Fields of Study

Like all major history departments in this country, we divide our graduate program into fields, most of which reflect the geographic and chronological boundaries that have traditionally organized historical research in the West, but others of which cross those boundaries (such as sociomedical sciences, Jewish history, and International & Global History).Those boundaries continue to define most faculty positions in American history departments. Every prospective Columbia student thus applies to work in a specific field. There are 13 of them, each of which has slightly different requirements:

Prospective students should realize, however, that our history department, like many others, also provides opportunities for students to embrace broader lines of inquiry- both within and across traditional divisions by field. We urge our students, first, to explore the convergence of different methodological and theoretical approaches to history- to explore, for example, the intersections between political and social history, or the connections between diplomatic, cultural, and intellectual history. And we encourage our students, second, to consider research that moves beyond the period and place associated with their field. We continue to emphasize deep training in source analysis and empirical research,which are the foundations of professional history-writing. But we also urge students to take on research projects that situate their particular time or place in historical processes that decisively cross traditional boundaries.

We welcome applications, therefore,from students with strong interests in particular fields, who are eager to immerse themselves in the records of particular cultures and are prepared to acquire the techniques necessary for such work (languages and, for certain subjects, such specialized skills as paleography, statistics, or even musical training). But we also encourage applications from students who want as well to think about their work in terms of longer histories and broader theoretical questions.

Faculty members at Columbia conduct research and train students in several such broad, transnational areas, including:

  • International history, emphasizing imperial and post-imperial histories from the 1500s forward
  • Western intellectual history, medieval to modem
  • Diasporic Jewish history
  • Ethics and public health
  • Women's history and the history of gender
  • Social and political history of the West, including history of markets, commercial culture, labor, and associated legal institutions
  • The international history of race, slavery, and emancipation
  • The international history of the Cold War and other systems of geopolitics
  • The history of science and technology
  • The global history of medicine, disease, and public health

However they define their fields, history students are not confined to the resources of our department. They are, rather, encouraged to look beyond our walls to other areas of the university or to other institutions in the New York metropolitan area.

In addition to Columbia's fine departments in associated disciplines, such as languages and literature, art history, music, philosophy, sociology, political science, or anthropology, Columbia has a wide range of energetic interdisciplinary institutes that provide formal and informal training to graduate students throughout the university, among them the Harriman Institute for Soviet and Post-Soviet Studies, the Middle Eastern Institute, the Institute for Research on Women and Gender, and the East Asian Institute (along with the Department of East Asian Languages and Culture). Columbia's School of Public Health, which offers a Ph.D. in the history of medicine and public health in association with our department; the Law School, with which we offer a joint Ph.D./J.D. program; Teachers College; and the School of International and Public Affairs are four of Columbia's many professional schools that offer courses and other intellectual opportunities to enhance a student's training in the history department.

Columbia history students are also entitled to take courses at no additional cost at other area universities through the Inter-University Doctoral Consortium, such as NYU, the New School, CUNY Graduate Center, Stonybrook, Fordham, Princeton, and Rutgers.

Whatever larger interests a student may have or may develop, each enters the history program through a particular field. The Graduate Student Handbook lists the thirteen fields and details the specific requirements for each (the principal differences concern language requirements, orals preparation,and seminars). Students and their advisors may, however, agree on adjustments to those requirements in response to a student's particular interests. Students should also keep in mind that they can formally change fields, with faculty permission, and consequently adjust their programs to reflect their particular needs.