Special Subject

Special Subjects get you the closest to the scholarly study of a subject of all the prescribed papers in the History School. Your comprehension of how historians use sources is extended beyond that required in the Further Subject, and your knowledge of them will be tested in the most rigorous ways possible.

On the basis of even more detailed and intensive study of the material you will be able to deploy your skills in discussion and presentation from the Further Subject and Disciplines, and thus take more control of class- and tutorial-discussion; indeed it is to be hoped that students will learn more from each other than their teachers.

The Extended Essay provides you with the opportunity not only to demonstrate your knowledge of an aspect of the subject in very great depth, encompassing both the relevant sources and historiography, but also to come to your own conclusions on the basis of close study of these. As a short scholarly piece of work it also acts as a warm-up to the thesis you will write in the following term, not least in that it requires proper academic presentation and referencing.

The Special Subjects currently on offer are:

The life and times of St Augustine (d. 430) are not what you think.

Augustine is often typecast as a Church Father tormented by the memory of his youthful sexual urges-- but the story he wanted to tell his contemporaries in the later Roman Empire was more complicated and more interesting than this. Augustine was a man who did not know why his life had taken the course that it had. He had rejected the love of his life for the sake of his career as a public speaker, and then, having risen to the very top of his profession, he had given it all up to become bishop of a provincial town in North Africa. Relentlessly curious to observe how his own transformations related to the experience of others, Augustine watched the needs and frustrations of new-born babies, marvelled at the perfect physical control of contortionists and meditated on his mother's sudden cure from alcoholism. Augustine’s Confessions and his City of God are texts about desire, disillusion, and being human—in a hot, pre-industrial autocracy almost unrecognisable to a modern audience.

This was also a regime under strain: in 378, a Roman Emperor was killed by barbarians in battle; in 410, notoriously, the city of Rome was sacked; twenty years later, as Augustine lay dying, barbarians had overrun the western Empire and were about to take over his town. How did contemporaries react to these events? (Did they notice?)

In addition to the writings of Augustine, we study texts of and about the great and the good in the Roman Empire, such as the pagan senator Symmachus or the Christian heiress Melania the Younger, who sought to guide (or to abandon) the ship of the late Roman state as it steered into crisis. 

‘“Hand over the murderess Fredegund” they said, “the woman who garrotted my aunt, the woman who killed first my father and then my uncle and who put my two cousins to the sword”.’

(Gregory,Histories, VII.7)

‘“The noble Fredegund excels in all virtues ... she carries the heavy weight of the cares of state, she cherishes you with her goodness, she helps you by her service.”’

(Venantius Fortunatus, Poems, IX.1)

This Special Subject is built around the fullest and most readable historical work of the early middle ages, the Histories of a Gallo-Roman bishop of Tours, Gregory. The bulk of the work is about the period when he was a bishop and thus a considerable political figure, and the structure is loose enough to find room for an almost endless series of anecdotes, told with immense verve. Gregory was keen to berate his contemporaries for their moral failings, his works provide remarkably detailed information on the habits and customs of his age. The set texts include some of Gregory’s saints’ lives and miracle stories, which are written with the same power as the Histories and show Saints and their relics intervening regularly in affairs on earth.

Other texts present a different view of events, which can be compared and contrasted to Gregory’s. The poems of Fortunatus paint a very rosy picture of Gallo-Roman bishops and Frankish monarchs; and Caesarius of Arles offers a rival ideal for the ordering of the Christian life, for him centred on monasteries and pastoral care. Two legal texts, the earliest Frankish law-code and the canons of the church, tell us much about both Frankish and Roman ways of making law and keeping peace. Finally, some important archaeological finds, including the richly furnished burial of a pagan king, allow the Franks to speak to us directly from their graves.

These texts provide a vivid and detailed picture of the Franks as they settled amongst a Gallo-Roman population with its own proud and ancient traditions. They provide an excellent insight into the mental and social world of the early middle ages, with its belief in the active intervention of God and his Saints on Earth and its bonds of fierce kin-loyalty and the power of vengeance. The texts are all set and examined in English, and there is an excellent body of English-language secondary reading, since Gregory of Tours is a prime area of current research in Britain and the U.S.A.

This Special Subject should obviously appeal to students who are already interested in the early middle ages; but it is also designed to be self-contained and attractive to people with little or no previous experience of the period. 

On the banks of the Tigris, Baghdad evokes the orientalism of the medieval folk tales of Scheherazade and Sinbad the sailor. From 762 to 1258, it was the seat of the ‘Abbāsids, one of the greatest Eurasian empires. On the road to Baghdad (892-1055) explores the turbulent history of the city in the tenth century; a history of revival, conflicts and crisis.

After years of anarchy in the mid-9th century, Baghdad thrived under the sovereignty of al-Mu‘taḍid (892-902). Al-Mu‘taḍid was a skilled caliph and fierce military leader, who restored Baghdad’s glory, investing money in the city’s religious and civil life, and using diplomacy, gifts and courtesies with neighbouring powers, such as Egypt and Iran to secure the movement of men, women and goods across Eurasia. At the turn of the tenth century, Baghdad was the seat of a strong government, with powerful women involved in its politics, and a wealthy and influential city. 

Yet, over the tenth century, the capital of the Islamic world progressively lost its supremacy. Popular riots and the rising influence of warlike mountainous communities of Kurds and Iranian from the region of Daylam challenged the authority of the ‘Abbasid caliphs in Baghdad. The successors of al-Mu‘taḍid were feeble leaders. In 945-6 the Būyids, an Iranian military family, were able to seize Baghdad, establishing control over Fārs in south-west Iran and then Iraq in the mid-tenth century.

The failure of the ‘Abbasids and the rise of the Būyids in Baghdad resulted in dramatic changes in the city’s hierarchies, system of governance and socio-cultural practices. Baghdad was deprived of its central administrative function, as the Būyids established two other principalities in Iran, at Shīrāz in Fārs and Rayy in al-Jibāl. Moreover, while the Būyid emirs respected the caliphate and acknowledged the status of the ‘Abbasid family, the caliph of Baghdad became a symbolic figurehead, who the Būyids could control and dismiss. Eager to revive Persian traditions, that had been lost with the rise of Islam and the dominance of Arabic, the Būyid emirs also adopted Persian symbols of kingship (such as the title of shahanshah) as well as persianized the structure of the government. The secular Iraqi and Baghdadi nobility lost its authority and role in the administration of the caliphate, which fell under the remit of Iranian families and Turkic slave soldiers.

The evolution of Baghdad from a Eurasian capital to a principality in the Būyid federation echoes its economic transformation from 892 to 1055. During this century and a half, Baghdad’s patterns of commercial and diplomatic connections changed significantly. The city was no longer unifying the Indian Ocean and the Mediterranean. From the mid-tenth century, the map of Baghdad’s networks was redrawn to favour eastern relations with Iran, Chola India and Sung China. Trade and travel along the Persian Gulf and across the Indian Ocean was privileged and rested on the apogee of the port of Sīrāf in Iran and the conquest of Sohar in Oman.

The period 892-1055 forms a key moment in Islamic history. Over the tenth century, the nature of elitism changed, prompted by the growing influence of the Būyids and Turkic soldiers, as well as by the financial loss of the ‘crown’ and the flourishing of seafaring across the Indian Ocean. Opportunities for power and profits arose among communities of non-Arab noble background, in particular of military, mercantile and banking professions. While the military, financiers and bankers thrived, commoners in Baghdad suffered from repeated famines. The war between the Būyids and the Ḥamdānids in northern Iraq interrupted the grain supplies which caused misery. The tenth century was an era of growing inequalities and popular rebellions.  

