Military History Degrees: Master's, PhD & Online Course Info

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Master's and doctoral degrees in military history can lead to careers in government, education, or regulatory compliance. Get the truth about the requirements, courses, and career options, and find out what you can do with your graduate degree.
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Studying Military History: Master's and Ph.D. Degrees at a Glance

You can earn a master's degree or a Ph.D. in military history or as an area of specialization within a broader graduate-level history program. While it may seem like a good choice if you enjoyed learning about military history as part of your bachelor's degree program in history, and earning at least a master's degree is a common requirement for historian jobs, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that job growth for this competitive career is expected to be average at best between 2010 and 2020. In fact, the agency reported that employers of most historians - federal, state, and local government - are predicted to show slower-than-average job growth.

Other possible jobs, such as in teaching or regulatory compliance oversight, are also predicted to have average job growth, according to the BLS. Some of these positions may require you to have a Ph.D.

Master's Doctorate
Who is this degree for? People who want to be military historians or postsecondary teachers or those who want to earn a Ph.D. in military history People who want to work as university professors or researchers
Common Career Paths (with approximate mean annual salary) - Historian ($58,000)*
- Postsecondary history teacher ($72,000)*
- Policy analyst ($79,000)*
- Compliance officer ($64,000)*
- Career options are similar, although those with Ph.D.s may have more advancement opportunities
Time to Completion 2 years full-time Up to 5 years after the master's degree
Common Graduation Requirements - Up to 10 graduate level courses
- Master's thesis or major research project
- Comprehensive exams
- Foreign language requirement
Most (or all) of the master's degree requirements, plus:
- Roughly 4-6 more graduate-level courses
- Ph.D. qualifying exams
- Dissertation prospectus (proposal)
- Dissertation
- Teaching requirement
Prerequisites Bachelor's degree in history Master's degree in history
Online Availability Yes None found at this time

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (2011 figures)

Master's in Military History

Your research- and writing-intensive program will focus on developing a basic level of historical knowledge specific to warfare, strategy, military organization, and related concepts, like economics, international relations, geography, and nation states. Through required research seminars, you develop the skills to assess and interpret historical records, documents, or other materials, and gain a thorough understanding of historical pedagogy. You may have to fulfill a foreign language requirement. While a Master of Arts degree is common, it may be possible to earn a Master of Science degree instead.

Pros and Cons


  • Employers often require master's degrees
  • Programs may offer thesis or non-thesis option
  • Flexibility in choosing thesis topic, as long as approved by advisory committee
  • May qualify for entry-level historian job with a master's degree


  • Only 700 new historian jobs expected to be added between 2010 and 2020*
  • Some historian jobs may be dependent on donor funding
  • May have to pursue military history specialty as part of general history degree program because targeted military history programs are rare
  • Some programs offer master's degree only in conjunction with Ph.D. program, not as a terminal degree

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Courses and Requirements

Commonly required courses explore the concept of military history, and the principles, methods, and standards for conducting historical research. Classes may be offered in international relations and diplomacy, military strategy and command, national histories, and major military encounters. Areas of concentration may include the American Revolution, the Civil War, military and diplomatic history, World War II and post-World War II military operations. Geographic studies, like Western and non-Western warfare are also common.

You might take classes in the following areas:

  • Gender, race, and technology in military history
  • Asian military history
  • American military history
  • Major military theoreticians and their ideas

A thesis of 25-35 pages is a common graduation requirement; some schools offer a non-thesis option. You may need to complete a comprehensive exam at the end of the program, which in some cases may be oral. The exam can be based on your particular curriculum, and it can include demonstration of historical research skills, concepts, theories, and methodologies. You may need to take an additional exam to fulfill a required foreign language proficiency. Success in defending a thesis may mean the difference in being admitted to the school's Ph.D. program or not. Students who pursue a non-thesis option may be obligated to complete another project.

Online Course Info

Earning a master's degree in military history online is possible, although not as commonly available as on-campus programs. These programs have course offerings that are similar to traditional on-campus programs; however, they're often intended for working students. Some online programs may have a limited residency requirement, where students are expected to attend short sessions on campus periodically, usually for a week or less.

