MSc in English Local History

Course details

The information on this page relates to 2023 entry. Details will be updated when the course opens to applications for 2025 entry.

This two-year part-time master's degree is designed to combine a systematic training in historical research techniques with the study of a range of major local historical themes and the chance to undertake an individually-researched dissertation.

The programme draws on knowledge and skills acquired in many years of providing specialist classes in local history, and profits from close links with local, social and economic historians elsewhere in the University.

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Who is this course for?

This course will be relevant to potential or practising teachers, archaeologists, environmental planners, archivists, librarians, museum professionals and teachers in adult education as well as to dedicated researchers pursuing the subject in its own right.

The programme is designed for your needs to study part-time, including if you are in full-time employment.

How you will study and timetable

The course is based at Rewley House, 1 Wellington Square, Oxford OX1 2JA. Some classes may take place at other venues in Oxford. Teaching will be organised in weekly evening classes and occasional Saturday schools.

Induction day: September 2023

The induction day involves 6 hours tuition and is organised on a Saturday. In addition to the prescribed courses, all students attend this general introduction to research in local history and to the facilities available to them in Oxford:

  • Library, computing and study facilities available at the Department for Continuing Education, the Bodleian Library and the University Computing Service.
  • Basic reference works and aids to research, including indexes, abstracts, specialist bibliographies and national theses lists.
  • Use of information technology, including the facilities of the University’s Computing Services.

Matriculation ceremony: October 2023

Compulsory for new postgraduate students; followed by college welcome and lunch. Your college will inform you of other dates in the college calendar.

Year 1 (2023-24) teaching sessions

TERM 1 (Michaelmas term 2023) 
Core Paper
Concepts and methods: An introduction to research in local history, comprising 32 hours tuition (10 two-hour classes on Thursday evenings plus a field trip on a Saturday in late October). 

TERM 2 (Hilary term 2024) 
Skills for local history (sources and methods in the early modern period).
16 hours tuition (8 two-hour weekly classes). 

TERM 3 (Trinity term 2024) 
Advanced Paper
16 hours tuition (8 two-hour weekly classes). One Saturday School on planning the dissertation.

Year 2 (2024-25) teaching sessions

TERM 1 (Michaelmas term 2024) 
Skills for local history (the medieval or the modern period).
16 hours tuition (8 two-hour weekly classes).

TERM 2 (Hilary term 2025)
Advanced Paper
16 hours tuition (8 two-hour weekly classes).

TERM 3 (Trinity term 2025)
Tutorials and group seminars.
Dissertation submission deadline: Date TBA

Course content

The course comprises of two compulsory topics and two advanced topics.

Concepts and Methods: An Introduction to Research in Local History 

This part of the course introduces the principal theories and methods employed in local history. Teaching will be based on a study of secondary literature and original source materials. The aim is to enable students to understand uses and interpretations of data employed in the secondary literature, to begin to assess appropriate forms of data collection and analysis for their own researches, to use IT where appropriate, and effectively to present and integrate findings into historical writing.

Topics include:

  • the development of local history as a subject
  • theoretical issues for local historians
  • the nature of historical evidence
  • finding, extracting and organising historical information
  • the strengths, weaknesses and potential uses of fieldwork, qualitative and quantitative source materials
  • specific skills in the interpretation of maps, buildings and oral testimony as sources for local history.

Sources, Methods and Foundations in Local History 

All students take Sources, Methods and Foundations in Local History in the early modern period in their first year, and choose between the medieval or modern periods in their second year. 

Advanced papers

Students take two papers from the following, one in Trinity of their first year, one in Hilary of their second year. Please note: the list may vary from year to year and availability is liable to change.

A.1 Power and patronage in the later medieval localities
This course is about the exercise of power and authority at local level in England in the thirteenth, fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. We look at the relations between the central government and the localities; how and by whom information and financial resources were gathered for royal government; what the framework for local government consisted of and what it was expected to achieve; how royal policies were enforced and by whom. We examine how monarchs co-operated with those at local level with whom they necessarily shared power or to whom they delegated authority – church leaders, members of the nobility and gentry, and the governing bodies of the larger towns. And we look at the ways in which the local elite exercised power and patronage on their own account and for their own ends, legitimately or otherwise. The course will involve study of a range of printed primary sources, in English translations.

