History & Joint Schools

Welcome to St John’s and to the University of Oxford! We are very much looking forward to seeing you in October.

The purpose of this page is to set out what you will be doing for Modern History during the first year of your degree. (Students taking joint degrees will have similar pages for their other subjects.) Please make sure to read the information below in detail.

To prepare yourself for the year ahead, it is essential that you do some preparatory reading. Below is a list of books relevant to the courses that you will be taking. If you do buy any books from this list, please retain a copy of the receipt, as it will enable us to reimburse you later in the year. 

Summer Task: Reading Diary

Between now and the start of next term we would like for you to keep a diary. Each week, we want you to write 300-500 words about what you have read. When you are writing these diary entries, we would like you to think about the following questions:

  • What did I find most interesting this week?
  • What would I like to know more about?
  • What did I find difficult to understand or confusing? (Don’t be afraid to admit this – it is normal to be uncertain about what we have read, and it can take time to understand something fully!)
  • What kinds of evidence have the historians used as the basis for their work?
  • Do I agree with the arguments and claims made by the historians? Why/why not?

Do not, however, feel constrained by these questions: you are free to write about whatever you think is relevant!

We would like to receive your diary from you at the start of term, ideally as a Microsoft Word document, but if that is not possible you can share it with us in whatever format is convenient for you. And don’t worry – we won’t be marking your diary or using it to judge your abilities as a historian! We just want to see what you have found most enjoyable and interesting!

We hope you enjoy this task, and that you have a good summer before you join us in the new academic year!

Best wishes,

Hannah Skoda (Medieval History)

Aled Davies (Modern History)

Degree structure

This following is an outline of how your degrees will be organised in the first year:


The Prelims course runs over three terms and consists of four papers, as follows:

Michaelmas Term: History of Great Britain and Ireland.

You must let us know what paper you wish to study by end the of August. See below for further details.

Hilary Term: European and World history.

Trinity Term: Optional Subject.

Throughout the year: Approaches to History, or a Foreign Text.
You need to choose from these two options.

History and Economics


The Prelims course runs over three terms and consists of three history papers, as follows:

Michaelmas Term: Economics Options

Hilary Term: European and World History

Trinity Term: Optional Subject.

Throughout the year: Approaches to History, or a Foreign Text.
You need to choose from these two options.

History and Politics


The Prelims course runs over three terms and consists of two history papers, as follows:

Michaelmas Term: History of Great Britain and Ireland.

You must let us know what paper you wish to study by end the of August. See below for further details.

Throughout the year: Approaches to History, or a paper on a foreign text.
You need to choose from these two options.

Ancient and Modern History


The Prelims course for Ancient and Modern History runs over three terms. For the modern history side of the course, you will study 3 papers, as follows:

Michaelmas Term: Approaches to History or ancient languages.

You need to choose from these two options.

Hilary Term: European and World History.

Trinity Term: Optional Subject.

History Papers

Here is some more detail on the first year History papers…


Approaches to History is a broadly theoretical paper, examining the ways in which art history, economics, anthropology, archaeology, sociology and gender studies can inform historians and enrich the history they write. In the first term you will study Anthropology and Sociology. After Christmas you will study two more topics of your own choosing.

Details of the approaches papers can be found here: https://www.history.ox.ac.uk/historical-methods


If you already have language skills that you would like to use straight away, you could study a historical foreign text instead of taking Approaches to History. The foreign texts available for study can be found here: https://www.history.ox.ac.uk/historical-methods

Please email aled.davies@history.ox.ac.uk before the end of August to let us know whether you would like to do Approaches or a Foreign Text.


To keep teaching within college, and to help you get to know each other better, we intend to offer you a choice of three periods: period III (1330-1550), period IV (1500-1700), or period VI (1830-1951).

Details of the papers can be found here: https://www.history.ox.ac.uk/history-british-isles-first-year

Please email aled.davies@history.ox.ac.uk before the end of August to let us know which of these periods you would like to study. Our only stipulation is that we would like you to choose something different from your A-Level syllabus.


This is a thematic paper which addresses the broader issues and controversies characterising a period, and it is global in its reach. There is a choice of four periods (370-900, 1000-1300, 1400-1650 and 1815-1914). You can find descriptions of the courses here: https://www.history.ox.ac.uk/european-and-world-history

You don’t have to let us know which of these papers you want to do until later in your first term.


This is a more focused, text-based paper. You will have to choose one topic from a list of seventeen different options. Details can be found here: https://www.history.ox.ac.uk/optional-subject

You will choose your Optional Subject later in the year.

History Reading Lists

History of the British Isles III (1330-1550)

(Hannah Skoda)

This is a thematic course, taught with a focus on social history. You may wish to consult some introductory reading from the Faculty bibliography in order to put together chronological notes to help you situate topics through the term. The following would be the best guides for this:

M. Brown, Disunited Kingdoms: Peoples and Politics in the British Isles, 1280-1460 (2013)

G. Harriss, Shaping the Nation: England 1360-1461 (2005)

S.J. Gunn, Early Tudor Government, 1485-1558 (1995)

For an introduction to the themes of this paper, you could have a look at:

W. M. Ormrod and R. Horrox (eds.), A Social History of England 1200-1500 (2006), essays; read what looks interesting to you!

J. M. Bennett, A Medieval Life: Cecilia Penifader and the World of English Peasants Before the Plague (2020)

I. H. Habib, Black Lives in the English Archives, 1500-1677: imprints of the invisible (London, 2016)

D. Rollison, A Commonwealth of the People: Popular Politics and England’s Long Social Revolution, 1066- 1649 (2010), Ch.5-6.

