Christine James

Student spotlight details

After a first degree in biology, student (and mother of two) Christine James returned to her former love - history.

‘Before I started the Postgraduate Certificate in Historical Studies, I was – and still am – working as a part-time HLTA in a local primary school, whilst raising two children. Although I am a graduate in Biology, I have always had a deep and abiding love of history and therefore have always regretted my school’s refusal to allow me to study both science and humanities. As my children grew older, I promised myself that I would rectify this and pursue a formal course of study in history. However, I found that I did not wish to repeat the past by returning to study at an undergraduate level but felt that a Master’s degree in an entirely new discipline might be a little too ambitious!

'It was during a long recuperation period from surgery that I finally found the way forward which suited my circumstances perfectly. I occupied an unaccustomed amount of enforced free time by studying an online course with the Department for Continuing Education on Elizabeth I – an enjoyable experience that left me feeling the need for more of a challenge. The wonderful course tutor, Janet Dickinson, mentioned the PGCert in Historical Studies as a possible compromise between moving forward and over-reaching myself.  As a part-time course, it enabled me to continue as a working mother whilst studying for a challenging and rewarding course. I thoroughly enjoyed both the depth and breadth of the range of the course; although I have always been more interested in medieval and early modern history, I found the later module on the First World War and the Spanish Civil War more difficult. It did, however, not only widen the range of my knowledge, but also helped me to see how all of history is connected in a way I had never really realised before.

'The most rewarding part of the course was the final dissertation. The chance to choose your own area of study and direct it in the way you wished to explore was an incredibly demanding and fulfilling experience. I had very much enjoyed the class discussions and the opportunity to debate with fellow students, but I felt utterly engrossed in the study of the intimate personal life of a single historical character which my dissertation enabled me to undertake. For a while, I felt as though the early modern Lord Chief Justice Sir Mathew Hale had taken up residence in my home! I developed a sympathy with him which I had never expected to feel, given the conservative attitudes he held as a deeply Puritan patriarch.

'Since finishing the course, I have been working on a voluntary basis with the wonderful Gloucestershire Archives, helping to catalogue the ‘Boxes of Delights’, a collection of centuries-old legal documents donated by a family firm of Cirencester solicitors. Having achieved good results on the PGCert, I applied to, and have been offered a place on, the new MSt in Historical Studies, which I will be taking up in October this year. This seemed a natural progression from the PGCert and will enable me – hopefully! – to obtain my Master’s degree in one year’s part-time study, rather than two. This course is exactly what I was looking for, the chance to again further my studies in a way which fits with my personal and working commitments and, since it is primarily dissertation based, I am looking forward to studying another local family from the seventeenth-century. It is my hope that, if this goes well, I may be able to continue my studies even further with a DPhil. Maybe! 

'For anyone who is looking for a flexible way to study without having to give up work or who has family commitments, this course is a fantastic way to have your cake and eat it! The tutors are both incredibly knowledgeable and enthusiastic and very supportive of part-time students and you soon find that you are diving into class discussions and assessments without hesitation. The lectures are stimulating and thought-provoking and, although most of the research and writing is done at a distance, I have never felt isolated. Oxford itself is a beautiful and welcoming place, whose only drawback is that studying does not leave enough time to explore it fully. My advice to anyone contemplating this course is to book a few extra days if you can spare the time!’

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