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).
An innovative feature of the MSt programme is that students will normally have two supervisors – one an established academic from among the Faculty’s or Colleges’ post-holders, the other an early career scholar, who will have a doctorate but be starting out on his/her career. These supervisors will work together as a team, and we think this mixture of insights will be stimulating for students and help them to develop their own independent perspectives.
The programme contains three elements:
Taught mainly in Michaelmas Term
The core course begins with a week of introductory lectures to help students orientate themselves and to equip them for Master’s study. These will cover: identifying secondary literature and compiling a critical bibliography; identifying primary sources and acquiring skills for interpreting them; referencing and plagiarism; identifying a research problem; devising, planning and producing an excellent dissertation.
Students will also take three other courses:
These weekly ninety-minute seminars are specific to each strand. They are designed to introduce you to the leading debates and historiographical and methodological trends in your chosen field, and also to provide an opportunity to think further about sources, bibliography and planning your dissertation. More details can be found on individual strand pages.
Each student will take six ninety-minute classes for this course, mixed in, in groups of about ten, with students following other strands. The aim of the course is to expose students to some of the more cutting-edge theories and methods in play in other fields of History besides their own, and thus to enrich and extend their sense of the many ways in which the subject can be studied. Among the topics treated in recent years or under consideration are: subjectivity; emotion; sexuality; gender; digital humanities; space and mobility; new institutional/behavioural economics; memory; microhistory; deep history; object relations; global and transnational approaches; network theory; discourse analysis; history of the brain.
Up to 40 hours of Skills training, which may include the study of manuscript hands ('Palaeography') and documentary forms (‘diplomatic’), the learning of modern languages or Latin, IT skills, quantitative skills, or other things agreed with your supervisors and available within Oxford.
Note: students taking the Medieval History strand will have up to 60 hours of Skills training.
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.
From early in the fourteenth century, the English vernacular became an increasingly important medium of public expression. It was richly, if variously, conceptualised – as the vehicle of national identity, as the rough language of ‘lewed folk’, or as the ‘common vois’ of the realm – and it was growing in vocabulary, in uniformity and in the range of written and spoken forms in which it could be used. By the end of the century, a supple literary English had been developed to rival Italian and French, ways of using English to express religious teaching had been found and exploited, and a formalised Chancery English, for use in the communications of government, was about to emerge. Skills of reading and writing were becoming more widespread in society, consciousness of the power of public writing was almost universal and awareness of the rhetorical possibilities and socio-political implications of the new vernacular was spreading. These developments were full of importance for the public aspects of contemporary life. While Habermas’ notion of a ‘public sphere’ raises a cloud of problems for medieval historians, most of us would accept that in these centuries, some kind of ‘public’ existed, and that the English vernacular rapidly became one of its most important and legitimate media. This course aims to explore the implications of that central cultural, social and political development. Although its importance has long been recognised by scholars of Middle English literature, it is a relatively new area of concern for the mainstream historians of the period, and one which opens up new possibilities for the understanding of later medieval political culture, religion and social interaction. Among the issues to be explored in the seminars for this course will be:
- The meaning and measuring of literacy
- The ‘public’ as concept and reality
- The conceptualisation of the vernacular and its significance
- Literary English and social English (perhaps involving some thinking about the relationship between historical and literary approaches to the ‘rise of English’)
- The use of French and Latin in a vernacular age
- The circulation of written materials (manuscripts and the book trade)
- ‘Lollardy and Literacy’: religious instruction in the vernacular
- Bills, libels and pamphlets: vernacular politics
- The vernacular transmission of notions of society
- A new paradigm: problems of methodology and integration with mainstream understanding
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
- justice and the law
- government, economy and social change
- household order
- communication, propaganda and magnificence
- communication, representation and revolt
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.
Area of in-depth study: History of the United States, and the colonies that preceded it, since 1600.
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 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.
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
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.
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 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.
This eight-week module is concerned primarily with governmental and technological attempts to exploit the vast promise of the American West by conquering the similarly grand climatic and geographic barriers to that goal. Readings and themes will vary from year to year, but the latter will include exploitation of water resources; exploration; the building of the trans-continental railroads; the Gold Rush; public power. We will also spend two or three weeks exploring governmental and other elite efforts to ‘tame’ the unruly cities of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, including social reform, anti-corruption and public health campaigns. Core readings in a typical year might include Richard White, It’s Your Misfortune and None of My Own; Paul Boyer, Urban Masses and Moral Order; Michael Willrich, Pox: An American History; Donald Worster, Rivers of Empire; Martin Melosi, The Sanitary City; Natalie Ring, Problem South; Aims McGuinness, Paths of Empire: Panama and the California Gold Rush; William Deverell, Whitewashed Adobe: The Rise of Los Angeles and the Remaking of its Mexican Past.
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?
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 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:
- Nationalism and Transnationalism
- Gender, Generation and Sexuality
- Contesting religious authority
- Declines and Revivals
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.
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.
This eight week module will allow students to study modern social protest movements in comparative perspective. There will be an opportunity to study the tactics, ideology and structures of a wide range of progressive and conservative social movements, and the connections between them. Social movements may include abolition, African American rights, women's rights, Native American rights, gay rights, and the struggle for environmental justice. Students will also be able to choose to study lesser known social movements. Attention will be given to grassroots activists and the responses of those in power, and to the links between American social movements and protest abroad.
The Option is examined by two 4-5000-word essays or one 8-10,000-word one, submitted shortly after the end of Hilary Term.
Students will work towards their 15,000-word Dissertation throughout the year, devising the topic and beginning secondary and some primary reading by January, continuing to read and research during Hilary Term and focusing exclusively on the project from around mid-March until submission in mid-June, shortly after the end of Trinity Term. Students will have the opportunity to present and discuss their Dissertation plans at a workshop early in Trinity Term.
Besides the formal elements of the course, Master’s students are encouraged to take a full part in the rich seminar programmes available in the Faculty, in TORCH – the Oxford research centre for the Humanities – and in the University more widely. More information on Oxford’s resources for graduate study can be found on the Admissions pages.