PhD in Comparative History

Outline and Rationale of the Doctoral Program

The purpose of the program is to offer doctoral education matching the highest international standards in the field of Comparative History for prospective scholars and teachers. The particular - indeed unique - feature of the history doctoral program at CEU is that it focuses on the comparison of four distinct geo-cultural regions: Central, Southeastern, and Eastern Europe, and the Eastern Mediterranean area, in close relation to the history of other historical regions, most notably with Western Europe and the Middle East.

Comparative history is often preached and seldom practiced in advanced historical studies. When it finds its way onto the agenda of Ph.D. programs, the emphasis falls mainly on distinctive regional-national fields with no connecting tissue. The doctoral program at CEU seeks to root the comparative dimension in the historical experience of the four distinct geo-cultural regions of Central, Southeastern and Eastern Europe, and the Eastern Mediterranean area. We acknowledge that these regions are themselves constructions representing symbolic as well as physical and human geographies. But we endeavor to find the loci of these representations in both intra-regional and extra-regional perceptions. We seek to avoid the dual methodological trap of seeing the region only from the outside as something "other" than the higher cultural level and material development of the West or alternatively only from the inside as a unique and therefore incomparable expression of indigenous factors. In this way, the comparative program will come to grips with one of the abiding intellectual and methodological problems of writing the history of these regions: namely, the tension between "Westerners" or externals and nativists or internals, between the conflicting metaphors of orientalism and nationalism.

A comparative study of the four regions poses several methodological problems for historians working in the early modern period or even up to the nineteenth century and early twentieth century. The political domination of the region by multi-cultural empires employing hegemonic languages (German, Russian and Ottoman Turkish) facilitates cross-cultural comparisons, particularly of institutional structures and treatments of subaltern ethnic groups. The rise of nation states, first in southeastern Europe in the nineteenth century, then in Central Europe in the twentieth century and finally in Eastern Europe after 1991 increases the complexity of the comparisons. Currently, comparative perspectives for the modern period offered in the department focus on theories of fascism and communism, methodological approaches adapted from modernization and development theories, and cross-disciplinary approaches from anthropology and sociology that allow for innovative approaches to the problems and legacies of the communist era in the region.

In sum, the goals of the program are to build upon a unique approach to comparative history, multidisciplinary methods, an ideal geographical location, a highly diverse student body, an international faculty, and up-to-date facilities and resources in order to provide new ways of investigating the historical problems of these key regions in world history. The research being undertaken by our current PhD students and the successful dissertations already defended give the best idea of what is possible in the CEU History doctoral program.

Who should apply?

The department especially welcomes students with PhD dissertation research that contributes to:

  • the integration of the study of different layers of historical processes (social, cultural, economic, political)
  • the integration of history and theory (conscious reflection on the basic approaches of research)
  • comparative approaches in historiography 


Doctoral students receive tuition and a living stipend for four years, with opportunities to apply for additional research funds. Students can extend the funded period of their PhD studies by applying for study abroad. The department also supports this additional study abroad in the form of exchange agreements with other universities and through supporting students applying for external scholarships in European and American universities and research centers for non-degree study. Students from the Department of History have been awarded competitive grants from outstanding institutions, such as the universities of Oxford, Cambridge, Edinburgh, Columbia, Maryland, Michigan, and Toronto.

Entry Requirements

In addition to meeting the general CEU admissions requirements, applicants should submit letters of recommendation from three professors familiar with their post-graduate work, a three-page research proposal (see sample proposal 1 and sample proposal 2), as well as a motivation letter (200-400 words).

The topic of the proposal should fall within the broad thematic focus of the program as described above, and should address issues of method and substance, as well as previous work done in the field, in appropriate detail. Applications are welcome from candidates with a Master's degree that includes a Master's thesis.

Applicants interested in Nationalism Studies or Jewish Studies at the doctoral level can apply for a Ph.D. in History and should follow the general admissions requirements for the History doctoral program; a joint committee reviews applications. The degree received will be a Ph.D. in History.

Program Structure

The first year of the program concentrates on coursework and preparation for the comprehensive examination, which focuses on major topics in the comparative history of two of the three regions mentioned above. A detailed, extensive research dissertation proposal is also prepared, and discussed as part of the comprehensive examination. The second year is devoted to research in relevant archives and libraries. The third year is spent in residence at CEU presenting results in the PhD research seminar, and fulfilling teaching assistantship duties. Students may also apply for support for spending a semester during the their studies at one of the leading international universities or research centers. The dissertation must be submitted within six years from enrolllment in the program.

Professional Training and Career Preparation

From the moment of entering the doctoral program, PhD students are involved in professional research projects organized by faculty and by external institutions. Pasts, Inc., the research institute associated with the History Department, sponsors several annual conferences and various other forms of academic socialization, as well as the journal Journal of East Central Europe. This journal and the European Review of History also secure for our PhD students in-house internship opportunities in academic publishing. In addition, our department initiated (in 2007), and still runs cooperation with the European University Institute in Florence and the University of Vienna, the series Graduate Conferences in European History (GRACEH).

For more information see the Doctoral Program Regulations.

For further questions, see the list of Frequently Asked Questions and/or contact us.