Getting Ahead With This Degree

The BLS reported that for students seeking to become historians, skills and experience could mean the best job prospects. Internships through the school may be possible, or you can seek out volunteer opportunities with relevant groups, like museums or historical societies in order to hone your historical research and reporting skills. In addition, you could participate in presenting research findings at regional or national conferences and publish your work in scholarly journals.

Even though many people might not think the work historians do is greatly influenced by technology, the proliferation of access to primary sources online means that master's degree students will need to be Internet-savvy and comfortable assessing online documents, using them and citing them appropriately. Working historians may benefit from participating in professional listservs, where collaboration, networking, and brainstorming about historical research challenges can take place through e-mail messages among members of the group. In addition, historians may still need to access records available only in microfilm and microfiche, which requires specialized readers to access.

Other Degrees to Consider

If utilizing research skills on the job appeals to you, you might want to consider a master's degree in political science as an alternative. A master's degree is often an entry-level requirement for becoming a political scientist, although some employers require a PhD. The BLS reported in 2012 that about half of political scientists were employed by the federal government; other employers include colleges and universities, nonprofit organizations and lobbyists. Although the expected job growth is slower than that anticipated for historians, and competition for jobs should be likewise stiff, political scientists earned almost twice as much as historians in 2011 - the mean annual wage was about $105,000.

A master's degree in sociology may also be an alternative. With most sociologist jobs requiring at least a master's degree, competitive positions are available with similar employers in higher education, government or research organizations. The median annual salary for sociologists in May 2011 was about $79,000, according to the BLS, more than the median annual salary of historians.

Ph.D. in Military History

A doctoral degree program in military history or in general history with a concentration in military history typically builds on the skills and knowledge you attained in a master's degree program. You work closely with your advisory committee in planning your course load and measuring the progress of your original research. You may participate in teaching assistantships or other assistant lecturer roles that allow for close work with faculty. You can also build teaching-related skills, like lecturing and grading, that can provide you with demonstrable skills for when you're ready to seek employment after graduation. You might also help with faculty research.

Pros and Cons


  • May be required for job advancement
  • Doctoral-level skills and experience may trump master's degree-holders' in job search
  • Could earn lecturer assignment which offers additional teaching experience for those who might like to be college or university professor


  • Admission to Ph.D. program could be contingent on master's degree performance
  • You could be applying to the same jobs as those with a master's degree
  • Strong competition for history-related jobs
  • Competition for tenure-track positions at colleges or universities in particular expected to be very stiff

Courses and Requirements

Ph.D. students can usually chose their classes from the same course offerings available to master's degree students, although the same class cannot typically be taken twice, as part of the master's program and then again as part of the Ph.D. program. The course load can often be adjusted to best meet your area of interest. PhD students must also usually demonstrate reading proficiency in at least one foreign language and sometimes two.

Graduation requirements often include a qualifying exam or series of exams prior to being declared a formal candidate for a doctoral degree. You must also usually pass an exam that measures foreign language reading proficiency. The number of exams and topics covered may be dictated by your school; for example, four exams may be required, and two of them may have to cover topics in non-military history.

Online Courses

A Ph.D. program in military history isn't usually available online; if you do find an online program, you should investigate it carefully, because being able to demonstrate hands-on skills and experience can set you apart in the job market, and those opportunities may be limited when you're enrolled in an online program.

Stand Out With This Degree

Like a master's degree program, gaining experience remains the best way for you to stand out with this degree. There may be heavy competition for internships and volunteer opportunities with master's degree students. Also, if you're interested in teaching, an assistant lecturer opportunity gives you the chance to demonstrate the ability to perform the responsibilities required of a postsecondary instructor, like using online course management interfaces from the instructor side at schools where online learning is available, and so it may be wise to take advantage of this opportunity wherever possible.

You might also be able to pick up technology-related skills that are reported as uncommon among historians who teach, according to the American Historical Association. For example, you could develop class wikis, utilize smart board technology, and build effective lectures and lessons using clicker systems, where students answer multiple-choice questions in class using a handheld device. You could

also develop clicker-based paperless quizzes and talking points that facilitate classroom discussion.

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