MSt and MPhil in History

The Faculty’s largest Master’s programme is the 9-month MSt in History, which is equivalent to an MA or MSc and may be taken on a full-time or part-time basis.  It is deliberately flexible, combining broad exposure to historical theory and method with opportunities to specialise, and offering a programme of work that could serve either as a free-standing postgraduate qualification or as a springboard for doctoral study.  Skills training and option-choice are designed to be open-ended, but students wishing to progress to a doctorate will be able to gain the knowledge and training they need for a focused project. 

For those who want to pursue a substantial research project without necessarily committing to a DPhil, a 21-month MPhil option is available (full-time only).

Strands of Study

Both the MSt and the MPhil are umbrella programmes, containing nine strands; you can find out more about each strand by clicking on the links below. Students must apply for a particular strand and the vast majority of students stay with the strand they applied for, but it may be possible to change strand, should this be necessary.

Course Organisation

The programme consists of:

The Core Course is assessed by an Annotated Bibliography exercise, a Dissertation Proposal and a Methodology Essay (of 3,000 to 5000-words), all to be submitted in January.  Students will also write two formative essays, one connected to Theories and Methods and one to Sources and Historiography, for their supervisors.


Saints, alive and dead, played a central role in medieval society. This course examines the emergence of the cult of the saint in late Antiquity, and its remarkable spread over subsequent centuries. Live saints reinforced the Christian message and helped the faithful with the travails of daily life, but also represented a challenge to the authority of the established Church. Dead, their cults and their relics spread through the Christian world, encouraging, in a few notable cases, a steady stream of visitors to their graves. This course is centred around the rich, diverse, and often beautifully written hagiography of the fourth to ninth centuries, both from the Mediterranean region and from northern Europe. It offers an opportunity to examine, across several centuries, a wide range of themes: the fascination with martyrdom; different types of sanctity (such as those available only to bishops, or to women); the role of the saint within society and within the Church; the emergence of different styles of asceticism and spirituality, from Byzantium to Ireland; how a saint was acclaimed and accepted in a period without formal processes of canonization; the extraordinary power of relics, and the attraction of pilgrimage; the often underhand ‘translation’ of holy bodies; and, finally, even the existence of doubters.



The Twelfth-Century Renaissance is an interdisciplinary paper in intellectual history designed to give students a broad overview of the content and applications of learning in the twelfth century. It therefore covers a wide range of different curricular subjects from the perspective both of their sources (the classical textual tradition of ninth-century learning; the impact of newly translated texts; the consequences of personal contact with Muslim and Jewish scholars in Sicily and the Iberian peninsula; the influence of empirical discovery) and of their application through cathedral schools and royal courts to society at large. The course comprises eight classes, organised around the seven liberal arts (the trivium and the quadrivium) and the three higher faculties of the medieval schools. 



This course is structured around two key questions: what can the study of global history bring to our understanding of the Middle Ages, and what can the study of medieval history bring to the evolving field of global history? Those taking the paper will be able to enhance their understanding of medieval history by thinking more about the history and culture of regions beyond Europe during medieval centuries, about parallels and contrasts between the approaches and evidence bases used by scholars of extra-European and European history in the centuries between 500 and 1500, and about the most productive ways to conceptualise that thousand-year period in global terms. 



In recent decades the political history of early modern Europe has re-invented itself in dialogue with social, economic and cultural history. Analyses of state formation and political culture have aspired to replace biographies of statesmen, narratives of party struggle and genealogies of institutional development. This course examines a series of themes in the development of early modern states to test models of political change on a range of societies from the British Isles to Eastern Europe. It aims to equip those interested in reformations, counter-reformations, rebellions, courts, parliaments, towns, nobles, peasants and witches – and in statesmen, factions and institutions – with the ideas and comparators needed to frame a sophisticated research project in their chosen field. Class topics will include:

  • the military-fiscal state
  • clientage and faction
  • confessionalisation
  • justice and the law
  • government, economy and social change
  • household order
  • communication, propaganda and magnificence
  • communication, representation and revolt