A.2 Continuity and change in early modern rural communities
During the early modern period great changes were brought about in religion and in agriculture, and the population increased significantly in size; as a result, some historians have argued that this period witnessed a complete break with the practices of the preceding centuries. However, recent research into local communities suggests that this was not necessarily the case; rather the existing framework of local society was adapted to accommodate those changes. This course will examine, firstly, the nature of early modern society. Since the populations of rural communities were neither static nor isolated, both national and local population figures for the period will be considered, as will methods for disseminating news and information. The effects of the Reformation on the early modern rural parish will be examined, including parishioners’ reactions to directives from the crown and laws made by parliament, and how they managed religious change locally. During the period the market for land developed rapidly and new forms of landholding were created: population increase had a profound effect on the demand both for land and for food, and consequently triggered changes in farming practices. These, in turn, affected employment and landholding opportunities and drew attention to a hitherto unrecognised group in society – the landless labouring poor. Attempts by communities, and government, to deal with the problems of, and those created by, this group will also be considered.

A.3 Kinship, culture and community: provincial élites in early modern England
This course examines the lifestyles and attitudes of the gentry who, with their professional and mercantile friends, dominated, but never entirely subdued, provincial society and culture in early modern England. Issues to be addressed include: the impact of estate management and entrepreneurial activity on local communities; the geographical extent and social spread of networks of family and kin, patronage and service; the effects of education and book consumption on concepts of public duty and office holding; the dissemination of news and the level of political consciousness and activity; changing expression of religious belief and attempts to mould community mores and behaviour, especially as a product of ‘puritanism’. Whilst particular attention will be paid to case studies from central English counties, throughout the course provincial élites will be considered in the national context of social, economic, religious and political change.

A.4 The English Civil War and Local Society
Scholars now recognise that a greater proportion of the English and Welsh population perished in the Civil Wars of the mid-seventeenth century than in both World Wars combined. This has made historians keener than ever to explore the revolutionary impacts of this conflict upon the population. Therefore, this special subject will examine the causes, outbreak, conduct and memory of the Civil Wars in the English provinces from 1640 to the 1660s.

We will consider in what ways events in Scotland and Ireland had destabilised England by 1642. Our sessions will approach the wars through political, religious, military, social and economic themes. How did each side mobilize support, and among which groups in society? Were some regions and localities more inclined to one side than the other? How were the rival war efforts organised, led and financed? What codes of conduct shaped how the wars were fought? How far did atrocities stain the conflict?

The course will probe deeper than the usual primary sources written by the gentry and nobility to illuminate the experience of everyday people. We will draw upon the primary sources digitised recently by the Conflict, Welfare and Memory project at to analyse the testimonies of maimed soldiers, war widows and orphans of those slain. How did the English and Welsh peoples articulate their losses and look back on the conflict?

A.5 The first welfare state? Poverty and the Poor Law in England, 1660-1800
Legislation under the Tudors laid the foundations of the first-known national system of tax-funded poor relief in the world. This paper gives students the opportunity to study the system in its maturity. What were its successes, and what were the difficulties? Who did it relieve, who fell through the net? Was it an economic benefit, at a time of considerable industrialisation, or was it a curse? Did it act as a benevolent system of social security, or was it really about discipline and control?

A.6 Agricultural revolution, enclosure, and the impact on rural society, 1700-1870
Between 1700 to 1870, British food production increased dramatically to feed a rapidly-growing and more urban population, while rising productivity enabled more food to be grown by a lower proportion of the workforce. This ‘agricultural revolution’ used to be ascribed to the period 1760 to 1840, with Parliamentary enclosure playing a major role. More recent scholarship suggests a longer, more gradual period of change, in which enclosure was only one of several important factors. This course investigates when and how English food production increased, and the part played by enclosure by agreement and the Parliamentary enclosures of the late-eighteenth and nineteenth centuries which reshaped the farming landscape. We also consider the impact of agricultural change, enclosure, and greater regional specialization on the rural community. Who were the major drivers of change, and how were the fruits of rising output and productivity shared between landowners, farmers, farm workers, and consumers? And what part did these changes play in widening inequality, the impoverishment of agricultural labourers’ families, and the marginalisation of women in the farm workforce?

A.7 Religion and community in England, 1830-1914
Religion, both institutional and individual, left its stamp on every kind of local community in Victorian England. In a period of rapid social change historians have variously interpreted religion as a radicalising force, as a source of refuge, as an agency of class-based social control, and as an ingredient of consensus and social cohesion. Belief and observance figured not only as matters of spiritual concern. They were linked with public and private actions and with perceptions of economic, political, educational, family, class and cultural interest and identity. This course will use contrasting local studies to consider the forms and functions of religious belief and observance in the changing communities of 19th-century England and the efforts of the churches to adapt to social and economic change.

