History tutorials

Oxford’s Faculty of History is one of the largest in the country with about 100 permanent teaching staff, 1200 undergraduates, and 500 graduates, and is served by a large teaching collection of books and electronic resources as well as the Bodleian Library. The size and quality of the department mean that a broad range of subfields are studied: British history is at its core, but American, European, Asian, African, and other histories are also studied, supported in some cases by specialist collections such as the Vere Harmsworth Library for Americana (the largest collection outside North America) or the collection of the Indian Institute. Students have the opportunity to study primary texts as well as secondary literature across a broad range of tutorial options.

The descriptions below are copyright University of Oxford and cover tutorial courses offered by the University to matriculated undergraduates. SSO students follow such courses as closely as is practicable, though there may be scope for minor variation to take into account students’ previous experience. Students will not necessarily cover all the material cited in the description (especially when they take the course as a secondary tutorial). All tutorials involve in-depth study: where the title might suggest a survey course, the content of the tutorial will involve focused study on part of the syllabus.

History of the British Isles

The History of the British Isles: 1: The Early Medieval British Isles, 300–1100

These centuries saw the growth of new forms of social, religious, and cultural organization after the collapse of Roman Britain, and the forging of the ethnic and political identities that would eventually be England, Wales, Scotland, and Ireland. During the last twenty years the period has seen some remarkably lively debates and re-evaluation, which enable you to engage both with new ideas and — perhaps more surprisingly — with new evidence. The central written sources (for instance Bede’s Ecclesiastical history, and Beowulf, which may be read in translation) are limited enough to allow the subject to be approached directly through them, while the new emphasis on archaeology, landscape, and art makes students confront challenging methodological problems. Those who study this period will quickly develop a sense of how diverse fragments make the foundation for a coherent picture.

During c.400–550, Germanic settlements in eastern Britain established the communities who would eventually think themselves ‘English’. The west and north still comprised Celtic states which remained Christian, literate, and in contact with the Mediterranean world, while the Irish were developing a remarkable literary, artistic, and religious culture. Their overseas impact included the colonization of western Scotland, and missionary activity in Europe. Some long-accepted orthodoxies, such as the scale and ethnic homogeneity of the Germanic settlements, or the distinctive character of the ‘Celtic Church’, have recently come under attack, and students can re-examine these issues in the light of new perspectives.

The seventh-century conversions of the English to Christianity were part of an extraordinary series of cultural and political developments, involving increased contacts between the various inhabitants of the British Isles and of Europe, in which the sequence of cause and effect leaves much room for debate. Outstanding works of art were produced, such as the Sutton Hoo treasures and the Lindisfarne Gospels; with the growth of Continental trade, ports were established and coinage reintroduced. Prosperity financed a rich monastic culture. During c.680–750, north-east England became one of the intellectual centres of Europe, and the English launched missions to their still-pagan relatives abroad.

Kingship and government operated on an ever-widening scale, though tempered by the enduring realities of warrior societies: marriage-alliances, gift-giving, plunder, and the blood-feud. In 850 Britain was still divided between British and English states, while in Ireland provincial kingships were forming. Students can debate the size and ferocity of the late ninth-century Viking attacks, and the extent to which they altered the political map (by destroying some states, allowing others to expand) and the economic map (by linking Britain and Ireland to Scandinavian trade networks).
Alfred of Wessex (871–99) and his heirs built a unified, ideologically coherent English state, with systematic local government and tight control of the coinage. Meanwhile, the countryside and its inhabitants were being organized into more self-contained farming and parish communities; the network of manors, villages, and market towns crystallized. All this makes late Anglo-Saxon England look much more developed than it seemed thirty years ago.

The History of the British Isles: 2: The British Isles in the Central Middle Ages, 1000–1330

Medieval society with its warriors, kings, bishops, and peasants can seem alien to us. These three centuries saw the emergence of essential pre-conditions for modern society. The whole spectrum of human activity was transformed, both through increasing collectivization — in villages, towns, churches, and under governments — and by greater pluralization in the ways of life. England’s own particular turning-point, the Norman Conquest, opens the course: but just how much did it change and how much endured from previous centuries — or indeed would have changed anyway in a period of European-wide development? Its immediate result was a century of political instability, as England was drawn into the politics of northern France. Yet the conquest also provided the foundation for a precociously strong monarchy, and the system of common law which still endures.

These developments had important effects. Kings and their warrior nobles, increasingly characterized by the culture of chivalry, attempted to colonize and dominate Britain. The different societies of Wales, Ireland, and Scotland were affected in different ways by English imperialism, especially in Edward I’s successful conquest of Wales and unsuccessful assault on Scotland.

On the other hand, the power of English kings had to be restrained internally: in Magna Carta the barons demanded that the ruler treat his subjects lawfully and make their interests the concern of government. This was developed into a sophisticated political ideology of royal accountability, which could be used at the end of the period to depose a king. Edward II was seen as inadequate to provide stable government and secure justice to a national community increasingly conscious of the duties of kingship.

Royal ideology was also challenged by the church as the clergy, backed by the papacy, sought to exempt themselves from lay authority, a conflict seen most dramatically in the murder of Thomas Becket. Yet church reform gradually transformed social experience by putting religion at its centre, seen in the prevalence of saints’ cults and shrines, the popularity of the crusading ethos, and the rapid spread of monasteries and parish churches.

Education also underwent a sea change as the ‘twelfth-century renaissance’ inaugurated a literate society, which created new institutions and administered them in more regular and bureaucratic ways. It also revived the cultural leadership of the Western world, evident in the glorious cathedrals constructed at this time, and the revival of scholarship in the universities.

These were centuries of important social and economic change. More land was settled by an expanding population, markets and towns multiplied, and increasing trade created a more commercialized mentality. Family structures and the position of women were thus fundamentally affected. Recently historians have become increasingly intrigued by the role of perception in economic, social, and political life: was change led as much by culture, ideology, and attitudes as by what used to be seen as more tangible factors? Gender is an important case in point, given that changes in ideology had specific effects on the roles not only of women but also men, and on the social, legal, and political relationships between them.

In some ways this phase of European development was decisively brought to an end in the fourteenth century, with economic slow-down, widespread political instability, and above all the Black Death. Even so, the fundamental changes of the central Middle Ages left a legacy to the modern world of political sophistication, social and economic diversification, and cultural dominance.

The History of the British Isles: 3: The Late Medieval British Isles, 1330–1550

For England, Scotland, Ireland, and Wales this was a period of dramatic conflict and change which presents many fascinating paradoxes. The Black Death of 1348–9 in which a third or more of the population died, the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381, and frequent complaints of urban decay all suggest economic and social crisis; yet the cloth industry grew, living standards rose, and economic opportunities for women temporarily widened. In the early fifteenth century the Welsh rose in revolt under Owain Glyn Dŵr, yet within a century and a half they were peacefully assimilated into the Tudor state. The Scots were united enough to resist English aggression, yet slew two of their kings in rebellion. The English won spectacular victories in France — Crécy, Poitiers, Agincourt — yet lost ground to the Gaelic lords in Ireland.

The English crown steadily endowed itself with one of the most effective governmental machineries in Europe, negotiating for the cooperation of local elites in the developing parliament, court, and legal system; yet Richard II was deposed and his successors fell prey to factionalism in the Wars of the Roses, only for monarchical power to revive under the Yorkists and Tudors. The English church survived the challenge of the Oxford-grown heresy, Lollardy, and provided for an increasingly elaborate and informed popular piety, but fell victim to Henry VIII’s determination to become its supreme head. Architecture, music and vernacular literature flourished from Barbour, Chaucer, and Langland to Lindsay, Wyatt, and Surrey; yet by 1550 an increasingly influential humanism affected contempt for much of medieval culture.

All these aspects of the period continue to provoke debate among historians, and this creates an opportunity for undergraduates to forge their own understanding of a field in which political, social, cultural, and religious history interact in stimulating ways, and one in which the different societies within the British Isles can be studied both in their own right and in their mutual interaction.

The History of the British Isles: 4: Reformations and Revolutions, 1500–1700

Throughout this period political and religious authority were contested, challenged, and re-imagined afresh. The course begins in the aftermath of the Wars of the Roses, with the Tudor dynasty consolidating a precarious grip on the English throne as well as a fragile hold on parts of Ireland and a delicate peace between Scotland and England. The long, contested process of Reformation unleashed a wide variety of religious ideas and encouraged new ways of understanding identity, community, and even family relationships. A period of sustained economic growth brought unimagined luxuries and new technologies to the growing cities, changing the social fabric of the country in complex ways. Literature, music, and art flourished; Shakespeare’s plays, Tallis’s motets, and Holbein’s portraits all express the grandeur and the individual anxieties of the period. Two hundred years later, the whole of Britain would be transformed, brought together into a Union with social and religious consequences no less important than the political implications. By 1700 Britain had moved from the fringes of Europe to become one of its leading powers, with a growing empire in the Americas.

Students taking this course have the opportunity to examine a wide range of social, political, and religious developments across all three British kingdoms. The period is rich in source material, with texts and pamphlets ranging from royal proclamations to scurrilous, ‘tabloid’ newsbooks which are easily accessible in libraries and online. Historians are increasingly aware of the sophisticated political and religious culture which developed in this period, involving art, music, and carefully staged rituals. Traces of the rich visual and artistic culture of the period can be seen across the city, in the Ashmolean and in many of the colleges, and students are encouraged to consider these sources alongside more traditional ones. Moreover, such a crucial period in British history has attracted some of the most passionate and engaged historians, and controversy over the nature of the Reformation, the flow of court politics, the causes of the civil war, and the events of the Glorious Revolution continues to arouse heated debate. No less important are questions of social and economic change, and historians now use the vast range of source materials in new and increasingly sophisticated ways.

The History of the British Isles: 5: Liberty, Commerce and Power, 1685–1830

This course begins with the Glorious Revolution of 1688, which entrenched parliament at the centre of British government and established a system of regulated toleration for some kinds of Christian worship outside the Church of England. Commerce and manufacture were flourishing to such an extent that it was beginning to be possible for pamphleteers to claim for the nation the status of leading economic power. At its end in 1830 Dissenters and Catholics acquired full political rights, and the election of a reforming ‘Whig’ government put the reform and extension of the parliamentary franchise squarely on the agenda and Britain was considered ‘the first industrial nation’. These developments made Britain an object of fascination — sometimes, of admiration — for other Europeans.

The ‘British state’ was largely a creation of this period, which also saw the union of the Scottish with the English parliament (1707) and of the Irish with the Anglo-Scottish parliament (1801). A ‘British’ identity developed in parallel with English, Welsh, Scottish, and Irish identities. The growth of Atlantic trade and the acquisition of substantial Indian territories added to the might of the ‘British Empire’.

Yet all these developments were associated with strains, tensions, and conflicts. Britain spent almost half the period at war, defending and extending its position in Europe and the world. The legitimacy and very existence of empire were called into question by the American War of Independence (1776–83). Meanwhile, the growth of ‘Enlightenment’ in Europe raised questions about Britain’s claim to be an exceptionally liberal and humane society. Self-questioning was both intensified and complicated by the outbreak of the French Revolution, and the long ensuing war.

During the past few decades this period has been the subject of much lively and creative historical writing. John Brewer, Linda Colley, Roy Porter, and several Oxford scholars have explored all these developments, their impact on British values and culture, and the ways in which they were experienced by men and women at all social levels. The quality of writing on the period reflects its fundamental importance and interest for the understanding of modern Britain.

The History of the British Isles: 6: Power, Politics and the People, 1815–1924

The course covers a period which is today regarded by journalists and sentimentalists as an epoch of British ‘greatness’. That it was a very remarkable time is certain, and its most obvious defining feature is provided by a history of political and institutional change which appears in retrospect like a blaze of Technicolor. To say this is not just a comment on heroic individuals such as Gladstone and Disraeli; rather it is reflection of what all ordinary Britons (though not necessarily Irishmen) really thought: politics lay at the centre of their historical world. The centrepiece of political struggle lay in the attempts variously to reform and to preserve England’s ‘ancient constitution’. The course thus invites students to consider how satisfactory and complete were the ‘Victorian’ reforms which still supply the basic structure of our political institutions today. Why were they so seemingly successful in Britain and so troubled in Ireland? It also asks how these notoriously insular institutions functioned in Europe and as the ultimate rulers of a large and expansive empire. Could one have both empire and liberty?