Massacres of cats, heretical millers, village fraudsters and globe-trotting prophets: these have all been the subjects of ‘microhistory’ at one time or another.  Yet despite the increasing use of the term in recent publications, it is not clear that historians are always writing about the same thing when they write about ‘microhistory’.  What might the study of small, seemingly insignificant details, people and places reveal about larger historical trends, events and debates?  This option will provide students with research training through the intensive reading and discussion of a number of outstanding examples of the 'micro-historical' study of individuals, families, communities, incidents, processes, rituals and more.  The paper is not about microhistory per se, but rather about what microhistories have revealed about the early modern world.  The readings will begin with a collection of theoretical and methodological reflections on microhistory in week 1 before proceeding to explore, in weeks 2-6, aspects of early modern history through examples of the genre from the 1970s until today.  These examples will come mainly from the literature on early modern Europe, which has had an influential role in the tradition of microhistory, but we may also consider examples from early American, and modern European history depending on student interests.  Among the questions we will consider, we will pay particular attention to the issue of sources and their potential in the hands of imaginative historians as well as how microhistories relate to alternative analytical and narrative techniques.  We will explore what can be revealed about the early modern world by microhistory that is not available through other methods when it comes to the study of, for example, religion and reformation, the state and authority, political culture and bureaucracy, the history of family, rural life, and conversion.  For the Option Essay, each member of the class will write a microhistorical study of a subject of his/her choosing (agreed in discussion with the instructor).  This might be, for example, a microhistorical reading of an individual source, or a methodological essay exploring what microhistory offers for the understanding of otherwise relatively inaccessible aspects of the past.  In doing so, students will gain direct experience of research, analysis and interpretation linked to their own interests.



This optional paper is designed to explore the global empires of Spain and Portugal in the early modern period as an entangled history that led to the emergence of the Iberian world. This approach allows for the study of interaction, emulation, and competition in the process of empire-building, as well as for a better understanding of the multiple reactions to the Iberian exploration, from coastal Africa to Central and South America, and South and East Asia. Special attention will be given to the many ways in which those living under the Spanish and Portuguese empires experienced, described, and opposed their rule, as well as to the external challenges that the Iberian powers faced in the age of Eurasian empires. The methods of comparative history and connected history will allow students to combine an appreciation of global trends across the Iberian world with a clear sense of the differences existing at local level.



The ‘globalization’ of history has been the most visible and significant development in historical scholarship of the past decade or so. Historians are increasingly aware of the need to place their work in a context that spills over national, regional, or civilizational boundaries. Some of the most exciting work has emerged from probing the global dimensions of the ‘early modern period’ before the rise of European world domination. This course will introduce the two principal methodologies involved in doing this new large-scale history – the connective and the comparative – through a series of seminars led by one European historian and a different specialist in cultures outside of Europe each week. In pursuit of the connective we will consider what happened when Europeans began to traverse the Atlantic and Indian Oceans and became entangled in a newly diverse range of societies. For example, what kind of architecture resulted when Portuguese ecclesiastical styles were transplanted to the tropics? Other weeks will take a more comparative approach. Considering the way in which Chinese intellectuals turned to classical texts in formulating ‘Neo-Confucianism’, for example, should help us see the over-familiar European themes of Renaissance and Reformation in a new light.



How have people understood the self in the past? How have they conceptualized emotions? Is there a self before 1700? How do different cultures conceive of the self and how do they understand spirituality? What is the relation between the individual self and the collective? This course seeks to understand ways of approaching the self and psychology in different times and places. It also seeks to explore ways of incorporating subjectivity and emotions of people in the past in how we write history; and to question the sociological, collective categories of analysis that historians often employ. Each session will take a particular example of a cultural context and explore how historians could write the history of subjectivity. The sessions will draw on different types of source material – diaries, letters, visual sources, material objects, travel writing, memoirs, court records, micro-historical material, oral history – and consider the problems and possibilities they offer. Four of the sessions will be on the early modern period; four will be on the modern period; however, in their assessed essay, students may concentrate on either the early modern or the modern period. The course deliberately bridges the early modern and the modern because the historiography itself does. This enables productive comparisons. 



This option offers the opportunity to engage with a range of exciting new scholarship on the Enlightenment, covering the period from the second half of the seventeenth century to the end of the eighteenth century. It takes inspiration from recent rebuttals of the postmodern critique of the ‘Enlightenment project’, and addresses the subject in comparative and transnational perspective. We shall cover Enlightenment both as an intellectual movement and as a social phenomenon, examining how thinkers across Europe engaged with new publics. For the first four weeks we shall explore the major interpretative issues now facing Enlightenment historians, including:

  • the coherence of Enlightenment – whether we should think in terms of one Enlightenment or several;
  • the importance and duration of ‘radical’, irreligious Enlightenment;
  • the relation between Enlightenment, the republic of letters, and the ‘public sphere’;
  • the politics of Enlightenment: public opinion, reform, and revolution.

