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Why should I come to Otago?

We have an outstanding reputation for research both nationally and internationally. Our research culture is well established and we can provide expert supervision a wide range of themes, time periods, and locations for postgraduate students.

Supervision themes:

  • New Zealand, Māori and Pacific history
  • Scottish and Irish history
  • Asian history
  • Italian and Russian history
  • Medieval history
  • Histories of gender and sexuality
  • Environmental history
  • Migration and ethnicity
  • Intellectual history
  • History of Science
  • Religious history
  • Histories of colonialism and empire

Prospective students should familiarise themselves with the expertise of the relevant staff members as they formulate their topic and frame their proposal.

Staff in the History Programme


Because of the strength and range of its cultural institutions, Dunedin is an excellent location for undertaking postgraduate research. A number of key repositories are on our doorstep.

  • The Hocken Collections
  • Archives New Zealand
  • Toitu: the Otago Settler's Museum
  • Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand Archives
  • Dunedin City Council Archives.
  • The Dunedin Public Library has the McNab Collection specialising in New Zealand material and the Reed Collection specialising in medieval manuscripts and early printed books.

In addition, the advances in digitisation and central library resources make it possible to study areas beyond New Zealand including: medieval and modern European history; Australian and Pacific history; Imperial British history; and some American and Asian history.

Postgraduate research culture

We are committed to fostering an energetic postgraduate community.

Students attend our regular research seminars that feature a range of local and international speakers and frequently participate in the symposia and conferences hosted by us.

Financial grants are available to assist students undertaking archival research and from the Division of Humanities to enable students to attend conferences.

We provide internet access and study space for all postgraduate students.

Staff and students also socialise regularly, including a weekly afternoon tea.


The University of Otago offers a number of postgraduate scholarships.

See the University website for a full list of scholarships offered.

History postgraduate scholarships

There are several university scholarship specifically targeted to history postgraduates, including:

Choosing a research area

In choosing a topic, students should keep in mind the research interests and expertise of the staff. Wherever possible we try to accommodate student interests, so long as these are consistent with available staff expertise. Feel free to discuss your proposal topic with a potential supervisor.

Students should also bear in mind the location of major source materials for a proposed thesis. The Hocken Collections provides Otago students with an excellent range of New Zealand and Pacific sources but it does not cover all areas. Some source material may be located outside Dunedin.

Finally, students should define a topic which can be completed realistically within the time appropriate for the chosen degree. Students often conceive of a topic which is too broad in scope and needs to be whittled down. This should be done in close consultation with the supervisor.

Supervision arrangements

Initially, students' ideas for a topic should be discussed informally with any staff member competent to advise, but ultimately they must be written in the form of a proposal and submitted to the Postgraduate Studies Committee. Based on this proposal, the Postgraduate Studies Committee will suggest appropriate supervisors. One will be your primary supervisor who is a specialist in the field of your research. A secondary supervisor will usually be from a complementary area, although not necessarily a specialist in the field. Their expertise may instead be thematic, methodological, geographic, or temporal.

Students may have supervisors in mind from the start, but must be aware that in the interest of workload and leave plans that final matching is undertaken with the mutual consent of both the supervisors and the student.

In considering accepting a student, a potential supervisor assesses the following:

  • Student's background and level of performance.
  • Student's motivation.
  • Appropriateness of the topic.
  • Available resources for the topic.
  • Level of commitment the supervisor can make, eg: Do leave plans interfere? What are the supervisor's existing supervisory commitments?

In considering accepting a particular supervisor, a student should:

  • Seek information from other research students and the proposed supervisor about the expectations of the supervisor and support given.
  • Ask the proposed supervisor about financial and other resources required and about anything which might affect continuity of supervision until completion of the project.
  • Discuss the relationship between the student's and the supervisor's research interests in order to assess if the topic is appropriate to the supervisor's areas of research.

Choosing a degree

We offer a PhD, Master of Arts (MA) and Coursework Master of Arts (MA (Coursework)).

A PhD is a much longer and more demanding exercise, usually taking three years of full time study to complete. A PhD topic is larger in conception and is expected to make an original contribution to scholarship.

A research MA, which is expected to be completed in one year of full time study, is a more limited exercise and does not require the same degree of originality.

The MA (Coursework) is a 180-point coursework option. It is designed to provide a multi-disciplinary grounding for Humanities students in a range of subjects as preparation for further study or future employment. The programme will take either 12 months or three semesters of full-time study to complete. The programme can also be studied part-time.

