Through this choice of papers students are encouraged to reflect on the variety of approaches used by modern historians, or on the ways in which history has been written in the past, to read historical classics written in a range of ancient and modern languages, or to acquire the numerical skills needed for certain types of historical investigation.
Students can choose any one option of:
Historians commonly approach the study of historical writing in two quite distinct ways: either by study of the techniques which we hold to be immediately relevant today, or by looking at the “history of history”, as for example by focussing on classic texts in Western historical writing. This paper takes the second road. Its principal agenda are as follows:
- The close reading of texts which really will bear close reading — reading being still the most fundamental of all historical “methods”.
- Consideration of central problems which affect all historical writing: the scope and proper subject matter of history; historical objectivity; the interrelation between the author’s past and present; the relation of literature to history; the question of whether there is a “Whiggish” progression in historical writing, so that modern writing is necessarily better than that of earlier periods; and (not least) why we should bother with history at all.
- The outlines of how the Western historical tradition has evolved in fact.
Those writers considered are Tacitus, Augustine, Machiavelli, Gibbon, Ranke, Macaulay, Weber
Foreign Texts (Texts in a Foreign Language)
HERODOTUS, V. 26 - VI. 131 to be read in Greek, ed. C. Hude (Oxford Classical Texts, 3rd edn., 1927)
The central part of Herodotus’ Histories studied in this paper analyses the causes and course of the Ionian Revolt and the first Persian invasion of Greece, which ended in defeat at the hands of the Athenians and Plataeans on the plain of Marathon in 490 BC. Included in Herodotus’ account of these events, however, is also his account of the circumstances in which Kleisthenes got the constitutional reforms which created democracy passed at Athens, a long speech on tyranny at Corinth, and much discussion of internal politics at Sparta and of Spartan foreign policy during the reign of King Kleomenes (c.520-c.490).
Herodotus’ text is our major source for all these events, and our understanding of them depends upon an understanding of Herodotus’ sources and his historical methods. By close study of the way in which Herodotus tells his story, making comparison where possible with evidence contemporary with the events described and with other later accounts, it is possible to understand both what Greeks of the middle of the fifth century had come to regard as the foundations of their current political arrangements, and also to assess the reliability of the traditions which Herodotus exploits. Problems concerning the nature of Athenian and Spartan politics in these years, as well as of the state of relations between Persia and Greece, for which there is also some Persian evidence, are the central historical concerns. But understanding Herodotus is important not only for our comprehension of the events of the period but for our understanding of the development of western historiography at whose head Herodotus stands.
Candidates are required to comment on gobbets set in Greek but are not required to translate Greek in the examination paper.
EINHARD, Vita Karoli Magnis Imperatoris
ASSER, De Rebus Gestis Aelfredi
The paper offers students the chance to engage with two of the most famous Latin texts of the early middle ages: Einhard’s biography of Charlemagne and Asser’s of Alfred.
These texts bring the student face to face with the nature of early medieval kingship and, more specifically, with two momentous transformations in European and British history. From whatever angle we look at the Carolingian and Alfredian ages, the Emperor Charlemagne and King Alfred emerge as great instigators in the process by which military greed and opportunism were wrought into new political, religious and literary cultures.
Einhard’s Vita Karoli (written within a decade or two of Charlemagne's death in 814) and Asser’s De Rebus Gestis Aelfredi (written in the 890s during Alfred’s lifetime) are the preeminent texts by which these transformations were captured. Both authors were alive to the achievements of their subjects and to the attitudes and aspirations of their times. Moreover as learned scholars and powerful figures in their own right they also had their own agendas. Despite the brevity of Einhard’s Vita (a mere 40 pages in Penguin) every phrase bristles with undertones and allusions; the extent of Einhard’s debt to classical writers and the significance of what he does and does not say have continued to generate enormous scholarly attention and debate.
By closely focusing on these works and their interpretation students can gain experience and practice of how to approach primary sources at the start of their Oxford careers, thereby acquiring a skill which will prove invaluable for their work on subsequent papers. Passages from the texts are set in Latin for detailed comment but the modest length of the texts means that students with basic Latin should have little difficulty coping with them. Students studying this paper may attend the Latin reading classes offered for graduate students (subject to the agreement of the tutor concerned).
Helpful translations are readily available (the Penguin Classics: Einhard and Notker the Stammerer, Two Lives of Charlemagne, trans., L. Thorpe and Alfred the Great: Asser’s Life of King Alfred and other Contemporary Sources, trans., S. Keynes & M. Lapidge).