On the Road to Baghdad (892-1055) explores the history of medieval Baghdad at a moment of acute socio-political upheavals from the death of the old ‘Abbasid civil power to the rise of the Būyid warlords. Baghdad provides a uniquely suitable lens to observe the evolution of hierarchies and inequalities (social, racial and gendered), as well as cultural practices in the Middle East at the turn of the first millenium, which witnessed a clash between civil, military, and financial forms of power. 

The course looks at Baghdad from a social and spatial perspective. It will ask what difference the fall of the ‘Abbasids and the rise of the Būyids made to social hierarchy. What were the new avenues through which one might attain authority and how did the evolving elite entrench its dominance? Indeed, how significant did wealth and military prowess (for instance the mamluk warriors), instead of ethnic identity, become in determining eliteness? What were the impacts on women of different social backgrounds? How did inequalities evolve ? On the Road to Baghdad (892-1055) investigates the spatial manifestations of these social changes, asking : How did social inequalities manifest materially in the urban environment? What was life like in the city for women, for slaves, for the poor ? Did inequalities in wealth and status lead to ‘uneven development’? The paper takes a local and a global perspective on the history of the city in the central Middle Ages. It investigates the evolving place of Baghdad within eurasian networks and questions how the dramatic socio-political upheavals of the tenth century remodelled, and re-orientated, the common modus operandi of seafarers, travellers and financial circuits. With a focus on local experience of ‘the global’, this paper explores the way these changes influenced Baghdadian domestic practices, eating habits, costumes and tableware arts.  

Inspired by J.-P.Ghobrial’s fascinating volume on Global History and Microhistory (2019), On the Road to Baghdad (892-1055) indeed connects different scales of analysis, producing a global microhistory of Baghdad. The history of the revival, conflicts and crisis of Baghdad at the end of the first millenium provides the opportunity to explore a society across scales. At a macro-scale, it looks at the production of hierarchies, inequalities and traces the movement of people ‘from’ and ‘to’ Baghdad. At a micro-scale, it explores how the ‘global’ shaped the ‘local’, how the crisis of the Caliphate and the rise of the Būyids influenced the lifestyle of Baghdadian communities, the processes of subordination, the cultural practices, consumption and attitudes to poverty and wealth. 

On the Road to Baghdad (892-1055) is relevant to broader questions about social-formation and the construction of status, inequalities, consumption and resource extraction in the ancient world, which are surveyed in ‘Disciplines’ and ‘Approaches’.

By the tenth century, the cultural and the political revival of Byzantium had gathered momentum after a long dark age. The cultural revival showed itself in manuscript illuminations and monumental works of art, in a new flowering of religious life, both orthodox and heretical, and in the gathering of the debris of classical thought and literature. The political revival showed itself in successful warfare against an encircled Bulgaria, small Armenian principalities and the fragmented Arab empire, in the widening horizons of Byzantine diplomats and in the growing cultural influence of Byzantium upon the Slav world.

The texts for this Special Subject (all the texts are studied in English translations) include sermons, letters, Byzantine and foreign chronicles and several compilations. Together they provide the major body of information which illuminates the revival of Byzantium, the history of the neighbouring powers of the Near East, the outline of those personal groupings of generals and bureaucrats which shaped the internal political history of Byzantium which have left a deposit of their secret malice and resentment in the pages of the surviving chronicles.

However, it is the survival of the compilations (guides to administrative practice and manuals of statecraft) which makes the study of Constantine’s reign particularly interesting. For they were based on lost official material which enables the historian to penetrate below the surface of events and to watch the slower-moving and underlying history of institutions, from the court and administrative system to the economic and social foundations of the state (in particular the steady encroachment of the aristocracy on small landholders in the provinces). Perhaps the most important compilation is the De administrando imperio, which contains much material about relations with foreign states and reveals Byzantium’s two ways of viewing the world around it: the one realistic, the other ideological. 

The Norman Conquest was one of the most cataclysmic events in English history; certainly many scholars have argued so since the seventeenth century. More recently it has inspired some of the best work in English by medieval historians: this has demonstrated that the giants of later nineteenth century historiography only constructed a framework and that this traditional framework is in certain respects demonstrably wrong. One reason for the continuing controversy is the profusion and richness of the sources, which are unparalleled in contemporary Europe.

The aim of this Special Subject is to encourage undergraduates to get to grips with these sources on much the same terms as those who are fighting in the midst of the historiographical fray. There are narratives: some contemporary or nearly contemporary (including the Bayeux Tapestry); others later local accounts of change and survival as seen from Abingdon, Evesham, York and Durham; yet others attempt to make sense of the Conquest as a whole from a twelfth-century perspective. In this final category Eadmer and Orderic Vitalis, both looking back through English eyes, though in very different ways, are particularly striking. The biography of the English survivor (or quisling?) Wulfstan and the letter collection of the Italian ‘new Englishman’ Lanfranc help to reveal both the strength of English ecclesiastical traditions and the scale and pace of the changes ruthlessly imposed on the English church.

Documents such as charters, writs and legal fragments of various kinds enable us to reconstruct the workings of government and justice at different levels, to see how the imposition of Norman rule transformed and excoriated the late Anglo-Saxon system. Passages from the greatest administrative document of all – Domesday Book – taken in conjunction with the Abingdon Chronicle, enable us to study the Norman impact in the Thames Valley. More generally, Domesday Book allows us both to sink a bore hole into the Anglo-Saxon past and to understand how distorted perceptions of that past helped to form the assumptions on which the Norman system was based. Reports from archaeological excavations, together with investigation of buildings which still stand, will show to what extent English architecture was changed.Reproductions of works of art also present us with the challenge of reconciling the material remains with the stories told by the written sources.

As should be clear from the above, debates about the significance of the Conquest did not begin in the work of seventeenth-century antiquarians, but are intrinsic to the prescribed sources: in short, what we shall be studying is the uses, political and otherwise, to which history can be put. This is a theme with strong contemporary resonances, not least in the definition of Englishness. 

Late-fourteenth century England experienced huge instability in its economic, social, political, religious and cultural life. The so-called Peasants’ Revolt of 1381, in which a mass of ordinary people burst onto the political scene, stands at the heart of this crisis. Against the background of the mid-century Black Death, a combination of rapidly changing social expectations, economic transformation, political and military failure, and a new political awareness amongst the rural and urban population produced a remarkably radical rebel programme. Concurrently, new and radical religious ideas posed a similarly fundamental challenge to ecclesiastical authority, and thus to social order. Moreover all this was witnessed by an explosion of English vernacular literature which made its own contribution to political and social consciousness.

With the revolt of 1381 as its centrepiece this course aims to present students with the challenge of practising a ‘total history’ of crisis and instability in all spheres of life between about 1374 and 1390. The plague had given labourers and artisans unprecedented economic and social opportunities, yet landlords sought to thwart them, supported by restrictive socio-economic legislation. Yet the lords themselves were undergoing political crisis as monarchical leadership broke down in the dotage of Edward III and minority of Richard II, leading to failure in the Hundred Years War against France. These tensions also fuelled anticlericalism, which was exacerbated by the papal schism of 1378 to feed demands for radical ecclesiastical and religious reform. It was precisely at this moment that the establishment of English as a literary language facilitated new articulations and explorations of society, and the development of a new kind of national and public consciousness.