If in doubt, contact the Chair of the Postgraduate Studies Committee or discuss the matter with a staff member.

Entry requirements


A research MA student should have graduated with a four-year Arts degree with History as a major, and have achieved at least a B average (or equivalent) overall for their degree. Otago students will normally have completed either the Honours course or the Post Graduate Diploma in Arts with a B average or better and at least a B+ for their long research essay. Students who have taken their first degree outside New Zealand will have their cases scrutinised individually by the Postgraduate Studies Committee. Acceptance as a candidate for the degree depends upon the University being able to provide adequate expert supervision in the intended area of research.

MA (Coursework)

Further information and entry requirements for the Master of Arts (Coursework) programme can be found on the Division of Humanities website:

Master of Arts (Coursework)


A prospective PhD student should have graduated with a four-year Arts degree, earning at least an upper second class of honours, or Masters of Arts degree. Otago students will normally have completed either the Honours course or the Post Graduate Diploma in Arts. All candidates are provisional for the first year. Depending on progress, confirmation is possible thereafter. Students who have been provisionally enrolled for the PhD, but who do not give satisfactory evidence of research and writing ability will be required to re-enrol for an MA if they wish to continue.

The abilities needed to complete a PhD successfully do not always depend on good results at the undergraduate level. The Postgraduate Studies Committee will also need to be convinced that the student has the time available for the greater commitment, the necessary financial support, and the all-important qualities of diligence, persistence and endurance.

Other requirements

Language requirement

A PhD candidate in History is required to possess a demonstrated reading knowledge of a language other than English. Normally this means a minimum of a first-year university pass in the specific language. For most students this will be te reo Māori, a language which is necessary for many students researching a New Zealand topic.

There are three reasons for learning te reo Māori:

  1. Many students will be working on subjects in which a knowledge of te reo Māori is a distinct benefit.
  2. Students will normally be intending to use their degrees as a career qualification and for many of them the career will involve teaching or research in New Zealand topics. Regardless of the thesis subject, a knowledge of te reo Māori is highly advantageous for any teacher of New Zealand art history or history. Those who proceed to a career other than teaching (for example, government service) will also find a knowledge of te reo Māori a considerable advantage.
  3. If Otago degrees are to retain parity with overseas PhDs, a reading knowledge of at least one language other than English is essential.

Where the students are working on a subject other than a New Zealand one, they will be urged to qualify in the language other than English which most closely relates to their topic.

Other prerequisites

Other prerequisites may also be required, depending on the topic which has been selected. A topic in economic history, for example, may require papers in economics and statistics. These prerequisite requirements should be considered by students in their undergraduate careers. If the student has not taken a prerequisite paper as a part of their undergraduate degree it must be taken during the first year of enrolment as an MA student or a provisional PhD.

How do I apply?

PhD and research MA

Prospective research MA and PhD students should contact a potential supervisor in the programme and develop a detailed proposal which should be submitted to the Postgraduate Studies Committee.

The proposal should be double spaced in Times New Roman, 12 point, and comprise 4–6 pages in length for a MA, and 8–10 pages in length for a PhD.

Given the multi- and interdisciplinary nature of our research, the proposal should demonstrate disciplinary understanding but also be written in broadly intelligible and accessible language.

We encourage you to use the templates below to develop your research proposal, which you should do in consultation with a staff member.

An up-to-date academic curriculum vitae, including a copy of your academic transcript and a list of referees (including relationship and contact emails) should accompany the proposal, along with a one paragraph summary of your topic. You should also include a sample chapter from your most recent thesis.

PhD students should also provide a resources and proposed research costing outline which they may require during their course of study.

We are happy to receive proposals throughout the year.

Submit your proposal to:


The proposal will be considered by the Postgraduate Studies Committee. They will critically assess the proposal and provide relevant feedback if required. They will also assign a primary and secondary supervisor.

Once your proposal has been approved by the Postgraduate Studies Committee, you can apply formally apply to the University:

Enrol at Otago

MA (Coursework)

No research proposal is required for the MA (Coursework). You can begin your application at any time from the MA (Coursework) qualification page:

Apply: MA (Coursework)

General postgraduate research information

General information for Otago postgraduate research students can be found on the Graduate Research School website:


Information about University fees

Contact information

Professor Angela Wanhalla is Chair of the Postgraduate Studies Committee.


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