US History

This strand of our one-year MSt or two-year MPhil in History is the equivalent of a free-standing Master’s in American History. 

Native American leader Sitting Bull 1883 by D F Barry
Sailing card for the clipper ship California, depicting scenes from the California gold rush

This programme is intended to immerse you in the historiography and current debates in American history and to provide you with rigorous training in historical research, writing and argumentation. Ranging from the emergence of Native America to the history of the present, the course allows you to discover the richness and dynamism of past and contemporary American historical writing and develop intellectual familiarity with advanced research in American history. In addition to emphasising the unique intellectual and methodological contributions driven by the American historical profession, this course emphasises American history’s openness to inter-disciplinarity and to global intellectual currents that have shaped the discipline of history as a whole. This deep historiographical grounding equips candidates to undertake their own research design and master the long-term development of historical writing in the field of American history.

Recent US history graduates have taken up posts at Stanford University, the University of Oxford, University of Cambridge, University College London, Northumbria University and the University of Birmingham.

Course Organisation

Alongside the Theory and Methods course, students spend their first term studying Sources and Historiography. The seminars cover the major developments in historical writing from the professionalization of the discipline at the start of the 20th century through to the end of the century, focusing in particular on recent developments and debates. The seminars also include sessions on bibliography, primary sources and planning the dissertation. Each student is assigned an adviser who provides specific skills training in classes or tutorials during Michaelmas and Hilary Terms

In the second term, students take one of a wide portfolio of Option courses.  Those particularly relevant to US History typically include:

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.


We sometimes think of "woman" as an unchanging category of identity with a fixed meaning.  This course, however, will explore the historical evolution of women’s roles in American history in order to better understand the range and diversity of both women’s experiences and also cultural ideas about gender.  Moving chronologically from first contact between Europeans and Native Americans through to the late twentieth century, we will consider a range of topics, including the intersection of race and gender in the American South, the role of women in reform movements, battles over reproductive control, and the historical evolution of women’s work.  

Throughout the degree, students work towards a dissertation.  Recent topics have included: 

  • Revival as Ritual: Old and New Perspectives on American Revivalism, 1800-1865
  • Oppression or Free-Will: The Structuralisation and Historiography of Female Agency in the Mormon Church in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Century
  • The Paranoid Style is “back”. Did it ever go away?

Faculty and Research Culture

Oxford’s American historians offer guidance in a number of specialties. Particular strengths include Native American history, history of women and gender, borderlands history, transnational and transimperial history, history of the state, history of capitalism, intellectual history, environmental history and history of race. The Harold Vyvyan Harmsworth Visiting Professorship makes Oxford unique among British universities by every year enabling a distinguished American historian to spend a year in Oxford teaching, researching and leading seminars. Our seminars take place at the Rothermere American Institute, the foremost academic institution beyond America’s shores for teaching and research in American history, US politics, international relations, literature, and culture. A visiting speaker seminar features leading scholars presenting cutting-edge work in the field and forms an integral part of the MSt course.

Admissions Questions

We normally take about c.12 MSt students and one or two MPhil students in this area, but numbers vary from year to year and we are able to be flexible.  If you have any questions about our admissions procedure, please check the University admissions pages and/or contact Graduate Admissions. You can also contact any of the academics in your relevant area of study. You can filter the Academics page by period, region or specialism.