History and Joint Schools

Why Somerville for your History degree?

A historical tradition

Although founded in 1879, Somerville is already steeped in history and has helped to shape it. Many of our alumni have become major figures in 20th-century Britain and the world beyond – Margaret Thatcher, Indira Gandhi, 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 scientist Mary Somerville, 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, and that mindset fits very well with the discipline of History itself – in which everything is open to challenge and questioning.

A community of historians today

Somerville has one of the largest and most vibrant communities of historians in Oxford. We currently have three Tutorial Fellows, and a number of graduate students studying for higher (often research) degrees in History. 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.

Resources for Historians

  • Library. The College library has an exceptionally well-stocked history section, one of the best of any Oxford college… it takes up most of the first floor of the building.
  • Funds: Somerville has two special funds aimed primarily at History students, to fund travel related to study (Loach Fund) and self-development, especially with an eye to equipping oneself to make a social or public contribution in a subsequent career (Hughes-Alcuin Fund).
  • Language Training:We think foreign languages are a crucial tool for historians, because they open up whole new worlds of sources and literature. The College therefore funds lessons in foreign languages, where they relate to your degree (plus we have the University Language Centre on our doorstep).
  • A Commitment to Excellent Teaching:In our teaching, the Somerville tutors place real emphasis on helping students to write well, and develop all the intellectual and study skills they need to be effective historians. We are always thinking about how to be better teachers, and have an on-going dialogue with students about how they learn. We think of ourselves as a teaching team, not as a cluster of individual tutors working in the same college.

History Tutors’ Blogs

Somerville Historian is a blog by Natalia Nowakowska, about the experience of writing and teaching history at Oxford.

History Monograph is a blog in which you can follow Natalia’s progess during her year of research leave, as she writes a book on the Reformation in Poland.

Message from the History Tutors

If you are excited by the challenge of three years of studying history at the highest level at Oxford, we warmly invite you to apply to Somerville. Our history undergraduates are a diverse and cosmopolitan group, who come from many places and backgrounds. Like distinguished Somervillians before them, they go on to contribute to public life, service, law, finance, academia and the voluntary sector -in the UK and well beyond it.

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