Postgraduate Certificate in Historical Studies

Course details

The Postgraduate Certificate in Historical Studies offers an exciting opening for graduates of all disciplines to pursue a taught postgraduate qualification in historical studies.

This one-year part-time course offers a unique opportunity for students to combine focused study of key historical themes and concepts in British and Western European history with either a broad-based approach to history or with the opportunity to specialise by period or in a branch of the discipline (political, social, economic, art, architectural and local).

The course culminates in the research and preparation of a substantial dissertation. The Postgraduate Certificate is a free-standing qualification but also forms the first year of a two-year part-time MSt in Historical Studies.

This Historical Studies course offers a stimulating and supportive environment for study. As a student of Oxford University you will also be entitled to attend History Faculty lectures and to join the Bodleian Library. The University’s Museums and Art Galleries are within easy walking distance.

Online open event

An online open event was held on Wednesday 29 November 2023. If you missed this event but have questions about the course, please get in touch with the course team by emailing:

Quick links

Course content

Unit 1: Princes, States, and Revolutions

The first unit examines the interaction between the state and the individual from medieval to modern times and focuses upon authority, resistance, revolution and the development of political institutions. It introduces the development of scholarly debate, key historical themes and the critical analysis of documentary sources. Students explore disorder and rebellion in medieval and early modern England; the causes and impact of the British Civil Wars; and the causes and impact of the French Revolution.

Unit 2: European Court Patronage c.1400

The second unit explores cultural patronage in late medieval Europe and examines the diverse courtly responses to shared concerns and experiences, including the promotion of power and status; the relationship between piety and power; and the impact of dominant cultures. It introduces comparative approaches to history, the critical analysis of visual and narrative sources and the methodological issues surrounding the interpretation of material and literary culture and the translation of written sources. You will compare the courts of England, France, Burgundy, and Naples.        

Unit 3: Religious Reformations and Movements

The third unit examines the role of organised religion and religious movements in the lives of people in the past. It utilises case studies from different historical periods to explore the impact of local circumstances upon the reception and development of new ideas and further encourages engagement with historical debate and the interpretation of documentary and visual sources. Students explore: medieval religious movements; the English and European reformations of the sixteenth century; and religion and society in nineteenth-century England, including the rise of nonconformity, secularism and the Oxford Movement.

Unit 4: Memory and Conflict

The fourth unit focuses upon a central theme in the study of twentieth-century European history: how societies have chosen to remember (and forget) violent conflicts, and the relationship between public and private memory. It explores the challenges faced by historians when interpreting documentary, visual and oral sources in the writing of recent history. Students examine the theoretical context and methodological approaches to the study of memory and consider two case studies: World War I and the Spanish Civil War.

Unit 5: Special Subjects

In the final unit, students study a source-based special subject and research and write a dissertation on a related topic of their own choice. A range of subjects will be offered, varying from year to year, allowing specialization across both time periods and the historical disciplines. Examples include:

  • The English Nobility in the Later Middle Ages
  • Courts, Power, and People in the Early Modern World, c.1450-c.1625
  • Conflict, Welfare and Memory: The English Civil Wars and Local Society
  • Jacobitism: Politics, Culture and Identity in Britain, 1688-1822
  • The British Empire: the case of India
  • Propaganda in the Twentieth Century

The Online teaching modules

The first module provides a pre-course introduction to history and post-graduate study skills. The second focuses upon the analysis and interpretation of material sources, such as buildings and images and the third upon the analysis and interpretation of a range of documentary sources. All include a range of self-test exercises.

Tuition and study

A variety of teaching methods will be used in both the face-to-face and online elements of the course. In addition to lectures, PowerPoint slide presentations and tutor-led discussion, there will be opportunities for students to undertake course exercises in small groups and to give short presentations on prepared topics.

University lectures

Students are taught by the Department’s own staff but are also entitled to attend, at no extra cost, the wide range of lectures and research seminars organised by the University of Oxford’s History Faculty. Students are able to borrow books from both the Department’s library and the History Faculty Library, and are also eligible for membership of the Bodleian Library.

Course details

Course structure

The course has five taught elements which are delivered in weekend units of two, three or four days’ duration.

Induction to the Department and University
Introduction to the course
Unit 1: Princes, States and Revolutions 4-6 Oct 2024
Unit 2: European Court Patronage c.1400 16-17 Nov 2024
Unit 3: Religious Reformations and Movements 11-12 Jan 2025
Unit 4: Memory and Conflict 22-23 Feb 2025
Unit 5: Special Subject 11-14 Apr 2025

The induction session for Unit 1 will commence at 10.30am. Thereafter teaching will normally commence at 9.00am and finish by 5.00pm or 6.00pm for all units. Teaching for the special subject is spread over four days in order to incorporate private research time. The course provides 70 hours of seminar tuition which will be supplemented by tutorials and three 5-hour online self-study modules.

Course aims

The Postgraduate Certificate in Historical Studies course is designed to:

  • provide a structured introduction to the study of medieval and modern British and European history;
  • develop awareness and understanding of historical processes, such as continuity and change, comparative perspectives and the investigation of historical problems;
  • provide the methodology required to interpret visual arts as historical evidence;
  • equip students to evaluate and interpret historical evidence critically;
  • promote interest in the concept and discipline of history and its specialisms;
  • enable students to develop the analytical and communication skills needed to present historical argument orally and in writing;
  • prepare students for progression to study at Master's level.