All this came to a head in the 1381 revolt, a momentous outpouring of both aspiration and anger by large swathes of the population. Because its roots were multifaceted and complex, so were its demands and dynamics; it was at once conservative in appealing to the young king to correct the evils of society, and radical in lynching his officials and demanding the abolition of serfdom, lordship and the institutional church. On the face of it a failure, the revolt encouraged further political crisis and social development. In the late-1380s, greater public resolve to hold government to account clashed with Richard II’s reassertion of the king’s executive freedom; moreover social and economic relations had been permanently transformed, and public debate was henceforward inclusive of a wider range of the population.

The range of sources for this course reflects the diversity of the subject, yet what is most striking is how very different types of source reflect similar themes, whether on the side of authority or radicalism. Colourful chronicle accounts of the panorama of events underpin the material, and these are complemented by the social commentary found in the first major works of English literature by Langland, Chaucer and others. These in turn overlap with sermons, both orthodox and radical, which aimed to challenge church and society. Yet similar language and discourses are found in the more formal – but equally vivid – sources: the Rolls of Parliament and executive government orders, which are matched by manorial and court records revealing local economic processes and social relations, not least in London. 

The brief life, condemnation, death and rehabilitation of Joan of Arc (c.1412-1431) have fascinated writers, artists, film-makers, politicians and thinkers of many different political and religious persuasions. A legendary figure has in effect replaced the ‘real’ Joan of Arc in the popular imagination. For the historian, however, her career and its aftermath provide ample scope for the investigation of relationships between politics and religion, of gender relations and role-reversal, and of the evolution of national consciousness and identity.

The Special Subject is a contextual study of the age of Joan of Arc, as well as an examination of her career and its impact. It will necessarily address issues such as the fortunes (and misfortunes) of the Lancastrian double monarchy of England and France; the religious, intellectual and ecclesiastical climate of the period (coinciding as it did with the post-Schismatic papacy and the Conciliar Movement); the role of the University of Paris and of the Norman clergy in the instigation and conduct of trial proceedings against Joan and the more general issues of collaboration, resistance and divided allegiance among the French people at this time. English interest and investment in Lancastrian France will also be studied from selected test cases as well as gains and losses illustrated from both written and visual evidence. Joan’s place among the female mystics, visionaries and prophetesses of her time will be assessed, as well as the implications and consequences of her adoption of male dress, her role as a military leader, and her defiance of ecclesiastical authority.

A rich body of primary material – narrative, didactic and documentary – survives for Joan’s short life and for its political, religious and intellectual context. A large quantity of subsequent secondary literature is also available. Her life and legacy have attracted interpretations from every possible standpoint and there is a substantial body of writing in English about her. The primary records for her trial are available in English translation, as are many of the main narrative and other sources. Lancastrian France – the regime established in the wake of Henry V of England’s conquest and occupation – has also attracted recent studies so that the context and background of the theme can be relatively easily established by the student. The critical importance of the Anglo-Burgundian alliance which spans this period, for example, has been emphasized, and the nature and role of Burgundian power will form an important aspect of the course.

A reading knowledge of French is useful but not essential. 

This course, looks at the cultural role of painting as a practice in one specific historical period, that of the Ming dynasty (1368-1644). It will look at painting, long sanctioned by the Ming period as one of the four canonical leisure pursuits of the elite (along with calligraphy, music and a board game of strategy) from the point of view of both its production and its consumption, and will be based on readings of the extensive literature of the period in translation, along with a wide range of surviving pictures. These include not only the culturally sanctified monuments of so-called ‘literati’ painting, associated with named elite figures for whom painting was part of a total cultural persona, but also the work of anonymous artisan painters, working for the imperial court and for clients drawn from a wider range of social statuses.

The Ming Empire was created out of the collapse of the Mongol hegemony in East Asia in the mid- 14th century, and was often seen in older secondary literature as a period of nativist reaction and concomitant cultural conservatism. This stereotype is now giving way to a better understanding of the internal dynamics of the period, and their connection to a wider world. The massive commercial expansion experienced by parts of China at this period, related to the influx of New World silver to pay for Chinese luxury commodities shipped to Europe and elsewhere in Asia, caused the Ming period to be an era of considerable social and cultural change. The huge expansion in the production of art forms such as ceramics and textiles, and the growth in literacy and the publishing industry (including the production of great numbers of printed illustrated books), was the background against which developments in the art of painting in the Ming need to be understood.

The range of functions for which pictures were intended, including public and private religious ritual, elite gift exchange, commemoration and the expression of group and individual identities, is inseparable from issues of the style and technique in which they were executed. It is inseparable too from consideration of the range of audiences for painting and the sites in which painting was displayed. Consideration will therefore be given during the course to understanding the ways in which those audiences were stratified and segmented, in terms of gender, of locality and region, and social and occupational status, with attention being given to the ways in which painting did not merely reflect such segmentation but acted to structure and support it in the practice of everyday life. Painting in the Ming will not be seen in isolation but as part (albeit a privileged part) of a world of visual images and material culture.

This Special Subject assumes no prior knowledge of Chinese art or culture. 

General. The city-republics of Venice and Florence around 1500 have continued ever since to influence both the political and the visual culture of the western world. Each experimented with republican ideals, and each produced powerful myths, in text and image, of its own significance. Both, additionally, claimed a cultural primacy based on artistic styles. Most potent has been Giorgio Vasari’s triumphalist account of Florentine art: the course gives an opportunity to dissect this influential Tuscan myth, and to compare it with its Venetian rival. The prescribed sources include both art writing of the period and a number of paintings. The course is not confined to the ‘high’ arts, and embraces a broader view of material culture, taking into consideration the market for objects and their social uses. Social distinctions (and their visual markers) will be studied, particularly in relation to gender and to migrant communities. The set texts additionally focus questions about the true relationship of Renaissance culture to Antiquity, the place of religion in this supposedly secularising society, and changing views of human nature.

For the purpose of structuring work within the weekly classes, the course is organised under eight interrelated headings:

  • Ideas and Images of Republicanism
  • Religious Institutions and Lay Piety
  • Artistic Production: Making Object
  • Social Relations and Developments
  • Competitive Histories of Art
  •  Material Culture and its Consumption
  • Encounters with Antiquity
  • The Depiction of History in Texts and Images


The German Peasants’ War of 1525 was a huge revolt which convulsed most parts of Germany. Inspired by ideals of brotherly love and the gospel, peasants formed bands, uniting to attack serfdom and their lords. They joined forces with townsfolk and took as their demands the ‘Twelve Articles of the Peasants’, written by a furrier and a preacher from Memmingen. Miners in mining areas including Saxony and Thuringia, near where Luther had grown up, joined the revolt. For three or four months in early 1525, the peasant armies seemed to sweep all before them.

The event was a watershed in the history of the Reformation and forced people to take sides. Luther famously condemned the peasants as ‘mad dogs’, and made it clear that he did not support them. The radical revolutionary Thomas Muentzer tried to bring about a new order, but when his peasant forces were defeated, he was hanged. Andreas Karlstadt, Luther’s former co-worker, joined the peasants for a time but soon distanced himself from them: he ended up living insemi-hiding in Luther’s monastery. This course will explore how individuals lived through the conflict. It will also ask about peasant subjectivity: what drove men and women to take the risk of rebelling against divinely-established authority? What rituals of revolt did they employ? How did they make links to townsfolk and miners? What was the role of theology in the conflict? How should we analyse revolt and what theorists help us to understand it?