This course will also consider the shape of society in this period, specifically on the culture and economy of Britain. In considering British society students will be able to draw on rich and established traditions of writing on the working classes and on the traditional landed elite, alongside a more recent and open-ended body of writing on gender. Of course social class can no longer be seen simply as a material fact, or as a reflection of the workplace, important though this dimension undoubtedly was. Social situation also requires a consideration of social cultures and mentalities. Of these some were class bound and some were not, and here the histories of religion and of ethnicity occupy a prominent place in the focus of the course, both of them relatively new and expansive areas of research enquiry. Students are invited to reflect on features which render England and Britain unique in a European context. For example: a notorious preoccupation with wealth creation, a religious geography based on the peculiarly Anglo-Saxon polarity between established churches and Dissenters, and the absence of any tradition of a prestigious state bureaucracy on the Continental model. Were these distinctive traditions a source of privileged advantage, or did they render the British Isles merely backward and provincial? Both points of view were advanced with much enthusiasm by Britons and Continental Europeans alike over the lifetime of this course.

The History of the British Isles: 7: Changing Identities, 1900–present

The course covers the history of the British Isles throughout the twentieth century. This was a period of almost unprecedented political, social, and economic change. The course is open-ended, since it has no terminal date, and it allows us to examine contemporary Britain historically. The core of the course is political, but political in the broadest sense. It is concerned not just with parliamentary politics but with the relationships between political parties and society, the way political institutions have been shaped and the manner in which the political system coped with major challenges — for example, the two world wars, the emergence of Scottish and Welsh nationalism, and the re-emergence of the ‘Irish question’, or the pervasive notion of economic ‘decline’ (something which people consciously tried to reverse) from the 1950s on.

At its beginning Great Britain was the centre of a world empire, the hub of the world’s financial system, and Ireland was still politically united to Britain as well as almost wholly white. At the end of the century, the empire was gone, to be replaced by a Commonwealth, in many respects vestigial, but still of some authority. Ireland, with the exception of the northern six counties, had become an independent republic. The ethnic demographic of Britain had changed, to include a large ‘Black and Asian’ population, whose influence on British life was profound. By 2000 Britain was no longer central to the world’s financial system, though London was still one of its most important foci, and in military terms Britain had become a middle-ranking power. Economically, particularly in its manufacturing sector, Britain found it difficult to compete and an apparent political and economic decline was, especially after the Second World War, one of the principal themes of British politics and public life. And yet, despite its preoccupation with failure, few other societies had such a successful twentieth century. Its people experienced a rise in living standards and social opportunities which would once have been thought inconceivable; it emerged victorious from two world wars with its political institutions intact and increasingly democratic; its civil life was remarkably peaceful; it was one of the most culturally open societies in the world; and its cultural productivity, at elite and popular levels, was surpassed only by the United States.

European and World History

European and World History 1: The World of Late Antiquity, 250–650

In 248 Rome celebrated its millennium, and the commemorations included, we are told, the slaughter of (among others) thirty-two elephants, ten tigers, thirty leopards, ten hyenas, six hippopotami, and one rhinoceros. Two years later, another emperor eager to promote empire-wide endorsement of his regime required all citizens to participate in a traditional sacrifice; Christians refusing to commit what seemed to them apostasy risked being consigned in turn to the arena, as further fuel to the entertainment machine.

The study of this period begins with an assessment of the Roman Empire, both as the most enduring imperial project that Europe has yet seen, and as a cultural phenomenon which combines many features immediately recognizable today, from the law of tort to the shape and scale of entertainment venues, with such alien aspects as the elaborately stage-managed spectacles of death that these venues hosted. Understanding this world in turn requires critical examination of the source material on which reconstructions of this empire are based, and which proves much less solid than the concrete structures that have survived until today. The scrupulous itemization of the Colosseum’s millennial menagerie, for example, is taken from a whimsical biographical miscellany that contains much deliberate nonsense; the most vivid account of a Christian martyrdom from 250, the Passion of Pionius, is an unsettling combination of documentary-style detail and surreal flights.

From the starting-point of 250, we must ask questions about the vitality and indeed viability of the empire itself. The third century saw remarkable developments in the integration of the Roman world (all free subjects of the empire became Roman citizens in 212), and archaeology suggests that most inhabitants of the many cities of Europe and North Africa enjoyed a far higher standard of living than their descendants would do at the end of our period; but the empire was also far more exposed than it had been a century before to marauders from outside, and its rulers were far more vulnerable to opportunistic rivals or resentful subordinates. There would be some remarkable vicissitudes in the two centuries before the end of the western empire; by 650 the most significant figure in the city of Rome was its Christian bishop Martin, engaged upon a determined but doomed stand against the theological policies of his secular masters in the New Rome of Constantinople.

At the start of our period, Roman decision-makers were keenly aware of a new geopolitical presence, the Sasanian regime in Iran. The animals used to entertain the millennium crowds had been collected (allegedly) to grace the triumph of the previous emperor Gordian III over this new threat; the campaign proved instead the first of many Roman failures on the Euphrates, Gordian the first high-profile casualty.

Sasanian power was eclipsed at the very end of our period, and the last Shah, Yazdegerd III, was assassinated in Central Asia in late 651. The empire, along with much of the Roman East, was overwhelmed by the new force of Islam, emerging from Arabia. By the end of our period the Islamic Caliph Uthman’s forces were operating in Afghanistan and Baluchistan, and had entered diplomatic relations with the Tang regime in China.

The period involves the study of the whole Eurasian landmass and of the interactions between its disparate parts. Steppe nomads made their presence felt from China to the Rhine; the end of the period saw the emergence of the Khazar Khaganate, extending from the Caspian Sea to the Volga and Dnieper rivers; the ruling elite would allegedly convert to Judaism, after representations from the Christian and Islamic empires.

Students exploring this period will be introduced to some remarkable figures, from rulers such as Diocletian, Constantine, Julian, Attila, Theoderic, Clovis Justinian, Khosrow, Gaozu, and Muhammad, to religious figures such as Eusebius, Kumārajīva, Augustine, Symeon the Stylite, Gregory of Tours, Gregory the Great, Xuanzang, and (again) Muhammad; they will also explore a spectacular range of sources, from the histories of Ammianus Marcellinus to the Secret history of Procopius and Gregory of Tours’s History of the Franks, and from Eusebius’s History of the church to Augustine’s Confessions to the Quran.

European and World History 2: The Early Medieval World, 600–1000

There are three stories, at least, about this period. The most traditional of these is that we are here in ‘the Dark Ages’, an era of carnage and decay following the collapse of ancient empires. Both Rome and Persia had fallen: the conflict between them had been implacable, but on this traditional reading, it was to be centuries before there were comparable structures to stand in their stead. In the Latin West, only at the turn of the first millennium did the pulse of indigenous urban civilization quicken into life. A revisionist account resists this doom and gloom and might in fact call this period an Age of Empire, iridescent with the rise and rise again of grand political ventures: in China, the Tang Empire, or in Western Europe, the Carolingian Empire. These regimes were all the more impressive precisely because they lacked the level of infrastructure of ancient imperial projects. In accounting for their success, however, we move out into a broader perspective. A third view of the period might see here ‘a time to sew together’ (Ecclesiastes 3:7), an epoch for the forging of new ties, some casual and experimental, some of great and lasting intensity. Thus we witness the triumph of universal religions (Christianity, Islam, Buddhism), the differentiation of bonds of blood and of ties of affect, the thickening of global networks of exchange, the development of new forms of information technology (the book, paper, joined-up handwriting), and the honing of mechanisms of extraction from the peasantry. The making of societies, not of empires, is perhaps the most compelling story to tell here.

An attractive feature of late ancient and early medieval history is that because the sources are so relatively few, it is possible for students to get direct access to Christian chroniclers, writers of saints’ lives, treatises from Muslim anthropologists, Buddhist missionaries and pilgrims. They will be introduced to works of art of enduring beauty and no less palpable strangeness. The world of Late Antiquity and the early Middle Ages is an electric field of current research and debate. This course aims to show why.

European and World History 3: The Central Middle Ages, 900–1300

This course enables you to examine the centuries between 900 and 1300 CE from either a European perspective or by focusing on societies outside Europe. In practice many students and tutors will seek to combine both European and world approaches. Whatever the approach taken, you will be able to engage with a wide range of different cultures over a period of fundamental change and to examine apparently familiar themes (gender, class, economic change, and identity) in unfamiliar chronological and geographical settings. You will also discover ways of thinking and acting which are strikingly distinct from those encountered in other periods.

Whether seen from a European or global perspective, the centuries 900 to 1300 were characterized by profound changes and complex processes. Relations within and between social groups, genders, and families were restructured. There were striking shifts in religious practices and beliefs. The ‘world’ religions of later centuries expanded rapidly with the spread of Christianity into Scandinavia and central-eastern Europe, the conversion of parts of India, the Central Asian steppes, and East Africa to Islam, and the greater reach of Buddhism into the devotional lives of individuals and communities across East and South Asia. In some regions expression of religious devotion took the form of holy war (jihad and crusade), but not all warfare was holy, and not all religion was martial. Pilgrimage boomed everywhere. Forms of monasticism and ascetic practices diversified. This was a period when heresy and other forms of dissent erupted (or were perceived by those in authority to have erupted). New polities and forms of association proliferated, not just empires and kingdoms, but also city states, confederations of all sorts, intellectual and religious networks, and universities. The economy expanded across the whole of Eurasia and beyond. The ideas and ideals that shaped social, political, and religious life were reassessed and reshaped. This was a period of the evolution of written vernacular languages; new artistic and architectural forms of expression; and well-documented elaborate ceremonial cultures. With sources as diverse as Icelandic sagas, Byzantine saints’ lives, and Japanese memoirs to draw upon, the roles, representations, and inner lives of women can be integral to the study of all topics in this course.

There are important debates to consider: was this a period of new and conflicting identities; or of the creative interaction of cultures which had previously been distant and distinct? Or was it both? Were the frontiers between peoples, groups and cultures porous or increasingly hard and fast? How much change was genuinely new, and how much evolved from or coexisted with long-standing continuities? For instance, what was the relationship between long-standing empires in the Islamic, Western European, Byzantine, and Chinese worlds and new political structures? How was it possible for long-standing ideals of monastic life in Europe to take so many news forms after 1000? Did the peasant experience worsen or improve as slavery disappeared, or was slavery still ubiquitous after 1000, but in new forms and with a stronger focus on female rather than male enslavement?
Some quite exceptional forms of evidence enrich the study of this period in all world regions. Many sources, especially narratives, are available in translation. Most were written by elite men, but increasingly we have access to writing about and by women, and also to records (written and material) which speak more directly to the experience of those beyond the political and religious elite. Direct engagement with medieval voices not only enhances our picture of these centuries but allows undergraduates to subject the certainties of the secondary literature to close critical scrutiny.

European and World History 4: The Global Middle Ages, 500–1500

Every clime has peculiarities familiar to its inhabitants, but a person who has never left their hearth and has confined their researches to the narrow field of the history of their own country cannot be compared to the courageous traveller who has worn out their life in journeys of exploration to distant parts and each day has faced danger in order to persevere in excavating the mines of learning and in snatching precious fragments of the past from oblivion.

Mas’ūdī, The meadows of gold, CE 943–56

The ‘global Middle Ages’ is a relatively new idea in both medieval and global history. ‘Globalization’ is often envisaged as the process of planetary connection that began, or accelerated, after 1492 and intensified into our contemporary modernity. The view that we live in a ‘globalized’ world is fundamental to our identity as ‘modern’, which creates the expectation that the medieval period was not ‘global’ and that the ‘global’ is something that emerged later. The concept of a ‘global Middle Ages’ runs against these two ways of approaching global history. Rather than seeing the period 500 to 1500 as a precursor, as a time of ‘archaic’ or ‘proto’ versions of modern capital-based globalization, this course explores the ways in which humans and human societies during these centuries were ‘global’, interconnected, mobile, and dynamic on their own terms and in their own activities, practices, ambitions, ideas, and imaginations. Rather than beginning with states and empires as units of analysis, this course asks you to start by thinking in planetary terms: of the vast and diverse spaces within which humans made their habitations; of terrain, environment, complex ecosystems, and biodiversity; of the seasons, moon, stars, and planets which were fundamental for time-keeping, navigation, and cosmologies. How did people live in this world? How did they organize food, shelter, sex, reproduction, child-rearing, marriage, communities, labour, manufacturing of goods, trade, transport, communication, cities, governance, finance, hierarchy, loyalties, courtesies, knowledge, belief, health, war, death? What were the consequences of their choices for the shapes of their societies, for the many ways in which groups, communities, and societies affected each other, for the lives of individuals, and for the natural world around them?

