MSt/ MPhil in British and European History, from 1500 to the present (Full- & Part-time)

Course Structure

The MSt programme comprises three elements which take place throughout the one-year programme. Further information on the MPhil programme can be found below.

Two introductory methodology courses

The purpose of the Theory and Methods course is twofold. First, to acquaint students with bodies of theory, often elaborated in disciplines allied to history, on subjects such as power and social structure, intellectual history and material culture, gender and violence, subjectivity and memory, which provide historians with a critical framework for their own empirical research. Second, to introduce students to a variety of historical methods which inform the design of their research project, such as different levels of historical enquiry between the micro and macro, the use of images or of concepts of space. Students are required to write an essay on an aspect of the theory or methods covered in the course which has significance for their own research project.

This element of the methods course will be taught in eight weekly classes, of which there will be several running in parallel, each of which will mix students studying different periods and places. There will be some assigned reading, but there will also be opportunities for students to consider the application of particular theories and methods to topics of special interest to them. Great emphasis will be placed upon class discussion, and on the creation of an intellectual community among students. The current expectation is that the topics covered will be chosen from the following list:

  • Power
  • Global and Transnational History
  • Microhistory and Beyond
  • Approaches to Intellectual history
  • Gender History, Queer History
  • History and Memory
  • Subjectivity and Emotion
  • Images and the Historian
  • The Concept of Space: Borders, Boundaries, Landscape, Urban Space
  • Material Culture
  • Violence
  • Technologies of Communication

The British and European masters training course unfolds through a series of alternating plenary sessions and classes during Michaelmas Term. Its aim is to kick-start students’ engagement with postgraduate research, by raising the level of their engagement with the research process.

The course attempts two main tasks:

First, to help students identify and gain basic familiarity with key sources and resources relevant to their specialist research period. Students will be encouraged to explore sources and resources relating to various European nations, insofar as their language skills allow. The object of the course is to develop your research awareness and skills, not just to prepare you to write your dissertation (there’s more to a master’s course than just writing a dissertation!), so don’t expect to be able to maintain a narrow focus.

A second aim is to increase students’ awareness of the intellectual dimension of research practice. Students will be encouraged to reflect on the ways in which research resources and practices have developed through time, on the circumstances and intentions which have shaped their character, and on the challenges and opportunities which they therefore present to users.

All students must attend appropriate Library/IT introductory sessions: material covered in those sessions will not be covered again in this course. Likewise, students are expected to attend the Graduate Research Fair to familiarise themselves with locally-held archival collections.

The structure of the course, which runs for six sessions over the course of Michaelmas term, reflects the aims of encouraging learning through practice and discussion. Period-specific classes, for which students will complete short exercises, and in which academics coordinate discussion, are interwoven with plenary presentations, jointly run by academics and librarians. Each of the four units is the subject of a class; two are also the subjects of plenary sessions.

Students are strongly encouraged to reflect on and apply what they are learning in these units to their own developing research plans, and to bring their thoughts on this to discussions with their supervisors.

To that end, you are required to submit a bibliography of up to 1500 words listing primary and secondary sources to be consulted in researching the dissertation together with a critical reflection of up to 1000 words on the resources used in compiling it. You are expected to consult with their supervisors about the bibliographic exercise before submitting it.  The assessment of the annotated bibliography will be on a pass/fail basis only, and candidates who fail this element will be given the opportunity to submit a revised version in the course of their programme (see Exam Regulation). 

​An optional subject

We expect that students will choose options broadly relating to the topic of their proposed research. Please note that not every option will be available each year, and that they are subject to change:

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

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.

This Advanced Option examines women's life writing - from diaries to oral histories to published memoirs - and what they can tell us about historical change in Britain and Ireland since 1780. We will examine the relationship between writing, experience, memory and gender, and explore whether we can conceive of gendered or feminine memory, writing or experience. We will investigate women’s participation in some important social and political movements and changes (for example feminism and nationalism) through their life writing. We will also explore the place of life writing within these movements, and how life writing has contributed to historiographical interpretations of them. Finally, we will explore shifts and continuities in women’s familial and sexual identities, including sensitivity to such themes as the varied construction of “girlhood” and life-cycle changes.

Interest in human rights has exploded in recent years, as human rights has emerged as one of the most prominent international trends following the end of the Cold War. The early 1990s sparked renewed debate about the role and mission of the United Nations as a global mediating force in matters of war and peace, and human rights became for many a new yardstick with which to assess post-Cold War international politics and proper state formation. Yet this idea of what Hannah Arendt has called "the right to have rights" is a relatively recent historical development. This course endeavours to trace the origins of human rights as a modern political ideology from the French Revolution to the present day.