The Peasants’ War crystallised the divide between historiography of the former East and West. Engels wrote his classic account of the Peasants’ War. In the GDR, the revolt was viewed as part of the Early Bourgeois Revolution; Muentzer, not Luther, was its hero. But it had always inspired art, and still does: Goetz von Berlichingen, the knight with the iron hand, became the subject of Goethe’s play –Berlichingen also wrote his own Memoirs. The East German artist Werner Tuebke created the Peasant War Panorama, a huge art work in Frankenhausen, where Muentzer and his followers were defeated. And in 2017, Asisi’s famous Wittenberg Panorama showed the ‘fires of the Peasant War’ in the gloomy background of the sunny Reformation. All source materials will be in English.

Tudor England faced unprecedented challenges between 1540 and 1560 as social and economic disruption and the strains of warfare were compounded by political uncertainty, religious change, and the accession of a child king, and two queens regnant. These developments severely tested the resilience of both state and society; the detailed study of these years also puts to the test many of the generalizations often made by historians about sixteenth-century England. This course will encompass everything from Tudor portraiture and print to the arguments over female rule, and from high politics to the religious and social tensions at parish level.

The period begins with the failure of Henry VIII to safeguard his succession, consolidate his religious policies or secure his military reputation; his vengeance increasingly savage as his health failed and his paranoia mounted. Acute economic difficulties formed the backdrop to the attempts of Edward and Mary to introduce innovative religious settlements, and both reignssaw both alarming political factionalism and sweeping social protest, with rebellions across the country in 1548-9, popular involvement in the struggle for the throne in 1553, and Wyatt’s rebellion of 1554 coming near to capturing London. Despite this, both reigns made important and unprecedented advances with their religious policies. It is arguably during these turbulent years that we first see the emergence of Protestant and Catholic identity within England, even as religious persecution acquired a new intensity during the reign of ‘Bloody Mary’. The first two years of Elizabeth’s reign show the political establishment struggling with the weight of that inheritance and the problems of queenship, advancing a political and religious settlement which reflected the turmoil of the past, and demonstrating the extent to which Tudor England had been transformed by the years of crisis.

Documents include: statutes and proclamations to illustrate government policy; excerpts from Henry VIII’s will; pamphlets, treatises and sermons to illustrate a range of interlinked religious and social concerns; excerpts from works of religious doctrine commissioned by the state; works of religious polemic, churchwardens’ accounts and visitation records giving an insight into popular religion; a portion of Knox’s First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstruous Regiment of Women; extracts from Foxe’s Acts and Monuments(or ‘Book of Martyrs’) about religious identity and persecution, and accounts, many of them by eye-witnesses, of Henry VIII’s closing years, and the coups and rebellions during Edward and Mary’s reigns. There are letters by contemporary statesmen, Edward VI’s own chronicle, and ambassadorial reports from the Calendars of Spanish and Venetian State Papers. There are also a range of portraits and pictures from the National Portrait Gallery and other collections.

The Reformation shattered the unity of Christendom, and the different churches that emerged were bitterly divided from each other. Rulers, churchmen and even many ordinary people were forced to take a stand on the pressing religious and political questions of the day. Yet nowhere in Europe could the ruler convince all their people that his or her rule was truly godly, sparking violent wars of resistance - wars for the soul of Europe itself. Men and women discussed the legitimacy of authority, and the very basis of political and religious life, as never before. The hotly contested questions of sovereign power and true religion were fiercely fought over, in armed conflict and through the printing press.

This special subject engages with the great political and religious questions of the late sixteenth century, through the classic texts of political thoughts and through lesser known pamphlets and documents. It uses sources from Britain, France and the Netherlands to examine ideas of authority, resistance and religious purity. We will see how the uneasy compromises of the 1560s led to bloody warfare in France and the Netherlands, and we will look at how new ideas about the state and the church developed in order to contain these fierce passions.

All sources are in English; there is no language requirement. 

The Thirty Years War was one of the most destructive conflicts in European history, considered by many 20th century Germans to be a greater national disaster than the Second World War. The war was both a cause and a product of important underlying political, social, economic and cultural changes within early modern Europe that left a lasting impression on international relations. Using extensive contemporary written and visual sources, this special subject examines the causes, conduct and consequences of this conflict, as well as the surrounding debates: e.g. was this primarily a German struggle or an international conflict? Was it the last European ‘religious war’? Did it witness a ‘military revolution’? What was the nature of everyday experience? Did it create a sovereign states system? Scholarship on the Thirty Years War available in English is now exceptionally rich and diverse, and this is far from being a narrow military history of the war, but an opportunity to explore themes in political, religious, social, economic and cultural history across much of the Continent during the first half of the seventeenth century. The extended essay topics will provide opportunity for students to explore a range of subjects from the interactions of politics and warfare through to discussions of the social and cultural impact of war, economic change and diversification, religious coercion and compromise, and to do so using sources that are generated both by the major political actors and from the accounts of those – townsmen, clergy, villagers or soldiers – caught up in the warfare. Students will gain valuable historiographical insight through classes and tutorials from examining a series of important controversies, whether the (revived) debate about a Seventeenth-Century Crisis, Confessionalization, “military revolution”, propaganda and persuasion, writing and experience, peacemaking and the significance of Westphalia, among others.

All sources will be in English, with no language requirement.

The course will be taught via 8 classes and 6 tutorials. Both tutors will be present for the classes, and in the first year of the course the tutorials will be divided between PW and DP, with the assumption that in subsequent years (and depending on numbers) they will be largely taught by DP. The classes will focus on the collections of documents, and the students will be expected to make presentations in which they demonstrate understanding of content and context. An initial class will be used to raise and discuss the background to the war, especially the nature and workings of the Holy Roman Empire. The classes will move through the documents in an essentially chronological sequence; the tutorials will consider major themes in relation to the war and its impact, and will accustom the students to working with and combining the primary and secondary material in their arguments.

The subject of this paper is the intellectual revolution which inaugurated the modern understanding of our world. An unusually wide-ranging Special Subject, it enables you to study the work of all the major figures of the Scientific Movement, from Galileo at one end of the seventeenth century to Newton at the other. The focus is upon both the ideas themselves and the social contexts in which they were developed: the subject thus provides an ideal opportunity to engage with modern approaches to intellectual history.

The texts cover the whole spectrum of writing produced by the Scientific Movement. The major statements of the new philosophy by Bacon, Descartes and Hobbes are accompanied by the announcements of their discoveries by such as Galileo, Kepler, Harvey and Newton. Utopian speculations inspired by these discoveries, polemical defences of the new knowledge and apologies for its social and political utility are all represented. Extracts from the philosophers’ own correspondence, from the new journals and from the histories and transactions of the scientific societies illustrate the resources of personal and institutional patronage available to the philosophers. Through these documents it is possible to trace the connections between the Scientific Movement and contemporary developments in technology and education, religion and politics: a constant thread is the tension between the new science and the beliefs of the Churches.

Most of the evidence chosen relates to England and France, but Italy and Central Europe are also covered. All of the texts are in English, none requires specialised mathematical or scientific knowledge for its comprehension. Scarcer items are available in photocopy on Weblearn. Oxford’s unrivalled collection of scientific instruments and books furnish useful and fascinating material for the subject and can add considerably to the immediacy and enjoyment of studying it here. 

This Special Subject is about some of the most dramatic and controversial events in English history. It begins with the defeat of Charles I in the first Civil War, and ends with the death of the Lord Protector, Oliver Cromwell, in 1658. Between those dates there took place a series of unprecedented and fastpaced events, which challenged and sometimes transformed the social, religious, and political character of the English, Scottish, and Irish nations.

