MSt in Historical Studies | University of Oxford
Radcliffe Camera
The Radcliffe Camera, through the window of the Bodleian Library
(Image Credit: Christopher Wills / Graduate Photography Competition)

MSt in Historical Studies

About the course

The MSt in Historical Studies is the second year of a two-year part-time graduate course that focuses on British, Western European and imperial history and promotes a broad approach to historical research across the historical disciplines. It provides systematic training in research methods and the opportunity to research a substantial dissertation.

The course forms part of Oxford University Department for Continuing Education's graduate programme in historical studies. Successful completion of the PGCert in Historical Studies is mandatory for admission to this master's year. The MSt course builds upon the skills and knowledge developed in the PGCert and encourages students to engage actively with theoretical and historiographical approaches underpinning modern historical research.

Structure, content and assessment

There are three units:

Unit 1: Using Archives and Analysing Sources

In this unit students examine the key documentary and material sources and resources for their specialist period selected from three parallel strands covering the medieval, early modern and modern periods. They are encouraged to sharpen their critical and analytical skills and to reflect upon the challenges and opportunities particular sources or categories of source present to users. They are introduced to the main historical methods informing the design of research projects, for example macro and micro approaches, quantification and the use of material evidence. Training is also offered in the use of electronic search engines, catalogues and databases and guidance provided on using archives and their catalogues. 

Unit 2: Theoretical Approaches to History

Students examine themes and theoretical approaches that have provided the critical framework for, or have influenced, approaches to historical research. Four seminars are offered each year.  In the first instance, these will cover gender, space, violence and identity. There is assigned reading but students are also encouraged to consider the application of the chosen approaches to their own research and to subjects that interest them. Students are required to give short presentations, for example, introducing key texts.

Unit 3: Writing History

Students are encouraged in this unit to reflect upon the challenges historians face in framing, structuring and presenting their research findings. A visiting lecturer and members of the course team share their experience of planning and writing books and handling conceptual issues such as causation, problem solving and controversy and the challenges of presenting qualitative and quantitative research findings and using digital data. Students give short presentations on their dissertations and take questions and comments from tutors and students. There is a workshop on the organisation and presentation of the dissertation. 

The graded assessment for these units is provided by the 15,000-word dissertation, supplemented by three summative assessment exercises marked pass/fail, namely a 2,500-word survey of secondary literature for the dissertation, a 2,500-word survey of primary sources for the dissertation and a 1,500-word dissertation proposal.

The final grade awarded for the MSt subsumes the grade awarded for the Postgraduate Certificate in Historical Studies, with a weighting of 60% applied to the MSt grade and 40% to the PGCert grade.

Pattern of teaching, learning and supervision

The units are taught in three weekend residences providing 38 hours of teaching, seminar discussion and presentations. Student additionally receive up to five hours individual supervision for their dissertations. Students are expected to spend at least fifteen hours per week in private study preparing for the weekend residences and researching and writing their dissertations.

Graduate destinations

It is anticipated that about a quarter of students will progress to doctoral study.

Other courses in this area

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 2019-20

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

It is necessary to have successfully completed the PGCert in Historical Studies in order to be admitted to this course.

Applicants are normally expected to have achieved a first-class or strong upper second-class undergraduate degree with honours (or equivalent international qualifications), as a minimum, in a relevant subject.

It is also essential that applicants demonstrate a strong performance (actual or predicted) on the PGCert in Historical Studies

For applicants with a degree from the USA, the minimum GPA normally sought is 3.7 out of 4.0.

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.

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 normally held as part of the admissions process. These interviews are scheduled to be held in February and April.

All applicants will normally be interviewed. Telephone or Skype interviews will be offered to students living overseas or at a considerable distance.  

Interviews will be conducted by two members of the course team. The interview will focus on your reasons for wishing to progress to master's study, the essays submitted with your application and your proposed research project. 


Publications are not expected.

Other qualifications, evidence of excellence and relevant experience

Research or working experience in a historical field may be an advantage.