It will explore the extent to which the idea of human rights underwent radical transformation over the 19th and especially 20th centuries, entangled as it was in shifting notions of civilization, empire, sovereignty, decolonization, minority protections and international justice. It will also investigate to what extent human rights arose as a direct response to the legacy of man-made mass death associated with World War I and World War II, and in particular to the Third Reich's genocidal politics and destruction of unprotected civilians.

What is more, the course will also pay particular attention to how these new norms of justice were globalized over the course of the second half of the century. Just as non-Europeanists interpreted Wilson's notion of self-determination in broad ways to suit various emancipatory causes beyond Europe in the interwar years, rights activists from India, South Africa, the United States and later Eastern Europe seized on human rights after 1945 as something that went far beyond simply internationalizing American New Deal policies. From this perspective, this course aims to locate the history of human rights at the very heart of the broader story of modern moral politics and changing international perceptions of the relationship between law and citizenship, war and social justice.

The field of this paper is the history of 19th and early 20th century Europe and America, as seen through the eyes of leading political and social theorists. The central intellectual tradition represented here is that of 19th century European liberalism. It is central because it enjoyed an undoubted cultural hegemony — although Anglophone liberalism, a rather different set of ideas, also comes into view. It hinged around the development of ideas of ‘reason’ and ‘rationality’ in constitutional, political and civil law; in religion; and in academic ‘science’. Concomitantly it promoted all that was ‘bourgeois’ at the expense of what was ‘feudal’. This major tradition is represented above all by Hegel, Durkheim and Weber. Standing outside it there were of course a number of alternative points of view: most obviously radicals, romantics and socialists who dissented from, but inevitably engaged with, the hegemonic liberal position, as well as the semi-detached Anglophone tradition already noted. Notwithstanding the hiatus inflicted by Fascism, Nazism and world war, and later talk ca.1990 about ‘post-modernity’ and the ‘death’ of Marx, attempts by later 20th and 21st century writers to theorise society and politics without substantial reference to their 19th and early 20th century forebears have proven largely unsuccessful hitherto. The period covered in this course remains the starting point for an understanding of modern social and political theory.

So far as the method of study is concerned, the paper is designed for theoretically concerned historians rather than pure theorists. This historical approach should not be seen as anti-theoretical – quite the reverse – but it should be understood as a distinctive and (as we like to think) more accurate, more realistic and lifelike path to theoretical understanding. Its outer limit is the understanding of the place of ideas and intellectual tradition within societies taken as a whole, i.e. something much larger than the world of texts alone. However, its pragmatic starting point is the study of individual texts and authors deemed to be of outstanding merit and rich in meaning. The class programme tries to capture both the macro- and microscopic perspectives.

The overall aim of the course is to gain a broad understanding of the subject as a whole: let us elevate our sights just as the thinkers under study would have expected us to do. To this end there will be five “core” classes with a specified programme (as below). In the last three weeks of term you are then required to write one essay of 6-7,000 words, when class meetings are intended to service the needs raised by essay-writing. The title of the essay must be submitted to, and agreed with, the course convenor by the end of 6th week of Hilary term; the essay must be submitted on Monday of 9th week. Essay subjects need not be confined to topics covered by the “core” programme; the essay must however take in at least two distinct subject areas or bodies of literature (for examples of which see the bibliography below), which may be treated either comparatively or sequentially (or both). Of these subject areas at least one must be taken from Continental Europe. This course makes no linguistic requirement, and the use of sources in translation is entirely legitimate. However, command of a European language or languages will expand the range of materials open to you, while awareness of linguistic difference is at all times a fundamental datum of historical study. 

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

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.

This option will explore the heterogeneous and changing forms of governmental and political collectivity – kingdoms, republics, empires, federations, provinces, cantons, quasi-governmental trading companies etc etc – which flourished in Europe and in the wider world in which Europeans operated between the age of Louis XIV and the 1848 revolutions. In a period often described as having seen first the rise of a European state-system and then of nation states, it will explore the diversity of forms of government and political life, the many different levels and modes at which governments operated, and the many internal and external pressures on their coherence and effectiveness – including interstate competition, globalising economic relations, disease and natural disasters, pressure from religious organisations and movements, rising expectations, ideological critique and popular insurgency.

Each week discussion will focus on ways in which both historians and contemporaries have conceptualised particular aspects of the relationship between states and peoples. One topic of obvious interest in this period is the nature of state crises and revolutions, and of attempts to recast states and the state system in the aftermath of the French Revolution. The Revolution has conventionally been interpreted as a turning point. We will examine and test that idea – by exploring the ways in which historians and contemporaries have conceptualised continuity and change, and by testing their accounts through our own case studies.