On many points, students of this subject will be encouraged to work out their own positions and form their own judgments: both the set documents and the secondary literature differ in opinion, and even on facts.

Through the letters, diaries, speeches, debates, laws, and writings of the main actors, the paper examines, amongst other topics, the trial and execution of the king; the famous Putney debates about democratic suffrage; the proclamation of the first English republic; the parliamentary army’s seizure of power; royalist plots against the regime; England’s first written constitutions; the difficulties of government, both in parliaments and in the localities; relations between the new republic and foreign powers; and the startling ideas of the Levellers, the Diggers, the soldiers of the New Model Army, and other radical groups.

In studying the debates and actions of soldiers and civilians, monarchs and parliamentarians, preachers and prophets, the paper focuses on the key issues that arose in this revolutionary moment but that resonate still: the limits of civil liberty, the definition of religious freedom, the ethics of military intervention, and the true sources of power, political allegiance, and social justice. 

This subject deals with an outstanding period in the history of English architecture – that of Wren, Hawksmoor, Talman and Vanburgh: the period generally known as that of ‘the English Baroque’. It saw the building of St. Paul’s Cathedral, the London churches, Greenwich Hospital, several royal palaces (most notably Hampton Court), the remodelling of the State Apartments at Windsor, and many important country houses, including Blenheim, Chatsworth and Castle Howard.

As well as documents relating to the design and construction of these buildings and to the architectural thought of the time, the set texts include contemporary engravings and architectural drawings. Interior decoration and garden design may also be studied. The graphic side of the subject is as important as the documentary, and a good visual memory is desirable.

No technical knowledge of architecture is necessary and the requisite knowledge of the classical orders and of foreign influences is not difficult to acquire. It is, important to visit a number of buildings in London and elsewhere, many of which are open to the public only during the summer months, and candidates choosing this subject are advised to set aside part of the Long Vacation for the purpose: a list of the main buildings to be visited is distributed in the briefing session at the end of the Trinity Term, which all candidates should attend.

The period of the War of American Independence was for the British Isles one of intense political crisis and division, bringing into question Britain’s capacity to maintain its status as a great European and world power, the future of its empire, and catalysing profound debates about domestic and public policy. This course examines the impact of the war on both imperial and domestic affairs, and the interplay between problems arising directly from the conflict and pre-existing tensions and concerns. Relations with North America, the rise and impact of volunteering in Ireland and the campaign for Irish parliamentary independence, the reshaping of relations between the British state and the East India Company, the reverberations of political conflict and war in the Caribbean, and the impact of the war on attitudes towards empire, will be investigated; as will the domestic political context, including the rise of a formidable extra-parliamentary reform movement (the Association Movement). Parliaments in this period debated and grappled with a wide range of domestic reform projects: renewed attempts were made to reform the poor laws; prisons, penal policy, and domestic policing arrangements became topics of intense public debate; the anti-slavery cause began to attract sustained attention, providing the context for the rise of the abolitionist movement; and Catholic and Protestant dissenters successfully sought relief from specific legal restrictions. All are examined in the course.

People growing up between 1860 and 1902 lived through a period of fundamental transformations in citizenship: franchise reform that meant that for the first time working-class boys and girls might expect to grow up to vote, at least in local elections; the introduction of compulsory and free state education; the foundation of pioneering charities (such as the NSPCC) that both intervened in the lives of the poor and offered public roles to more elite women; and the growth of trade unions, co-operative associations and commercial companies that used children to attract people with increasing leisure time and spending power to their organizations.

Over the period the education, socialisation, protection and indoctrination of the next generation of citizens was increasingly prioritised. In determining how to mould future citizens, fundamental inequalities – of class, gender, religion, locality and ethnicity – were revealed, challenged, reshaped, or sustained. This paper draws on a rich historiography that charts the growing investment in the young by states, civil society and families. The paper places students at the forefront of current research, however, in also asking what children then did with this investment. The young may be reconceptualised as active agents in social, cultural and political change, rather than merely the passive subjects of these processes. We can thus establish, rather than assume, which attempts to mould the young were truly formative in making the people of Britain.

Diverse sources allow us to explore how young people made their lives, attitudes and beliefs, not only out of the new and increasingly specialised resources that they were offered, but also beyond these adult-authored programmes of reform. The documents selected here will provide students with the opportunity for original investigations into a wide range of themes in nineteenth-century British history. These include: political and religious socialization; the construction of age-defined phases such as childhood, puberty, ‘girlhood’ and coming of age; cultural representations of childhood and how the young made sense of these images; the impact of changing patterns of mortality, fertility and medical care on family roles and relationships; differences of gender, class and race in the conception and experience of family life, and an examination of the interaction of those agencies newly interested in the working-class family.. Throughout, students will be expected to relate these issues to wider historiographical debates concerning notions of citizenship, identity, nationhood, and the role of the state in late-Victorian Britain. A significant number of the primary texts are drawn from personal documents such as diaries, letters and memoirs, including many authored by children. These are complemented by published sources as parliamentary papers, social surveys, advice literature and medical texts educational treatises, newspapers and magazines, novels, and children’s games and literature. 

Anxieties about sexually transmitted disease arose alongside European imperialism during the fifteenth through nineteenth centuries, but these two developments have generally been treated separately by historians of the early Atlantic world. Yet the history of ideas about venereal disease is fundamentally entangled with the racial and sexual hierarchies that characterized the imperial project. British and French medical experts put forward theories about the origins of venereal disease that were imbued with racialized suppositions about the dangers of African and tropical women’s bodies; approaches to treating venereal disease in the slave societies of early America frequently served the additional purpose of enacting the racial hierarchies of plantation life; the knowledge of black healers was both a site of resistance to slavery and also of appropriation by slave owners; and therapies such as inoculation were treated by white doctors with both suspicion and intrigue insofar as they were seen as African therapies.

This subject will therefore explore the broader intersections between race, sex, and medicine in the early Atlantic, in order to provide a firm foundation for comprehending the history of venereal disease and empire. It will begin by considering how racial and sexual difference were understood by early modern medical experts, and how racial and sexual hierarchies shaped the history of empire and the lived experiences of enslaved men and women. The course will then move on to examine the provision of health care by white and black healers on North American and Caribbean plantations and in the Atlantic slave trade. The course will also grapple with the historical evolution of ideas about climate and contagion, and the circulation of knowledge about inoculation in the early Atlantic world.

The course will culminate with readings that reflect specifically on race,sex, and venereal disease.The course thus brings together the recent historiography of medicine and empire with historical inquiry regarding race, sex, and the body in the Black Atlantic. In order to fully understand the history of venereal disease in the Atlantic world, it will be necessary to grapple with the development of both racial slavery and abolitionism in the Americas, the history of sex and childbirth, the influence of Obeah, Hoodoo, and other West and West Central African-inflected spiritualisms on black healers in the Americas, and the history of ideas about illness, disease, and racial and sexual difference. In doing so, this course will utilize primary sources including advice literature regarding the management of plantations, traveler’s narratives and diaries, published writing by people of African descent including the formerly enslaved woman Mary Prince, the testimony of British slave trade surgeons during abolitionist inquiries, and contemporary published tracts on the history and treatment of venereal disease.

