Texas Tech, University of Alabama at Birmingham, University of Birmingham (UK), University of California, Santa Barbara, University of Florida, University of Houston – Clear Lake, University of Illinois, University of Louisville, University of Maryland, University of Michigan, University of Mississippi, University of Missouri, University of New Mexico, University of Oklahoma, University of Oregon, University of Virginia, University of Warwick (UK), University of Wisconsin-Madison, Vassar College, Western Washington University, and William Paterson College of New Jersey.

Given today's difficult academic job market, we are also committed to helping our students plan for careers they might not have envisioned when they began the program. We regularly host events designed to inform students about non-traditional careers for History Ph.D.s and to create opportunities for networking. We support our students who wish to explore non-traditional career options, and we collaborate with Northwestern's Center for Civic Engagement and the Chicago History Museum to offer our students opportunities to hone their skills outside the History Department. Several of our Ph.D.s currently teach in secondary schools, including Beacon Academy in Evanston, St. Ignatius College Prep in Chicago, and The Dalton School in New York City. We also have Ph.D. graduates working at Loyola University's Center for Experiential Learning; managing fundraising at Carlton College; directing programs at the Aspen Institute in Washington; and working as historians for the State Department and the Justice Department.

The Learning Environment

History graduate students at Northwestern belong to a lively community of scholars. Because the program is relatively small (12 to 15 entrants each year), and because graduate students and faculty typically spend much of their time on campus, opportunities for personal contacts and shared learning are numerous. Students learn enormously from one another. Coming from a wide variety of academic backgrounds and attuned to different intellectual orientations, they educate each other in classroom discussions and informal gatherings. Departmental and interdepartmental colloquia attended by both faculty and students provide other venues for cooperative exploration of ideas.

Graduate students also collaborate with the faculty in undergraduate education. Doctoral candidates typically receive teaching assistantships in their second and third years. Contingent upon proven success in the classroom, they often teach their own small undergraduate classes later on. Because the department is intent upon offering excellence in undergraduate instruction, the faculty is committed to the teaching of teaching. Often students give their own lectures, with constructive faculty supervision. The department offers History 560 (“Teaching History”) annually as an ungraded seminar; students generally take this course in the fall, winter, or spring of their third year. The Searle Center for Teaching Excellence regularly organizes seminars on teaching strategies. The department's commitment to teaching is reflected in the large number of teaching awards given to history faculty and graduate students.

The Graduate History Student Organization provides an opportunity for socializing as well as for discussion of issues relating to student life. Elected student representatives serve as liaisons with the faculty and may recommend to the department any reforms or modifications of the curriculum that seem necessary or advantageous. The faculty Director of Graduate Studies holds a "town hall" meeting with graduate students once per quarter, and the department sponsors grad student/faculty lunches twice per quarter to build community and facilitate open-ended conversation.

Northwestern's many resources enhance the intellectual life of the department. The University possesses a research library of more than four million volumes as well as many special collections of rare books, unpublished materials, and pamphlets. A vast collection of books, journals, and manuscripts makes Northwestern's Herskovits Library of African Studies a collection second only to that of the Library of Congress. Among the centers and programs that provide special opportunities for history graduate students are the Institute for Policy Research, the Buffett Institute for Global Studies, the Gender Studies Program, the Colloquium on Ethnicity and Diaspora, and the Program of African Studies. Students interested in the digital humanities can join the Northwestern University Digital Humanities Laboratory and can avail themselves of the excellent facilities of Northwestern University Information Technology.

Northwestern enjoys the benefits of a beautiful lakeside campus in a residential suburb together with the wide range of intellectual and cultural opportunities of neighboring Chicago. To name a few of the city's special attractions for historians, the Art Institute of Chicago and the Chicago History Museum have exhibits, programs, and a wealth of special research resources. Northwestern students are also entitled to draw on the library resources of the University of Chicago and the University of Illinois at Chicago, the Center for Research Libraries, and the Federal Records Center, which houses a large collection of government documents. Particularly rich opportunities for research and learning are provided by Chicago's Newberry Library: the Newberry's Renaissance Center offers an array of exciting lectures and seminars throughout the academic year as well as a summer institute. Its Family and Community History Center is a major resource for American historians, and its center for the histories of cartography and indigenous Americans are valuable repositories.

In short, a strong faculty committed to excellence and accessibility, a distinguished and well-located university, an urban area rich in opportunities, and, not least, a community of top-flight graduate students provide an exceptional environment for intellectual growth and professional accomplishment.