The study of belief in the modern world is amongst the most dynamic and interesting fields of research currently being undertaken by historians. It draws on a huge range of sources and intersects with the work of sociologists, anthropologists, theologians, and other disciplines. This option will thus be of interest both to students researching the history of religion and those who work more generally on social, cultural and intellectual history. It will give a good grounding in the various theoretical approaches to, and methodological problems presented by, this type of research and will draw on the work of participants in seeking to define new and interesting areas of analysis. This course is explicitly global in its focus and will draw comparisons between different faiths, escaping the narrow, Eurocentric models so often adopted by writers on this theme. The option is intended for those who have no background in this area of research as well as for those who are already engaged in it.

Topics to be covered will include:

  • Modernism
  • Nationalism and Transnationalism
  • Fundamentalisms
  • Consumerism
  • Gender, Generation and Sexuality
  • Contesting religious authority
  • Postmodernity
  • Declines and Revivals

This paper will appeal particularly to those students who wish to pursue research in modern British and Irish history but also to those who wish to study the challenges faced by multi-national states in a comparative perspective. We have strong research and teaching interests in English, Irish and Scottish history in the Faculty, and would like to draw together those students who wish to specialise in the national histories of the United Kingdom and in the comparative history of the British Isles. This paper allows to draw on our expertise in these fields and to expose graduate students to new scholarship in this area.

This paper will be taught in eight classes organised around the following topics:

  • Varieties of Unionism
  • Varieties of Nationalism
  • The Confessional State
  • Mass Politics
  • Political Violence
  • State Intervention and Social Reform
  • National Cultures
  • Empire

There will be a core bibliography, mainly consisting of key monographs, as well as a series of case studies and detailed bibliographies for each week’s topic. Each student will be expected to lead class discussion at least once during the term. The case studies will form the basis of class presentations. Given the breath of this paper, we will encourage students – particularly those presenting their research at each class - to select a variety of case studies so that a diversity of experiences from around the British Isles may be discussed.

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.

Time and acceleration are among the defining features of the long nineteenth century. They are also, in fundamental ways, interlinked. As the pace of life quickened due to a series of technological innovations (among which the telegraph and the railways take pride of place) the need for shared time conventions (whether regional, national, or global) and for greater accuracy of timekeeping, grew accordingly. By the century’s end, standard time set on the Greenwich meridian had replaced local (solar) time in Europe, North America and many other parts of the globe. The spread of a world time standard has commonly been portrayed as a logical, and even an inevitable, by-product of modernization.

This MSt/MPhil option foregrounds a problem that has received much less attention from historians – namely, how nineteenth-contemporaries experienced time and acceleration, and how they constructed temporal schedules in accordance with their own needs and expectations. Its main concern is thus not with time as formal homogenization, but with the surprises, conflicts, and emotions that rendered time the central referent of modern life. While most of the empirical examples to be discussed relate to Europe and Britain, the focus of the eight classes is thematic and transnational. The weekly readings will consist of two essential texts of secondary literature, an extract from a primary source, and a series of further secondary readings. Other types of documents to be used include cartoons, images, and songs. The course combines the close study of particular phenomena (including the social and cultural significance of clocks, telegraphs, and railway communication) with theoretical reflections (on, among other things ‘modernity’, ‘time’, and ‘emotions’). The eight classes address the following topics:

  • The nineteenth century as an age of ‘modernity’
  • ‘Time’ as concept and experience
  • Speeding up: from the stagecoach to the railways
  • One time fits all: the spread of standard time
  • Time-keeping: clocks and the telegraph
  • Time-tables and other kinds of schedules
  • Competing social rhythms
  • Time: a nineteenth-century emotion?



A dissertation of not more than 15,000 words on a topic falling within the scope of the MSt, usually within the historical period of the student’s optional subject. Students will begin developing a research strategy in conjunction with their supervisors from October.

For Further information, see the University Main Admissions Pages


MPhil Study

The MPhil in British and European History, from 1500 to the present, is an innovative and intensive two-year programme that provides a thorough training in historical methods.

First Year

  • Two introductory methodology courses (see above)
  • Optional Subject (see above for options)
  • A Writing History Course: This explores the challenges faced by historians regarding the framing, structuring and presentation of their work.
  • Dissertation Propossal: At the end of the first year, students must submit an extended dissertation proposal of between 2,000 and 2,500 words.

Second Year

  • A methodological master class: In which graduates are expected to relate their own dissertation research to wider historiographical, theoretical and methodological issues.
  • Dissertation: A 30,000-word dissertation submitted in Trinity (Summer) Term of the second year.

Part-time Study

It is the explicit aim of the part-time programme to ensure a comprehensive integration into the Faculty's and University's research culture as well as into the cohort of students on the two full-time programmes in British and European History. Candidates are therefore expected to make arrangements with their employers which will permit them 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 would agree a relevant programme of research events and training for approval by the Director of Graduate Studies, and attendance will be monitored through student self-reporting on the online Graduate Supervision System (GSS).

List of site pages