This Special Subject is designed to enable students to study a wide range of artistic production in France in the period from the post-Napoleonic restoration to the international exhibition in Paris of 1867. This is an exciting period, in which most of the contours of French artistic life were subject to debate, and in which artists responded closely to contemporary political and social developments. In turn, reviews of salon exhibitions and art criticism in general provided a context for lively discussion of aesthetic and ideological concerns. The role of the state – as patron and arbiter of artistic production – was contested, as were the structures of artistic education; a series of political revolutions was refracted in visual culture; urbanisation raised questions about landscape and the relations between town and country, and provided new theatres for visual display.

Our principles of selection of texts and images have been the following: we have wanted so far as possible, to choose substantial texts with which you can engage from different angles. Delacroix’s journal and Baudelaire’s critical writings are intended as over-arching sources, with relevance to all seven of the themes into which we have divided the course. Both of these central texts are prescribed in English; the other texts are set in French. As result of Francis Haskell’s work, the Department of the History of Art and the Sackler Library together contain an unrivalled collection of salon criticism and other primary material, as well as an extensive body of high-quality black and white photographs of paintings and sculptures of the period from which you can work. You will have CDs containing all the prescribed images and other related images, as a ‘virtual gallery’ from which to work. You are also encouraged to go to see many of the relevant original works, many of which are in Paris, Lille or London, and are thus relatively easily accessible. The Print Room of the Ashmolean is also an important resource.  

The Civil War that ravaged the United States between 1861 and 1865, challenging the nation’s very survival and consuming over 600,000 lives, raises large questions about the origins and unfolding of America’s extreme moral, political and constitutional crisis. This subject asks a number of questions: Why did the pre-war Union prove unable to tolerate the plural visions and diverse institutions of its people? Was the descent into war more a measure of institutional weakness than of the intensity of moral conflict? What were the constituent elements of the competing wartime ‘nationalisms’ that evolved north and south? How and why did a war over the Union become a war about slavery and emancipation? Why did the war not become an international conflict? How far was it the forerunner of modern, ‘total’ warfare? What realistic chance had the Confederacy’s bid for freedom? Did the governmental, socio-economic and racial changes wrought by war constitute a ‘second American revolution’?

The prescribed texts address these problems from the political watershed of the Kansas-Nebraska bill, introduced in January 1854, to Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox and the assassination of Lincoln, in April 1865. The sources are chosen with an eye to posing a variety of problems of interpretation. They also provide multiple angles of vision: public and private, from above and below, male and female, black and white, slave and free. They include government documents, political speeches, polemical pamphlets, newspaper commentaries, private correspondence, sermons, cartoons and lithographs, songs, and selections from a number of diaries and journals.

Supplementary sources (which are not subject to a gobbets examination), include the journals of Charlotte Forten (a young black educator), Mary Chesnut (the wife of a southern planter), and Elisha Hunt Rhodes (Rhode Island soldier). We will also consider fiction of the era, especially Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Augusta Jane Evans’s Macaria; or Altars of Sacrifice.

The documents are to be read in the context of an extensive and ever-growing secondary literature. Of late, the years of war itself have become one of the most fertile areas of American historical scholarship. Social and cultural historians have opened up new areas for study: the Confederate and Union ‘home front’; communities and localities in wartime; gender, women and children; philanthropic activity and religious experience. At the same time the war has been ‘rediscovered’ by political historians attending to popular mobilization and to leadership. Meanwhile a more traditional military history has been superseded by a new approach – one concerned to explore the motivation and experience of soldiers, both white and black, and designed to achieve a better understanding of the broader political and social impact of campaigns and battlefield events. The course can be taken without prior knowledge of the history of the United States: it forms an introduction to enduring themes in that history, many which remain relevant today.

The course is taught by tutorials, lectures and classes. An associated course of films and documentaries will provide further opportunity to see images of the period, as well as to consider how television and cinema have depicted the history of slavery and the Civil War era, and contributed to establishing the Civil War in American memory.

The so-called secular age (where traditional forms of religion came under question) and the Jim Crow era (of state-sanctioned white supremacy) arose side by side in the United States during the early twentieth century. Hitherto scholars of religion, race and civil rights have invariably treated the two developments separately. But African Americans were involved in the debates about the nature or existence of God at least as much as white Americans. Indeed, for many, it was the horrors of white supremacy – especially because they met little criticism in a self-proclaimed Christian country – that prompted the urgent questioning of the faith of their fathers. The answers to these questions, which were varied, would have a profound impact upon the course of both civil rights protest and American Christianity.

This subject will explore the intersection between religion, ideas of race and anti-racist protest from the resurgence of white supremacy at the end of the 19th century through to the rise of the civil rights movement in the 1950s. It will begin by considering the imposition of the Jim Crow laws despite the presence of a Christian abolitionist and civil rights tradition that had been a major influence behind emancipation and the biracial post-Civil War Reconstruction settlement. The major part of the course will focus on various aspects of faith and racial politics during the Jim Crow era, in particular: the function of the African American church (by far the most influential black institution), the significance of liberal inter-racial church initiatives, the work of black churchwomen, the relationship between civil rights organisations and the churches, the impact of the secular turn on faith and protest in the African American community and the theological outlook of white supremacists. The course will end by reconsidering the religious foundations of the modern civil rights movement in the light of the debates and developments during the Jim Crow era.

The course brings together two vibrant historiographical fields, the long civil rights movement and American religion. Keeping a focus on race and faith, though, means considering a wide-range of issues that shaped the twists and turns of this dramatic period, particularly mass migration, ideas of gender and fears of miscegenation to global politics and civil rights law. Many of the sources will be personal reflections on faith and pain in the Jim Crow era, particularly sermons, diary records, memoirs and speeches. But sources will also include spirituals, congressional testimony and anthropological accounts.

The Jim Crow era has often been overlooked as the period between the dramatic events of the Civil War and the civil rights movement. This course will demonstrate that it was a tumultuous era in its own right, one that illuminates the longer-term consequences of the Civil War, and helps explain the shape and power of the civil rights movement

The majority of the set texts for this course are in Russian. You must have a reading knowledge of Russian to do the course. Language tuition is provided in 2nd year for prospective students.

Few aspects of the Soviet experiment are as controversial as the role of terror and forced labour. For decades observers, journalists, political scientists and historians have argued over the scale, character and purposes of state-sponsored violence in the building of Soviet socialism. Refugees from Soviet territories after World War II and returnees from the Gulag after 1953 told their own stories about their experience. Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago (1973-1976) drew on survivors’ accounts; it was written secretly and published in the West to evade Soviet censorship. Since 1991 new archival data has answered some questions about Terror and Gulag, but many new ones have arisen too. In this course, we start with an examination of the antecedents of Soviet terror and forced labour in the tsarist period and turn to concentrate attention on Leninist and Stalinist practices of state violence and Gulag confinement. The commemoration and forgetting of Soviet state violence is also considered, in order to arrive at an understanding of the legacy of violence and violent transformation in the Russian Federation.

This course is taught in a combination of classes and tutorials. In the classes, students will explore the Imperial Russian legacy of forced labour inherited by the Bolsheviks in 1917. The Leninist and Stalinist state’s penal policies, and the origins of the Gulag in economic and penal imperatives, are then explored in a rich historical debate, now amplified by newly released archival documents; accounts and commentaries by foreign observers supplement the official picture as well. A similar range of documents allow us to examine life in the forced labour camps in its social, cultural, and psychological dimensions. An emergent area of historians’ interest is the imprint of the Terror and Gulag in late Soviet and post-Soviet Russian history and contemporary politics.

Tutorials will focus on a select number of primary source extracts in preparation for the ‘gobbet’ dimension of the final examination. The course presents a focused investigation of the nature of forced labour in the Russian state, its significance in the context of Stalinist ‘totalitarianism’, debates over ‘revisionism’ in Soviet history, and the contemporary interpretations based on archival documentation.

