At the graduate level, students begin to focus their studies on specific fields and to specialize in particular themes. This focus and specialization allows students to develop a clear point of emphasis in an amazingly expansive discipline.
The history discipline is first and foremost divided into fields. The fields of study available to students vary by region and institution, but there are some standard fields of study history departments commonly offer. Some include:
Latin American history
African history (often divided into Northern-African, Sub-Saharan African, or African-diaspora history)
Russian and Eastern European history
United States history
Women’s and Gender history
As you can see, many of the fields above require students to focus on a broader era, location, or subject. These fields and numerous others serve as a starting point for soon-to-be historians to focus their studies. Most history departments allow students to focus on one field, but some allow students to focus on more than one, especially if the two are intimately related. Most commonly, however, students select one field and then make their knowledge of history more specific through the study of one or more themes.
Through the selection of a theme or themes, students further specialize their knowledge and clarify their areas of expertise. Themes typically span fields and give students a lens through which to view their particular field. Having a firm grasp on themes also enables students to broaden their studies to include more fields during their graduate programs or, more commonly, careers.
Some common themes and areas of specilaization in history include:
The Atlantic world
Borders and spaces
Public Policy history
History of race
International or diplomatic history
Nationalism and political identities
Oral history and public history
These lists are non-exhaustive but can give you a good sense of the fields and themes soon-to-be Areas of Specialization in History commonly studied.
Students typically gain competency in this field-based, thematic approach to history through coursework, guided and independent research, internships, fellowships, and studying alongside faculty in the history department (as research assistants, teacher assistants, or theses and dissertation students).
To determine what field and theme(s) you want to study, consider where you want to live, what type of work you want to do, and what piques your interest. Ultimately, opt to study those locations, eras, and subjects that will make you the most marketable and happy.
When it comes time to select a school, look for one with a history department that offers options in the areas of specialization in history and theme(s) and review the research interests of the department’s faculty; ideally, you’ll find a program with a faculty member who can support and guide your research, and with whom you’ll like to work. As mentioned earlier, history is an incredible expansive field, and the more you can find direction and support in your education and research, the more successful you may be both in earning your degrees and establishing or enhancing your career.