What attracted me to history at Oxford was its diversity, in comparison to other subjects, you can choose from a broad range of topics at such an early stage in your degree, covering areas from the ancient Age of Bede to British Radicalism in the 1960s. This allows you to be adventurous, choosing unfamiliar periods that you have never had the opportunity to study. I love history because of its dynamism, the history course at Oxford undoubtedly captures the versatility of the discipline.
I have a passion for history, and my first year has only served to make me even more of a history geek. Yes I won't sugar coat it, the work is intense, but the flexibility of the course makes it easy to manage, I have two lectures a week and tutorials but apart from that my time is mine to structure. Also every week is different: a different topic, a different period, a different interpretation, making my degree so vibrant
In terms of a memorable experience, I would point out a lecture in my first term on a topic that I had just produced an essay on. As I entered the lecture I realised that the lecturer was the leading academic on the area I had just studied. This just confirmed how fortunate and lucky I am to be at such a prestigious institution, being taught by the most highly respected and valued scholars.
What made me want to study History? Being forced to traipse round every one of the north-east's English Heritage sites from a young age, and Horrible Histories, of course. Mostly Horrible Histories if I'm being completely honest. What I enjoy most about the course is the freedom, in terms of choosing how you study, when you study and what you study. You have far more options than pretty much any other subject. My best memory was the moment (several weeks in) when I finally said something that my incredibly knowledgeable tutor probably hadn't heard before. He gave me a look that suggested he thought I belonged here, which was weirdly fulfilling.
Choosing to study history at university was probably one of the best decisions I made in sixth form. Reading around what we were taught at A-Level - particularly the book "The Pursuit of History" by John Tosh - made me realise that "history" covers much more than just facts, figures and dates, and that to understand it properly, you need to examine evidence in all sorts of different ways. One of my favourite first year memories actually comes from my tutor spontaneously taking our seminar group out of college and up St Michael's church tower to explain the defences of Anglo-Saxon Oxford when we were struggling with the written sources available. With the flexibility of the tutorial system, you really have the opportunity to follow your own interests, and the variety of topics you can study during a History degree at Oxford is just amazing, especially as you're likely to be tutored by somebody who's one of the leading experts in their field. Before coming here, I never thought I'd find myself reading up on The Communist Manifesto, the impact of smallpox on the Incas and the rise of Islam - at least, not in the same week...
I decided to study History because the subject is as much about the present as it is about the past, and I wanted to learn why things that happened decades or centuries ago are still affecting the world today. I love the analytical nature of history. You can try to work out not just what happened but why it happened, why something else didn’t happen, and what might happen in the future based on the past, which I find fascinating. It’s a completely different perspective on the world. My best experience so far was when my tutor set up a session for a few of us to look at some old books. It was just so weird to think that people had sat down hundreds of years ago and written the words that were still there on the page, and so cool to use the books to work out what those people might have been thinking while they were writing.
What appealed to me about Oxford’s History course was the amount of choice. Although you have to choose papers from categories, it’s unusual to have this range of options so early on in the degree. I think that’s important in a subject as broad as history, so that you can discover your own preferences. I’ve loved being able to take such contrasting options. In first-year, I covered the influence of Christianity in both Anglo-Saxon England and Renaissance culture. I’ve read about the rise of the mechanical arts under Da Vinci, and the impact of machinery on Europe’s industrialisation.
One of the great things about doing a history degree at Oxford is that you’re accompanied by some of the world’s cleverest, and most enthusiastic academics. In a lecture on Anglo-Saxon Britain, our lecturer decided to impersonate Archbishop Wulfstan and give dramatic readings.
Over the first two years, you study two British History papers, and two “General” History (often European, but increasingly there are options with a wider geographical scope). Out of these options, you’ll be expected to take at least one Modern, one Early Modern and one Medieval paper.
Aside from these requirements, you have more options than almost any other subject! In third year, you also work on an extended essay and dissertation which go towards your degree grade alongside final exam results.
Some people choose to specialise in one period of type of history in their second and third years, but many continue to choose a wide range of different options.
No other university can offer the breadth of options that you have access to here. Whatever you choose to study, you’ll be tutored by some of the best academics in the field, whether it’s the end of the Roman Empire, the sixties Sexual Revolution or 17th century architecture.
There is a program on Radio 4 called 'In Our Time.' Each episode is a 45 minute discussion on one topic - they have made them about anything and everything. Those discussing it are often top scholars and since past episodes are available online, it can be listened to whenever, wherever.
I recommend just reading. Read what interests you most, hopefully some history books are included in this. Also, think about what your reading critically.
Most libraries stock history magazines such as History Today, which are good for introducing new areas of history outside the ones you've been taught at school.
A History of the World in 6 Glasses by Tom Standage. Goes through six different drinks and their effect on the history of the world, and gives an overview of everything that ever happened through that medium. Well written, easy to read, and so interesting to read about how drastically the world has been affected by something as small as a pint of beer or a mug of tea.
Crash Course World History. Youtube videos by John Green intended for American students revising for their exams but give a nice overview and analysis of loads of different topics through funny videos. Very good for getting overviews of topics or ideas.
iTunes U is an amazing resource because it gives you a feel of what it would actually be like to study your subject at university. It gives you access to lectures from top universities, including Oxford, so you can expand your knowledge and show a commitment to doing the subject to degree level. Similarly podcasts from Radio 4 or those produced by amateurs are a great way of delving beyond A Level into your subject. Particularly if you have a long journey to school as then they don't even take time out of your leisure time as you can listen to them on the bus.
Wolf Hall TV series (and the books by Hilary Mantel.) Really excellent representation of Tudor England. (My tutor recommended them as holiday reading!)
The King's College Cambridge website provides good introductory booklists (designed for offer holders - but useful for applicants).
Best advice: join a local library and borrow (and read) any History books that take your interest
Before applying, I listened to a radio series called Noise: A Human History, which told 2,000 years of human history through the sounds of everyday life in the past. I’d never thought of approaching history in such a different way before, and really opened up how I understood using sources and recreating the past.
I had two interviews. The first focused on the essay I had sent in and a source I had just looked at. The second started with a brief chat about what I was looking at in my A-Level course and then a discussion of the two sources (one an extract from a book and the other an image) I had been presented before the interview. I struggled with the first interview as I wasn't prepared to answer questions about the essay I had given in, I should have done a little bit of revision. The second interview went a lot better. It was challenging but there was no real way to prepare. You just had to analyse your source and say what you thought. The tutors might ask some trying questions or tell you a bit more information and if you change your mind because of it, thats okay. You don't have to stubbornly commit to one viewpoint. It is better to take your time and verbalise your thought process.
Applicants that might be offered a place are invited for interview in December. See History interviews for more information.
Make sure you read the official prospectus entry for the course which contains entry requirements, full course structure, additional interesting resources and full details of the application process.
If you're going to apply, you'll want to check which Oxford colleges offer this course.