History Methods Options Reading Lists

Approaches to History

Over the past hundred years or so, there have been enormous changes in the ways in which historians have come to conceive the business of studying and writing about the past. This paper aims to give students an opportunity to pursue some of these developments in all their richness. Students will be able to range over a variety of major themes that historians now investigate and to consider in particular the influence of other disciplines, such as anthropology, sociology, archaeology, economics, or art history, on the ways in which historians now approach their own work. They will also be encouraged to relate these changing views of the subject to the periods of history they offer for Prelims.

Those of you who plan to take this paper in Prelims will find it useful to look through some of the following before you come up:

  • P. Burke, History & Social Theory (1992)
  • J. Cannon (ed.), The Historian at Work (1980)
  • J. Tosh, The Pursuit of History. Aims, Methods and New Directions in the Study of Modern History (1984; 3rd ed. 2002)
  • J. Le Goff and P. Nora, Constructing the Past. Essays in Historical Methodology (1985)
  • A. Marwick, The Nature of History (1970; 3rd ed. 1989)
  • L. Stone, The Past and the Present (1981)

Historiography: Tacitus to Weber

This course offers an opportunity to sample some of the most formidably creative and influential historical minds of the last two thousand years, from Tacitus at the start of the second century to Weber at the beginning of the last. It also offers an opportunity to think critically about why these historical minds have come to be regarded as so particularly ‘creative and influential’.

Short general accounts of the history of historical writing are surprisingly rare. But the following are useful.

  • Blackwell Dictionary of Historians (for reference)
  • D. Hay, Annalists and Historians: Western Historiography from the Eighth to the Eighteenth Century (1977)
  • J. Burrow, A History of Histories (2007)

Quantification in History

For those who are competent in Maths, and have taken it beyond GCSE (or equivalent) level, this course offers an excellent introduction to the use of statistical evidence in historical study. The subject is taught not on a College basis, but in classes co-ordinated by the University History Faculty.

  • C. H. Feinstein & M. Thomas, Making History Count: A primer in quantitative methods for historians (2002)
  • H. M. Blalock, Social Statistics (1972)
  • R. Floud, An Introduction to Quantitative Methods for Historians (1973 and subsequent edns.)
  • P. Hudson, History by numbers: An Introduction to quantitative approaches (2000)
  • J. M. Wooldridge, Introductory Econometrics: A modern approach (2005)

Foreign texts

Languages will always be a vital tool for the historian, since it is impossible to take the study of a foreign country’s history beyond a relatively superficial level without a command of its language. The texts set in the languages options have accordingly been chosen to introduce you to the way in which people have written about their own societies and their history: thus there is Tocqueville on the French Revolution, Meinecke and Kehr on Germany, Trotsky on Russia, and a number of others. The language options also offer an opportunity to enlarge your view of periods you may be studying for other papers: Machiavelli for instance is a brilliantly illuminating author for anyone studying Renaissance history, and Asser and Einhard offer special insights into early medieval history (English and Continental) and the ways in which medieval people thought about themselves.

The three-terms Prelims course offers you the opportunity to develop a real command of a language that you may have studied only, so far, to GCSE. There will be tutorial classes on the texts and their historical content. Additional instruction in the language is available at the University’s Language Teaching Centre.

Greek: Herodotus 

Text: Herodotus, V.26-VI.131

The recommended text is the Oxford Classical Text (Hude); there is a penguin translation. You should have read the text before coming up, if possible. The best book to read alongside it is A. Momigliano, Studies in Historiography (essays on Herodotus, causes of war, oral history), and John Gould, Herodotus. Rosalind Thomas, Herodotus in Context examines the intellectual background of Herodotus. For historical background see Murray or Burn above.


Text: A. de Tocqueville, L’ancien régime et la revolution

You should make sure that you read Tocqueville’s L’ancien régime et la Révolution. You may wish to read an English version first (translated as The Old Régime and the Revolution with many editions to choose from—for instance, translations by A.S. Kahan or Stuart Gilbert are fine). You will then need to read the French original carefully, and you should arrive in Oxford with at least half of the book read.
Background reading:

  • R.T. Gannett, Tocqueville Unveiled (2003)
  • W. Doyle, Origins of the French Revolution (several edns)
  • C. Welch, De Tocqueville (2001)

Latin: Einhard and Asser

Texts: Einhard, Vita Karoli Magni; and Asser, De Rebus Gestis Alfredi

Two useful books to give you some background to the worlds of Charlemagne and Alfred respectively are:

  • P. Dutton (trans.), Charlemagne’s Courtier: The Complete Einhard (1998)
  • S. Keynes and M. Lapidge (trans.), Alfred the Great, Asser’s Life of King Alfred and Other Contemporary Sources (1983)

German: Meinecke and Kehr

Texts: F. Meinecke, Die Deutsche Katastrophe, and E. Kehr, Der Primat der Innenpolitik in 19 und 20 Jahrhundert

Background reading:

  • D. Blackbourn and G. Eley, The Peculiarities of German History; Bourgeois Society and Politics in Nineteenth Century Germany (1984)
  • Hans-Ulrich Wehler, The German Empire 18711918, translated by K. Traynor (1985)
  • Peter Fritzsche, Germans into Nazis (1998)


Texts: Machiavelli, Discorsi, Bk I

Background reading:

  • J.G.A. Pocock, The Machiavellian Moment: Florentine Political Thought and the Atlantic Republican Tradition (1975)
  • Q. Skinner, The Foundations of Modern Political Thought, (1978), Vol. I, pt ii


Text: Jaime Vicens Vives, Aproximación à la historia de Españ​a, 1960, or subsequent editions (English version: Approaches to the history of Spain, translated and edited by J.C. Ullman, 2nd edition corrected and revised, 1970).

Background reading:

  • R. Carr, Spain: A History (2000)
  • W.D. Phillips and C.R. Phillips, A concise history of Spain (2010)


Text: L. Trotsky, 1905

Background reading:

  • H. Rogger, Russian in the Age of Modernisation and Revolution 18811917 (1983)
  • I. Deutscher, The Prophet Unarmed: Trotsky, 19211929 (1959)