The course draws on material from a millennium of human history, and allows you to explore and compare case studies from many parts of the planet, as well as examining formative connections between different regions and types of society. A fascinating wealth of material survives from across the period. Texts written by men and women document extensive travels and encounters; the mundane, comic, and tragic in daily life; the intricacies and complexities of court culture; the administration of empires and kingdoms; diverse practices of faith and belief; strange tales, heroic sagas and ancient myths; stories of love, sex, and family; scholarly treatises on philosophy, science, technologies, geography, history, theology, magic, and the occult; accounts of suffering, disease, and disaster; of collapsing empires and terrible armies on the move. These can be read for glimpses of personality, period, and place, but in a global history course, one might also ask about when, how, why, and for whom such materials were made in different parts of the world, and what common patterns might be detected in the making and keeping of records, both as technology and practice. At the other end of the scale, a burgeoning field of research examines medieval societies through the lens of climate and environmental sciences, setting the historical record against the findings of surveys of shifting planetary conditions, regional changes, and the effects on the local environment of particular cities and ways of living. How far can the patterns of change for societies in our period be explained by the shift from the benign climate of the classical period to the colder, wetter climate of the early Middle Ages — precipitating the failure of imperial governance in China, the Mediterranean and Americas—and the warmth and stability of the later medieval period, declining abruptly into erratic and chilly climate patterns in the fourteenth century? When and how were states and societies resilient, and in what ways? Some historians have come to ask whether periods in which states were weaker and therefore less able to tax and coerce labour were better for ordinary people. There is a renewed interest in patterns of nomadic and sedentary life and their role in the larger dynamics of regions. Thinking about the period on this scale unsettles many of our more conventional narratives and analytic priorities and opens up interesting new questions about those centuries and our more general historical understanding.

Much of the reading for this course reflects the most recent developments in historical thinking, in which analytical frameworks associated with the nation state are being superseded by a growing awareness of systems of power that work on a larger scale, and the need radically to revise older narratives that celebrate ‘progress’ and ‘growth’ in order to equip ourselves to respond the new realities and uncertain future of human life on earth. The medieval period might seem irrelevant in this context, but the longer view that is offered by its study is extremely illuminating, since so many of our ways of thought and behaviour, techniques of governance, ideas of civilization and barbarism, and attitudes to the natural environment and the place of humans within larger ecosystems were thoroughly established long before the more conventional starting dates for the ‘global’.

European and World History 5: The Late Medieval World, 1300–1525

In all areas of human life, the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries CE saw momentous change and fascinating developments across many regions. In the mid-fourteenth century significant alterations in climate unleashed epidemic disease on an unprecedented scale across much of Eurasia. Plague contributed to social, economic, and cultural changes, though the nature and extent of these differed from region to region, giving students the chance to draw links and make comparisons on a number of scales. The lives of the individuals affected by these developments were further shaped by gender, (dis)ability, wealth, and cultural values. It was within this framework that regional political histories unfolded. Students may study the fate of dynastic states and empires that were also drivers of trade and cultural change, such as Yuan China, Il-Khanid Persia, the nomadic Golden Horde, the Jagiellonian lands across central Europe, the old monarchies of Western Europe such as France, Aragon, and Castile, the Mamluk slaves-turned-rulers in Egypt, the Delhi Sultanate, and the Venetian and Genoan maritime networks before they were eclipsed by the nascent world-empires of Portugal and a unified Spain. Emerging powers like Burgundy, Muscovy, and the Ottomans offer fascinating case studies of state-building, looking at warfare, legitimation, diplomacy, justice, and fiscality. Other political forms, such as city states in Italy and urban leagues in German-speaking lands, competed with monarchies and empires, while much of the world experienced little that could be described as state power. The agency and experiences of peasants subject to taxation, of soldiers in war, of women under myriad forms of patriarchy, and of colonized peoples and slaves are further perspectives from which it is possible to examine political and social history. Popular rebellions from China to Europe offer absorbing ways to broaden the study of political agency, and the records of crime present an interesting perspective on social relations and state growth.

Students will be able to engage with rich collections of primary and secondary sources dealing with religious thought and expression within Latin and Orthodox Christianity, and Islam in its different forms, besides considering the experience of minority populations: Christians in Islamic lands, Muslims in Christian lands, Jews across the Eurasian polities. During this period both Christianity and Islam defined themselves against internal enemies (heretics), while battling pagans and each other. There was a flourishing of religious piety, encompassing poetry and mystical literature written by men and women. The scholarship on Christian, Muslim, and Chinese art and material culture, and the presence of accessible museum collections in Oxford and London, offer yet another way of engaging with this period. Major writers likewise present the opportunity for individual case studies, notably Ibn Khaldun (perhaps the greatest historian and social/political thinker of any age) and Christine de Pizan (sometimes described as the first feminist author), but also including the Tuscan ‘greats’ Boccaccio, Dante, and Petrarch, religious reformers such as Jan Hus and Martin Luther, political theorists like Machiavelli, and the famous travellers Ibn Battuta and Marco Polo.

European and World History 6: Early Modern Europe, 1500–1700

The two hundred years of this period are among the most traumatic and destructive in European history. Yet paradoxically they were simultaneously a period of remarkable creativity, innovation, and intellectual transformation. Martin Luther’s 1517 protest grew into a seismic challenge not just towards the Catholic Church, but to a whole series of political, social, and cultural assumptions that had united the Christian West. Religious division and dynastic politics provided an explosive combination, setting in train struggles that climaxed in the Thirty Years War of 1618–48, a struggle fought across much of central and Western Europe and bringing devastation, economic dislocation, and mortality on a colossal scale. War was no less a fact of political life in Eastern and Northern Europe, where the respective political trajectories of Poland-Lithuania, Muscovy, and Sweden were shaped by enduring conflict. The Ottoman Empire posed a territorial threat to Europe throughout this period, confronting Europeans embarked on global colonial enterprise with the possibility of being colonized themselves.

Within individual societies, the radicalism of the Reformation engendered a formidable political, social, and intellectual reaction, whose consequences were still to be felt at the end of the seventeenth century. A period of heightened religious intolerance was matched by the determination of authorities to impose social, sexual, and intellectual conformity within their societies. Most notoriously this was seen in the evolution of theories of witchcraft as diabolical possession, which permitted spasms of witch-hunting and extreme persecution from the 1580s. Here and elsewhere, issues both of gender relations and the role of women in different early modern societies have become key areas of research and debate. Growing out of this repressive atmosphere were the first elements of a transformation of knowledge through a burgeoning print and news-culture in which science and scientific observation, philosophical reasoning and scepticism, new economic and political thinking, could be disseminated and discussed.

All of these religious, ideological, and political tensions unfolded in a dramatically changing economic environment. Accelerating population growth through the first part of the period, leading to increasing demand on the available land and on food production, followed by the global cooling of the ‘Little Ice Age’ and a vast increase in the scale and costs of warfare, had a calamitous impact on the majority of the population of Europe. Famine and disease caused regular and devastating ‘spikes’ of mortality through to the end of the seventeenth century. Yet economic misery was not the fate of all: the Dutch Republic emerged to enjoy a ‘Golden Age’ of prosperity and cultural flourishing. Elsewhere across Europe, existing and new elites benefited from rising agricultural prices and falling wages to gain unprecedented prosperity, and become the driving force behind a transformation of the sophistication and extravagance of material culture, whether seen in increasingly opulent princely courts or the art and architecture of the baroque.

Tutorials will provide the opportunity to employ detailed case-studies to think about major issues shaping states and societies in this period, and about historical approaches which have done much to challenge traditional interpretations of political, social and cultural history. Studies of the imposition of the Protestant and Catholic reformations, repression of crime, and the treatment of minorities and those on the margins of society allow the student to make use of extensive recent work calling into question dichotomies such as ‘popular’ and ‘elite’, and exploring concepts such as acculturation and syncretism as alternatives to simplified models of ‘top-down’ imposition. Traditional assumptions that this was an era of ‘absolutism’ can lead to more critical consideration of the mechanisms of political power in the early modern state, the limitations upon central authority, and the persistence of societies based upon localized power and privilege. Warfare can be studied both in its own right, and in relation to a number of key debates about its impact on states and societies. Artistic movements such as classicism and the baroque offer the possibility of developing recent ideas about the projection of ‘soft’ power, while hallowed concepts like the ‘scientific revolution’ are the subject of vigorous historiographical debate. The course can equally be directed towards economic history, making use of an extensive recent literature concerning developing patterns of trade, mercantile networks, and the rapid development of European colonization.

European and World History 7: Eurasian Empires, 1450–1800

This course provides an introduction to some cutting edge developments in world history by focusing on the history of empires in the period before the West dominated the globe. Students therefore have the opportunity to explore pre-modern societies outside of the West on their own terms and in all their cultural diversity.

This was the period that saw the first real seaborne empires launched from Europe following Vasco da Gama’s voyage to India in 1498. The oceanic exploits of the Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch, and then British that followed, therefore, form one focus of the course. However, the heart of the course lies in Asia, with the great territorial empires that sprawled across the Eurasian landmass: the Ottomans, Safavids, and Mughals, and the realms of China, Japan, and South-East Asia. (There is also an opportunity to study the New World and Atlantic Africa.)

Students will reflect on the methods the ruling elites of these vast new states used for governing disparate regions, how their plans were made and undone by demographic and economic expansion or the implacable force of climate change, and what ideologies and forms of justification they devised. Did it follow, for example, that imperial centres would conceive of the peoples on their borders as barbarians, or even racially inferior? How could they harness or defuse the explosive potential of religious fervour or the movements of missionaries? What inspired the rebellions against them?

The other major thematic concern is the extent to which the whole world participated in an ‘early modern’ age: can we identify this period as the first genuine phase of globalization? Can we trace similar changes in administrative innovation, commercial growth, or even newly emancipated forms of intellectual life across such different societies? If we can identify some common developments, how then can we explain the fact that by the end of the period the great agrarian empires suddenly seemed vulnerable? If it is possible to consider the Portuguese as mere waterborne parasites in 1500, by 1800 the British were more like locusts devouring large chunks of India.

The question of a global ‘early modernity’ represents one of the most controversial areas of modern historiographical debate, with significant implications for the return of grand narrative and visions of the long term. The course also represents an introduction to doing comparative history in a systematic way. The other main method of world history is also introduced: with connected history, historians have become more imaginative in tracing the ways in which far-flung societies were interconnected in sometimes unexpected ways, through the circulation of millenarian ideas associated with kingship among a number of Islamic realms, or the political consequences of the dissemination of firearms. Understanding encounters across cultural divides is part of this: how should one interpret Jesuit reports from the court of the Mughal emperor Akbar, or Persian ambassadors writing about their encounter with Theravada Buddhism in the royal city of Ayudhya?

European and World History 8: Enlightenments and Revolutions: Europe 1680–1848

In the ‘long’ eighteenth century, Europe and the rest of the world were more tightly bound together than ever before. Slavery, global trade, scientific exploration, colonial expansion, and global warfare were all central features of the period. This first age of globalization was also expressed in the tendency of European thinkers to juxtapose their societies with overseas cultures, not always to the advantage of the former. In the final decades of the course, the French Revolution swept through Europe and the wider world, followed by slave revolts in the Caribbean and struggles for independence in Latin America.