During the second half of the course, participants will be encouraged to set their own more precise study agenda, related to the topics of their course papers. They may explore in more detail the intellectual content of Enlightenment, its various contexts, its social framework, and its impact, within and across national and political frontiers. Topics which might be studied at this stage are:

  • Enlightenment contributions to natural philosophy, and the ‘arts and sciences’;
  • the Enlightenment ‘science of man’, as pursued in philosophy and political economy;
  • writing sacred, civil and natural history in the Enlightenment;
  • women, gender and Enlightenment.

Participants will also be encouraged to attend the research-oriented Enlightenment Workshop, which meets weekly in Hilary Term.



Creating the Commonwealth looks at the intersection of religion and politics in the work of three of the most important early modern intellectuals: Hugo Grotius, Thomas Hobbes and John Locke. The course begins with an examination of Grotius’s approach to the problems of religious and political division within Europe and the challenges brought by Dutch expansion in the New World. Grotius argued that political communities could be built upon principles which all human beings held in common, while allowing scope for different kinds of churches and religious groups. We will consider how he made this case, drawing upon classical, historical and religious arguments. Hobbes was a follower of the Grotian project, in that he recognised the foundational importance of natural law principles. But Hobbes was also critical of the thought that the Grotian scheme might be sustainable without a radical reconstruction of the natural law ideas that Grotius had proposed, and in the seminars on Hobbes we examine the character of his controversial response in De cive and Leviathan. Turning finally to Locke, we examine a thinker dealing with the legacy of the ideas of Grotius and Hobbes, and examine the ways that he sought to mediate their influence in the political theory of the Two Treatises of Government and his powerful work on religious toleration. Studying these three thinkers together reveals the dialogical features of some of the most important texts in the western intellectual tradition, and casts new light upon some of the ideas regarded as foundational to modern political thinking.



This course will explore the working and domestic lives, ideas, resistance efforts and productions of African and African descended women in the Anglo-American world from the early modern era to the middle of the 19th century. Its subjects will include both enslaved and free black girls and women in British North America, the Caribbean, and West Africa. Major topics discussed include: the process of female enslavement and the black female in the Atlantic slave trade; the enslaved and free black female’s social, cultural and working lives; black female as sexual being/object; reproduction and motherhood; female resistance, maroonage and fugitivity; political voices and action; and autobiography, subjectivity and archives. Reading and source materials include primary and secondary readings and local archival explorations



How have historians sought to understand sexual and gender diversity in the past? Where—in what types of sources—do we find evidence of sexual and gender diversity? What paradigms might we use to interpret those sources? What is the state of the field in queer and trans history today? This course introduces students to key questions in queer history and trans history, situates historical scholarship in relation to the distinct but related theoretical and methodological traditions of queer studies and trans studies, and prepares students to do their own research in these and related fields.

Each week focuses on a different primary source genre that has previously been central to queer and trans historiography: life writing, social movement archives, critical theory, science and 'expertise', legal and governmental records, and visual and material culture. Students will engage with primary sources from each of these genres and with both classic and more recent secondary literature that has made use of such sources. The geographical and temporal scope of the course emphasises, but is not limited to, modern Western Europe and the United States.




This course will explore the role of warfare and the military in the course of Africa’s history, from the fourteenth to the early twentieth century.  It aims to place the organisation of armed conflict and the evolution of military culture at the centre of the analysis, and posits the need for a long-term understanding of both.  In approaching the topic from a longue durée perspective, the paper will explore the extent to which organised violence in Africa has deep historical roots.  Students will therefore be encouraged to consider the key drivers of Africa’s developmental trajectory, and to think of warfare in constructive as well as destructive terms. 

The course will combine broad themes as well as specific case studies from across the continent.  It will explore the manner in which warfare has shaped Africa in socio-economic, political and cultural terms, and specifically the role which warfare has played in the emergence of a range of state and non-state systems, and in the development of military cultures, across the continent.  Key topics for study will include changing social formations; the growth of identities based on violence and militarism; the relationship between military and political administration; the economics of African war; and the range of technologies developed and employed across the continent.  Throughout, the course will consider the global context within which conflict in Africa occurs, exploring external factors whether in the form of commercial linkages or imperial intrusions.



