History of the Ph.D.
The origins of the doctorate dates back to the medieval Madrasahs from the 9th century, to the "ijazat attadris wa ´l-ifttd", meaning the "license to teach and issue legal opinions". As in a Doctor of Laws degree, this degree was limited to Islamic law at the time. The doctorate was then extended to philosophy in the European universities in the Middle Ages. These universities generally placed all academic disciplines outside the professional fields of theology, law and medicine under the broad heading of "philosophy", or, when referring to science, "natural philosophy". The degree of Doctor of Philosophy was a doctorate, generally awarded as honorary degrees to well-established and select scholars.
The firs Ph.D. was awarded in Paris in 1150 (according to Wellington, Bathmaker, Hung, McCullough and Sikes, 2005), but not until the early nineteenth century did the term "Ph.D." acquire its modern meaning as the highest academic doctoral degree, which happened thanks to university practice in Germany. Prior to the nineteenth century professional doctoral degrees could only be awarded in theology (Th.D.), medicine (M.D.), or law (J.D.) (Wellington et al.). Then, in 1861, Yale University adopted the German practice, which was first introduced in the 19th century at the Friedrich Wilhelm University in Berlin: the practice of granting the degree to younger students who had completed a prescribed course of graduate study and then successfully defended a dissertation/thesis, which contained original research in humanities or in science.
In 1900, the degree spread from the United States to Canada, and later the, in 1917, to United Kingdom. This actually displaced the existing Doctor of Philosophy degree in some universities (for example, the D.Phil. - higher doctorate in the faculty of philosophy - at the University of St. Andrews was discontinued and replaced with the Ph.D.). The Oxford Univeristy retained the D.Phil. abbreviation for their research degrees. Some newer UK universities (Buckingham, Sussex, and until a few years ago, York, for example) chose to adopt the D.Phil., as also did some universities in New Zealand.