In Europe itself, rapid growth of population and the economy gave birth to the most developed commercial civilization the world had ever known. Economic growth and commercialization, however, entailed increasing social dislocation and tensions within a society which associated rank with inherited and corporate privilege. Meanwhile the dominant form of Christianity was under attack from the new, more egalitarian, and secular ideology of the Enlightenment. Across Europe the philosophes and their allies made human betterment in this world the focus of their writing. Since many rulers and their advisers after 1750 took up these new ideas, hoping that the abolition of the corporative society would increase the state’s ability to mobilize its subjects’ resources, the stage was set for a battle between many of Europe’s governments and the privileged orders. This tension culminated in the American War of Independence and the French Revolution of 1789, both global events with far-reaching consequences.

In such a period of conflict and change, there is no shortage of topics for you to study in tutorials. Central topics are the Enlightenment, the leading ‘Enlightened Absolutists’ (Frederick II of Prussia, Catherine II of Russia, Joseph II, Charles VIII of Naples and III of Spain), the failure of reform in France, or the outbreak and impact of the French Revolution, colonial expansion, and overseas trade. Further topics are changes in the Ottoman Empire, Japan, India, and China. There are, however, many other topics in economic, social, cultural, and intellectual history which you can explore, among them popular culture, art, and changing attitudes to women and children.

European and World History 9: From Independence to Empire: America 1763–1898

independence in 1776? Could a fragile republic maintain its independence in an age of revolutions and in the face of an ascendant British Empire? What was the cost of fighting, and ultimately surviving, a bloody Civil War? How were western territories incorporated into the nation’s dynamic east and west coast ports, and the international markets they serviced? How did the fledgling nation that emerged from a British civil war become one of the pre-eminent imperial powers in the Americas, Caribbean, and the Pacific? This course interrogates these questions, and many more.

During this period, the polity that became the United States of America defined itself in a variety of ways. ‘White’ settlement expanded across the continent the Mississippi River, to the Pacific Coast — and then into the Pacific itself. African American slavery, long established, was reinvigorated making the Cotton South one of the powerhouses of the global economy. Indigenous empires, which had long controlled the continent, continued to confront Euro-American settlers. Mexicans, Tejanos, Cubans, Hawaiians, and Filipinos resisted the spread of the US umpire over their territories. Waves of mass migration arrived from Europe and Asia. These migrants dug for gold, laboured on farms and in factories, laid rails, and erected telegraph lines — and convulsed the nation’s politics, as powerful nativist currents in US political life pushed back against them. And, throughout this period, the emerging nation defined itself through ideas — of republicanism, states’ rights, white supremacy, abolitionism, Protestant revival, moral reform, and populism.

Historians of the creation of the American republic and of the nineteenth-century United States have pioneered a variety of innovative new approaches to the US past. They have been especially interested in expanding the boundaries of United States’ history to examine how the powerful empires, transnational processes, and new technologies of transportation and communication (and the new patterns of racial hierarchy and exclusion that accompanied them) that shaped the modern world influenced US economic development and its nation- and empire-building projects. Central to this has been a re-examination of the place of American slavery at the forefront of global capitalism. Slave-grown cotton connected the United States to the commercial and financial emporium of the British Empire and to its emerging imperial markets in Asia and Africa. But an exploitative system that promoted international integration proved fatal to the antebellum Union. Historians have also reversed the traditional east-west gaze of US historians to place continental developments at the heart of US history. There was nothing inevitable about the United States’ westward expansion: it was contested by powerful indigenous empires whose presence shaped US imperial power at every turn and by the limits of US power itself. Finally, the long history of the US’s empire project in the Caribbean, Americas, and Asia has transformed our understanding of the commercial, environmental, and imperial history of the Pacific World.

European and World History 10: A Liberal Century? Europe 1825–1925

The map of Europe was redrawn in the long nineteenth century as the nation state became the dominant form of political organization, from Greece in the south (1832) to Finland in the north (1918). Most of these new states embraced constitutional government, founded in law and some indication of popular will. This triumph of liberalism would have been hard to envisage when the Holy Alliance of Austria, Prussia, and Russia dominated Europe in the 1820s with the avowed intent of denying reform.

This course charts the success of liberalism through revolution and mass organization, and its achievements in the form of national sovereignty, electoral reform, peasant emancipation, religious toleration, and press freedom. It will consider liberalism’s links to other developments in the period, such as new aesthetic movements (Romanticism and Realism) and new conceptions of the family and proper gender roles. Nineteenth-century liberals sought to be modern, bracketing their politics with developments in science. They aimed to impose modernity, and the national ideal, on sometimes reluctant populations through education, conscription, ‘good government’, and free trade. But throughout the period the liberal consensus was challenged. Imperial regimes, monarchists, aristocrats, and conservatives fought to preserve elements of the Old Regime, often successfully. The churches in particular strove to retain their positions in state and society, while peasant rebels rejected conscription, taxation, and the privatization of land. Later more radical ideologies of socialism, anarchism, and communism found homes in the organized labour movement. And towards the end of the period new forms of right-wing populism, nationalism, and anti-Semitism found an audience.

Meanwhile, the period witnessed ‘the first era of globalization’, leading to massive movements of goods, capital, and people, assisted by economic developments such as the ‘Gold Standard’ and the ‘Second Industrial Revolution’. Globalization and industrialization created economic crises, and protectionism and xenophobia grew in the metropoles, while in the imperial arena European powers competed to grab raw materials and markets. But the period also witnessed the growth of an internationalism and humanitarian intervention. However, around 1900 there are signs of the waning of Western power, as imperial states such as Spain, Italy, and Russia were all defeated overseas. Challenges were also visible in the fields of the arts and sciences, with a plethora of new movements attempting to capture the experience of rapid change (such as Impressionism and Expressionism), or comprehend it (the rise of the social sciences). It is arguable whether the First World War was the consequence of these crises and challenges, but it is unarguable that it released political, social, and cultural forces that had developed over this period.

European and World History 11: Imperial and Global History, 1750–1930

The purpose of this course is to offer a more distinctively ‘global’ approach to the world history of this period. What this means in practice is: an emphasis upon the significance of mobility and exchange — in goods, ideas, and people — across Eurasia, the Americas, and Africa; upon supra-regional phenomena, including religions, patterns of consumption, environmental stresses, and the differential impact of scientific and technical knowledge; and on the reciprocal influences exerted on each other by European, Asian, African, and other societies. Asia and Africa may have been influenced by Europe, but the reverse was equally true.

1750 is an arbitrary starting point, but it marks, perhaps, the beginnings of a decisive shift in the relative position of the strongest European states and societies on the one hand and those of other parts of Eurasia on the other, and the onset of what some historians have called ‘the great divergence’ between the East and the West which, in wealth and power, has lasted into our own times. Part of the aim of the course is to consider some of the reasons for this, but also the factors behind the remarkable resilience of many Asian societies, Islamic and other. Inevitably, the assertion of European imperial power is an important part of the story. But there were other empires in Eurasia (the Ottoman, Qajar, and Qing) with a strong instinct for survival and considerable success in keeping the Europeans at bay. What allowed them to do so? Why did they eventually collapse? This period is also one in which an astonishing range of new communities was formed in response to unprecedented levels of migration by Asians and Africans as well as Europeans; to the revolution in communications which allows a sense of community to extend over thousands of miles; to the economic changes associated with industrialization and the creation of labour-hungry plantation and mining economies; and to the shifts in status and culture that encouraged new solidarities around gender or race, as well as reinforcing old ones based on religion.

European and World History 12: The Making of Modern America, since 1863

The issuing of the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 marked the end of slavery. But the battle over the meaning of freedom would continue long past the short-lived period of federal Reconstruction, and is one of the central themes of the course. By the turn of the twentieth century a system of rigid racial segregation and repression known as ‘Jim Crow’ took hold in the American South, a system that was intertwined with American imperialism, and would be constantly challenged, most famously during the civil rights and Black Power eras. Many other groups of Americans sought freedom and rights, often with high-profile mass protest — this course includes the history of labour, women, sexuality, and immigration.

The end of the Civil War in 1865 ensured the Union remained intact. But the previous pattern of federalism would never be fully re-established, and debates about the idea of the nation and the role of the state would also continue through the period of Reconstruction through to the present. In the late nineteenth century, the projection of federal power took the form mainly of Indian fighting and the disposal of public land, but growing calls were heard for a stronger federal role in regulating the national economy, and in ameliorating the increasing inequalities of wealth and power (such as during the New Deal and Great Society eras). In the late twentieth century, the debate about the size of government would be central to partisan politics.

The Civil War was but one of many that dramatically shaped American politics and society — the civil war, the Spanish-American War, the two world wars, and post-1945 conflicts in Korea, Vietnam, and the Middle East are all covered in the course, both in terms of the development of foreign policy, and in terms of those domestic impacts.

One of the most striking features of American history during this period (and a topic on the course) was massive economic expansion. Among its manifestations and consequences were mass immigration (until the 1920s), urbanization (since 1920, the United States has been a predominantly urban and more recently, suburban, nation), environmentalism (the first national park was created in the 1870s), and reformist and radical political protest movements (including Populism, Progressivism, and socialism).

The long twentieth century was also marked both by the continued power of evangelical religion and a rising humanist faith in the power of experts and new knowledge to solve hitherto unyielding problems such as poverty, alcoholism, and disease. Developments in popular and intellectual culture are also studied on this course, including their relation, and that of religion, to the increasingly shrill partisan politics of the later twentieth century.

Despite a strong strand of isolationism, the so-called American century was deeply intertwined with global developments. Each topic on the course considers how Americans shaped, and were shaped by, world affairs. The course also considers how Americans, and those beyond the nation, have written American history.

European and World History 13: Europe Divided, 1914–1989

The period from the outbreak of the First World War in August 1914 to the fall of the Berlin wall in November 1989 forms a divided unity. Often referred to as Europe’s short twentieth century, it was marked by two world wars and the Cold War. The First World War led to unprecedented policies of state and social mobilization, and ended in revolution, civil wars, and large-scale acts of ethnic cleansing. The collapse of the multinational empires of central and Eastern Europe was accompanied by experiments at reshaping the nation state in line with competing authoritarian and democratic ideologies, while repeated economic crises challenged both national and European orders. This culminated in the overlapping military, political, and ideological conflicts of the period that we term the Second World War, but which in fact encompassed a wide range of discrete conflicts from the mid-1930s to the mid-1940s, and which brought about the massive reshaping of the continent, and its division into two self-contained entities. If the first half of this period (1914–45) was marked by instability and violent extremism culminating in genocide, the second half (1945–89) was remarkable for its relative stability and, especially in Western Europe, affluence. Political protesters in 1968 consciously adopted different methods from those of the earlier period, just as the economic crises in the 1970s were resolved in quite different ways from those of the 1920s and 30s. When central and Eastern Europe were swept by popular revolutions in 1989, they did not follow the same course as the revolutions of 1917–21.

European and World History 14: The Global Twentieth Century, 1930–2003

This course covers the twentieth century from the Great Depression and lead-up to the Second World War to the Second Iraq War. It explores the period of mid-century global conflict, the Cold War, and the post-Cold War era from 1989 that is still unfolding.

The centre of gravity is outside Europe, and in a sense there is no centre to the perspective taken by the course at all. It combines multiple perspectives, that of the post-colonial alongside the ex-colonial world, of the communist alongside the non-communist world, of the developing world alongside the developed world. It is not an ‘area studies’ course exploring discrete regions; rather it approaches key issues and themes in twentieth-century history as global problems with regional and local manifestations. It will include North America and Europe (and the UK) to the extent that these too were impacted upon or ‘entangled’ in global processes, for example in those of decolonization, globalization, and environmentalism.

Additional topics

A Comparative History of the First World War, 1914–1920

At the end of 1914, most of the nations of Europe were locked in to a brutal struggle which tested their endurance to the utmost. In 1917 the United States entered the war and Russia collapsed into revolution. Both events raised new and utopian visions which profoundly influenced all of the combatants. Finally, in 1918, German representatives crossed the Allied lines and sued for an Armistice. Why did Germany lose the war? Were other outcomes possible? Early Allied success? German victory? Compromise peace? Popular revolution throughout Europe?

