Not available in 2022/23
What is History? Methods and Debates

This information is for the 2022/23 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr Tim Hochstrasser SAR 2.14


This course is available on the BA in History, BA in Social Anthropology, BSc in History and Politics, BSc in International Relations and History, BSc in Politics and History and BSc in Social Anthropology. This course is available as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit. This course is available with permission to General Course students.

General Course students must seek prior permission from the teacher responsible to take this course.

Course content

What is history? How and for what purposes do we study the past? What kinds of debates and controversies result from historical study? The purpose of this course is to provide undergraduate students with an introduction to these important issues. We will discuss the history of history from ancient times to the present and how it has changed as an intellectual pursuit over the years. We will think about different types of history – for example, international history, intellectual history, social history, economic history, cultural history or the history of religion – and we will discern their different concerns and priorities. We will analyse some of the most important themes in modern historical study: empires and colonialism, war and conflict, nationalism. We will outline different ideological frameworks for conducting historical research, for example Marxism, postmodernism, and gender studies. We will debate some of the key philosophical questions surrounding historical research: for example, how historians determine facts, and whether or not historical study can ever be truly objective? Finally, we will look at different ways of presenting the past, from traditional history books to museums and TV history. 


20 hours of seminars in the MT. 20 hours of seminars in the LT. 2 hours of seminars in the ST.

The first hour in each of the seminar sessions will be delivered as a lecture.

There will be a reading week in the Michaelmas and the Lent terms.

Formative coursework

Students will be expected to produce one formative essay in the MT and one formative essay in the LT. There will also be a mock exam.

Indicative reading

A full reading list will be provided at the start of the course but will include the following introductory surveys: Berger, Feldner and Passmore, Writing History; D Cannadine (Ed), What is History now?; L Jordanova, History in Practice; R Evans, In Defence of History; J Tosh, The Pursuit of the Past; M Bloch, The Historian's Craft; R G Collingwood, The Idea of History; T. Garton Ash, The File.


Exam (80%, duration: 3 hours) in the summer exam period.
Class participation (20%) in the MT and LT.

The class participation will be graded and averaged across the MT and the LT.

Key facts

Department: International History

Total students 2021/22: 7

Average class size 2021/22: 6

Capped 2021/22: No

Value: One Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Course selection videos

Some departments have produced short videos to introduce their courses. Please refer to the course selection videos index page for further information.