Ancient and Modern History students at Somerville investigate connections between the ancient world and our more recent past as part of a vibrant community spanning several subject courses.

When selecting our students, we look for active curiosity about the past, and the ability to analyse information, to argue logically, and to think creatively. You don’t need to have studied Latin or Greek before; while some Latin is necessary for certain optional papers, and knowledge of either language is very helpful in general terms, you will be able to learn either language as a beginner upon starting the course.

For full information about the admissions requirements, visit the University’s course page.

Teaching and learning

Your Ancient History tutorials in college will be taught by Professor Beate Dignas. Beate specialises in late classical Hellenistic civilisation and the cultures and history of ancient Anatolia, and her research examines cultural phenomena such as the genesis of the cult of Dionysus in Mysia; and the textual and visual representation of satyrs in the ancient Hellenistic world. Somerville’s Tutor in Modern History is Associate Professor Faridah Zaman, a historian of the modern British Empire, South Asia and global intellectual history. Her current research centres on the development of History as an academic discipline in Britain from the late eighteenth century, and its relationship to the expansion and legitimisation of empire; and muslim intellectual life in early 20th century British India.

First year Ancient and Modern History students might be expected to write one essay a week and attend one tutorial, and go to around 4 lectures. For your second and third years, you can choose from a large and diverse range of possible lecture topics, and faculty classes will supplement your tutorials by giving you a chance to discuss work with a larger number of students. In your third year, you will be able to carry out an independent piece of research. 

Throughout the course, you are free to pursue your academic interests; we will arrange teaching for any topic you’re interested in that falls outside of the expertise of our teaching staff. Please refer to the University’s History website for details of the syllabus.

Somerville’s outstanding College Library is particularly strong in History, Ancient Art and Archaeology. The Ashmolean museum with its rich Greek & Roman collections and the Sackler Library, one of the best specialist Classics libraries in the world, are  both five minutes’ walk away, and the History Faculty Library and the Faculty’s Classics Centre are also close by as well. 

The College is able to offer some financial support to students who wish to travel to countries they are studying, and there are special funds for travel by history students and for visits to Classical sites.

For more information about the course structure and admissions requirements, visit the University’s course page.


Somerville was active in setting up this joint school and we normally seek to admit two candidates per year. Our Ancient and Modern historians enjoy close connections to the vibrant communities of two of the largest schools in the College, namely Modern History and Classics. 

Somerville has a rich tradition of distinguished scholars of classical civilisation, including our former principal Barbara Craig; Dame Averil Cameron; Isobel Henderson; Joyce Reynolds; and Dame Kathleen Kenyon. 

Next steps

Students of Ancient & Modern History have the opportunity to acquire skills in analysis and communication that make them attractive for many employers. Somerville students have gone on to careers in media, law, teaching, management, the civil service, and many other destinations.

Fellows and Lecturers
  • Beate Dignas

    Barbara Craig Fellow & Tutor in Ancient History; Associate Professor in Ancient History
  • Tessa Rajak

    Senior Research Fellow; Emeritus Professor of Ancient History, University of Reading; Senior Associate of the Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies
  • Faridah Zaman

    Fellow & Tutor in History; Associate Professor of the History of Britain and the World
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