The First World War was a cultural trauma, which in certain respects is perceived as being ‘outside’ history, a massive human tragedy which defies normal explanation. Yet it is a good test case for thinking about decision making, the constraints on and the possibilities open to politicians and generals. This course is intended to reflect ‘total war’ with a ‘totalistic’ approach to historiography, one which examines and relates the spheres of political, military, economic, and social history.

The focus of the course will be on the great battles. Were the battles the futile slaughter of popular myth or the very essence of industrial war? Was Verdun ‘a meaningless battle in a meaningless war’ or a true turning point in the twentieth century? Was Douglas Haig an incompetent butcher or one of the greatest generals in British history? Was the war in other theatres fundamentally different from that in the West? The course will examine the writings of the military and political decision makers, often written as conscious apologias for their actions. It will also examine their contemporary critics. In addition, it will examine the writings of the subjects of these actions, the ordinary soldiers and civilians who had to live with the consequences. It will seek to examine the relationship between the two; how far did the decision makers have to act with the consent of their ‘victims’?

The comparative perspective plays a valuable role in this exercise. Did the nations face variants on the same problem or substantially different problems? Were they pursuing similar strategies or fundamentally different ones? Were the generals the ‘donkeys’ of popular legend or genuinely creative figures (or a mixture of both)? Did anyone really win? To answer this, we should ask about the relationship between history and popular memory. Much of what we think we know about the war has been shaped by artistic representation: poetry, novels, film, and painting. We should examine these sources critically to try to discover how far they aid our understanding and how far they hinder it. The film All quiet on the Western Front and the poetry of Wilfred Owen have shaped our understanding of the war more than Haig’s diary or Ludendorff’s memoirs, but should they? Few subjects raise larger questions about the critical examination of sources. Finally, did these years ‘make’ the twentieth century with all its subsequent horrors?

Anglo-Saxon Archaeology c.600–750: Society and Economy in the Early Christian Period

In the year 600, the peoples who came to be known as ‘the Anglo-Saxons’ were ethnically diverse, politically fragmented and largely pagan; by 750 they had emerged as one of the major cultures of post-Roman Europe, with towns, a complex economy and a network of richly endowed churches. The fusion of Germanic, Celtic, and Mediterranean traditions produced a material culture of astonishing richness and originality, including such internationally famous works as the Sutton Hoo grave goods, the Ruthwell and Bewcastle crosses, and the Lindisfarne Gospels. This is currently one of the liveliest areas of medieval history, as old discoveries are reassessed, and new ones (especially in the areas of economy and settlement) overturn accepted views. This course will afford students the exciting opportunity to trace the remarkable growth of English society and culture in response to external stimuli. Archaeology is defined in the widest sense, to include illuminated manuscripts, precious objects, coins, sculpture, and buildings as well as sites and finds. With this subject the sites and artefacts themselves are ‘primary’, but to make them available in print inevitably involves a process of selection and interpretation; at the same time, ‘primary’ material (unavailable elsewhere) can be embedded in analytical and essentially secondary works. Thus the normal distinction between primary and secondary literature cannot be drawn so clearly, and the subject-matter covers a spectrum from the primary (e.g. photographs and excavation reports) to the secondary (e.g. interpretative books and articles). Mastering the art of using physical evidence, and of reading and criticizing excavation reports, involves some initial intellectual effort but is highly rewarding.

Britain at the Movies: Film and National Identity since 1914

This course invites you to consider the usefulness of film as a way into key historical and historiographical debates in twentieth-century Britain. Over the course of the century cinema-going emerged as the most popular demotic leisure activity — its appeal cutting across divisions of class, gender, age, and region. Over the course of the century, moreover, film became one of the key sites at which to reflect on and make sense of processes of social, cultural, and political change in a period of massive upheaval. Taking this as a starting point, we invite you to consider the historical meanings and significance of a series of genres or moments of film-making in Britain from the First World War to the present day. These include war and film, the documentary movement of the 1930s, Ealing and ‘Carry on’ comedies, and narratives of imperial adventure. Conceptualizing British film in its broadest transnational and Imperial context, we thus consider the ways in which the course aims to get you to think critically about key issues of methodology and epistemology involved in using film as historical source — production, plot, visuality, music — as well as issues of audience and reception. In so doing we aim to move beyond a treatment of film as either a free-floating text or a ‘mirror for England’ in order to situate it at a particular historical moment.

China since 1900

This course introduces the history of modern China since c.1900. No previous knowledge of Chinese history is necessary and all the texts are in English. The first half of the course looks at the politics, society, and culture of China during a period when the country experienced a constant battering by war, foreign imperialism, and economic and social crises. As China became a republic after the 1911 Revolution, nationalism, and anti-imperialism emerged as strong forces, and the Communist Party, which would eventually rule over a quarter of humanity, began its rise to power. The early twentieth century also saw the emergence of a mass popular culture (novels, films, cartoons), the growth of the modern city, changes in the position of women, and, not least, the massive upheavals of the 1937–45 war against Japan, the legacies of which continue down to the present. We then consider the cultural materials — domestic and foreign — used to build new political and social orders following the establishment of the People’s Republic of China in 1949. Topics include the impacts of war, family life, the abolition of market culture, agricultural collectivization, the Cultural Revolution, and the reintegration of China into global markets and cultures following the death of Mao Zedong in 1976 and the initiation of market reforms by Deng Xiaoping.

Court Culture and Art in Early Modern Europe, 1580–1700

This course is intended for students who wish to combine an interest in the structures of courts and court culture with an introduction to some of the major issues and methodological challenges involved in studying the history of art in a courtly context. The study of courts as the focus of political, social and cultural authority within the early modern state has been a dynamic and exciting area of historical enquiry in the last few decades. No less important has been the impact of both art historical and historical scholarship in exploring the practical mechanisms of art patronage, the use of art by rulers and other elites to construct justifications for the legitimization of authority, and the respective role of artists, patrons, and scholars in the formulation of ideological programmes within a court context. The course will seek to bring these two areas together by focusing on a number of specific courts and on wider issues connected with court patronage of the arts, the resources and aims of patrons, and the reactions of both courtly and non-courtly elites to these initiatives. An introductory class will examine some of the historiographical and methodological problems involved in studying courts and in coming to grips with what will be for some students the unfamiliar context of art historical scholarship. Subsequent classes will look at a range of European courts including the papal court in Rome, the English court from the reign of Elizabeth I to the Stuarts, the Habsburg court in Brussels, and Louis XIV’s Versailles, while additional topics will include the role of female patrons, the place of collecting in court patronage, and courts’ use of theatrical and musical performances, as well as entries.

The prescribed texts and documents will introduce students to the details of art commissions, inventories of collections, and correspondence between and among artists and elite patrons. Contemporary writings about artists give insights into issues such as factional rivalries, political or familial strategies, perceptions of artistic merit, and the status of artists in court culture. There are no prescribed images for this course, although students will be encouraged to analyse particular works of art as case studies in understanding the workings of patronage, the politics of display, and the operations of court ritual and etiquette.

Culture and Society in Early Renaissance Italy, 1290–1348

This subject engages with Italian society in a period of extraordinary flux and creativity. As the city-communes came to the end of their period of dominance in Italian politics, several among them — including Florence, Siena, and Padua, studied here — produced the most elaborate manifestations of civic pride and republican identity. These took the form not simply of governmental and financial institutions, but of newly created piazzas and town halls, statues and frescoes, church building and the elaboration of civic ceremony. In addition, the writing of history and of political and religious polemic contributed to current debate about the character and purpose of life in the cities — a debate which was conducted against a background of conflict and often extreme violence. All of these aspects of urban culture are represented among the various texts and images prescribed for the course.

Linking many of these themes is the career and work of Dante, whose Comedy is both an extraordinary creative achievement and a sustained critique of contemporary society. The psychological realism introduced into literature by Dante’s vast panorama finds a miniature successor in Petrarch’s The Secret, the witty self-analysis of a Christian man of classical letters. The transformation of the visual arts which also occurred at this time is represented by Giotto, Duccio, and their contemporaries, whose painting and sculpture is examined both with respect to its style and technique, and in relation to its patrons, setting, and audience.

The textual sources are prescribed in translation. A rich secondary literature exists in English.

Culture and Society in France from Voltaire to Balzac

This course will allow you to explore the main developments in French thought, manners, and social structures from the age of Enlightenment to the post-Revolutionary period of Romanticism and Realism. The prescribed texts offer a variety of sources (memoirs, novels, philosophical works, and travel accounts), and these will be studied within their social contexts, whose moeurs and mentalités they reflect. Topics covered include the literary and artistic transition from classical or neo-classical forms to Romanticism and to the early manifestations of Realism (especially in the novel); the function of land and office as mechanisms for social advancement from the noble and privileged society of the old regime to the emergence of other notables under Napoleon, the Bourbon Restoration, and the July Monarchy; how people survived the Revolution and adjusted to Napoleon’s dictatorship; the implications for the church and for religious expression of the Revolution’s secularizing measures and of Napoleon’s Concordat with the Pope; the impact of urbanization and embourgeoisement on the older rural structures and mentality; and the emergence of a distinctive feminist discourse and its impact on society.

Culture, Politics, and Identity in Cold War Europe, 1945–1968

The purpose of this course is to give students an introduction to the culture, emotions, and daily life of Europe from the final years of the Second World War to the end of the 1960s. The course is deliberately European, embracing both East and West, and encouraging students to make comparisons across the Iron Curtain. It also treats the politics and Cold War diplomacy of the period as the backdrop to the ways in which lives were impacted upon by the murderous events of the 1940s, by the social and economic changes of the post-war years, and by the new challenges of the 1960s. The set texts are subjective in character. They include novels such as Calvino’s description of the resistance in Italy, Kundera’s account of the Communist regime in Czechoslovakia, and Koeppen’s evocation of the world of middle-class Germans coming to terms with the legacies of Nazism; as well as major films of the era, such as Godard’s A bout de souffle and Fellini’s La dolce vita. There are also memoirs (such as that by Kovaly on life in Communist Prague), works of critical engagement (such as de Beauvoir’s The second sex), and Holocaust memories (Steinberg’s Speak you also).

Flanders and Italy in the Quattrocento, 1420–1480

This subject offers candidates the possibility of studying and comparing themes in cultural history which are often considered apart. Its aim is to examine aspects of the civilizations of both the ‘Gothic’ north and ‘Renaissance’ south in fifteenth-century Europe. In the north, the Low Countries witnessed the emergence of an art of remarkable naturalism (represented by Jan van Eyck, Roger van der Weyden, and Hans Memling). Meanwhile, the Italian peninsula saw the development of a more idealized vision of the world, beginning with the works of Masaccio and drawing increasingly on Greek and Roman Antiquity for both subject-matter and inspiration. Beside these apparently divergent tendencies, some common ground existed between the two cultures: urban life, the rise of princely courts and households, mercantile and financial contacts, and important movements in devotional religion. One purpose of the subject is therefore to examine the relationship between the visual art of these regions and the societies from which it emerged.

The prescribed texts and documents introduce the student to the theoretical literature of the arts as well as to the study of patronage and purchase: humanist treatises, contracts, inventories, and correspondence between patrons and artists. Devotional trends are illustrated by saints’ lives and by texts emanating from the Devotio Moderna of the age. Intermediaries between north and south such as diplomatic envoys, the agents of the Medici bank, and foreign observers are also represented. A selection of photographs of works of art, chosen to illustrate both differences and affinities, forms an important part of the source material. By studying visual and documentary evidence together, a reappraisal of the comparisons and contrasts between Netherlandish and Italian culture can be undertaken. In the process, material from cities other than Florence (e.g. Milan, Ferrara, Mantua, and Urbino) is studied and the role of princes as patrons emphasized.

The prescribed texts (with one exception) are available in English translation.

Imperialism and Nationalism, 1830–1980

An opportunity is offered in this course to study empire-building and freedom-fighting as aspects of the historical processes of imperialism; and so to extend knowledge of European history to other continents and other civilizations.

Consideration of the rise and fall of empires and the flight of phoenix nations from the ruins during the past century and a half is divided into two parts: the one invites broad analysis of the European and extra-European foundations of empire in the light of existing theories of imperialism and ‘orientalism’. The other requires closer study of the working of European expansion within the societies of a particular region, in the light of theories about indigenous collaboration and resistance, anti-imperial nationalism, and decolonization.