ALEXIS DE TOCQUEVILLE, L’Ancien Régime et la Révolution
Tocqueville’s L’Ancien Régime et la Révolution, first published in 1856, is one of the most famous accounts of the origins of the French Revolution ever written. Noted for its wide-ranging and subtle analysis of the government, society and culture of eighteenth-century France, it has always been an essential point of departure for any student working on the Revolution, admired not so much as a piece of historical research but as a brilliant study of political economy. Moreover, the text is more than just a study of the causes of the French Revolution. Written in the aftermath of the coup d’état of Napoleon III in 1851, it was intended as an oeuvre à thèse, which would explain to contemporary mid-nineteenthcentury Frenchmen their failure to establish a permanent liberal democracy.
Traditionally L’Ancien Régime et la Révolution is taught by a wide cross-section of college tutors. Students will be introduced to the complexity of Tocqueville’s argument, in particular his conception of the centralised French absolute state, his views on the genesis and significance of class conflict, and his understanding of the role of the Enlightenment in causing the French Revolution. Beyond this, there are various way in which the text may be placed in a wider context. Students may examine the historiography of the causes of the French Revolution in order to compare and contrast Tocqueville’s analysis with earlier and subsequent explanations. They may seek a deeper understanding of the more recent historiography of eighteenth-century France to see how Tocqueville’s vision has been refined or challenged. Finally they may re-examine the text in the light of Tocqueville’s own intellectual development and political career.
The course is intended to give students the opportunity to develop their reading ability in the French language, and in the first term at least they should expect to spend much of the time getting to know the text in the original. It also enables students to get to grips with an extremely rich and influential work of history that will give them a graphic insight into the problems of historical method and the historian’s craft.
FRIEDRICH MEINECKE, Die Deutsche Katastrophe: Betrachtungen und Erinnerungen (Wiesbaden, 1949) pp. 5-104.
ECKART KEHR, Der Primat der Innenpolitik: Gesammelte Aufsätze zur preussisch-deutschen Sozialgeschichte im 19. und 20. Jahrhundert (Berlin 1970) pp. 87-129, 149-83.
This paper is intended to introduce German-reading undergraduates to two of the most influential twentieth-century historians of modern Germany: Eckart Kehr and Friedrich Meinecke.
Each made a distinctive contribution to the development of modern German historiography: Meinecke was perhaps the most influential of all the later historicists and Kehr was an inspiration to the so-called critical school of social history, whose emphasis on the primacy of socio-economic factors in politics has informed an immense literature since he was ‘rediscovered’ by Hans-Ulrich Wehler in the 1960s.
The set passages of the two authors not only give students a flavour of their methodology, but also introduce some of the key historical debates which relate to the period 1870-1945. In general, the paper provides an introduction to the continuing debate on the ‘peculiarity’ of modern German history and allows students to become familiar with the so-called Sonderweg (‘special path’) theory.
MACHIAVELLI, Discorsi sopra la prima deca di Tito Livio, Bk I
Machiavelli’s reputation as an advocate of ruthless and unscrupulous politics does serious injustice to the richness, generosity and subtlety of his political thought. The Discourses on Livy (written c. 1513- 1519) reveal these latter qualities well. They provide an indispensable corrective to the familiar picture found in his better-known treatise The Prince. In the Discourses Machiavelli uses historical examples from ancient and modern times to illustrate the ways in which rulers and people habitually behave in the political life of republics and kingdoms. He asserts his belief that history can be used by citizens and statesmen to build up the kind of ‘case-lore’ already utilized in the practice of medicine and of law.
The text is a powerful and attractive example of Renaissance historical writing and at the same time an introduction to the Florentine genre of critical political analysis. Classical stories are set to work by Machiavelli to teach his fellow-Florentines how to rescue their city from the disasters which beset it in his day and how to capture for themselves by emulation something of the glory of Republican Rome.
A capacity to read straightforward material in present-day Italian will be enough to enable candidates to cope with the language in which this text is written. Any modern Italian edition will suffice: those published by Rizzoli, Feltrinelli and Einaudi have good introductions and notes. Machiavelli’s The Prince should certainly also be read; the best recent edition in English is that by Quentin Skinner and Russell Price in the series Cambridge Texts in the History of Political Thought (1988).
