MSc in History of Science, Medicine and Technology | University of Oxford
Radcliffe Humanities
View of the Radcliffe Observatory Quarter from Radcliffe Humanities
(Image Credit: Ved Patel / Graduate Photography Competition)

MSc in History of Science, Medicine and Technology

About the course

This specialist one-year course offers a range of options in the history of science, medicine and technology. You may specialise in the history of science and technology, or the social history of medicine, although the boundaries between these areas are deliberately permeable.

The history of science, medicine, and technology is a long-established discipline in Oxford. R. T. Gunther and Charles Singer were among the pioneers of the subject early in the twentieth century, and since the 1920s the Museum of the History of Science has housed an outstanding collection of scientific instruments and a fine specialist library. In the early 1970s, the creation of the chair of the history of science and the establishment of the Wellcome Unit for the History of Medicine gave the subject additional strength and allowed important new departures.

The expertise of scholars in Oxford covers most of the main areas and periods of the history of science, medicine, and technology. A varied programme of seminars, lectures, and conferences enables you to obtain knowledge of subjects beyond your chosen speciality and to meet visitors from elsewhere in Britain and abroad.

Teaching and examination comprise:

  • two core qualifying papers, taught in classes during Michaelmas term, and reinforced by lectures on specific issues with formal assessment through a methodological essay of 3,000 words for each of the papers (one paper on methods and themes in the history of science and technology and one on methods and themes in the history of medicine);
  • two advanced papers, usually taught in small classes and mostly during Hilary Term - assessment is usually by three-hour written examination, but you may choose to be assessed for one of their advanced papers by two extended essays of up to 5,000 words each
  • a dissertation of not more than 15,000 words on a topic of your choice, approved by your supervisor, and submitted at the end of September.

Please note that not every optional subject listed may be on offer every year, depending in part on levels of student demand. Full details of core and optional papers available are available on the course webpage.

If you wish to apply for the DPhil you will be encouraged to develop your doctoral proposal during the first few months of the course, so that you will be well placed to make a doctoral application.

You should not apply to both the MSc and MPhil in this research area. Both courses have the same entry requirements.

Graduate destinations

About a quarter of master’s students proceed to doctoral work at Oxford; others continue academic study at other institutions. Other career destinations are as diverse as, but broadly in line with, undergraduate history career destinations: law, finance, management consultancy, civil service etc.

Related courses

Changes to the course

The University will seek to deliver this course in accordance with the description set out in this course page. However, there may be situations in which it is desirable or necessary for the University to make changes in course provision, either before or after registration. For further information, please see our page on changes to courses.

Entry requirements for entry in 2017-18

Within equal opportunities principles and legislation, applications will be assessed in the light of an applicant’s ability to meet the following entry requirements:

1. Academic ability

Proven and potential academic excellence

Applicants are normally expected to be predicted or have achieved a first-class or strong upper second-class undergraduate degree with honours (or equivalent international qualifications), as a minimum, in a relevant discipline in the humanities or social sciences.

For applicants with a degree from the USA, the minimum GPA sought is 3.75 out of 4.0.

Applicants are normally expected to have a previous degree in history, but for master's applications a number of candidates will be accepted without. You will need to ensure that you link your proposed dissertation topic with your previous expertise when you present it in your research proposal, or that you explain why you want to switch to study history, and to show that you have already done some background research into it. Your submitted written work should show your writing and research skills in their best light, as it will be important to show that you have the necessary skills required for historical research.

If you hold non-UK qualifications and wish to check how your qualifications match these requirements, you can contact the National Recognition Information Centre for the United Kingdom (UK NARIC).

No Graduate Record Examination (GRE) or GMAT scores are sought.

Substantial professional experience in relevant fields, or work in an African country, will be taken into account. 

Other appropriate indicators will include:

Supporting documents

You will be required to supply supporting documents with your application, including references and an official transcript. See 'How to apply' for instructions on the documents you will need and how these will be assessed.

Performance at interview(s)

Interviews are not normally held as part of the admissions process.  

Assessors may get in touch with an applicant by email in case of any queries, but this is very rare.

Publications

Publications are not required.

Other qualifications, evidence of excellence and relevant experience

In the case of mature students/intended career changes professional experience in cognate areas may compensate for shortcomings in the formal academic record. 

2. English language requirement

Applicants whose first language is not English are usually required to provide evidence of proficiency in English at the higher level required by the University.

3. Availability of supervision, teaching, facilities and places

The following factors will govern whether candidates can be offered places:

  • The ability of the Faculty of History to provide the appropriate supervision, research opportunities, teaching and facilities for your chosen area of work. 
  • Minimum and maximum limits to the numbers of students who may be admitted to Oxford's research and taught programmes.

