Suppose I already have a PhD in computer science. I want to do a PhD in history, not to pursue a career but to make my extensive background knowledge official.

Is there any better way to make my extensive knowledge of history official?


4 Answers 4


The purpose of a PhD is not to certify extensive background knowledge, but to certify research skills. Background knowledge gets outdated really soon, even in history. Skill last longer (not forever, but longer). Many people focus on a PhD as "the highest level of education". A more realistic characterization of a PhD is "vocational training for researchers".

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    The corollary of this is that, if OP really does want to make their extensive knowledge official, a taught master's programme would be a better bet. Commented Oct 10, 2022 at 10:30

Is there any better way to make my extensive knowledge of history official?

I assume you mean that you are looking for evidence that you are considered an expert in history. Present papers in reputable conferences, publish articles in peer-reviewed journals.

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    History is still somewhat of a "book field" so I would recommend publishing a book.
    – Dawn
    Commented Oct 10, 2022 at 15:19

There are no officials that sign a piece of paper that says "Person X is authoritative source on the topics of the american revolution, invention of computers, and dinosaurs". Your signed & certified PhD diploma or a "Dr" in front of your name are corollary of being part of the academic community. Plenty of people have PhD and carry no authority, as well as some people have a lot of influence in academia without a PhD.

As someone mentioned, history is very much "book" field. So you should consider writing a book:

  1. using self-publishing method without collaboration with academics
  2. finding academic co-author, while trying really hard to not look like a crank

The only reason for you to pursue PhD is that it will make (2) easier in theory.

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    I hate to say it, but there are some cranks from academia. As in "I was a decent physicist, now I am retired, and the world gotta know the horrible truth: all of the history all-together was falsified and only I know how things really were!" crank. In other words academic credibility from one area might not be helpful in another one, especially if the ideas are... err... unorthodox. Commented Oct 10, 2022 at 21:02

In a comment you cited your motivation as

I want to become an authority on a certain topic

What you’ll need to do to become an authority on a topic is to write and publish extensively about it. One full-length PhD thesis or book would be de rigueur, and even then I doubt you’d be considered much of an authority by most actual historians (as opposed to lay people) until you’ve published several books, or a book and multiple articles — in academia a PhD is basically table stakes.

Moreover, the publications need to carry the official stamp of legitimacy of an established bestower of academic authority: either a university (in the case of a PhD thesis), or a reputable academic press in the case of books, or reputable peer reviewed journals in the case of journal articles. Self-published work won’t count, since it won’t set you apart from the many people who think they are an authority on something but can’t get anyone to vouch that their knowledge is correct, let alone interesting.

The thing to keep in mind is that these authorities who are in a position to give you “official” credit by publishing your book or awarding you a PhD are setting the bar much higher than just you having knowledge on the topic you are writing about. For example, you may know the dates of all the battles of the Russo-Japanese war, precise numbers of casualties, and have an extensive knowledge of the political and diplomatic machinations that led to this war, etc. Still, it’s almost certain that no one would want to publish your book about this war unless you find something new to say about it, or about its connection to other historical events of the period or of other periods. In other words, having knowledge is not really sufficient, in the academic context at least, to be considered an authority. Creating knowledge is the way you gain authority.

To summarize: neither getting a PhD nor publishing offer anything other than an extremely arduous and lengthy path towards becoming an authority on a historical topic, no matter how extensive your knowledge on the topic already is. As an alternative and more feasible plan, maybe consider becoming a regular poster on history.stackexchange and acquiring a high reputation there. Perhaps it won’t be “official”, but you can still have fun and collect some concrete evidence of your knowledge and understanding in history. Good luck!

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