History — papers and choices

For those admitted to read History, this page tells you about the papers you will take in your first year, and the choices that you need to make now about what you will study in your first term.

In regard to your choice of British History paper for the first term, tutors would encourage some adventurousness: if for example you have studied twentieth-century British history for your A‑level (or other course), that might seem a prima facie reason to choose an earlier period rather than to revisit the familiar.

During the year you will study four papers:

  1. One on the History of the British Isles (with a choice between six periods: c.3001100; 10001330; 13301550; 15001700; 16881848; or 18301951).
  2. One on European and World History (with a choice between four periods: 370900; 10001300; 14001650; or 18151914).
  3. An Optional subject from a list of twenty-four.
  4. A paper on Historical Methods. For this you can choose from Approaches to History, Historiography: Tacitus to Weber, Foreign Texts, or Quantifications in History.

Further details about each of these can be found on the History Faculty website.

You should be aware that you are required, in the course of your degree, to take one medieval, one early modern, and one modern outline paper; as well as papers covering British, European and World History. There are various ways of fulfilling these requirements over the course of the three years of your degree, and in practice you will end up having a great deal of choice. But the only consequence at this point is that you are required to choose your History of the British Isles (HBI) paper and your European and World History (EWH) paper in your first year, from different periods. The first two HBI papers are Medieval; the next two are Early Modern, and the final two Modern; the first two EWH papers are Medieval; the third is Early Modern, and the fourth is Modern. Thus, for example, HBI 10001300 (Medieval) and EWH 18151914 (Modern) would be a permitted combination, while HBI 18301951 and EWH 18151914 would not be.

Normally, each student should expect to write on average three essays per fortnight and your programme will look like this:

Michaelmas Term


Hilary Term


Trinity Term


British History (7 essays)European and World History (7 essays)Optional Subject (6 essays)
Historical Methods (4 essays)Historical Methods (4 essays)Revision

For those who want to improve their foreign-language skills, instruction is available at the University’s Language Centre.

You will need to do some reading before coming up and below you will find links to some suggestions for what to read and some notes about what the different options entail in order to make your choice.

Please email me (at frederick.​smith@​balliol.​ox.​ac.​uk) your choices for papers 1 and 4 as soon as possible, and by Thursday 27 July at the latest. The other choices can wait until you have started the course.’ 

We look forward to hearing from you — and to welcoming all of you who take up your places with us in October.

Frederick Smith, July 2023