The provision of supervision, where required, is subject to the following points:

  • The allocation of graduate supervision is the responsibility of the Faculty of History and it is not always possible to accommodate the preferences of incoming graduate students to work with a particular member of staff. 
  • Under some circumstances a supervisor outside the Faculty of History may be nominated.

An Oxford academic’s pre-application indication of willingness to supervise an enquiring applicant is not a guarantee that the applicant will be offered a place, or that the supervisor in question has capacity in that particular year.

Where possible your academic supervisor will not change for the duration of your course. However, it may be necessary to assign a new academic supervisor during the course of study or before registration for reasons which might include sabbatical leave, maternity leave or change in employment.

4. Disability, health conditions and specific learning difficulties

Students are selected for admission without regard to gender, marital or civil partnership status, disability, race, nationality, ethnic origin, religion or belief, sexual orientation, age or social background.

Decisions on admission are based solely on the individual academic merits of each candidate and the application of the entry requirements appropriate to the course.

Further information on how these matters are supported during the admissions process is available in our guidance for applicants with disabilities.

5. Assessors

All recommendations to admit a student involve the judgment of at least two members of academic staff with relevant experience and expertise, and additionally must be approved by the Director of Graduate Studies or Admissions Committee (or equivalent departmental persons or bodies).

Admissions panels or committees will always include at least one member of academic staff who has undertaken appropriate training.

6. Other information

Whether you have yet secured funding is not taken into consideration in the decision to make an initial offer of a place, but please note that the initial offer of a place will not be confirmed until you have completed a Financial Declaration.

Resources

Intellectual life and community

The explicitly interdisciplinary nature of this MSc means that the History Faculty collaborates with other divisions and departments within the University. 

In the field of history of science, technology and medicine the study environment is particularly enhanced by the Wellcome Unit for the History of Medicine and the Museum of the History of Science, as well as by a large number of academic experts with interest in these fields across the collegiate University. You will benefit from a variety of interdisciplinary resources, including weekly seminars.

More generally, working as an Oxford graduate student is an exhilarating experience. History at Oxford stretches from around 300 AD to the present and embraces an exceptionally broad geographical range. It comprises an active research community of up to 800 academics and graduate students.

The faculty’s research is organised around historical periods, research centres, or in collaborative and individual research projects, and graduates are key participants in the wide range of seminars, workshops and conferences run by the History Faculty.

Further opportunities for exchange are provided by the interdisciplinary communities fostered within individual colleges, which also offer dedicated support for graduates by means of personal advisors. The Oxford Centre for Research in the Humanities (TORCH) offers a stimulating range of interdisciplinary activities. You are also encouraged to join the Oxford History Graduate Network (OHGN), which fosters friendships, conversations and collaboration.

The Oxford environment provides a unique opportunity to develop intellectual curiosity whilst remaining focused on your own work without becoming blinkered - an integral part of a successful graduate career.

Libraries and archives

Graduates in Oxford are fortunate in having access to over a hundred libraries. The University's core research resource in the humanities are the Bodleian Libraries, whose combined collections contain more than 11 million printed items, in addition to more than 50,000 e-journals and a vast quantity of manuscripts, maps, music and other materials.

The Bodleian has been a library of legal deposit for 400 years. The Bodleian Libraries’ Special Collections Department attracts scholars from all over the world.  Further strengths include the countless databases and digital resources currently offered by the Bodleian and being developed through Oxford’s Digital Humanities programme.

You are also able to draw on the specialist resources offered by the Bodleian History Faculty Library which provides dedicated support and training courses for all graduates. They also have access to the many college libraries and to college archives which can house significant collections of personal papers as well as institutional records dating back to the middle ages.

Funding

There are over 1,000 full graduate scholarships available across the University, and these cover your course and college fees and provide a grant for living costs. If you apply by the relevant January deadline and fulfil the eligibility criteria you will be automatically considered. Over two thirds of Oxford scholarships require nothing more than the standard course application. Use the Fees, funding and scholarship search to find out which scholarships you are eligible for and if they require an additional application, full details of which are provided.

The Ertegun Scholarship Programme and the Humanities Research Council (AHRC) each provide a number of awards every year, to support graduate students across a range of disciplines. To be considered for these studentships you must apply by the relevant January admissions deadline.

Costs

Annual fees for entry in 2017-18

Fee status

Tuition fee

College fee

Total annual fees

Home/EU
(including Islands)
£7,400£3,021£10,421
Overseas£19,335£3,021£22,356

The fees shown above are the annual tuition and college fees for this course for entry in the stated academic year; for courses lasting longer than one year, please be aware that fees will usually increase annually. For details, please see our guidance on likely increases to fees and charges.