Some ideas which unify this field of study and provide tools for an analysis are outlined in two articles: J. Gallagher and R. Robinson, ‘The imperialism of free trade’, Economic History Review 6 (1953), 1–15; R. Robinson, ‘Non-European foundations of European empire’, in R. Owen and B. Sutcliffe (eds.), Studies in the theory of imperialism (1972) 117–142.

Those who take this course must choose one of the following topics for particular study:

  • South Asia, 1885–1947
  • Sub-Saharan Africa c.1870–1980
  • Britain’s settler colonies, 1830–1939
  • Globalization, Change, and Japanese Imperialism in South-East Asia, 1870–1950
  • Themes in the History of Slavery and Abolition

Intellect and Culture in Victorian Britain

This course aims to study the ideas and culture of the Victorians with some reference to their analytical content and social context. The topics covered range from progress and faith, through natural and social science, to fine art and gender. There are many common themes running through the texts, such as the tension between materialism and idealism, and between historical and positivist modes of thought. The set texts are grouped under headings which suggest the major issues to be explored.

Historical writings introduce the concept of ‘Whig’ history and the interaction between religious beliefs and the claims made for the value of the study of the past.

Social and economic thought examines the attempt to advance beyond the apparently well-established principles of political economy towards a ‘general science of society’ or sociology.

The religious texts embrace the spectrum from Catholicism and natural religion to agnosticism and secularism.

The section on art and society assesses the enormous influence of ‘cultural critics’, Carlyle, Ruskin, Matthew Arnold, and William Morris, whose perspectives were distinct from those of churchmen and sociologists. We are particularly fortunate in having a grand Ruskinian project — the University Museum — in Parks Road, and Ruskin’s own collection of drawings and watercolours, used in his teaching, in the Ashmolean Museum.

Education is important in raising directly the question of the role of women in Victorian culture, and shows how many of the intellectual developments of the period were reflected in the reform of the universities and public schools, and in the professionalization of study.

The scientific texts focus on Darwin and the impact of evolutionary thinking.

Literature and Politics in Early Modern England

The period for study, a golden one in English literary achievement, was one in which major poets and dramatists were involved in or preoccupied with political events. The course invites candidates to explore the relationship between literary developments and political ones. The following authors have been selected for study: More, Skelton, Wyatt, Surrey, Sidney, Spenser, Marlowe, Shakespeare (for whom the set texts are taken from his English and Roman history plays), Bacon, Jonson, Middleton, Massinger, Milton, Marvell. Students are encouraged to consider the lives and influences, as well as the writings, of these men, and to relate the writings to their historical contexts. They are also encouraged to read more widely in the literature of the period and to consider the historical changes which the literature of the period illuminates or reflects. Among the themes of the subject are: the court; humanism; nobility, honour and service; biography; literature and the nation; the relationship between Christian and classical values; early Stuart monarchy and the masque; the development of the history play; the relationship of the drama to politics and to Puritanism; the responses of writers to the Puritan revolution.

Medicine, Empire, and Improvement, 1720–1820

This course examines a period of great political and social upheaval, when notions of reform and improvement connected ideas about nature, empire, society, and the perfectibility of man. Health, disease, and medicine were, and are, matters of universal concern, creating a shared but changing vocabulary and set of ideas; this course demonstrates how medical concepts were used in defining the health of the body politic and how the experience of colonial warfare shaped Enlightenment medical practice. Many of the medical writers of the period were enterprising, outspoken, observant, and ideologically committed (or alternatively, unscrupulous) individuals who wandered the globe and played a major role in creating images of foreign environments for home consumption. They made significant contributions to debates on the effects of luxury, a matter of increased concern in the context of burgeoning imperial commerce. They also helped to define ‘Britishness’ in terms of Britons’ physical and mental responses to the colonial experience.

The primary focus is on Britain, but the chosen themes look outward to incorporate Britain’s relationships — physical and mental — with its growing empire, with America, and with France. The authors of the texts have been chosen partly on the basis of their intimate involvement with war, empire, religion, politics, and literature. The emphasis is on medicine as a measure of the cultural, economic, social, and physical environment. Overall, the environmental emphasis is strong, but students also look at medicine as an example of the rise of the middle class and the changing nature of social welfare and discipline. Were the new voluntary hospitals dominated by their medical staffs, or by their lay governors? Does the eighteenth century deserve its reputation as the high point of the commercialization of medicine? What were medical responses to industrialization and the changing nature of poverty, and how did these inform social and cultural practices?

Two further prominent themes are war, which was increasingly acquiring a global dimension; and colonialism, including the pathogenic effects of empire. The history of medicine and disease provide a tangible method with which to study Britain’s developing empire. During this period, Britain and most major European powers established or extended medical provisions for their armed forces, this being one of the few areas in which the state was prepared to intervene to protect the health of its subjects. This course aims to offer the broad appeal of the history of medicine, which sees medicine as a social and cultural response to problems of health and disease. ‘Medicine, Empire, and Improvement’ connects with topics of increasing interest such as racial difference, consumerism, colonialism, environmentalism, and ‘medicalization’ (the increasing authority of medical ideas in society as a whole). No technical or specialist background is assumed.

Nationalism in Western Europe, 1799–1890

The tumultuous events of the last decade of the twentieth century and the first years of this century have shown vividly the enduring power and influence of nationalism on the states and peoples of Europe. This course sets out to explore a central aspect of modern European history, and to introduce students to some of the genuinely seminal texts in the canon of contemporary political and social thought. Few political ideologies have exercised so long or so consistent an influence over the lives of contemporary Europeans as nationalism, making the search for its intellectual foundations — and the incongruities it spawned — all the more vital for an understanding of modern history, and of the European condition. The course traces the concept of nationalism to its modern origins and studies its evolution over the nineteenth century. This was the crucial period when nationalism entered the mainstream of European politics and came to dominate the political agenda of the continent, as witnessed by the political unifications of Italy and Germany.

This is not a straightforward political history of the nineteenth century. Rather, its purpose is to trace the evolution of an ideology, primarily through the founder-texts of its most influential exponents in Italy, Germany, and France, those parts of Europe where nationalism is now most readily identified with both state and people. The set texts include the seminal works of Hegel, Mazzini, Renan, Treitschke, Michelet, Fichte, and Gioberti. Their visions will be tested against their opponents, Marx and the Catholic Church among them. A continuing theme of the course is the shift of nationalist ideology from being the child of the revolutionary Left — culminating in the 1848 Revolutions — towards its identification with the Right and the forces of state authority by the end of the period. The thoughts of nationalist writers on the roles of religion, gender, the nature of the state, and the place of the past in shaping cultural identities will all be studied in depth. Crucially, we will explore the role of history and memory in the construction of nationhood — not just through the stirring narratives of seminal historians like Michelet and Treitschke, but also through iconic paintings depicting events from both the recent and more distant past. The music of Strauss and Verdi highlights the role of culture in national and political argument at this time.

This complex reality will be set alongside the ideas of the leading contemporary theorists of nationalism as a political ideology, including Benedict Anderson, John Breuilly, Ernest Gellner, and Anthony D. Smith. In this way, it is hoped to reveal the richness, potency, and complexity of the concept of nationalism in the era of its definition, and to test current thinking against its founder-texts. All texts are in English translation.

Nationalism, Politics, and Culture in Ireland, c.1870–1921

This course explores events and ideas in Ireland from the Home Rule era to the Anglo-Irish Treaty, stressing themes and rhetoric as much as narrative. Topics covered include the Fenian tradition (separatist ideology, republican rhetoric, emigre nationalism); the idea of Home Rule (Isaac Butt, federalism, Protestants, and nationality); the land issue; the Home Rule crisis of the 1880s; the polarization of Ulster Unionism and Catholic nationalism from that era; cultural revivalism and the debates over ‘Irishness’ from the 1890s; the development of radical political options such as Sinn Fein, suffragism, and cooperativism in the early 1900s; the pre-war crisis over Ulster and Home Rule; the 1916 Rising, the transformation of nationalist politics, and the rearrangement of Anglo-Irish relations. Students may consider the place of religion in Irish social life, the rhetoric of historical justification in Irish nationalism, the development of radical feminism and its interaction with nationalist politics, the language revival, journalistic controversies, the evolution of an Ulster identity, and the place of creative literature in creating nationalist imagery. W.B. Yeats, Augusta Gregory, Douglas Hyde, and George Moore are as central as Charles Stewart Parnell, Edward Carson, Constance Markiewicz, and Eamon de Valera. The set texts and suggested additional sources include pamphlets, newspapers, memoirs, polemic, poetry, and fiction as well as more conventional sources.

Political Theory and Social Science, c.1780–1920

This course is organized around the ideas and their authors which form the basis of our thinking about politics and society today. More recent thinkers have sought to add to Marx and Weber (for example), but they have not gone decisively beyond them, and they can only be construed as developments of what was said by their nineteenth- and early twentieth-century forebears. We still live in a world dominated by the thought-structures erected in the name of liberalism and socialism, and reports of Marx’s ‘death’ at the end of the Cold War have proved to be greatly exaggerated.
Three principal themes run through the course. First, engagement with the question ‘what was liberalism?’ For this was the era when it was laid down as a political theory by authors such as Hegel, de Tocqueville, and Mill, and then later reconsidered by Weber and Durkheim. But was there one liberalism for all? And if not, what did this mean? The complement to this is consideration of Marx. As even his enemies concede(d), he was a fabulously (or fiendishly) clever man, and the study of his writings within the context supplied by hegemonic liberalism and emergent socialism is a classic opportunity for the exercise of pure historical method detached from modern hindsight. We also take in his intellectual legacy. Here Eduard Bernstein (the original ‘revisionist’) is our text, but the broader focus is on European socialism and their bourgeois-liberal opponents as they wrestled over Marx’s bequest. A third major theme is the introduction of a new category of ‘social’ thought, as a complement and contrast to ‘political thought’. This was an epoch-making expansion of a traditional frame of reference that could be traced back to Aristotle’s Politics, and it affected all thinkers in our period. Thus the category of the ‘social’ produced not only ‘socialism’ but the liberal distinction between ‘the state’ and ‘civil society’, and the new discipline of ‘social science’ or ‘sociology’. The last was of particular importance in French thought (Comte and Durkheim are both set authors), but it was also a major concern for J.S. Mill and Max Weber. Their thinking raised at least two key questions. First, was political behaviour a derivative from social foundations or not? Secondly, was it better to study men and women in a group context through political or social science? The latter question was one of method and did not necessarily imply any political or social commitment, but still it was far from neutral.

Many other themes might be noted. For example, how important were national and international traditions? How different were the English and the Americans (represented by Thorstein Veblen) from Continental Europeans? Another major presence in our texts is the attempt to grapple with an idea that developed after 1789: that the state was entirely autonomous and required no religious foundation. But was this true? Many, including secular and politically ‘advanced’ thinkers, doubted whether the world could be changed quite so radically and suddenly.

Scholastic and Humanist Political Thought

This course deals with the transformation of systematic political thinking in the West from sublimated theology and jurisprudence into an autonomous discipline. The process was primarily one of interpreting recently rediscovered texts from the ancient world. The first, and arguably the most important, of these were the authoritative sixth-century compilation of Roman law known as the Corpus Iuris Civilis and Aristotle’s major philosophical works. Both presented, or were taken to present, ready-made intellectual systems which could only with some ingenuity be reconciled with the teachings of the church, the realities of later medieval Europe, and with each other. A third strand was represented primarily by writers of Latin prose, notably Cicero and Seneca, most of whose works had not been lost during the early Middle Ages, but who began to be read in a new way by the scholars we term humanists.

The set texts by Aquinas and Marsilius of Padua represent very different attempts to grapple with the implications of Aristotle’s teaching: Aquinas’s on an abstruse, architectonic level, Marsilius’s in terms of the (allegedly pernicious) reality of papal authority within Western Christendom. Machiavelli tried to apply the teachings of the Roman moralists to politics as it was practised in the early sixteenth century, and shocked his readers by excising God from the question. The further texts allow us to explore the issues in greater detail, looking at how Aristotle, Roman law, and the canon law of the church could be used to develop coherent theories of government covering emperors and popes, kings and city communes, and their interrelations. They also illustrate the early development of humanist political thinking, and the different forms it took in Northern Europe and in Italy. By the end of the course it should be clear why Western political thought has taken such a distinctive form.