We will have 4 tutorials to go over primary source extracts, discuss historical context and prepare for the ‘gobbet’ dimension of the examination paper. Each student will also be given two 30-minute individual meetings to discuss the extended essay. 

This paper follows the different peoples of the Russian empire across the revolutionary divide of 1917 and into the early years of the Soviet Union. Its focus is on how the Tsarist and Soviet regimes dealt with the management of difference and the challenge of nationalism. The 1897 census, the only complete survey of the empire’s population before the revolution, revealed that only 40% of its population was ethnically Russian. The remainder belonged to a bewildering variety of groups, some of which already thought of themselves as distinct nationalities: Ukrainians, Poles, Tatars, Jews, Armenians, Georgians, Qazaqs, Kyrgyz, Sarts, Turkmen, Buryats, and many, many more. They belonged to many different religious denominations –Orthodox, Catholic, Lutheran and Monophysite Christianity, Judaism, Shia and Sunni Islam, Buddhism and animism; and they spoke many different languages, Slavic, Turkic, Persian, Caucasian, Mongolian. The Ottoman and Habsburg empires, also multi-ethnic dynastic polities, collapsed under the stresses of warand were reconstituted as nation-states. The Russian empire also collapsed between 1917 and 1921, but was then reconstituted in a new and radical form. The Soviet solution to the ‘nationalities problem’ was radical, unique, and surprisingly long-lasting, allowing the empire to endure until 1991, with many sentimental and political ties remaining to this day.

The sources for this paper will mostly be in Russian, and will range from official government documents and memoranda, diaries, memoirs and private correspondence, newspaper articles and eyewitness accounts from the actors involved. By the end of the course students should have acquired a very different perspective on the Russian revolution, too often thought of as Russkii-something which only concerned ethnic Russians -when in fact it was Rossiiskii–something which concerned all the different peoples of the empire, only a minority of whom were Russian. The revolution represented not just the triumph of a form of Marxist ideology, but of a politicsof nationality that would in many ways prove much more enduring. 

This paper focuses particularly on the Nazi consolidation of power, racial policy, the war and the holocaust, drawing on a wide range of documents in order to explore both the individual and the social dimensions of events. About 40% of the documents are in German and 60% in English.

A good reading knowledge of German is a prerequisite for studying this paper. 

Between the late 1930s and the late 1960s, the Indian National Congress dominated the political terrain of modern India. Yet during those thirty years of apparent hegemony the debate about the nature of modernity in India was unceasing. Gandhi and Nehru represent the two poles of thought – the former a romantic critic of western modernity in its political, cultural and economic forms, the latter its greatest champion. Many other voices and movements continued to contest the meanings and manifestations of the modern in the post-colonial Indian state.

Certain key themes shaped these conflicts: the relationship between ‘tradition’ and ‘modernity’; ‘real’ or village India, versus the city; the tension between the ‘national’ and the ‘cosmopolitan’; the place of science and development; and role of culture (both high and popular), in informing conceptions of modern citizenship. These debates were not confined to the rarefied sphere of professional intellectuals but played out on the streets of India’s cities, in its cinema halls, during elections, in the disputes over the dramatic impact of ‘modern’ development in the countryside and in the new aesthetics and rituals of India’s democratic process.

Using a variety of sources, both elite and popular, including film, literary writing, memoir and official documents this course will examine the complexity of the Nehruvian vision of a modern, integrated India, as well as the views of its opponents. In the weekly classes, it will explore a range of issues, from Gandhi to Muslim identity and the creation of Pakistan, from film and ‘Bollywood’ to the Maoist ‘Naxalite’ rebellions of the 1960s, from debates over modernist architecture to the position of women.

This Special Subject deals with perhaps the most exciting and controversial episode in contemporary French history: when the Third Republic collapsed under the weight of its own contradictions and France was defeated in a lightning war. The country was occupied by the Germans and a puppet French state was set up at Vichy under First World War hero Marshal Pétain who tried to push through a National Revolution to regenerate what was seen as a decadent France. This included the cooperation of the French state with the Germans in the round-up and deportation of Jews to the death camps. In London, General de Gaulle called for the war to continue and formed the Free French who battled with the Vichy regime for control of the French Empire. The French population divided between a minority who collaborated with the Germans in pursuit of a new Europe, a minority – inspired by de Gaulle or the courage of the Red Army - who resisted foreign occupation and humiliation and a majority who muddled through until France was liberated by the Allies.

The subject has recently been radically revised to take account of recent developments in historiography, exploring the contradictions of Vichy, the complexities of; resistance – communist and non-communist, by French people and foreigners - everyday life in extraordinary times, the experience of women and the persecution and resistance of the Jews.

The list of set texts has undergone recent refreshment. Alongside parliamentary debates, the newspapers of the 1930s, official records on state collaboration and trial records from the post-war purge of French who collaborated with the Germans, a new emphasis has been placed on first-person sources: testimonies, diaries, memoirs and interviews.

About two-thirds of the sources are in French and the rest in English so those interested in taking this paper should have (or be willing to acquire) a good reading knowledge of French.

The Second World War was an era of intense intellectual and popular debate about politics, culture, social and economic policy and the future shape of British society. These debates stemmed partly from the immediate circumstances of the war itself (the Blitz and the ‘People’s War’), partly from reappraisals of the legacy of the inter-war years and partly from a sense of wider international crisis. They ranged over such issues as the wartime and post-war role of the state; Keynesianism and economic planning, relations between ‘high’ and ‘low’ culture and changes in education, family policy, housing, and town planning. Major participants included Keynes and Hayek, Beveridge and Eleanor Rathbone, T. S. Eliot and Karl Mannheim, William Temple and Harold Laski, the London Women’s Parliament and Mass Observation.

The documents for the course include unpublished archive material on reconstruction, official reports and parliamentary debates, wartime diaries and literature and a range of contemporary commentaries, newspapers and pamphlets. An important aspect of the course is the use of visual materials in the form of paintings by war artists, posters and films. 

This course focuses on social change in post-war Britain with particular reference to the working-class and to women. The post-war years were long perceived to be a dull period of conservatism between the upheaval of war and the radical politics of the late 1960s, peopled by affluent workers and happy housewives who enjoyed economic security and low divorce rates. This appearance of ‘normality’ is deceptive: a way of life often presented as ‘traditional’ lasted for just two fleeting decades, in which men were able to be reliable breadwinners, women were able to choose domesticity over paid work, and routes up the social ladder became easier to find.

Yet Britain’s New Jerusalem seethed with ambition and discontent. These were years of mass migration and mobility: from Commonwealth countries to ‘Mother’ England; from slums to new towns; from the bottom of the social ladder to a new intelligentsia of writers, film-makers, actors and artists whose work celebrated their humble roots. They were years when women’s magazines championed the housewife while women entered work in ever-increasing numbers; when social mobility increased while the working-class hero became a star of stage and screen; and when, despite new educational opportunities, teenagers were confirmed as hedonists and hooligans. We will engage with the exciting, emerging historiography on these subjects, but there remains plenty of scope for original investigation. Chief among our sources are autobiographies and memoirs.

We will also analyse social surveys, novels, the press and parliamentary papers to place these personal accounts in a broader political, economic, and cultural context. In doing so, we will examine the changing relationship between the individual, the state, and society in post-war Britain, and consider what this tells us about the place of the working class, and of women, in modern history. 


