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History study options

03 November 2023

Whether you're a student, teacher, or just a history lover, History at UC has something for you. Our Department features a raft of interesting courses taught by established scholars. Check out History study options at UC.

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If you are a student, teacher or just a lover of history, History has something for you. Our Department features a raft of interesting courses taught by established scholars. Take a closer look.


Explore your options

See the full list of courses offered in History at UC.


Need advice about courses?

Contact the Undergraduate Coordinator.

The honours programme is an intensive and structured year of detailed study intended to equip you with advanced research skills, give you experience of doing research, enable you to acquire an in-depth knowledge of particular areas of the past, familiarise you with some of the standard ways historians conceptualise the past, and develop your capacity for identifying and solving methodological problems.

The Honours degree is an advanced qualification in its own right but it will also prepare you for research towards a masters or doctoral degree. The honours programme differs from the history courses you took at undergraduate level in many respects. In particular, the papers are on more specialised topics and give you a more intensive grounding in historiography.


Who can do Honours?

Probably the most important qualifications are enthusiasm and self-organisation. Honours requires higher than average levels of motivation and time-management.

The formal requirement is that you have a BA in History with at least a B average across all your History courses. If you have any doubts about your eligibility, contact the Honours Co-ordinator.


Course structure

The degree consists of four courses, which are normally completed in one year full-time, but can be done part-time over as many as four years (normally two).

There are two compulsory papers: HIST450 - History as a Discipline, and HIST480 - Research paper. You may substitute one course from other programmes and schools for the optional History courses, subject to approval at the time you enrol.

Attendance at and participation in weekly classes is compulsory for all Honours students. Excessive non-attendance or unexplained absences hamper the ability of small groups to carry out group discussions. A penalty policy will apply to all Honours courses.


Honours courses

The availability of courses varies from year to year. Students considering part-time enrolment need to be aware of this when planning their programmes. Part-time students will normally take HIST450: History as a Discipline during the first year of their enrolment.

See all History Honours Courses



Before enrolling please discuss your choice of subjects and HIST480 options with the Honours Co-ordinator or the Head of Department.

Students who enrol in history honours may take 30 points from a different honours programme.

The degree is offered only on a calendar-year basis and classes begin the week following enrolment week. You should apply to enrol after reading the Enrolment Section of the Enrolment Handbook, and completing the application form.

Students should consult the CIS (Course Information System) for the most up-to-date information on course offerings.

An MA thesis provides the opportunity to develop skills learnt in Honours papers by researching a topic in some depth and writing up the results in a thesis of between 40,000 and 50,000 words, including footnotes, bibliography and appendices.

Students are expected to demonstrate certain skills:

  • an ability to select/define a topic/area of study;
  • a thorough understanding of appropriate secondary material and a critical awareness of its historiographic development and significance;
  • an ability to find, select, examine, incisively analyse and marshal in support of an argument a substantial body of primary source material;
  • an ability to develop and offer arguments/conclusions based upon this original research which substantiate, modify, challenge or in other ways add to current historical understanding of the relevant subject/issue;
  • a scholarly level of writing and presentation 


Two routes to an MA thesis
  • a two-part degree with papers and a thesis, awarded with Honours
  • a one-part degree by thesis alone, taken after graduating BA(Hons), and awarded with Distinction, Merit, or Pass.


Choosing a thesis topic

The History Programme expects the initiative in choosing a thesis topic to come from the student. Often a thesis topic arises out of one of the Honours courses or from an undergraduate paper. This will have helped to establish some background for research. Students may wish to research a topic that they have not studied hitherto, but on which they have begun some initial reading.

The topic needs to be in an area in which the Department has the necessary expertise and resources to offer supervision. Refer to our website page of academic staff and the links to their research interests. Students are encouraged to consult individual staff members or the Postgraduate Coordinator about the possibility of supervision of research on a topic, and for help in defining the topic and in determining whether adequate primary sources are available or can be obtained.


Get advice

The Postgraduate Coordinator can suggest who prospective thesis writers should approach, and can give help particularly to students from other universities.

Consult the full details of MA thesis enrolment and entry requirements. Further details are also available on the Faculty of Arts postgraduate page.

While writing an MA thesis is a logical progression from a good Honours degree, a PhD thesis is a very different undertaking. The research involves a sustained, rigorous, and systematic approach to a relevant body of knowledge. It requires the preparation of a substantial thesis that presents the outcome of the research and places it in the broader framework of the discipline or field of study. A PhD thesis is required to make an original contribution to knowledge or understanding in the field of study, and to meet recognised international standards for such work. A thesis is expected to meet all of the following criteria:

  • An original thesis which contributes to the state of knowledge.
  • Identification of problem(s) and/or question(s) to be investigated in relation to existing scholarship.
  • Familiarity with and ability to evaluate the historiographical literature associated with the project.
  • Thorough acquaintance with relevant primary sources and secondary literature.
  • Clear and definite evidence of ability in source selection, interpretation and analysis, methodological rigour and other related skills as defined by the specific project.
  • Absolute accuracy when citing from and, otherwise, interpreting sources.
  • Strict and consistent adherence to scholarly conventions relating especially to citations, referencing, etc.
  • Literate in presentation (style, format, grammar, syntax, etc.)

A History PhD thesis at Canterbury is typically between 80,000 to 100,000 words, including footnotes, bibliography, and appendices.

The History Department welcomes applications from suitably qualified students.


Get advice

Prospective students should begin discussions with a potential Senior Supervisor well in advance of enrolment so as to determine whether a proposed topic or field of study can be undertaken at Canterbury. For both MA and PhD theses, co-supervision (with a senior supervisor and at least one other supervisor) is required by the University. A co-supervisor may be from outside the Department.

Consult the full details of PhD thesis enrolment and entry requirements. Further details are also available on the Faculty of Arts postgraduate page.

A number of scholarships and awards are available to History students:

  • Joan Burns Memorial Scholarship in History The Joan Burns Scholarship in History pays fees for the Honours year and is awarded to the applicant with the highest grade point average.
  • Lissie Rathbone Scholarship Each scholarship shall be awarded upon examination for excellence in NCEA level 3 or 4 or equivalent university entrance qualifications, for English and History.
  • Alabaster Scholarship Two scholarships, tenable for one year, shall be offered for competition every year to students in undergraduate Greek and Latin courses.
  • The Gerald Hunt Prize is available each year, as funds permit, for the best Honours research essay in Hist480. No application is required and the current value is $500.
  • University Senior Scholarships These are awarded (without application) to third-year students with the highest grade point average across a range of disciplines.
  • New Zealand Federation of University Women Award for Outstanding Achievement by a New Zealand citizen in History.
  • Sir James Hight memorial prize awarded for the best master thesis in History.
  • Philip Ross May Gown award for the outstanding graduating History master of Arts Thesis student.
  • Neville Phillips Memorial Prize awarded to the top second year student in History.

See the Scholarships webpage for general postgraduate awards and funding opportunities.

Entry requirements

History has no formal prerequisites. However, a good level of English literacy and writing skills and a willingness to read widely and think hard about problems in the past, are expected.


More information

See the Course Information website for more details about studying History.

Explore the full list of courses offered in History

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