The Age of Jefferson, 1774–1826

At an Oval Office reception honouring all living United States Nobel laureates President John F. Kennedy joked, ‘there hasn’t been so much talent assembled in this room since Thomas Jefferson dined alone.’ Jefferson stands out, even in an age of polymaths, both for the breadth of his interests and for his influence on American history. Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence and served as America’s minister to France during the initial stages of the French Revolution. Breaking with Washington, he helped create partisan politics in America before serving as the third president of the United States. By concluding the Louisiana Purchase and authorizing the Lewis Clark expedition Jefferson established the United States as a nation with continental aspirations. His actions in respect of the Haitian revolution and the Napoleonic Wars, coupled with his Anglophobia, situated America within the wider world. Following the deaths of Franklin and Washington, Jefferson was to all intents and purposes the embodiment of the Founding Fathers and the recipient and originator of a vast correspondence on American government, science, and culture. In retirement as in office he helped define the new nation.

This course uses Jefferson’s life and writings to pose a number of questions about the age in which he lived. For example, what was the impress of the Enlightenment on the conduct of government and intellectual enquiry during this period? Was Jefferson’s obnoxious racism and hostility to the abolition of slavery sui generis or widely held? What were the origins and influence of ‘Jeffersonian’ theories of democracy? How far were men in Jefferson’s position able to embrace ‘the age of the common man?’ What value should historians place on intellectual or political consistency? To what extent is America an exceptional nation?

The Authority of Nature: Race, Heredity, and Crime, 1800–1940

Starting with the second half of the eighteenth century, power relationships between peoples on earth, the growing and dramatic division between dominant nations and nations that were dominated, or even eliminated, and indeed the foundations of social inequalities, were increasingly seen by Western naturalists and intellectuals as inevitable features of the order of nature. Racial weakness was regarded as inscribed in the shape of human skulls, individual deficiencies in the traits of human faces. The attempt to ground political and social phenomena on the authority of nature preceded the advent of Darwinism in the 1860s. It could indeed be claimed that the immediate and chaotic spread of Social Darwinism within the Western world simply reflected the widespread presence of attitudes and beliefs for which Charles Darwin, often unwittingly, appeared to provide authoritative scientific evidence. Darwin himself, in the last analysis, shared many of the presuppositions of his self-appointed and at times extreme followers, and predicted that many peoples on earth would disappear as the inevitable, regrettable consequence of natural laws regulating the relationships between biological populations. Yet the ‘natural’ triumph of the ‘civilizing’ imperial Western powers was not granted.

Once again, the struggle for life and natural selection had to be called upon to express anxieties about the stability of the social order. The mounting aggressiveness of the ‘dangerous classes’ and the fertility of the lower orders were jeopardizing the efforts of the ‘natural’ elites that were responsible for civilization and imperial advances. The superior races had to exercise control over the less endowed ones, in the same way as the social elites had to carefully monitor demographic and political transformations that in the long term would endanger the survival of the race itself. Chronic illnesses, moral insensitivity, atavist aggressiveness had to be curbed through a rigid control of immigration and reproduction. Racial anthropology found its parallel in criminal anthropology and criminology. Crime was seen as a natural phenomenon for which, often, there was no cure. Individuals as well as crowds often showed the survival of traits that characterized previous stages in the development of society, or in the natural history of man. ‘Beastly behaviours’ and ‘savage crimes’ became expressions that summed up a widespread climate of opinion. The survival of nations depended on their capacity to steer the reproductive flow and to isolate and possibly eliminate the danger that lethal traits would further spread throughout society.

To some legislative bodies, such as the State of Indiana in 1907 and 1927, forced sterilization appeared as a benign solution capable of stopping the spread of dangerous individual traits. To National Socialist political and scientific leaders in Germany, sterilization had to be accompanied by stronger measures, such as forced isolation and straightforward physical elimination. A strong state had to take strong measures to survive and to lead. Has the tragic lesson of negative eugenics during the 1930s and the early 1940s been learnt? A final lecture will be devoted to the periodic resurgence of attitudes appealing to the authority of nature and of science to explain complex social and historical phenomena. Is intelligence hereditary, geographically and socially distributed, and can ‘science’ prescribe social norms and suggest political measures?

The Carolingian Renaissance

‘Carolingian Renaissance’ is a term used to describe the cultural, intellectual, and religious awakening of Western Europe in the eighth century which in due course found its natural centre in the court school of Charlemagne and thence returned, in the ninth century and under fresh stimulus, to the churches and monasteries equipped to realize its implications. It thus gathers up what of Antiquity and Patristic learning had been preserved and hands it on, transmuted, to become the basis of European thinking about the aims of society until comparatively recent times. Its range is so great, and its implications so vast, that no set of prescribed texts could in practice cover it. The texts that have been chosen (in English translation) illustrate some of its principal themes and some of the ways in which those themes were modified in the course of a century’s experiment. The texts include a generous selection of the revealing correspondence of two scholars at the centre of affairs, Alcuin and Lupus of Ferrières; biography and narrative material; an educational manual; several Carolingian capitularies (the programmatic foundation of the Renaissance); some charters; a little theology and liturgical material; and a selection of poetry. Special attention is paid to the artistic and architectural aspects of the Renaissance.

The Crusades c.1095–1291

The Crusades were a central phenomenon of the High Middle Ages. The product of a Western aristocratic society suffused by a martial culture and a militant religion, they reveal aspects of social relations, popular spirituality, techniques of waging war, and attitudes to violence. They retain interest for a modern world to which Holy War and ideological justification of violence are no strangers. The aim of the course is twofold: (i) a full exploration of the dramatic events of the campaigns in the Near East, covering the experience as well as the motivations of crusaders and settlers; and (ii) an investigation of the interaction over a period of two centuries between Western Christians and the indigenous populations, both Christian and Islamic, in and around the states and settlements established in the East. The subject embraces spectacular events and vivid personalities, including Saladin, one of the few Muslims to gain a reputation in medieval Europe, but the set texts also enable students to study broader themes: ideologies (Christian Holy War and Islamic Jihad), institutions (the ‘feudal’ structure of the Latin kingdom of Jerusalem or the Military Orders), military history (castles, siege warfare), as well as social and cultural encounters at this meeting point of the Mediterranean civilizations of the Middle Ages: Greek, Arabic, Jewish, and Latin. In recent years the Crusades have attracted a wealth of new research and debate. Students thus have access to a rich and accessible secondary material against which to establish their own views. The texts, translated from Arabic and Greek as well as Latin and medieval French, are kept to a manageable size and provide opportunities for critical comparison of different contemporary view-points of the same events or issues.

The First Industrial Revolution, 1700–1870

This subject explores the transformations of Britain’s society and economy during the Industrial Revolution. It explores the causes and nature of industrialization, urbanization, and economic modernization; the social dislocations associated with economic change; and the changing economic, administrative, and social discourses which helped reshape Britain’s economic relations and social institutions. Topics studied include agricultural change, the rise of manufacturing industry, the nature of British capitalism, labour discipline, the problems of poverty and attitudes towards the poor, changes in social structure, demography, public health and social reform, fiscal and financial policy, and the central analytical concepts embedded in a vibrant and extensive secondary literature. Prescribed texts range from Gregory King’s Natural and political observations (1696) and Daniel Defoe’s Tour thro’ the whole island of Great Britain (1724–6) to social surveys in the mid-nineteenth century and Sir Robert Giffen’s ‘The progress of the working classes in the last half century’ (1883). Other texts include the classic surveys of agriculture by Arthur Young and James Caird, Malthus’s seminal ‘Essay on the principle of population’ (1798), parliamentary reports on poverty, education, and banking, Adam Smith’s Wealth of nations, and autobiographies of working people.

The Metropolitan Crucible: London 1685–1815

‘Sir, when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life: for there is in London all that life can afford.’ Imbued with the spirit of Samuel Johnson’s famous dictum, this course analyses eighteenth-century London’s profound influence as an agent of change across a broad range of themes — social, economic, political, and cultural. As capital city, London has always played a significant role in national developments, but many historians have seen its impact in this era at its most fundamental, ushering in many of the recognizable features of modernity. A variety of vibrant and stimulating texts have been chosen to stimulate student thinking on London’s influence on great transformations such as the rise of the public sphere, the dawn of empire, and the birth of the financial City, which sources give voice to both the excitement and the concerns resulting from the capital’s growth.

The course is structured to enable close study of important developments within the capital. The eight classes will be structured along topographical lines to focus attention on key sites of change, taking a tour through the polite West End ‘town’, the courtly and parliamentary world of Westminster, the commercial-finance district of Exchange Alley; the burgeoning press of Fleet Street; the East End centres of manufacture and shipping; and the new suburban areas. The six tutorials would complement the classes by studying London’s growth in more thematic terms, embracing such topics as social change, political culture, economic organization, religious pluralism, and the imperial metropole. When combined, these approaches would enable students to gain a comprehensive overview of metropolitan change, and to locate it within broader contexts of urban and national development.

This course will take advantage of an exciting and growing historiography of recent years. The texts will enable students to engage with a wide range of sources (maps, literary works, histories, statistical series, diaries, travellers’ accounts, cartoons).

The Middle East in the Age of Empire, 1830–1971

This course will introduce students to the modern history of the Middle East and North Africa, focusing on the social and political history of the Arab world in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. No prior knowledge of Arab or Islamic history is required and all texts will be in English. A recurrent focus of tension and conflict, and of often highly polemical political commentary, the Middle East present both an important and distinctive historical experience in its own right, and an opportunity for students to engage with major global themes of rapid and uneven economic and social change, the long-term impact of imperialism and nationalism, and the difficulties of adequately explaining ‘modernization’ and its effects in a major part of the ‘global south’. The central themes of the region’s internal development in relation to pressures from outside forces will be examined through primary sources illustrating diplomatic, social, political, and cultural aspects of Arab history in this period. From the occupation of Algiers in 1830 to the partition of the Ottoman Empire in 1919, the Arab world struggled to come to terms with its changing position in a new imperial world order; the struggle to establish state sovereignty and national self-determination would prove no easier in the twentieth century.

Throughout this period, however, the course emphasizes how Arab men and women, far from becoming merely ‘victims of history’, adapted to changing circumstances and articulated their aspirations. The region will be approached from its ‘peripheries’ in the Gulf and North Africa, beginning with the changing commercial and political relations between British India and the coasts of the Arabian peninsula, and between the states of the Maghrib and southern Europe, in the mid-nineteenth century, and concluding with the independence of the Gulf states in 1971. Along the way, we shall consider the internal transformation and eventual break-up of the Ottoman Empire, the intense European colonization of North Africa and its more ‘indirect’ imperialism elsewhere, the emergence and ambiguities of Arab nationalism, the struggle over Israel and Palestine, and the ‘end of an era’ marked on one hand by Suez and the Algerian revolution, on the other by the death of Nasser and the ‘Black September’ expulsion of the PLO from Jordan.

The Military and Society in Britain and France, c.1650–1815

The course offers students the opportunity to explore, within a comparative context, the relationship between the armed forces and society from the end of the Thirty Years War to the conclusion of the Napoleonic Wars. This century and a half was marked by almost constant European conflict, fought across the globe and drawing on, and affecting the lives of, an ever-increasing number of people. The era also saw significant developments in the ways war was practised, organized, financed, and justified. A key aim of the course is to suggest ways in which military history can be embedded within the wider framework of political, social, and cultural history, as well as within the context of the history of medicine and gender studies. It will focus primarily on Britain and France although it will consider other European states, such as Prussia, where appropriate.
We will begin with the lively historiographical debate over the ‘military revolution’, grappling with the role of the changing nature of warfare in the genesis of the modern state. The course will provide an opportunity to examine how states sourced and resourced military manpower. We will also consider private entrepreneurship, privateering, irregular warfare, the representation of the military in art and literature, the impact of disease on the waging of war, and the position of soldiers, sailors, veterans, and prisoners of war within civil society. More generally, readings will investigate the extent to which different political systems shaped military cultures and priorities, and will think about the ways in which service and combat were experienced by military personnel. This period saw the development of revolutionary ideas about the French nation in arms, alongside the global ascendency of British imperial force. We will evaluate the nature of these transformations. Readings include primary sources detailing legal and philosophical theories of war, alongside journals, letters, memoirs, and political correspondence recording the experience of warfare on land and sea. Students will be encouraged to study the collections of the National Army Museum and the National Maritime Museum (both in London) and visit Blenheim Palace, Woodstock, the Royal Naval Hospital, Greenwich, and the Royal Hospital, Chelsea.

