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Research overview

PhD Black Studies is a place for the study of the history, literature and culture of black people (variously defined) in North America, as well as through their historical, cultural and political links to Africa, Britain, and other global sites.

It is the only programme of its kind in Europe and is steeped in interdisciplinary methods and critical reflection to investigate the roles, lives, cultures, politics, representations, activism, art, histories and movement of people of African descent.

The course is particularly relevant at this crucial time within the UK, as students, communities and institutions of higher education increasingly assess curriculum offerings in dialogue with the ongoing effort to consider the influence and experience of the black diaspora on both sides of the Atlantic.

The PhD programme is closely aligned with the Centre for Research in Race and Rights .The University also hosts the Institute for the Institute for the Study of Slavery (ISOS) and the Rights Lab, enabling students to expand their research networks across the university and beyond.

The PhD is based in the Department of American and Canadian Studies, which has a long history of research in black studies, African diaspora studies and African American studies. However, we also welcome comparative research proposals that address issues across disciplines and national boundaries.

Course content

You will complete a written thesis of up to 100,000 words.

The topic will be agreed with both your main supervisor and a co-supervisor.

You will also take a verbal examination (viva voce) at the end of your thesis where you explain your project in depth to an examination panel.

You will also attend research training sessions and weekly graduate work-in-progress seminars.

Work-in-progress sessions are led by the research student community. They provide an opportunity for everyone to present their ongoing research to their peers, supervisors and invited members of academic staff and research students and receive feedback and support from that community.

Research areas

By its very nature the Black Studies PhD can cover a wide range of North American and transatlantic topics.

These might include questions of racial systems, class formation, identity, creative expression, political futures, gender, sexuality and sexual expression, resistance, and power from the time of slavery to the era of mass incarceration.

Current Black Studies PhD topics

  • Afrofuturism
  • Black communities and environmental justice in relation to national parks and heritage
  • Black identity, photography and wellbeing
  • Black working mothers
  • Digital blackness
  • Legacies of black arts and heritage centres (1980-present)

Study abroad

We are establishing links with universities in the US, such as Columbia University, that we hope will offer international opportunities for exchange and research study.

Entry requirements

All candidates are considered on an individual basis and we accept a broad range of qualifications. The entrance requirements below apply to 2021 entry.


2:1 (or international equivalent) in an arts, humanities or social science subject

For PhD study, we would usually expect you to hold or be working towards a masters degree in a relevant subject


2:1 (or international equivalent) in an arts, humanities or social science subject

For PhD study, we would usually expect you to hold or be working towards a masters degree in a relevant subject

International and EU equivalents

We accept a wide range of qualifications from all over the world.

For information on entry requirements from your country, see our country pages.

IELTS7.0 (no less than 6.5 in each element)
English language requirements

As well as IELTS (listed above), we also accept other English language qualifications.

This includes TOEFL iBT, Pearson PTE, GCSE, IB and O level English.

English language support

If you need support to meet the required level, you may be able to attend a presessional course. Our Centre for English Language Education is accredited by the British Council for the teaching of English in the UK.

For presessional English courses, you must take IELTS for UKVI to meet visa regulations.

If you successfully complete your presessional course to the required level, you can then progress to your degree course. This means that you won't need to retake IELTS or equivalent.

We recognise that applicants have a variety of experiences and follow different pathways to postgraduate study.

We treat all applicants with alternative qualifications on an individual basis. We may also consider relevant work experience.

If you are unsure whether your qualifications or work experience are relevant, contact us.


In order to apply, you must submit a research proposal of approximately 1000 words, outlining your key area of investigation and primary research questions, the existing scholarship in the field and your intervention into the debates therein, and the kinds of sources you will be using.

You are encouraged to send a draft proposal to the Director of Black Studies (Hannah Robbins) or to the Departmental Director of Postgraduate Research (currently Ruth Maxey) for feedback prior to submitting your application.

Our step-by-step guide contains everything you need to know about applying for postgraduate research.

How to apply


Home / UK£4,496 (estimate) per year
International£19,000 per year

UK fees are set in line with the national UKRI maximum fee limit. The figures shown above match the limit for 2020 entry. We expect fees for 2021 entry to be confirmed in February 2021.

If you are a student from the EU, EEA or Switzerland starting your course in the 2021/22 academic year, you will pay international tuition fees.

This does not apply to Irish students, who will be charged tuition fees at the same rate as UK students. UK nationals living in the EU, EEA and Switzerland will also continue to be eligible for ‘home’ fee status at UK universities until 31 December 2027.

For further guidance, check our Brexit information for future students.


There are many ways to fund your research degree, from scholarships to government loans.