The course will examine aspects of Pop Art and other related art movements fromthe later 1950s to the early 1970s. The primary focus will be on British and American Pop Art, but attention will also be given to developments in other sites (e.g. France, South America, Asia). Prescribed materials will include both texts and numerous images. Prescribed texts will include the writings of artists and critics and period discussions of issues ranging from the mass media to the Vietnam War. Topics will include the relationship between art and mass culture; the avant-garde’s relationship with and/or contestation of the art market; art’s engagement with race, gender, and sexual orientation and the important role played by female, BME and queer artists; and the impact of May 1968and the Vietnam War on art.


This course analyses the politics, culture and violence of the Northern Ireland Troubles. Taking the premiership of Terence O’Neill in the 1960s as its starting-point, it considers the Civil Rights Movement, the emergence of the Provos, Bloody Sunday, Sunningdale, Ulsterization, and the Hunger Strikes, concluding with the Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1985.

Students will focus on discrimination, unionism, nationalism, religion and politics and political violence. Themes of representation and the negotiation of identity will feature strongly. 

The 1970s were a traumatic transitional period for Britain. The twin threats of uncontainable inflation and unemployment led policy-makers to reject the welfarist and Keynesian remedies that had predominated since the Second World War, and to move towards neo-liberal policies. Economic underperformance accelerated the decline of traditional industrial areas, creating an ‘inner city problem.’ Women, ethnic minorities, and homosexuals all became more assertive in demanding recognition of their needs and identities. Resurgent nationalism in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland threatened the integrity of the United Kingdom, while EEC entry raised new dilemmas about Britain’s national identity. Successive governments’ authority was challenged by trade union militancy, left- and right-wing extremism, and by their own seeming inability to address the country’s problems.

This course will examine how these multiple pressures shaped Britain in the 1970s. As well as looking at their impact on government and politics, it will also explore their more indirect influence on cultural movements like punk and post-modernism. In addition to official and parliamentary papers, the set documents will include memoirs, sociological studies, underground literature, novels and feature films. 

This course allows students to explore the major cultural and intellectual trends that affected Europe (both East and West) and North America between c. 1970 and c. 2000. Its main theme is the crisis of a number of ‘modernist’ ideologies and cultural outlooks – Social Democracy, Marxism and cultural modernism – and the rise of alternatives, including ‘identity’ politics, neoliberalism, and cultural postmodernism. We will examine several issues, including the rise of new social movements (ecological, feminist, gay rights); the debate over the role of markets and the state in the economy; multiculturalism and national identity; consumerism and individualism; computer technology and work; and the place of human rights in foreign policy.

The sources include writings and speeches by intellectuals and politicians, from Vaclav Havel to Michel Foucault, from Ronald Reagan to the feminist writer Shulamith Firestone. But we will also investigate the themes in novels and films of the period: the debate over technology in Don Delillo’s White Noise and the Wachowski Brothers’ The Matrix; postmodernism in the writings of Umberto Eco and Milan Kundera, and in the influential architectural manifesto, Learning from Las Vegas; responses to markets and consumerism in American Psycho by American writer Bret Easton Ellis, and in Generation ‘P’ by Russian novelist Viktor Pelevin; feminism in the short stories of Angela Carter; and identity and multiculturalism in Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses. All sources are in English. 

Few recent historical events have generated as much international interest and attention as the dismantling of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and its legacy for the remaking of Central and Eastern Europe.

The upheavals across Eastern Europe have recently celebrated their 25th anniversary, as they have moved from current affairs to a subject of historical investigation in its own right. Even so, this colourful episode enjoys only brief and often cursory treatment in European history surveys and mainstream histories of 20 th century Europe. This course is designed to introduce students to the momentous changes leading up to the events of 1989 as well as the on-going reconstitution of Central Europe after the Cold War. Various ex-East Bloc countries will be examined in some detail, and a good deal of attention will focus upon assessing the complex role and meaning of German Reunification within German, European and global history.

This course is taught in a combination of classes and tutorials. In the classes, students will explore the historical dimensions and political background of 1989 for Central and Eastern Europe (Versailles Treaty, the legacy of World War II for the region, Stalinization and the series of failed uprisings) through various political texts and historical sources, and engage in analysis of the primary source material assigned. Tutorials will focus on a select number of primary source extracts in preparation for the ‘gobbet’ dimension of the final examination. In so doing, the course will offer a detailed investigation of the causes of fall of the Berlin Wall within both German and Central European history, of the political debates about the meaning of the end of the Cold War, as well as the historiographical controversies generated by various interpretations about the event itself.

We will have 4 tutorials to go over primary source extracts, discuss historical context and prepare for the ‘gobbet’ dimension of the examination paper. Each student will also be given two 30-minute individual meetings to discuss the extended essay. 

This course is designed not only to present a survey of Chinese art but also to provide students with a chance to learn how to read social programs of Chinese history represented in visual language. In order to do this, the course asks students to think of questions, such as “Why does a particular artifact look the way it does?” “Who made it and who obtained it?” “Where was it displayed and for what purpose?” “Who decided what was acceptable and who, if anyone, challenged established styles of production?” Rather than seeing artwork as a passive indicator of changing artistic norms and paradigms, students will learn to interpret images and art critical writing as vehicles through which diverse social groups negotiate competing values and social norms. The issues of power, class, taste, gender, political debate, social criticism, and public opinions throughout Chinese history will be discussed in the class in order to let students understand that art and society are not two separate entities, but they are related to each other in many ways.

The knowledge obtained through addressing these questions will then lead students to a better understanding of Chinese art and society where art functioned as a site for social and political negotiation. In short, this course will teach students how to read social history from art works. The primary materials of investigation in the class will be paintings, but other visual media such as sculpture, crafts, book illustrations, photography, and even consumer products will also be incorporated into the discussion. A range of scholarly studies will be introduced, which are built upon different academic methodologies and perspectives. No previous knowledge of Chinese Art History or History is necessary.  

For centuries, art and visual culture have worked together with economic, scientific, political and religious factors to shape and re-shape what we call ‘race’. While scholars continue to debate the precise origin point and geographical location for the invention of racial difference, this course takes a less comprehensive view. Focusing on the Anglo-American world, we will look at a series of interconnected episodes in this complex history, exploring art’s often underappreciated role in bringing forth, nourishing and sustaining hierarchies based on skin colour and ancestry.

Dating from the mid 18th to the early 20th century, prescribed materials include images of paintings, sculptures, prints and photographs, which will be analysed alongside a variety of contemporaneous written texts, from cultural criticism to scientific literature, novellas and plays. We will begin by looking at the fabrication of Whiteness via oil paint, specifically portraits of female sitters. We will go on to examine the role of satire in sharpening racial divisions before looking at the emergence of racial science, sculpture and polychromy, the fashion for the American Indian figure, racial ambiguity, and the use of the camera to unsettle stereotypical images established in traditional media. We will end with a consideration of how the racialised myths and fantasies we have explored in previous weeks are intimately entangled with the emergence of Art History as an academic discipline.  

Please note that the options listed above are illustrative and may be subject to change.

Assessment: This paper is examined by two papers

  • Paper 1 (Gobbets): This 3-hour written examination requires you to write commentaries on twelve out of twenty-four short passages or images from the prescribed sources provided
  • Paper 2 (Extended Essay): an extended essay of not more than 6,000 words


Capping Special Subjects

Since the demand for certain of the Special Subjects may exceed the capacity of the Faculty to teach them, such subjects may be ‘capped’. This means that a ceiling is placed on the number permitted to attend the Faculty Classes in the subject.