History of the British Isles IV (1500-1700)

(Susan Doran)

This is an introductory reading list for preparatory work in the summer vacation. It is very important to gain a grasp of the outlines of the political history of the period, and an understanding of the structure of society before term begins. Aim to read at least one book in sections 1-3 and as many as possible of the biographies.  Many of the books are in paperback, and some can be purchased second-hand from Amazon. Make sure you have a sound political chronology by starting a time-line running from 1500 to 1660.  Do have a good summer and enjoy your preparation!

  1. Background to the period: S.G. Ellis, The British Isles: The State of Britain and Ireland 1450-1660 (2007).

(a) Tudors

S. Brigden, New Worlds, Lost Worlds: The Rule of the Tudors 1485-1603 (2000)

P. Collinson (ed.) The Sixteenth Century 1485-1603 (2000)

R. Rex, The Tudors (2002). Good fun

(b) Stuarts

J. Wormald (ed.), The Seventeenth Century (2008)

T. Harris, Rebellion: Britain’s First Stuart Kings (2014)

2.  Religion

A. Ryrie, The Age of Reformation: The Tudor and Stewart Realms, 1485-1603 (2009)

F. Heal, Reformation in Britain and Ireland (2003)

C. Haigh, The English Reformations: Religion, Politics and Society under the Tudors (1993)

3.  Social History

J. A. Sharpe, Early Modern England: a Social History (1987, 2nd edn 1997)

K. Wrightson, English Society 1580-1680 (1982)

4. Biographies

L. Wooding, Henry VIII (2007

E.W. Ives Anne Boleyn (1986)

J. Loach, Edward VI (1999)

J. Richards, Mary Tudor (2008)

L. Porter, Mary Tudor: The First Queen (2009)

S. Doran, Queen Elizabeth I (2003). Very short

S. Doran, Elizabeth I and her Circle (2015)

J. Guy, My Heart is My Own: The Life of Mary Queen of Scots (2004).

P. Croft, King James I (2003)

R. Cust, Charles I: A Political Life (2005)

History of the British Isles VI (1830-1951)

(Aled Davies)


The following books will give you an essential overview of the entire period. They are all available to buy in bookshops or online. I buy lots of my books second-hand from www.abebooks.co.uk

  • David Cannadine, Victorious Century: The United Kingdom, 1800-1906, (Penguin, 2017)
  • Pat Thane, Divided Kingdom: A History of Britain, 1900 to the Present (2018)
  • John Darwin, Unfinished Empire: The Global Expansion of Britain, (Penguin, 2012)

Additional Reading

Use this list to select one or two books that might allow you to follow your own personal interests further.

  • David Cannadaine, Victorious Century: The United Kingdom, 1800 – 1906 (2018)
  • P. Clarke, Hope and Glory: Britain 1900-2002 (2004).
  • S. Steinbach, Understanding the Victorians (2012)
  • J. Vernon, Modern Britain: 1750 to the present (2017).
  • D. Olusonga, Black and British (2016)
  • K. Gleadle, British Women in the Nineteenth Century (Basingstoke, 2001)
  • S. Todd, The People: The Rise and Fall of the Working Class (London, 2014) 
  • J. Bew, Citizen Clem (2016)
  • E. Griffin, Breadwinner (2020)


  • ‘In Our Time’ is a radio programme where three historians discuss a different topic each week. (available through your browser here: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b006qykl or on the BBC Sounds app). You should listen to the following episodes…
  • The Industrial Revolution
  • Consequences of the Industrial Revolution
  • The Poor Laws
  • The Corn Laws
  • The Great Irish Famine
  • The Lancashire Cotton Famine
  • Booth’s Life and London Survey
  • The Indian Mutiny
  • The Opium Wars

Approaches to History: an introductory reading list


John Monaghan, Social and Cultural Anthropology: a very short introduction (2000)


Steve Bruce, Sociology: a very short introduction (1999)

Peter Burke, History and Social Theory (1992)

Further reading:

These are some stand out pieces of historical writing that draw on Anthropology and Sociology…

Robert Darnton, The Great Cat Massacre and Other Episodes in French Cultural History (1985)

Clifford Geertz, The Interpretation of Cultures (1973)

Carlo Ginsburg, The Cheese and the Worms (1980)

Eric Hobsbawm and Terence Ranger, eds., The Invention of Tradition (1983)

E.P. Thompson, The Making of the English Working Class (1970)

Study skills for incoming undergraduates

As an Oxford student, you have many great opportunities ahead, but studying here can also be very challenging. To help you prepare for this, we have put together some resources that will help you develop your study skills before you start at Oxford, no matter your subject.

Starting at Oxford

Starting a course at Oxford can be very daunting, but there are many resources out there to help you succeed! Here are some useful guides from across the University that you might want to check out:

  • Study skills and training: Here you can find advice on academic good practice including avoiding plagiarism, managing your time, reading, note taking, referencing and revision.
  • Student life: It’s not all about academics at Oxford; here you can find out about the range of other opportunities available to you as a student, as well as tips on how to navigate student life with your workload. If you prefer podcasts, much of this information is available in that form here!
  • Managing the cost: Undergraduate students Helena, Joe and Dan, have teamed up with the University’s Undergraduate Admissions team to discuss the financial support available to students and how they manage the cost of studying at Oxford.

Useful contacts

If you have any questions that aren’t answered on this page, you can get in touch with the following people:

ContactQuestions they can answer
Admissions Office: Sarah JonesAnything to do with offers, visas, UCAS issues, reading lists and preparatory materials
Accommodation OfficeAccommodation, what to bring, insurance, electoral roll issues  
BursaryAll things financial
College OfficePractical arrangements, bank letters, etc.
Disability enquiries: Elaine EastgateAny issues relating to disability or special requirements