Check our guide to find out more about funding your postgraduate degree.

Research funding


The department offers:

  • advanced research training
  • frequent reviews and feedback on progress
  • departmental research seminars/work in progress sessions
  • support for research trips and conference attendance
  • inter-library loan

The school's energetic research culture also involves a programme of visiting speakers and regular symposia organised by staff and students.

You will be encouraged to organise and attend conferences, act as editors for postgraduate journals, and publish book reviews and articles. Many former students have successfully turned their PhDs into books with major presses including Oxford University Press, Manchester University Press, University of California Press, University of Illinois Press, Routledge and Palgrave.

There are regular opportunities to take part in outreach activities, public talks and departmental events. In addition to serving as Departmental Outreach and Engagement Coordinators and Directors of our LGBT and Black History Month programmes, students are given logistical and financial support in order to run their own conferences and organise a week-long research retreat.

You will also have the opportunity to take on a Postgraduate Director role within the Centre for Research in Race and Rights, as well as the possibility of acting as a research assistant (depending on available hours) within specific research projects connected to the Centre for Research in Race and Rights.

Students may also act as teaching assistants, after appropriate teacher training, within the Department of American and Canadian Studies, or other areas within the university, depending on interest, experience and abilities. Teaching assistants are supported and monitored by module convenors, the Chair of Teaching Committee and the Director of Research within the Department of American and Canadian Studies and the Director of the Black Studies PhD programme.

Expert supervision

We encourage you to get in touch with the Director of Postgraduate Admissions, Dr Ruth Maxey, about your research proposal before submitting an application. They may be able to help you with your proposal and offer support to find funding opportunities in your area.

You will have two supervisors who will provide regular expert supervision and feedback on your progress. At least one supervisor must be a member of staff within the Department of American and Canadian Studies. The second supervisor may be from another department or faculty at the University of Nottingham, or potentially from within the Midlands4Cities consortium.

If you are exploring the option of PhD Black Studies, but have come from another field of study, such as the social sciences, you are still welcome to apply and are advised to contact the director for specifically tailored advice on research opportunities with us. Postgraduates can enter the programme with a range of backgrounds in arts, social science or humanities subject areas. As a research-intensive programme, all applicants are offered the chance to acquire the expected skill sets through coursework, workshops or additional training.

Researcher Academy

The Researcher Academy is the network for researchers at the University of Nottingham. As a postgraduate researcher, you will have access to our members’ area, which includes online resources, training courses and award-winning postgraduate placements.

Student support

You will have access to a range of support services, including:

  • academic and disability support
  • childcare services
  • counselling service
  • faith support
  • financial support
  • visa and immigration advice
  • welfare support

Where you will learn

University-wide facilities

Technology: MyNottingham app; full campus wi-fi; personal laptop repair; online, face-to-face and telephone support. 

Libraries: extensive print and online resources; 24/7 opening; study support; laptop loans; assistive technology

Manuscripts and Special Collections: rare and specialised documents, books, photos and posters used for teaching and research. Collections include Soviet War posters, DH Lawrence, rare medical records and much, much more!


Whether you are considering a career in academia, industry or haven't yet decided, we’re here to support you every step of the way.

Expert staff will work with you to explore PhD career options and apply for vacancies, develop your interview skills and meet employers. You can book a one-to-one appointment, take an online course or attend a workshop.

Our postgraduates go onto work in a range of fields, from university lectureships and post-doctoral fellowships to roles in the media, art councils and the creative industries.

Many of our research students publish high-quality books and articles and have secured teaching positions in universities both in the UK and abroad.

The average annual salary for postgraduates from the School of Cultures, Languages and Areas Studies was £21,855*

*HESA Graduate Outcomes 2020. The Graduate Outcomes % is derived using The Guardian University Guide methodology. The average annual salary is based on graduates working full-time within the UK.

The teaching staff and my supervisory team have been helpful, supportive and enthusiastic. The opportunity to receive input from other postgraduate students in ‘Works in Progress’ sessions has been incredibly useful and it is also interesting to hear about other students’ research.
Omara Dyer-Johnson, PhD Black Studies

Related courses

Research Excellence Framework

We are ranked 8th in the UK for research power (2014). The Research Excellence Framework (REF) is the system used by UK higher education funding bodies to assess research quality in universities.

  • More than 97% of research at Nottingham is recognised internationally
  • More than 80% of our research is ranked in the highest categories as world-leading or internationally excellent
  • 16 of our 29 subject areas feature in the UK top 10 by research power

This content was last updated on 02 December 2020. Every effort has been made to ensure that this information is accurate, but changes are likely to occur between the date of publishing and course start date. It is therefore very important to check this website for any updates before you apply.