Normally a Masters degree in a relevant discipline.
Months of entry
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 ensures 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.
While a research degree should be very rewarding personally, it is also a serious and sometimes intense undertaking. Under the current system, a full-time doctoral student has three years to complete a full draft of her or his thesis and then a further one year for writing up (known as a 3+1 degree). There are always solitary moments when carrying out individual research, even if a department has a strong collegiate atmosphere, as ours does. Research degrees are generally undertaken by individuals who aim to become professionals in the field of art history and/or archaeology, whether as academics who carry out research and teach in universities or as curators or educators in museums, libraries or archives, or in any number of other related areas such as academic publishing or even the commercial art world. It is generally a good idea to have some experience of work outside university before applying to a doctoral programme, for example, in some role in a museum or gallery. Embarking on a research degree is not just about the qualification but also about developing as a person and a professional so as to be able to contribute to national and international discourses in, and perhaps also far beyond, the history of art and archaeology.
Why at SOAS?
Beyond the distinctive intellectual environment of SOAS, doctoral researchers are generally drawn to work with an individual supervisor who is a renowned expert in a particular field or else is known for a particular critical approach. Many of our current students completed MA degrees at SOAS during which time they took courses with and got to know members of academic staff in the department, experiences that encouraged them to consider a research degree. Prospective applicants may wish to browse through the staff webpages where updated biographies and publications of individual staff members may be found. Some supervisors prefer their research students to have trained under them at MA level even if they have an MA in art history or archaeology from elsewhere. Our department generally makes about 10-20 offers each year. One reason why an offer-holder might choose the Department of the History of Art and Archaeology, apart from wanting to work under the supervision of a particular scholar at SOAS, is that our programme has one of the highest completion rates at SOAS and indeed in the sector: we graduate about 0.7 doctorates each year, within the 3+1 year framework, per full time member of staff.
What have our recent graduates gone on to do?
A list of both current and recently completed PhD projects can be found on the PhD Students page.
Our graduates have gone on to a range of different roles, mainly in academia and the museum world. Quite often, after completing a doctorate, there is a transitional stage during which an early career researcher will work as a postdoctoral researcher, sometimes with a fellowship, before securing a teaching post. Some graduates do go straight into teaching positions in universities around the world. Many of our graduates have ended up working in museums, galleries and libraries, or else they carried out their degrees part-time while working in one of these, and remained working there on completion. Changes to the way research is carried out and disseminated through forms of publishing, brought on by the arrival of the digital age, would suggest that many new types of professional career will open up in the near future which can only be guessed at now.
Information for international students
Many research students are international, specifically from Asia and Africa which are the focus of the department staff.
Fees and funding
British Academy, SOAS fellowships, home governments, British Council.
Qualification and course duration
Further details of qualification
Candidates are normally registered for an MPhil and convert to a PhD after successful completion of the first year.
Course contact details
- Student Recruitment Office
- 020 7898 4700