This course explores transforming norms related to gender and travel mobility in Europe from the late nineteenth century through the first half of the twentieth century. It is organised thematically, pairing a main topic and different analytical lens every week, and is also structured within a loose chronological frame. Overall, the course explores how travel changed for Europeans between 1880 and 1950, paying particular attention to the experiences had by women as well as by individuals who expressed their gender and/or sexuality beyond the dominant binary and heterosexual norm. The overarching aim of the course is twofold. First, it seeks to demonstrate the varied ways in which incorporating gender into the study of history makes available a more nuanced understanding of societies in their entirety, both past and present. Second, the course probes the ways in which individual mobility – both geographic and symbolic – can point to broader historical developments and changes, thus reminding us of the fact that society itself is never static. A thread that lies at the centre of both these ideas and that further ties the course together as a whole revolves around the self-fashioning of identities, the narration and publication of personal experiences, and the opportunities and limitations for individuals to go “off-script” and live against the grain. In addition to underlining a gendered perspective, the course draws on cultural history, on a history of subjectivities, and on a transnational approach.



This option approaches the history of 20th-century Europe by testing the concepts of national, transnational and international history and their possible interactions. It will not compare the history of individual European countries, but rather explore how notions of regional, national, transnational and international history have been used to organize and interpret the history of 20th-century Europe. While the course is firmly rooted in the empirical history of Europe and its relationships to the wider world in this period, it will foreground questions of interpretation. These will include exploring the scope and limits of approaches to political, economic and social history based on concepts of the national, transnational and international, and assessing the advantages and disadvantages of destabilizing the dominant conventions for writing the history of Europe in the last century. The course is intended both for students who want an introduction to this history and for those who want an opportunity to extend and reconsider their existing knowledge of it. Among topics that may be covered are: 

  • The History of a Transnational Continent 
  • Political Geographies: Regions, Nations, Empires 
  • Internationalism and Rights
  • Varieties of Political Representation 
  • Consumption Regimes 
  • Boundaries and Identities 
  • Environmentalism and Transnationalism 
  • International wars and Civil Wars



Transnational approaches to US religious history have significantly enhanced our understanding of  America’s engagement with the wider world. This optional module explores how Catholic and Protestant missionaries and evangelists helped to establish American political and cultural influence abroad and were transformed through their experience in the mission field since the mid-19th century and throughout the 20th century. It pays particular attention to the complex racial and gender hierarchies at play in the mission field, the occurring conflicts between imperial ideology and missionary commitment, and the interactions between US missionaries and local religious contexts in Europe, Asia and Africa, which affected traditions and transformed power relations.  

We will explore how US missionaries and evangelists contributed to the rise of global humanitarianism, to the creation of what Ian Tyrrell called America’s 'Moral Empire', and to the establishment of US hegemony and cultural influence abroad in a Cold War world. Constantly shifting the perspective between the global and the national, the module will explore the extent to which missionary work challenged and transformed the identity and worldview of US Christians working overseas, for example with regard to race and segregation, and how the knowledge, narratives, and images they fed back into the political and religious discourse at home changed the United States. 



Everyone is familiar with the iconic images of young men throwing stones at riot police in Paris in May 1968. But what was the significance of these images, what was their place in postwar politics and culture, and how did what was happening in Paris relate to developments in Great Britain, Europe and the United States?

This option will explore a number of interlocking themes using conceptual, comparative and transnational approaches, and a range of documentation, including memoirs, oral testimony and film. These themes will include:

  • the concept of generational revolt/conflict, and whether this is a helpful way of understanding cultural and political changes after 1945
  • the youth culture which developed in Britain, Europe and the United States after the Second World War around music, fashion, drugs and attacked on the conventional nuclear family, and the notion of cultural or lifestyle radicalism
  • the political radicalism which exploded in Europe around 1968, in the context of wider struggles such as the Cold War peace movement, the Civil Rights movement in the USA, the Algerian and Vietnam Wars, revolution in Latin America and the Chinese Cultural Revolution, asking what the relationship was between political and cultural/lifestyle radicalism
  • the link between faith and political radicalism, since many political radicals came from a religious background – Catholic or Protestant, Jewish or Muslim – and recast their religious aspirations in political guises
  • the issue of violence and non-violence, civil disobedience or armed struggle, hotly debated in radical circles as alternative ways of achieving their ends, and how different approaches were adopted in different contexts
  • the sexual politics of young people in Europe and America, especially the emergence of feminism and the gay rights movement
  • ways in which transnational connections were made between activists in different countries, from study abroad to revolutionary tourism, and from political exile to the work of political intermediaries
  • the significance of these years of revolt, explored through the subsequent trajectories of activists and how they remembered this moment, both individually and collectively, in a variety of media.