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 Department for Continuing Education 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 Department for Continuing Education and it is not always possible to accommodate the preferences of incoming graduate students to work with a particular member of staff. 
  • Under exceptional circumstances a supervisor may be found outside the Department for Continuing Education.

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.


The department is located in a block of attractive Victorian houses in Wellington Square in central Oxford close to some of the University's major libraries and museums and to the Radcliffe Observatory Quarter. The city's historic sites, colleges, shops and restaurants are only a few minutes walk away. The modernised and extended site has its own fully-equipped seminar rooms, library, reading room, student computing facility, graduate school study/social room, dining-room, common-room, garden seating areas and short-term student accommodation

The department's Graduate School provides a stimulating and enriching learning and research environment for its 700-strong graduate community. It fosters intellectual and social interaction between graduates of different disciplines and professions from the UK and around the globe. It runs training sessions, a termly research seminar and dinner, an arts and humanities seminar series and social events.

In addition to Rewley House's well-stocked Continuing Education Library, you will have access to University libraries such as the Bodleian Library, Weston Library, History Faculty Library, and the Sackler Library. Library access includes full online access to history and other journals and to a wide range of historical data bases and document collections, available anywhere.

You will also have access to the extensive range of seminars, lectures and training sessions offered by this department and other departments, faculties and centres within the University. The Humanities Division and History Faculty offer a wide range of graduate seminars, lectures and training and special events. The Bodleian Library Group and IT services run a wide-ranging programme of training workshops.


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.


Annual fees for entry in 2019-20

Fee status

Annual Course fees

Home/EU (including Islands)£5,230

The fees shown above are the annual course fees for this course, for entry in the stated academic year.

Course fees cover your teaching as well as other academic services and facilities provided to support your studies. Unless specified in the additional information section below, course fees do not cover your accommodation, residential costs or other living costs. They also don’t cover any additional costs and charges that are outlined in the additional information below. You may have seen separate figures in the past for tuition fees and college fees. We have now combined these into a single figure.

Course 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 course fees). 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.

For more information about course fees and fee liability, please see the Fees section of this website. EU applicants should refer to our dedicated webpage for details of the implications of the UK’s plans to leave the European Union.

Additional information

This course has residential sessions in Oxford. You will need to meet your travel and accommodation costs in attending these sessions. Further, as part of your course requirements, you may need to choose a dissertation, a project or a thesis topic. 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 course fees, you will need to ensure that you have adequate funds to support your living costs for the duration of your course.

For the 2019-20 academic year, the range of likely living costs for full-time study is between c. £1,058 and £1,643 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. When planning your finances for any future years of study in Oxford beyond 2019-20, you should allow for an estimated increase in living expenses of 3% each year.

If you are studying part-time your living costs may vary depending on your personal circumstances but you must still ensure that you will have sufficient funding to meet these costs for the duration of your course.

How to apply

You are advised to discuss your plans with the course director or a member of the course team before you apply.

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.


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.

Research proposal:
Up to 1,000 words

Your proposal should identify your proposed research subject and outline the scope and treatment of the project. The word count does not need to include any bibliography or brief footnotes.

This will be assessed for:

  • the coherence of the proposal;
  • the viability of the project;
  • the ability to present a reasoned case in English;
  • the feasibility of successfully completing the project in the time available for the course;
  • preliminary knowledge of research techniques; and
  • capacity for sustained and intense work.

Written work:
One essay of up to 2,500 words 

You will be required to submit written work covering an historical subject and written in English. You are welcome to submit an essay already graded for the Postgraduate Certificate in Historical Studies or an extract from a longer piece of writing such as your dissertation with the context clearly indicated in an introductory note.

It is not essential for the work to relate closely to the proposed area of master's study. The word count does not need to include any bibliography or brief footnotes.

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

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. However, up to one professional reference is acceptable.

Your references will support intellectual ability, academic achievement, motivation and commitment, ability to work in a group.

Start or continue an application

Step 1: Carefully read the entry requirements on this course page to make sure you meet all the criteria.

Step 2: Check above what documents are required and prepare to apply by reading our Application Guide.

Step 3: Apply as soon as possible. Consult the Application Guide for more information about deadlines.

Application GuideApply

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