How do we know about the past and how does it inform the present? Historians at Somerville grapple with evidence and scholarship to answer these questions and more.

Teaching

We are strongly and proudly committed to excellent teaching. Our tutors place real emphasis on helping students develop the intellectual and study skills they need to be effective historians. We are always thinking about how to be better teachers, and we engage in ongoing dialogue with our students to ensure we understand how best they learn.

We have three Fellows in History at Somerville, with expertise spanning the last 1000 years. Professor Faridah Zaman is a historian of the modern British Empire, South Asia, and global intellectual history, whose current work focuses on Muslim intellectual life in early twentieth-century British India and the relationship between empire and political ideas in the imperial metropole. Professor Natalia Nowakowska’s research centres on late medieval and early modern Europe, with a focus on the history of Poland. She also writes on her blog, Somerville Historian, about her experiences of teaching and researching at Oxford. Professor Benjamin Thompson is a medieval historian who specialises in the role of the church in society and politics in England.

Our historians are well supported. The College library has one of the best-stocked history sections of any Oxford college, taking up almost the entire first floor of the building. We have a special fund for History students (the Alcuin Fund), which supports travel related to study or self-development. Our History students also routinely win college awards aimed at broadening student horizons and equipping them for life after their studies, including through financial support for academic and non-academic internships.

Foreign languages are a crucial tool for historians, opening up whole new worlds of sources and literature. The college recognises this by funding foreign language lessons that relate to your degree – and the college site also happens to be across the road from the University Language Centre. From 2025, Somerville will also become a close neighbour to the new Stephen A. Schwarzman Building for the Humanities. This building will provide a new home for the Oxford History Faculty along with a host of other humanities departments and a range of teaching, exhibition and performance spaces.

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

Community

Somerville has one of the largest and most vibrant communities of historians in Oxford. We admit 12-14 undergraduates a year who study History or one of the wide range of joint History degrees we offer: History and English, History and Economics, History and Modern Languages, and Ancient and Modern History. 

This critical mass of historians – spanning from freshers to professional scholars with decades of research experience – enables us to talk and think creatively in college about the past, and not just in tutorials. The Somerville History Society, run by our undergraduate students, offers social events and speaker evenings (recent guests have included museum curators and advisors on period dramas) and organises an annual fancy-dress History Dinner in Hilary term.

Somerville itself is steeped in history despite being a relatively young college. Our alumni have become major figures in twentieth-century Britain and the world beyond – Margaret Thatcher, Indira Gandhi, Dorothy Hodgkin, Vera Brittain, Iris Murdoch, and Shirley Williams. Our college archives house the personal papers of many of our notable alumni, as well as the personal library of the philosopher of liberalism and advocate for women’s higher education, John Stuart Mill. We also have a rare first edition of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, with a dedication to the Scottish polymath Mary Somerville (the individual for whom the word ‘scientist’ was first created and for whom the college is named).

On the walls of the college dining hall, you will not see portraits of medieval bishops and benefactors but images of Victorian and Edwardian women who were instrumental in opening Oxford up to a wider body of students – not only women but also those beyond the Anglican Church. Somerville was founded to be an iconoclastic place of learning that would include the excluded, and that mindset fits very well with the discipline of History itself, in which everything is open to challenge and questioning.

Next Steps

Oxford History graduates are desirable employees for many firms. Our students go into a diverse range of careers, including law, banking, journalism, the civil service, library and archives work, teaching and more. Many also choose to study further: recent graduates have gone on to Master’s and PhD programmes in History, Archaeology, International Relations, Human Rights, and Economics, for instance. We stay in touch with recent History graduates, and each year, a number of them come back to college to speak to current History students about their career trajectories at our annual Historian Look Forward event.

Fellows and Lecturers
  • Helen Flatley

    Departmental Lecturer
  • Joanna Innes

    Senior Research Fellow; Professor Emeritus of Modern History
  • Gillian Lamb

    Stipendiary Lecturer
  • Natalia Nowakowska

    Fellow & Tutor in History; Professor in Early Modern History
  • Chloe Pieters

    Stipendiary Lecturer
  • Frank Prochaska

    Senior Research Fellow
  • Benjamin Thompson

    Fellow and Tutor in Medieval History; Associate Professor of Medieval History; Associate Head (Education) of Humanities Division, Oxford University
  • Faridah Zaman

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