Why study International History?


Frank Afari (Ghana)

PhD Candidate in International History

I had my previous university education in Ghana where I was brought up mainly on the nation-centred historiographical tradition which privileged the centrality of the state as an analytical category for studying history. Afterwards, I enrolled in the Graduate Institute’s International History (IH) doctoral programme to undertake a study of the human rights violations associated with the various political upheavals in Ghana’s post-colonial history.

I encountered a faculty comprising top flight minds with expertise grounded in a combination of intersecting themes and specialisations cutting across transnational and regional spaces. Along with its diverse student population, representing some of the brightest students from all continents, I found myself in a truly stimulating intellectual environment. Through the doctoral seminars, lectures, tutorials, colloquia, discussions with my supervisors, and regular public lectures, international history has come alive to me in an exciting way.

Whether looking at the histories of transnational terrorism, financial markets, conflicts, humanitarian crises, nationalism, migration or identity politics, students of the IH department are exposed to a wide range of historiographies which condition them to think cross-culturally and transnationally. Besides, IH equips students with the methodological and conceptual approaches that are attentive to how the interactive dynamics of international relations shape the internal politics of nation states. Since I began my PhD project here, I have had the privilege of serving as a Teaching Assistant, which has afforded me the unique opportunity to reshape and perfect my research and teaching skills through guided practice in the institute’s international environment.

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Efrat Gilad (Israel)

Master Candidate in International History

What I value most about the Graduate Institute is the diversity of students and faculty members.

There is no better way to challenge your own premises than in a seminar – or a brainstorming session over coffee – with a group of open-minded peers who come from different countries and speak different languages. This stimulating environment is exactly what I desired when I applied to the Institute.

While I cherish the years I spent at Tel Aviv University, the past year at the Graduate Institute has challenged me more than ever before. Just one year ago, I was living in Tel Aviv, graduating cum laude, holding a research assistant position, and was well on my way to a PhD. Still, I felt limited. I was in need of a major challenge, a completely new perspective in order to deconstruct narratives that were confining me as a historian and as a person. Due to its diversity, the Institute is not confined to any narrative and a critical reflection is almost built directly into this institution. For me, this is priceless.

At the Graduate Institute I found faculty members who know you by name and encourage you to follow your passion. The International History programme is rigorous and the professors are demanding, but they are also very generous with their time and advice.

Today, I am inspired and energised and feel that I have found a home from which I can pursue my academic goals. I am again on my way to a PhD, but the one I always wanted to write, not the one I thought I should write.

Finally, the Institute’s location in the heart of international Geneva is ideal. Not only does this promote diversity, but the abundance of international organisations and archives within reach are imperative for a well-grounded, globally conscious historian.

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Aditya Kiran Kakati (India)

PhD Candidate and Teaching Assistant in International History

International History is a field that was entirely new for me when I joined the Graduate Institute four years ago as an MA student. I have continued to study here as I have continually found the space to explore novel openings and have received great direction and support.

Now in the second year of my PhD, I have been able to pursue a minor in anthropology and sociology of development that has greatly expanded the intellectual landscape I am exposed to. This is a unique opportunity that the Institute provides and I decided to continue to study here in order to avail myself of this opportunity. This interdisciplinary exposure has allowed me to reflect more strongly on my own work as well as on the discipline of history. My professors have been greatly supportive of my pursuit of multidisciplinary themes during my PhD in order to allow my perspectives to grow and curiosities to be sparked further. Additionally, the right guidance has been provided to channel this exposure productively.

I have also been involved in the department as a teaching assistant; this experience has significantly nurtured my intellectual and pedagogical capacity. We perhaps combine the right balance between pedagogical instruction and pursuing our own research. The faculty members, apart from being highly distinguished in their own fields, also possess diverse and interesting personality traits. Our engagement with them is also personal and having greater access to them provides us with an environment that extends beyond just academic guidance.

Our small and closely knit community, the highly international landscape of students and our relationships provide an ideal milieu in which to broaden our spectrum of thought, history and everything else in between.

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Jonathan Matthew Schmitt (United States of America)

PhD Candidate in International History

As an American historian working on a critical history of the United States, it may at first seem strange that I chose to do my PhD at the Graduate Institute in Geneva. My work, however, focuses on US history embedded in an international context that is only legible with reference to the larger world of which it was and is a part. The Department of International History at the Graduate Institute is the ideal place to pursue a project like this.

The department provides students with the opportunity and the tools to approach their studies in more complex and innovative ways than do many other graduate history programmes around the world. At the Institute, students are immediately encouraged to engage particular historical questions, as always part of a larger field of questions, and never to isolate the history of a single culture, society or nation from the broader, global historical current.

The department’s faculty is unparalleled and the intellectual environment they foster is both challenging and collegial (a combination one rarely finds). The students here take scholarship very seriously and those that I have had the pleasure to get to know are not only working on fascinating and relevant topics, they are also genuinely committed to the historical discipline. In my experience, the Department of International History at the Graduate Institute is among the vanguard of contemporary historical studies and I count myself very fortunate to be a part of it.