The Near East in the Age of Justinian and Muhammad, 527–c.700

This course provides an opportunity for historians to study in depth the dramatic transformation of the Near East at the end of the classical period. The scope of the subject is vast, encompassing as it does eight cultures and two seismic events. The twin civilized powers of classical Antiquity, the Roman and Persian Empires, were both destroyed in the period, under the violent pressure of the Arab conquests and the massive influx of Slavs into the Balkans. These two old and two new cultures stand at the heart of the subject, but four other cultures are illuminated by the prescribed texts — the Coptic society of late Roman Egypt, the Syrian world of the Fertile Crescent, the fragmented society of Armenia, and the great nomad powers of the Eurasian steppes.

Students may study the following major themes: (i) the social and cultural history of the rich eastern provinces of the Roman Empire — Mesopotamia, Syria, Palestine, and Egypt — in the reign of Justinian, and, in particular, the half-articulated thought-world of monks and holy men and the strident, sophisticated theological arguments of the higher clergy; (ii) Roman–Persian relations; (iii) the nomad invasions and Slav colonization of the Balkan provinces of Rome; (iv) the rise of Islam and the Arab conquests. For many takers this last theme has proved particularly absorbing, as the prescribed texts, together with the Quran, enable the historian to trace the growth of Muslim power from the first halting words of the Prophet to Islam’s conquest of the Near East.

The Science of Society, 1650–1800

Between 1650 and 1800 political thought in Europe was transformed by the need to come to terms with the rise of commercial economies and the open, mobile societies which they created. At the same time many political thinkers were inspired by the contemporary revolution in the natural sciences to attempt to place the understanding of man and society on a similarly new footing. New theories of human nature and historical development were advanced and the scope of political thinking extended to include the workings of economy and society. Among the key issues to be confronted as a result were the role of divine providence in human history, the historical authority of the Bible, the scope for religious toleration, the rights and obligations of the individual in person and property, the moral consequences of commerce and luxury, and the value of civilization itself.

The starting point is Hobbes’s Leviathan, whose rigorous attempt to place the understanding of man and society on a natural, scientific basis provided a constant reference point for later thinkers. By contrast, Vico’s New science offers an extraordinarily imaginative historical account of how man became social. From the period of the Enlightenment, Rousseau’s Discourses on the arts and sciences, On the origin of inequality and On political economy present a radical critique of modern man and his civilization, while Adam Smith’s Wealth of nations and Theory of moral sentiments respectively expound the new discipline of political economy, and defend the moral values of modern society. Texts by Spinoza, Locke, Mandeville, Montesquieu, Herder, and Kant provide further insight.

The Soviet Union, 1924–1941

This course provides an opportunity to study the history of the Soviet Union from the later years of the ‘New Economic Policy’ to the outbreak of war with Germany. The course examines the establishment of the Stalinist regime, its changing policies, and developments in Russian culture and society. Particular topics include political and social conflict in the late 1920s; the ‘Right’ and ‘Left’ oppositions; the consolidation of Stalin’s power; the origins of the ‘Great Terror’; industrialization; collectivization and the peasantry; the cultural intelligentsia; film, literature and music during the 1930s; propaganda; popular culture; women; the family; the Comintern; and foreign policy. The primary material, all in English or in English translation, includes a wide range of sources, including official documents recently released from the Russian archives, memoirs, and film. There is also a lively secondary literature.

The Viking Age: War and Peace c.750–1100

Modern scholarship has drawn out the respectable side of Scandinavian activity in the Viking Age: Norwegian reindeer barons, Danish diplomats in Frankia, Swedish fur-traders on the Upper Volga, and Icelandic explorers along the coasts of North America. But these industrious and entrepreneurial people should be set alongside the armies which sacked the monastery of Lindisfarne, mounted an eight-month siege of Paris, stormed the imperial city of Constantinople, and drained thousands of pounds of silver from royal coffers in protection money. The extent of the economic, political, and psychological damage inflicted by Vikings on their victims still occasions debate, although attention now focuses equally on their social and economic networks and on issues of cultural, social, and religious identity and interaction.

The course follows warriors, merchants, and migrants from their origins in the Scandinavian kingdoms to the settlements they established in England, Ireland, Scotland, the North Atlantic, Normandy, and Russia. It makes substantial use of material evidence, including new discoveries. Excavated sites and burials, coins, sculpture, and dress-ornaments are all crucial to the historian in understanding aspects of the period. There is also a wealth of written source material, which ranges from the respectably historical — such as royal charters — to the hagiographical and the downright literary, such as the vernacular poetry and prose of Iceland, for example, which served as a vehicle for memory of the Viking Age when oral tradition was converted into writing. The surviving sources raise thought-provoking issues relating to the interpretation and application of evidence and encourages us to refine our conception of the practice of history and the historian’s task. All sources will be available in translation. Many of the texts are very short, being poems, letters, or even place-names. Others pick out relevant sections from much longer writings, such as the biography of King Alfred. Major texts include the biography of the missionary St Anskar, the saga of the great Viking hero Egil, and the account of a pagan Viking’s funeral by an Arab envoy to the Volga river in the 920s. All sources will be available in translation.

The Wars of the Roses, 1450–1500

The Wars of the Roses were a prolonged period of political disorder and conflict in fifteenth-century England, stemming from the disastrous reign of Henry VI and issuing forth in a series of popular uprisings, magnate rebellions, battles, skirmishes, and usurpations of the throne. They took place in a polity with strong central institutions and powerful civic values — and they were, in this sense, civil wars, fought by lords and commons alike over the demand for good government and the need to restore authority. Yet because this polity was also founded on structures of lordship, deriving from the ownership of land and perpetuated by habits of deference, chivalry, and personal authority, the wars were also conflicts between families and friends, and were equally concerned with property, territory, and local power. What lay behind the assertive behaviour of such ‘over mighty subjects’ as Richard of York and Warwick the Kingmaker? What led to the usurpations of Edward IV, Richard III, and Henry VII, and why did only two of them succeed? How did politicians, thinkers, and ordinary people respond to the experience of civil war? How much impact did the limited fighting — estimated at only thirteen weeks of actual campaigning — really have? And how was this fighting managed? The English were used to sending small semi-professional armies to France: how did they raise troops and conduct campaigns when the enemy was other Englishmen, and the aim not conquest, but political advantage? As far as government is concerned, many historians have argued for a strengthening of royal power during the 1470s, 80s, and 90s, but it remains unclear what caused this strengthening, or how it fits with the many challenges and set-backs experienced by the kings of these decades.

To these interpretative questions, the sources add a further layer of interest and complexity. The government records of the time are often very bland, masking conflict and precarious authority behind the measured language of bureaucrats. Gentry correspondences, such as the Paston letters, contain rumours, newsletters, and even eyewitness accounts, but they are far from neutral and not always as well informed as they appear. Then there are the highly coloured narratives of contemporary politicians and commentators: not only are the biases of these accounts difficult to read, they also involve a further complication — the first substantial reception into English political discourse of Renaissance terminologies and motifs, as the Englishmen of this period compared their politics to those of the decaying Roman Republic. And there are other materials requiring even greater ingenuity to read — prophecies, buildings, works of art, and the recently discovered burial pit at Towton. What J.R. Lander called ‘the dark glass of the fifteenth century’ can be approached from many directions, and discovering how to see through it is one of the great challenges of the period.

So it is that although the Wars of the Roses have attracted a great deal of research and provide the focus for extremely lively (not to say combative) historical debate, there is no overall agreed characterization of the conflict; lots of questions, both large and small, remain open; and there remains a lot for students to get their teeth into.

Women, Gender, and Print Culture in Reformation England, c.1530–1640

This course offers the opportunity to develop an interest in the culture of the English Reformation, and to deepen an understanding of gender, and of the ways in which historians can engage with popular literature to illuminate early modern society.

The course explores the intersection of three vibrant areas of historical and literary debate. This is a period in which claims are made for a crisis in gender relations and in which the official Reformation changes are experienced in a process of cultural negotiation in which the commercialized culture of print has a significant role. Religious polemic is intensively conducted in gendered terms, with the Whore of Babylon, for example, epitomizing spiritual fornication, while sanctity, whether of martyrs, holy maids, or godly laity, is filtered through Catholic and Protestant expectations, enabling both assertiveness and the emblematic passivity of women as the weaker vessel. The nature of women debate is transformed in this period from scholarly exercise to more strident polemical exchanges in which female voices add their own defence, while discussions about the nature of marriage, subjection, and the idea of the family as the microcosm of the state show an ongoing concern to accommodate political and scriptural principles with Protestant experience. Finally, sensational pamphlets depicting infanticide, murder, and witchcraft enabled unnatural behaviour to be conscripted, with varying degrees of success, into Protestant propaganda exploring individual responsibility, the devil, sin, and temptation. Students will also be expected to relate their interpretation of the texts to the wider social and religious context and to consider the historical changes that this literature may illuminate or reflect. Issues of style and genre, and their evolution in this period, also have a bearing on how such literature can be interpreted by historians. Similarly useful is an understanding of the economics of the ‘marketplace of print’, of the construction of public opinion, and of the ways in which male and female writers addressed the ‘stigma of print’.

Witchcraft and Witch-Hunting in Early Modern Europe

This course aims to give students an understanding of the causes and courses of witch-hunting in early modern Europe. It will consider the intellectual background of the witch-hunt; the relationship of witchcraft to the Protestant and Catholic reformations; the diverse and changing legal and judicial arrangements. Literary and feminist theories jostle with readings inspired by anthropology and psychoanalysis. We will also focus upon the cultural and social context of the witch-hunt: issues such as the high proportion of women who were accused and executed will be addressed. The literature of witchcraft is diverse and methodologically sophisticated. There are many conflicting interpretations, and many different approaches. Students will be introduced to these approaches, and encouraged to engage with them critically. Students will also be introduced to primary source material from a wide geographical area, and a variety of genres, and encouraged to analyse these carefully.

Writing in the Early Modern Period, 1550–1750

The advent of the electronic age has encouraged historians to reflect critically on the communication and information technologies of past centuries. The early modern period is known as the age of the previous media revolution, when the rise of the print industry led to the dissemination of texts on an unprecedented scale, playing an important role in other major upheavals, such as the Reformation and the scientific revolution. Yet as we are learning today, media revolutions are never a simple transformation from one medium to another. In the same way, script remained crucial during the centuries that followed Gutenberg’s invention. Even in the fields or spheres of activity most associated with the new technology, such as literature, script continued to exist alongside print, complementing rather than relegated to the sidelines. In many others, and especially in the practical undertakings of everyday life, it never ceased to be the major non-oral medium for early modern communication and information.

This course explores the materials, forms, and purposes of script between 1550 and 1750 to reconstruct the experience of writing in the early modern period, focusing on Western Europe but also following the Roman script to the New World and the flow of information between West and East. Writing has always been a manual labour, and especially so in the age of the quill pen and of home-made ink. We will thus examine the materials, implements, and surfaces of script and how they shaped its outputs. Who had access to the technology of writing in the early modern period? We will interrogate the practices of ordinary writers as well as professional practitioners such as scribes and notaries. We will study a variety of forms, from the sophisticated tools of the learned, through correspondence and other instruments of everyday life, to political documents. Finally, we will look at the afterlife of writings, in the practices of record-keeping and archiving, in order to understand how contemporaries dealt with the first crisis of information overload.

The course thus introduces students to cutting-edge scholarship and to a wide variety of primary sources. It draws on the richness of resources at Oxford, from pre-modern archives to twenty-first-century digital projects. In keeping with the emphasis on the materiality of writing, students will work as far as possible with original documents, aided, where necessary, by digital reproductions, transcriptions, and translations.

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