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.
We have a strong and proud commitment to excellent teaching. Our tutors place real emphasis on helping you to develop the intellectual and study skills you need to be an effective historian. We are always thinking about how to be better teachers, and there is an on-going dialogue with the students to make sure we understand how best they learn.
We have three Fellows in History at Somerville, with expertise spanning the last 1000 years. Associate 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 20th century British India; and the relationship between history’s evolution as an academic discipline in Britain and the expansion and legitimisation of empire. 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. Dr 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 two special funds aimed primarily at History students, covering travel related to study (Loach Fund) or self-development aimed at equipping oneself to make a social or public contribution after your studies (Hughes-Alcuin Fund). 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 in the immediate vicinity of the University Language Centre.
For more information on course structure and admissions requirements, visit the University’s course page.
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 large range of joint History degrees we offer: History and English, History and Economics, History and Modern Languages, 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 offers social events and speaker evenings (recent guests have included Professor Diarmaid MacCulloch), and the tutors organise an annual History Dinner in Hilary term.
Somerville itself is steeped in history despite being a relatively young college. Our alumni have become major figures in 20th-century Britain and the world beyond – Margaret Thatcher, Indira Gandhi, Dorothy Hodgkin, Vera Brittain and Shirley Williams. Our college library contains the papers of John Stuart Mill and 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.
Oxford History graduates are desirable employees for many firms, and our students go into a diverse range of careers including law, banking, journalism, the civil service, library and archives work, teaching and more.
Pippa ByrneDepartmental Lecturer
Joanna InnesSenior Research Fellow; Professor Emeritus of Modern History
Natalia NowakowskaFellow & Tutor in History; Professor in Early Modern History
Dr Frank ProchaskaSenior Research Fellow
Faridah ZamanFellow & Tutor in History; Associate Professor of the History of Britain and the World