Vicens Vives JAIME VICENS VIVES, Aproximación a la historia de España
Vicens Vives’s Aproximación a la historia de España, first published in 1952, is one of the most important reflections on the history of Spain never written. Relatively short, this text is not a synthesis but more of an innovative recapitulation of the main historiographical problems of Spain’s past from ancient times to the outbreak of the Civil War (1936). Written in a time of dictatorship, instead of pursuing the metahistorical debate on the uniqueness of Spain that had held the centre stage until then, Vicens Vives’s book marked a turning point calling for the adoption of more rigorous and modern methods then dominant in the rest of Europe, above all in France.
Aproximación a la historia de España is taught through seven tutorials and four classes (or lectures, depending on the number of takers). Students will be introduced to the figure and the work of Jaime Vicens Vives (1910–1960), as well asto the complexity of his rethinking of Spanish history over the longue durée. Beyond this, there are various ways in which the Aproximación may be placed in a broader context. Students may consider the constraints on historical writing in Francoist Spain, of which Vicens Vives was an opponent despite the fact that he never abandoned the country. They will be invited to explore the main characteristics of the so-called ‘new history’ (nueva historia) that Vicens Vives inaugurated in close dialogue with the Annales school, as well as considering his wider contacts with other historians both in Spain and abroad, including Sir John Elliott. Finally, they will be asked to reflect on the legacy of Vicens Vives in regard to the historiography of Spain in the second half of the twentieth-century, as well as on the new directions that it has taken more recently.
This course is intended to give students the opportunity to develop their reading ability in the Spanish language through an accessible academic text, while acquainting them with a number of key issues in the study of the history of Spain. It will also enable students to engage with an influential work of history that will give them an insight into general problems of historical method.
Students will be asked to read the work in its entirety on the basis of the 2nd edition, or one of its many reprints: J. Vicens Vives, Aproximación a la historia de España (1960). An annotated English translation of the work is also available: J. Vicens Vives, Approaches to the history of Spain, translated and edited by J.C. Ullman, 2nd edition corrected and revised (1970).
TROTSKY 1905 pp. 1-9, 17-245 (available for purchase as a photocopy from the History Faculty Library)
A study of Trotsky’s 1905 aims to examine Trotsky’s ideas as expressed in his history and to place them within the context of Russian Marxism in general.
Issues raised by the study of the period include: the development of the Russian Social Democratic movement, the worker’s movement, the development of Russian liberalism and the part it played in the events of 1905, the nature of the Russian Imperial Government and the effect of the Russo-Japanese war on Russian society and politics, the Russian agrarian question.
There are a number of recent monographs on these subjects and the study of this period provides the opportunity to discuss many of the problems associated with the last years of the Russian autocracy.
The purpose of this course is to introduce historians to the statistical exploration of historical problems. It imparts statistical skills which enable students to read and understand quantitative historical research, and also to undertake elementary quantitative work on their own. It does this by examining a sequence of historical problems. During Michaelmas term, this also constitutes a course on the quantitative approach to the social history of Britain in the first half of the nineteenth century. In Hilary term, the scope is extended to the twentieth century. The course has three objectives:
- To provide an introduction to elementary topics in univariate and bivariate descriptive statistics and statistical inference, covering some of the techniques most widely used in social science history. No prior knowledge of statistics is assumed and A-level mathematics is not required. The course concentrates on the concepts behind the statistics, more than on the mathematics involved.
- To ground these techniques in the real world. To this end, it examines computer-based historical datasets throughout the course in exercises and in the research project. Additionally, it explores and evaluates the uses and limitations of quantification through historical case studies.
- To introduce students to history and computing, providing training in one of the most widely used statistical packages (SPSS, the statistical package for the social sciences). Students are also introduced to the methodological issues of inference from evidence and its validity, and to some issues in historical causation. These arise directly from the application of statistical method.
Candidates will be required to show understanding of the following:
- the application and limitation of quantitative methods to historical problems
- levels of measurement and the appropriate classification and arrangement of historical data (tables, charts, graphs, histograms, etc.)
- summarizing historical facts: univariate descriptive statistics (frequency distributions, means, medians and modes, measures of dispersion, concepts of normality)
- exploring historical relationships: bivariate descriptive statistics (correlation, measures of association including correlation coefficients, linear regression)
- drawing inferences from historical data (sampling, distributions and confidence intervals; hypothesis testing; significance and probability, parametric and non-parametric measures of association and sample statistics; multivariate analysis)
- use of computer-based statistical packages (data entry and verification, classification and transformations, statistical manipulation, interpretation and presentation)