Women’s, Gender and Queer History
This strand of our one-year MSt or two-year MPhil in History is the equivalent of a free-standing Master’s in Women’s, Gender or Queer History. For more details on the organisation of these programmes, click the links above.
This exciting Masters course introduces students to the latest research in Women’s, Gender and Queer History. Our new programme explores the different strengths of each of these approaches and provides a foundation for students’ independent research into any aspect of these histories. Oxford’s History Faculty is the largest in Britain and one of the largest in the world, and about one-third of the Faculty have research interests in this area. This means that you can combine your particular interests in women’s, gender or queer history with the specialist training you need in the history of any geographical area, period of time, or methodological approach. Whatever your area of specialisation, you will join a very lively research community within the Faculty and will be supported to develop the skills and understanding that you need to pursue original research.
If your interests lie more centrally in Women’s Studies you can also apply to the interdisciplinary Women’s Studies Master’s programme, which offers courses in English, History, Philosophy, Classics, and Modern Languages. A pathway for historians is available in this course, and it is an equally valid route to doctoral study in History.
Alongside the Theory and Methods course, students spend their first term studying Sources and Historiography. The Sources and Historiography core course will create a community of students who will together explore how we have reached today’s intellectually exciting moment in the study of women’s, gender and queer history. By reading in all three literatures, and considering the intellectual influence each has generated, students will develop the critical analytical tools that this coming generation of scholars of women’s, gender and queer history will need.
The Sources and Historiography course is divided into three parts. The first three weeks establish the intellectual impetus behind the development of women’s history, gender history, and queer history. Students then explore the sources that shape this historiography through hands-on-work with the exceptional collections held in the Bodleian Library and Ashmolean Museum. Students finally examine the dialogue between these approaches by thinking critically about contemporary methodologies and approaches. These eight classes include student presentations and discussion, so that students can together debate, learn from each other, and form a community through which to develop their research interests in women’s, gender, and queer history across the rest of the academic year.
As part of the ‘Skills’ component of the course, you will be supported to develop the specialist skills that you need to pursue your particular research interests. This might commonly include learning a language. The History Faculty offers dedicated Languages for Historians classes in major European languages, as well as a bespoke Latin course. The Oxford University Language Centre additionally offers courses and resources, from beginner to advanced level, in a wide range of global languages. Some students might wish to participate in the History Faculty’s palaeography training, in addition to expert guidance on relevant archives from their supervisor. The Bodleian’s History Faculty Library offers an exceptional programme of training and resources to allow you to develop your research and writing skills. The Faculty’s Centre for Gender, Identity, and Subjectivity (CGIS) also holds regular interactive workshops on sources and approaches that enable research in this area.
In the second term, students take one of a wide portfolio of Option courses. Students may choose any Option offered by the History Faculty’s Masters programmes. Those particularly relevant to the Women’s, Gender and Queer History Strand typically include, but are not limited to:
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.
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.
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 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.
Youth Culture, Generational Revolt and Sexual Politics in Great Britain, Europe and the USA since 1945
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 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.
Throughout the degree, students work towards a dissertation. Recent or current topics for History Faculty Masters theses have included:
- “Subjective experiences of male cross-dressing and gender non-conformity in interwar Britain”
- “Women Writing History: Female Subjectivity and the Political Use of Memory in Women’s Accounts of the Easter Rising”
- “Entitled to Freedom: Black Women in the Mississippi Southern Claims Commission”
- “Virgin-Mothers and Chaste Wives: Conflicting Ideals of Womanhood in Anglo-Saxon England, 500 to 900”
- “Philanthropy and Women’s Experiences of Public Life in Early Third Republic France”
- “The activist subjectivities of Greenham Common Women's Peace Camp in the 1990s”
- “Offences relating to men who had sexual relations with other men in Berkshire in the period 1861-1919”
- “Ladies and Letters: The Political Activity of Three Aristocratic Women from 1678 to 1689”
- “Anglo-Jewish Women’s Everyday Experiences in London during the Second World War and the Formation of Wartime Identity”
- “The Bright Young People: Effeminacy, Queerness and Performativity in Interwar Britain”
- “The gender of martyrdom in early medieval England”
- “Constructing the Girl Citizen in England, 1870-1910”
- “The Censorship of Queer Culture in Inter-war Britain and Weimar Germany, 1918-1933”
- “The Churching of Women in Early Modern Denmark”
- “The ‘Third Sex’ on the British Home Front? Understanding Female Same-sex Sexuality during the First World War”
Faculty and Research Culture
There is a very lively research culture in women’s, gender and queer history. The History Faculty supports a specialist ‘Gender, women and culture’ seminar, as well as the Centre for Gender, Identity, and Subjectivity (CGIS). CGIS organises fortnightly research seminars and discussion groups, as well as social and networking events to build a community of graduates researching histories of gender, identity, and subjectivity. These culminate in an annual Summer School with the Centre for Gender History at the University of Glasgow. There is also an Annual Lecture in Women’s History given by an international speaker. Women’s, gender, and queer history are of course also an integral part of many of the c. 50 seminar programmes on specific time periods and places supported by the Faculty. Beyond the History Faculty, The Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities (TORCH) supports a rich research culture. The Faculty’s graduate students have been active in creating a vibrant interdisciplinary Queer Studies Network. Across Oxford University, a wealth of events explore women’s experiences, feminist thought, and gender inequalities. The History Faculty’s commitment to research in this area has been demonstrated by the establishment in 2020 of the Hillary Rodham Clinton Chair of Women’s History, a brand-new statutory Chair in women’s history and probably the first such to be advertised in the English-speaking world.
The Faculty was awarded an Athena SWAN Bronze Award for gender equality in 2019. Graduate students are integral to the Faculty’s on-going work to promote an inclusive and supportive working environment, including through the Gender Equality Working Group that addresses issues relating to gender equality and LGBTQ+ equality.
Roughly one-third of the Faculty list Gender, Women or Sexuality amongst their research interests. For details of their research interests and the full range of topics on which they would be interested in supervising graduate students, see the History Faculty website.
We normally take about 6 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. We welcome part-time applicants. If you have any questions about our admissions procedure, please check the University admissions pages and/or contact Graduate Admissions. If you have any questions about studying this topic at Oxford, please contact Graduate Admissions.