Studying in Depth: Our Annual Survey of the Range of Options Available to Those Wanting to Pursue Their Historical Studies at Postgraduate Level

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IF YOU HAVE RECENTLY FINISHED your first degree course and want to look at history in a little more depth, or perhaps want to go back to proper studying after a break of several years, what will you do and where will you do it? Your local branch of the Historical Association may well offer regular activities and occasional lectures, and local authority institutes can include evening classes on historical topics. And some universities, like Oxford, have a wide-ranging and imaginative programme of Continuing Education courses. But if you want to embark on a major course of study, combining taught courses on cutting-edge topics with support for independent research, you need a taught MA or MPhil course, available at most universities around the country. You can also often treat it as a stepping stone to a PhD. While it's not possible to list every available course on offer in Britain this year, this survey suggests the range of possibilities open at institutions the length and breadth of the country, and will hopefully stimulate some ideas and encourage you to find a course that fits your needs both intellectually and practically.

Some people opt to do a general MA; these are pretty widely available, though they may be called 'History', 'Historical Studies' or 'Historical Research'. These tend to allow the student to choose a wide range of options across a very broad field of history. Most universities expect all students to engage with research methods as part of their course; Glasgow, though, is unusual in offering a single course (MPhil) in 'History and Computing', which looks at the application of digital methods to substantive problems in social, economic and political history.

Some of the larger universities offer ten or more different taught postgraduate degrees (Birkbeck, London, and Glasgow both list thirteen, for example, Warwick nine and Cambridge seven). New courses are tried out every year, and old ones dropped if they don't attract sufficient numbers. It is worth checking the online prospectus of your local university to see what it has to offer for 2005. Most postgraduate courses can be studied on a full-time (usually one-year) or a part-time basis, and involve a combination of assessed coursework and a thesis of around 15-25,000 words.

All universities naturally tailor the MA courses they offer--whether the broadly based ones like 'Historical Studies', or the more focused ones--to the special strengths of their departments and the particular interests of their staff. Thus, for example, the revamped MA in 'Historical Research' at Sheffield, which is the academic home of Hitler's biographer fan Kershaw, offers important options on mid-20th-century history and American studies. In the same way, London Metropolitan, which is the home of the Women's Library, has a new MA on Modern British Women's History.

Many history departments also offer a taught MA on history-plus-another discipline: thus at Reading it is posssible to study 'Texts in History, 1500-1700', an interdisciplinary venture between the Schools of History and English, or at Edinburgh there is the option of 'Theology in History'. Similarly, an interdisciplinary approach to 'History and Archaeology in the Greek and Roman World' is on oiler this year at Cardiff; the same university runs courses in either straight 'Ancient History' or straight 'Archaeology'. 'European Historical Archaeology' is available at Sheffield. Royal Holloway, London, offers 'Late Antique and Byzantine Studies'; and Birmingham has 'Byzantine Studies'.

Many of the larger universities offer MAs in particular periods--you can study 'Medieval History' at Exeter, or 'Ancient History' at Newcastle, 'Medieval and Renaissance Studies' at Glasgow, 'Reformation and Early Modern Studies' at Birmingham, or 'Eighteenth-Century Studies' at Warwick, for example.

General courses in social, economic and cultural history are widely available, as are offshoots--thus Essex, runs a course in the 'History of Race, Class and Gender', and a new one in 'War, Experience and Memory', while Brighton provides 'Histories and Cultures'; Sheffield Hallam offers 'History: Imperialism and Culture'; and Royal Holloway 'Women, Gender and Culture'. …