Oxford University History Essay Ideas

Oxford is celebrated for the broad chronological sweep of its courses and the enormous amount of choice offered to students. Students can study options on any part of British and European history from the declining years of the Roman Empire to the present day. The geographical range is also broad: there are options on North American, Latin American, Asian and African history (see History website for further details). Students are encouraged to adopt a variety of interdisciplinary approaches to their work, and the faculty is strong on intellectual and cultural history options. The Oxford History Faculty is at the forefront of research.

History Careers

History graduates go on to follow careers in fields such as law, investment banking and consultancies, advertising, accountancy, the Civil Service, publishing, journalism and the media, global charity work, museums, librarianship and archive work, and teaching. Recent graduates include a civil servant at the Department of Health, an investment management associate and a barrister.

Edward, a curator, says: ‘My degree helped me acquire a position with the Pendle Heritage Centre and then at Historic Scotland. Afterwards I became a curator for the National Museum of the US Navy.’

David is a history teacher at Taunton School. He says: ‘A History degree was a prerequisite to teaching history to A-level and IB, but the Oxford degree accelerated my career path, allowing me to step straight into a position at an academic school. I use my degree on a daily basis, in teaching a wide range of historical topics as well as advising students about Oxford.’

Robin is the Managing Director of Schneider-Ross. He says: ‘On graduating, I joined Esso UK. Having met my wife there, in 1989 we decided to set up our own consultancy, Schneider-Ross, specialising in global diversity and inclusion. I feel History gave me all the skills I’ve called on to analyse data, make arguments and convince people of the need to change… and the confidence to work at board level with FTSE 100 companies (it’s just like a tutorial really).’

Sian says: ‘Since graduating I have worked as assistant brand manager on Pringles and Braun at Procter & Gamble. My degree taught me analytical skills, time management and the ability to think critically, all of which are crucial in my role.’

Related courses

Students interested in this course might also like to consider Archaeology and Anthropology, Classical Archaeology and Ancient History, other History courses or History of Art.

A typical weekly timetable

Students are expected to attend about five lectures a week during the first year, participate in regular meetings with tutors to discuss work, research in libraries and write at least one essay a week. In the second and third years students choose from an enormous variety of lectures and their regular tutorials are supplemented by faculty classes where they discuss work with a larger number of students. The thesis gives all students the opportunity to engage in a piece of independent research. Throughout the course, students are very much in charge of their own timetable.

To find out more about how our teaching year is structured, visit our Academic Year page.

1st year


Four courses are taken:

  • History of the British Isles
  • European and world history
  • Historical methods (choice of Approaches to history; Historiography: Tacitus to Weber; Quantification; one of several foreign text papers)
  • Optional subject (choice of around 20 including: Theories of the state; Making England Protestant, 1558–1642; The rise and crises of European socialisms, 1881–1921; Radicalism in Britain, 1965–75)


First University examinations: Four written papers

2nd and 3rd years


Six courses are taken:

  • History of the British Isles
  • European and world history
  • Further subject (choice of about 35, including: China since 1900; The Near East in the age of Justinian and Muhammad, c527–700; The Middle East in the age of empire, 1830–1971; The authority of nature: Race, heredity and crime, 1800–1940; Culture, politics and identity in Cold War Europe 1945–68; Britain at the movies: Film and national identity since 1914)
  • Special subject: a paper and an extended essay (choice of about 30, including: The Norman conquest of England; Politics, art and culture in the Italian Renaissance, Venice and Florence c1475–1525; The Scientific Movement in the 17th century; English architecture, 1660–1720; Race, religion and resistance in the US, from Jim Crow to Civil Rights; Britain in the seventies; Terror and forced labour in Stalin’s Russia; From Gandhi to the Green Revolution: India, independence and modernity, 1947–73; Nazi Germany, a racial order, 1933–45; The Northern Ireland troubles, 1965–85)
  • Disciplines of history
  • Thesis
For the latest information on all course details and options see the History website.


Final University examinations: Four written papers; one portfolio of submitted essays; one extended essay; one thesis; an additional thesis may be offered
Some essays are submitted in year 2.

Helen Bentley

Watch a series of short videos of students talking about some aspect of their time at Oxford.


'Choosing to study Ancient and Modern History was, for me, a pretty easy decision. I’d just read Robert Graves ‘I, Claudius’ and I was studying some Ancient History at school and really enjoying it so I thought, why not? The Ancient and Modern History course offers a great range of options and allows me to study some of the most important aspects of European history. The lecturers and tutors are experts in their field which is a huge benefit and the variety of the libraries, including a specialist Ancient History library, the Sackler, built in true imposing neo-classical style, means I am never unable to find, or be forced to buy, a book for my course. 

One of the best things about being in Oxford is learning by talking to other undergraduates about their subject – just being in Oxford, surrounded by other Oxford students, broadens the mind. You only have to spend a week here to learn that while people do work hard, it’s not all work and no play, and with the incredible variety of things to do in Oxford it would be ridiculous to think we spent our entire lives working!

I’ve loved my time at Oxford, getting involved with drama as well as student radio, a choir and my college sports teams! There is always someone doing something enjoyable in Oxford. This ensures there is an atmosphere of inclusivity as well as excellence: for example, college sports teams cater for many levels of ability – so anyone who wants to play, can play. The course here at Oxford is stimulating and the atmosphere of the University and the city exciting.'


She now works as a Lecturer in British History at the Humboldt University in Berlin, Germany. She says:   

'Learning to work independently and under pressure as an undergraduate was the perfect preparation for an academic career. It gave me the skills I needed to teach successfully at a university level and the self-confidence necessary to publish and present my research before my peers.’


The most unexpected thing about my course:

'The most unexpected thing about my course was how my tutors were not just there as tutors, but as mentors and even friends.'

I wish they'd told me when I was applying to university...

'That it's possible to study at Oxford and have an amazing social life, brilliant friends, and a support network (both academic and emotional) that is the best in the world.'

The best thing that Oxford did for me:

'The best thing that Oxford did for me academically was question the world and what people say about it. The best thing that Oxford did for me personally was show me that I could be myself.'

My favourite Oxford memory is...

'Exiting my final exam in prelims and being overwhelmed by loving friends and raucous celebration. I have never felt so appreciated or supported.'

I'd just like to add:

'Apply to Oxford. It's the best decision you'll ever make in your life.'


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