Royal Holloway University of London: Jonathan Phillips Provides a Guide to Undergraduate History. (University Challenge)

By Phillips, Jonathan | History Review, September 2001 | Go to article overview

Royal Holloway University of London: Jonathan Phillips Provides a Guide to Undergraduate History. (University Challenge)

Phillips, Jonathan, History Review

If you study History at Royal Holloway, University of London, you will join one of the leading departments in the country, based at a beautiful campus, centred on a stunning Victorian building, on the edge of London. A recent Guardian survey (May 2001) of the top 50 History departments in Great Britain placed us second overall. Our degrees are exciting and challenging courses that offer a huge range of topics cutting across chronological, geographical and thematic boundaries. Alongside the satisfaction and enjoyment of looking at History for three years, you will also acquire the transferable skills so crucial in today's job market because we are well aware of the need to make History and the Historian's training relevant to the contemporary workplace. Students from Royal Holloway move into careers in journalism, television, law, management, publishing, public relations and teaching, as well as further research. For all of these paths (and many others) the ability to extract, analyse and synthesise information, and then to construct and defend arguments on paper and in public, are essential. History provides you with a training in all of these skills so valued by prospective employers and, with the cachet of the internationally-esteemed University of London degree, you can approach your chosen career from an excellent platform.


Royal Holloway is the biggest History Department in the University of London with 31 members of staff and 360 students. We are rated in the top categories for both teaching and research, with the Teaching Quality Assessment (TQA) giving us a mark of `excellent' and the Research Assessment Exercise (RAE) marking us at a grade 5. All of us are active in research and are respected authorities in our fields; several contribute regularly to TV programmes on BBC2, Channel 4 and The History Channel, as well as BBC Radio 4. Beyond this, we are a mixed department with a combination of new and experienced academics and male and female staff - important considerations that add much to our sense of a friendly academic community. The size of our undergraduate student body means a wide diversity of recruitment with a mixture of students from different backgrounds, ages, and ethnic groups, and from both sexes.

The campus at Royal Holloway is centred on the striking Founder's Building (which includes many student rooms - you could be living in a turret!). This is complemented by modern facilities including the light and spacious McCrea building that houses the History Department, as well as the full range of amenities such as the Students' Union, Sports Centre, bars, and the modern Bedford Library. All first-year students are guaranteed a place in halls on this lively campus. Outside the closeknit communal feel of the college, central London is only 35 minutes away by train and the beauty of Windsor Great Park is right on the doorstep.


We offer two basic degree programmes:

History (V100) or Modern History, Economic History and Politics (V136). The History degree (V100) covers all periods from ancient times to the present day. This degree is structured in a pyramid fashion with the first year offering students a broad introduction and training in many of the key themes of the subject, along with overviews of unfamiliar periods and cultures, extending your knowledge of History well beyond your A-level experience. First-year courses cover topics such as: The Material World, Culture and Environment; Conflict and Identity from 1789 to the present; and Republics, Kings and Peoples.

In the second year you can select three courses from a comprehensive range of topics covering narrower subjects (some consider a century or so, others are more thematic), and again there is assessed coursework and exams. Those on offer (from a list of 38 at present) include Twentieth-Century World History; Roman Britain; The Crusades and the Eastern Mediterranean; Medicine and Society; Witchcraft; Poverty and Disease; Gender and Society in the Islamic World; and America in the 1960s. At this point you can also benefit from the position of Royal Holloway as a member of the University of London. Second- and third-year History courses at other London colleges are open to Holloway students (as ours are open in return), and in consequence you can select one of your courses from over 100 alternatives! About one-quarter of our students opt to take a course elsewhere and we welcome a similar proportion of visitors to our campus.

In the third year students take what is often known as their `Special Subject'. This is a closely focused course that will analyse a large body of primary texts and will also see the student writing a 10,000 word assessed dissertation - perhaps the most difficult, but certainly the most satisfying, of their assignments. The Special Subject may well reflect the course tutor's own research interests and there is a sense, therefore, of sharing in new discoveries as he or she is in the process of analysing new material and ideas and of conveying them (sometimes for the first time) to students. This creates a unique freshness and excitement to historical study. Some of the Special Subjects on offer include: Periclean Athens; Richard II; The Second Crusade; Blasphemy, Irreligion and the English Enlightenment; and the Holocaust.

The Modern History, Economic History and Politics course (V136) is taken by roughly one-third of our students and is focused on the modern world. It is largely concerned with the history and politics of the twentieth century, set against a nineteenth-century background. It integrates studies in politics and economics alongside history. The degree takes the modern history units shared with V100 plus introductory economics and politics courses. In your second and third years, you again share courses from the modern end of the spectrum along with specialised courses in, for example, the Government of the USA or the UK, Theories of the State, International Relations of Europe since 1945, as well as choosing courses from the Department of Social and Political Science.

Alongside your core History degree (be it V100 or V136) it is possible for students to substitute course units in other departments, including Modern Languages, Computing, Management Studies and Music. There are also degree programmes (subject to linguistic ability) that offer four-year courses that include a year of study in Europe. The institutions with which we have ties include Florence, Sienna, Madrid, Berlin and Versailles.


While the size of the History Department at Royal Holloway enables us to offer such a strong range of courses, simply because we are a large department does not mean that we are not a friendly and sociable place of study. Most teaching is carried out in small groups in which you get to know your tutor and fellow-students well. We also run a very effective Personal Advisor system, by which you are assigned a member of staff who is there to provide you with academic support and pastoral advice. We are also proud to have a highly active History Society (winner of the Best Society on Campus award for the last two years!) that organises lectures, historical and social visits (Amsterdam ...) and formal dinners.


Should you apply to Royal Holloway and if your predicted A-level grades are in line with our requirements (usually 26 points, although we vary this to reflect academic potential and individual circumstances), you will be invited to one of our highly successful Candidates' Department Open Days. You will hear a series of mini-lectures that demonstrate the diversity of courses we offer, as well as talks on finance and accommodation. Parents are very welcome to attend this day which also includes a campus tour. So, if you are a looking for a top-quality degree, covering a broad range of History and taught in a beautiful setting, Royal Holloway, University of London is for you!

For further details contact the Admissions Tutor, Dr John Kirk at: or look at our website:

Dr Jonathan Phillips is Lecturer in History at Royal Holloway.

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Royal Holloway University of London: Jonathan Phillips Provides a Guide to Undergraduate History. (University Challenge)


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