Research Degrees (MPhil/PhD) in History


Read more about this program on the institution's website

Program Description

Mode of Attendance: Full-time or Part-time

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 ensure that the large majority of students complete their degrees within four years.

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.


  • Supervision
    Every student has a three-person Research Committee. Co-supervised students have a four-person committee.
  • 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. 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. A 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.
  • Four-Year Rule
    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.
  • Courses
    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.

    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.
  • Upgrade (‘mini-viva’)
    All students are registered in the first year as MPhil students. The upgrading 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.
  • Fieldwork/Research Leave
    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. The 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 an 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.
  • 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 characterisation 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 an 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.
  • Part-Time Students
    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.
  • Student representation
    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.
  • Libraries
    Familiarise yourself from an early date with the principal sections of the SOAS main library. All SOAS research students may have access to the 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 in 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. 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, Polyvocia. You should get in touch with the relevant regional centre(s) at SOAS to receive information on their activities.
  • Life after the PhD
    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.

This departmental research handbook sets out the main stages of writing an 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 make the most out of your years in our department.

Important notice

The information on the programme page reflects the intended programme structure against the given academic session.

Research Admissions and Applications

We welcome applications from qualified students holding a good Master’s-level degree (or overseas equivalent) in a relevant subject for research degrees at SOAS. Applications should be submitted online.

It is important to apply well before the start of the academic year in which you wish to enrol to allow us time to process your application. If you are applying for scholarships, earlier deadlines may apply.

The SOAS PhD programme is competitive and applicants should have a track record of high academic achievement and a viable proposal which will contribute to the research interests of the Department. Please note: we discourage purely speculative applications. Applications for interdisciplinary research are welcome, but only one application to one Department may be submitted.

Minimum Entry Requirements

A BA and/or MA degree in History, with a merit or equivalent in the Master's Degree and an 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.

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.

Unconditional English Language Entry Requirements

Applicants that require a Tier 4 visa to study in the UK must provide a UKVI IELTS Academic certificate from a UKVI approved test centre.

International applicants requiring a Tier-4 Visa to study in the UK

Test Unconditional entry Unconditional entry with in-sessional support
IELTS (Academic) 7.0 overall or higher, with 7.0 in sub-scores. 7.0 overall or higher, with at least 6.5 in sub-scores

EEA and EU applicants

Test Unconditional entry Unconditional entry with in-sessional support
IELTS (Academic) 7.0 overall or higher, with 7.0 in each sub-score. 7.0 overall or higher, with at least 6.5 in sub-scores.
TOEFL IBT 105 overall or higher, with a minimum of 25 in sub-scores. 105 overall with a minimum of 22 in sub-scores.
100 overall with a minimum of 25 in writing and 22 in other sub-scores.
Pearson Test of English (Academic) 75 overall or higher, with a minimum of 70 in sub-scores. 70 overall or higher, with a minimum of 65 in sub-scores.
Last updated Sep 2019

About the School

SOAS University of London welcomes the brightest minds to study on its central London campus with like-minded individuals who feel passionately about contemporary world issues.

SOAS University of London welcomes the brightest minds to study on its central London campus with like-minded individuals who feel passionately about contemporary world issues. Read less
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