This course is an introduction to the history of warfare since ca.1780, taking the emergence of revolutionary warfare and the military divergence between Europe and the rest of the world as its starting-point. The course is organised both thematically and chronologically. Students will be asked to assess whether the turn of the 18th and 19th centuries saw the emergence of a new epoch in warfare, one marked within Europe by the emergence of mass conscript armies, and beyond it by a recent but rapid European military divergence from the rest of the world. They will explore the topics of war and empire – wars of colonial conquest in Asia, America and Africa in the 18th and 19th centuries – and be encouraged to explore whether this was enabled or facilitated by the developments of the military revolution. They will explore the distinctive forms and functions of warfare which emerged in the 19th century, notably the relationships between war and the various nation-building projects at the time, and the racialized violence of colonial warfare. ‘War and Technology’ will look at how certain types of technological advance – notably rifled weaponry, steam-powered, iron-hulled armoured warships, and later air power and land armour – transformed the way wars were fought, and the international relations surrounding them, while also exploring the role of medical science in warfare. The topic of Life, Death and the experience of war will ask if historians can recreate the subjective experience of the battlefield, and the medical and psychological consequences of warfare. ‘Total War’ will explore the total mobilisation of societies to meet the demands of 20th-century warfare, focusing on the First and Second World Wars.


The Option paper is examined by either one extended essay of between 8,000 and 10,000 words, or two extended essays of between 4,000 and 5,000 words, submitted shortly after the end of Hilary Term.

Course Organisation

Part-time students will take two years (21 months) to complete the course:

  • In the first year, they will attend the Introductory Lectures and strand-specific Sources and Historiography classes in Michaelmas, plus an Option in Hilary, plus some Skills training.  They will also carry out some initial research towards their dissertation
  • In the second year, they will attend Theories and Methods classes in Michaelmas, plus some Skills training, and will complete the Dissertation by around mid-June.

It is the explicit aim of our part-time programme to integrate students in the Faculty's and University's research culture as well as in the cohort of students taking the two full-time Master’s in History. Part-time students are therefore expected to make arrangements to attend one half day per week for formal instruction on the master's programme and also the equivalent of one full day per week of working in Oxford in libraries and participating in relevant research seminars and research events.

There is a very wide range of seminars and classes which are held in the Faculty, and formal Research Seminars mainly meet at 5 pm, after working hours. The Faculty also runs a Graduate Training Programme on Wednesday afternoons, and some of these sessions are relevant for master's students. Part-time students and their supervisors will agree a relevant programme of research events and training for approval by the Director of Graduate Studies.


Course Organisation

The 21-month MPhil programme operates alongside the MSt programme and is also organised into strands.  It contains five elements:

[1] Core Course, taught mainly in Michaelmas Term of the first year, as above.

[2] Option Course, taught in Hilary Term of the first year, as above.

[3] Writing History: a weekly class in Trinity Term of the first year, focusing on the challenges faced by historians regarding the framing, structuring and presentation of their work.  This is examined by an assessed essay of 4-5000 words, submitted shortly after the end of term.  Also in this term, students will submit, for assessment, a longer dissertation proposal of 2000-2500 words.

[4] Historical Concepts, Methods and Controversies: a student-led weekly class in Hilary Term of the second-year, looking at historical concepts, methods and controversies in relation to academic research and writing.  Each week a student will identify a conceptual or methodological topic relating to his/her own research, with some appropriate readings for everyone, including the tutor, to complete; s/he will make a presentation and lead the discussion.  The aim of this class is thus to create a rolling research workshop in which some of the intellectual challenges of dissertation-writing can be explored with the rest of the peer-group.  It is assessed by a 5-7000-word essay, submitted at the beginning of the following Trinity Term.

[5] Dissertation.  A 30,000-word dissertation, submitted towards the end of Trinity Term of the second year.

Admissions Information

Full details on how to apply for these courses are to be found on the University’s Admissions pages.

If you have any questions, please check our FAQ page:

or contact our Graduate Admissions Officer.