Tuition and college fees are payable each year for the duration of your fee liability (your fee liability is the length of time for which you are required to pay tuition and college fees).

For more information about tuition fees, college fees and fee liability, please see the Fees section of this website. EU applicants should refer to our dedicated webpage for details on the impact of the result of the UK referendum on its membership of the European Union.

Additional information

There are no compulsory elements of this course that entail additional costs beyond fees and living costs.  However, as part of your course requirements, you may need to choose a dissertation, a project or a thesis topic. Please note that, depending on your choice of topic and the research required to complete it, you may incur additional expenses, such as travel expenses, research expenses, and field trips. You will need to meet these additional costs, although you may be able to apply for small grants from your department and/or college to help you cover some of these expenses.

Living costs

In addition to your tuition and college fees, you will need to ensure that you have adequate funds to support your living costs for the duration of your course.

For the 2017-18 academic year, the range of likely living costs is between £1,002 and £1,471 for each month spent in Oxford. Full information, including a breakdown of likely living costs in Oxford for items such as food, accommodation and study costs, is available on our Living costs page.

How to apply

You are encouraged to familiarise yourself with the research expertise within the faculty when preparing your application. However, you will not be required to specify a potential supervisor in your application and the faculty will in any case decide supervision arrangements, taking due account of workload and commitments of its academics.

If you are not sure who to contact, or if you think your topic is out of the ordinary, and/or requires a specialist supervisor who might not usually be available at all universities, please send a brief topic outline of around two paragraphs to the History Graduate Office to check whether appropriate supervision is available and to be put in touch with a potential supervisor, where appropriate.

The set of documents you should send with your application to this course comprises the following:

Official transcript(s)

Your transcripts should give detailed information of the individual grades received in your university-level qualifications to date. You should only upload official documents issued by your institution and any transcript not in English should be accompanied by a certified translation.

More information about the transcript requirement is available in the Application Guide.

CV/résumé

A CV/résumé is compulsory for all applications. Most applicants choose to submit a document of one to two pages highlighting their academic achievements and any relevant professional experience.

Statement of purpose/personal statement:
500 to 1,000 words, typically two to four pages double-spaced

Your statement should convince the faculty that you have the right intellectual qualities, academic knowledge and skills to undertake the course. It should focus on how you see the course as building upon your previous study, and what you hope to do with the qualifications you gain from the University, rather than on personal achievements and aspirations.

You should discuss what kinds of problems and issues you hope to engage with; what the current state of your knowledge and understanding of these is, and how you hope to advance that. You should indicate what optional papers you are interested in taking.

You should also sketch out a preliminary research proposal and title for your intended dissertation. This should supply a research question identifying the central issue or problem with which you intend to grapple, some account of the current state of scholarship in this area and an indication of the kinds of sources you hope to use. You should combine your research proposal with your statement of purpose to upload it as a single document.

Your statement must be written in English. A bibliography may also be provided and is not included in the word count, though any footnotes should be included.

It is anticipated that your ideas will change and develop once you have begun the programme and have been exposed to new approaches, sources and methods. However, students applying to this course are expected to have a clear sense of the kind of research they wish to undertake.

This will be assessed for:

  • your reasons for applying
  • evidence of motivation for and understanding of the proposed area of study
  • the coherence of the proposal, the ability to present a reasoned case in English
  • commitment to the subject, beyond the requirements of the degree programme
  • reasoning ability
  • ability to absorb new ideas, often presented abstractly, at a rapid pace.

Written work:
Two essays of 2,000 words each or one essay of 4,000 to 5,000 words

Academic essays or other writing samples from your most recent qualification are required. Extracts from a longer dissertation are welcome but a preface which puts them in context is expected. The work does not need to relate closely to your proposed area of study.

The written work must be submitted in English (if this work has been translated, you must indicate if the translations are your own, or what assistance you had in producing the English text).

Any footnotes should be included in the word count. A bibliography may also be provided and is not included in the word count.

This will be assessed for understanding of problems in the area; ability to construct and defend an argument; powers of analysis; and powers of expression.

To submit one longer piece of work in your application, upload your work as written work in your application and for the second piece of written work, upload the following text as a PDF or Word document:

"I have included one long essay in lieu of the two short essays as permitted by the department."

References/letters of recommendation:
Three overall, generally academic

Whilst you must register three referees, the department may start the assessment of your application if two of the three references are submitted by the course deadline and your application is otherwise complete. Please note that you may still be required to ensure your third referee supplies a reference for consideration.

References should generally be academic, though if you are returning to study after extended periods of non-academic employment then you are welcome to nominate professional referees where it would be impractical to call on your previous university tutors.

Your references will support intellectual ability, academic achievement, motivation, ability to work in both a group environment and sustained individual and self-motivated investigation.