Learning outcomes

By the end of the course students will be expected to:

  • display a broad knowledge and understanding of the themes and methodologies studied;
  • demonstrate a detailed knowledge and understanding of key topics, the historical interpretation surrounding them and the relationship between local case-studies and the national perspective;
  • utilise the appropriate critical and/or technical vocabulary associated with the disciplines, periods and themes covered;
  • identify underlying historical processes, make cross-comparisons between countries and periods and explore historical problems;
  • assess the relationship between the visual arts and the cultural framework within which they were produced;
  • evaluate and analyse texts and images as historical evidence and utilise them to support and develop an argument;
  • develop, sustain and communicate historical argument orally and in writing;
  • reflect upon the nature and development of the historical disciplines and their contribution to national culture;
  • demonstrate the skills needed to conduct an independent research project and present it as a dissertation within a restricted timeframe.

Assessment methods

The Postgraduate Certificate in Historical Studies is assessed through coursework. This comprises: four essays of 2,500 words each, two source-based exercises of 1,500 words each and a dissertation of 8,000 words. Students will write one essay following each of the first four units and the dissertation following Unit 5. There will be a wide choice of assignment subjects for each unit and students will select a dissertation topic relating to their special subject with the advice of the course team. Students will be asked to write a non-assessed book review following the first pre-course online module and the source-based exercises will follow the second and third online modules.

Assignment titles, submission deadlines and reading lists will be supplied at the start of the course.

Award and credit transfer

Successful completion of the course results in the award of the Postgraduate Certificate in Historical Studies. The certificate is awarded on a distinction, merit, pass or fail basis, and a transcript will be provided of the grades awarded for each assessment element.

Libraries and computing facilities

Registered students receive an Oxford University card, valid for one year at a time, which acts as a library card for the Departmental Library at Rewley House and provides access to the unrivalled facilities of the Bodleian Libraries which include the central Bodleian, major research libraries such as the Sackler Library, Taylorian Institution Library, Bodleian Social Science Library, and faculty libraries such as English and History. Students also have access to a wide range of electronic resources including electronic journals, many of which can be accessed from home. Students on the course are entitled to use the Library at Rewley House for reference and private study and to borrow books. The loan period is normally two weeks and up to eight books may be borrowed. Students will also be encouraged to use their nearest University library. More information about the Continuing Education Library can be found at the Bodleian website.

The University card also provides access to facilities at Oxford University Computing Service (OUCS), 13 Banbury Road, Oxford. Computing facilities are available to students in the Students' Computing Facility in Rewley House and at Ewert House.

IT skills

The course has a substantial IT element. Students are required to register on the course website and to receive and respond to course emails and access online course information, use an electronic library catalogue and online library account to find and borrow books, articles and other materials to write their assignments, complete online study modules, word process essays and other coursework and to submit their assignments online. Detailed guidance is provided but applicants need to have regular access to a computer and the internet and a good level of computer experience and skills, including the proficient use of Microsoft Word or a similar word-processing package, an email account and internet search engines such as Google or Firefox.  


For students who do not live locally, it is possible to book bed and breakfast accommodation packages at Rewley House for the weekend units. 

Reservations should be booked directly with the Residential Centre on 01865 270362 or

Student support

Both academic and pastoral support will be provided by the course direction team and course tutors, including guidance on the development of effective study skills for students returning to study after a break.

For general guidance and advice, credit transfer, special needs provision, residential category and sources of funding please contact Student Support: +44 (0)1865 280355

Teaching staff

The current Course Director is Dr Elizabeth Gemmill:

Elizabeth joined the Department in 2006 and is an Associate Professor in History and a Fellow of Kellogg College. She directs the Postgraduate Certificate in Historical Studies and the Department’s Weekly Classes and Online Short Courses. She was named in 2012 as ‘Most Acclaimed Lecturer’ in the Department for Continuing Education by Oxford University Student Union. She is a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society. She was Junior Proctor in 2016-17. 

The course will be taught by the Course Director and other members of Oxford University Department for Continuing Education’s teaching staff. Some special subjects may be offered by visiting lecturers. Those contributing to the course will include:

  • Dr Janet Dickinson, Senior Associate Tutor at OUDCE and tutor for the Open University.
  • Dr Michael Redley, Tutor in History and Politics at OUDCE and a member at Kellogg College.
  • Dr Kate Watson, Senior Associate Tutor for OUDCE.
  • Dr Yasmin KhanAssociate Professor in History at OUCDE and a Fellow of Kellogg College.
  • Prof Tom Buchanan, Professor of Modern British and European History at OUDCE and a Fellow of Kellogg College.

Non-EU students

For information on short term student visas, refer to the UKCISA website.  

Application details

Fees and funding

Please visit the Postgraduate Certificate in Historical Studies course page on the University of Oxford Graduate Admissions website for details of course fees and costs.

You should be prepared to buy some of the recommended books yourself and there may be some modest additional expenses in connection with field trips.

Entry requirements and how to apply

The course team welcomes applications from candidates with an undergraduate degree in any subject discipline. This might include those who have studied history in the past and wish either to update and hone their historical skills and knowledge or to broaden their approach to the discipline. Candidates are likely to come from a variety of backgrounds and to want to study for personal interest as well as academic progression and career development. All candidates will be expected to demonstrate a lively and sustained interest in the discipline, the commitment to undertake a demanding academic course and the potential to develop the research and writing skills required at postgraduate level. Students who complete the course successfully will be eligible to apply to join Master’s programmes within the Department, elsewhere in the University or at other institutions. It is important to note, however, that successful completion of the course does not confer automatic right of entry to any institution.

For entry requirements, selection criteria and how to apply please visit the Graduate Admissions website.

If you have any questions about the application process, please contact the OUDCE Award Programme Administrator, tel: 01865 280783; email:
or if you have any technical queries about the application, please contact the Graduate Admissions Office, tel: 01865 270059; email: