History: a student's view

I’m Lynton, and I’m a first year History student here at Christ Church.

Lynton one of our Undergraduate Student AmbassadorsI realised I’d chosen the right college in which to study History mid-way through my first term. I’d been doing an essay on the English Civil War, learning about how Charles I had taken up residency in Oxford after fleeing London. I went down to dinner in Hall and later came back to the book I’d been reading, only to then discover that Charles had actually been living in Christ Church during his time here, and the Hall I’d sat in earlier that evening was actually where Charles had held his wartime parliaments. It’s a surreal yet hugely thrilling experience to study in a place so steeped in British history. It’s impossible not to feel an intimate awareness to the importance of history in a place where the college’s past informs so much of its identity in the modern day.

The History department is one of the biggest in Christ Church, and a fantastic department to be a part of. You’re constantly surrounded by peers who are as enthusiastic about their subject as you are. As for the tutors, I’ve been so impressed with how much time and effort they put in to getting to know each student under their watch. Christ Church historians are almost always taught in college in their first year, which makes for really close, supportive working relationships between tutors and students. The Oxford tutorial system, which sees students having weekly discussions on a one-on-one or two-on-one basis with their tutors, is one of the most exciting aspects of the History course here. Not only are so many of the tutors here world-renowned experts in their field, but they also take an obvious delight in teaching and talking about their subject with undergraduates. They’re brilliant at making you feel at ease and able to put forward your ideas, and it really is an extraordinary way to learn.

In your first year of study here you take four papers: one British, one General, one ‘Further’ subject that encourages you to think about history on a more theoretical basis, and one ‘Optional’ subject that sees you study a certain theme within an era, such as empire in modern America or radicalism in Britain in the sixties and seventies. In your second and third year you’ll go on to study other periods in British and General History in more depth, as well as other thematic units, the discipline of history more broadly, and studies of primary sources. It’s compulsory in the Oxford course to take at least one medieval, one early modern and one modern paper at some point during degree, which gives you a broad historical overview upon which to build both your knowledge and skills as a historian. After that, it’s all up to you: you’re effectively given the freedom to study whatever it is that interests you. There’s so much on offer that there’s something for everyone, whether you want to extend your knowledge of an era you already know you find really interesting, or try something completely new. 

Of course one of the other great bonuses to studying in Oxford is the access you are granted to some truly remarkable libraries. You’ll get to know these incredible institutions really well, because your learning revolves around engaging with the past through reading of historical works, and writing essays based on your discoveries. Our beautiful college library is always well-stocked, and it’s a relaxed and supportive environment in which to work. Also at your disposal is the History Faculty Library in the iconic Radcliffe Camera. It’s sometimes hard to concentrate on the book you’re reading when you’re working in a building this magnificent, but somehow Oxford historians seem to manage!

This focus on independent reading means aside from one or two weekly tutorials and lectures, you have complete control over your own timetable. As a way of teaching yourself self-discipline and time-management, it’s invaluable. During the day you’ll usually find historians studying independently in the library, so they then have the evenings free to get involved in the exhaustingly wide range of extra-curricular activities on offer to students here, or just to socialise in the many lovely pubs and clubs around the city (or more often than not to pop over to G&Ds, the famous ice-cream shop just across the road from Christ Church - their waffle-sundaes are to die for.) From chemists to linguists, classicists to psychologists, all students come together in the evenings, and there’s a wonderful buzz in college as everyone relaxes after a long day of study.

It would be wrong to say that the Oxford History course is easy-going: it’s certainly an intense and demanding course that requires you to work hard and really commit to the subject you’re studying. But what I’ve found in my time here is that the History course has a way of proving to yourself that you can achieve more than you ever would have thought possible. You’re constantly challenged but always supported; studying here is exhilarating and deeply rewarding. And when you’re living and working in a college with as much to offer as Christ Church, you can be assured that being a History student here is, more than anything else, a great deal of fun.