A.8 The English suburb, 1800-1939
This course will examine the growth and development of suburbs in the 19th and early 20th centuries. The separation of work from home is a major feature of modern urban life, and in recent years historians have taken an increasing interest in the suburb as a historical phenomenon. Attention will be paid to the physical growth of both middle- and working-class suburbs, and we will examine the role of landownership, the building industry, transport, and local and central government in giving suburbs their distinctive identities. Students will be expected to work from primary as well as secondary sources, and to pay close attention to the layout and built fabric of suburbs, both on the periphery of large cities and of smaller towns


Assessment is based on a mix of coursework assignments and a dissertation. The assessment falls into two parts, the first of which is called by the University a Qualifying Test and the second of which is called the Final Examination.

The Qualifying Test

The Qualifying Test, which must be passed in order to proceed to the rest of the degree, consists of a total of three assignments related to the work of the first term.

  • Assignment 1: A review of a work of local history (500 words). 10% of the marks for the test.
  • Assignment 2: An essay on issues relating to the nature of local history (2,000-2,500 words). 40% of the marks for the test. 
  • Assignment 3: An essay on issues relating to the sources and practices of local history, especially the relationship of fieldwork and/or quantification to other sources and approaches (2,500-3,000 words). 50% of the marks for the test. 

The Final Examination

The second part of the assessment determines the final classification of the MSc and comprises six written assignments and a dissertation.

There will be 2 x 3,000 word assignments for each of the Sources, Methods and Foundations papers. (In total the assignments for the Sources, Methods and Foundations papers comprise 10% of the marks for the final examination.) 

There will be 2 x 5,000 word essays for each of the Advanced Papers. (In total the essays for the Advanced Papers comprise 40% of the marks for the final examination.)

There will be a dissertation of 15,000 words (The dissertation counts as 50% of the marks for the final examination.)

Teaching staff and contact details

Teaching and supervision on the MSc programme is provided by the Department’s University Lecturer, Dr Jonathan Healey, and specialist tutors from the Department and elsewhere in Oxford and further afield.

Dr Janet Dickinson, Tutor, Oxford Continuing Education

Dr Heather Falvey, Tutor, Oxford University Department for Continuing Education

Dr Elizabeth Gemmill, Associate Professor in English Local History, Fellow of Kellogg College

Dr Jonathan Healey, Associate Professor in Social History, Fellow of Kellogg College

Prof Andrew Hopper, Professor of Local and Social History, Fellow of Kellogg College

Dr Rachael Jones, Departmental Lecturer in Local and Social History, Oxford Continuing Education

Dr Rachel Moss, Lecturer in History, University of Northampton and Tutor, Oxford Continuing Education

Dr Ismini Pells, Departmental Lecturer in Local and Social History, Oxford Continuing Education

Dr Frances Richardson, Tutor, Oxford Continuing Education

Dr Mark Smith, Associate Professor in English Local and Social History, Fellow of Kellogg College

Dr Geoffrey Tyack, Emeritus Fellow of Kellogg College

Contact details

Any potential student who would like to discuss the course further is encouraged to contact the course team, who will be pleased to help, email:

Oxford college affiliation

As a matriculated postgraduate degree student, you will become a member of one of the University’s famous interdisciplinary colleges, enabling you to encounter new perspectives in your field or learn more about many other different subjects from fellow college members.

The collegiate system makes studying at Oxford a truly special experience. Oxford colleges are small, intimate communities, where you could find yourself absorbed in fascinating conversations with students and academics from a variety of disciplines at college seminars, dinners, and informal occasions. 

To find out more about Oxford University colleges, please consult the University's Graduate Admissions website.

Libraries and computing facilities

The Department’s graduate students are members of the Continuing Education Graduate School and have access to the full range of Oxford University’s library, archive and computing facilities.

Matriculated 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 requirements

Please note that most Departmental courses require assignments to be submitted online, and although the online submission system is straightforward and has step by step instructions, it does assume students have access to a PC and a sufficient level of computing experience and skill to upload their assignments. Applicants should be familiar with the use of computers for purposes such as word-processing, using e-mail and searching the Internet.

Provision for students with disabilities

The Department’s aim is to treat all students equally and we welcome applications from students with disabilities. Individual student needs are taken into account as far as possible, providing necessary adaptations and assistance within the resources available. If you disclose your disability on your application form (which will be confidential) we will aim to make reasonable adjustment to ensure all academically capable students are able to participate.

If you have a specific learning difficulty such as dyslexia, please contact us before you start your course to discuss how we can support you in your studies. We can refer you to an educational psychologist for assessment, if needed, and aim to have any assistance identified available for you from the beginning of your studies. Financial assistance may be available for the cost of the assessment.

For matters relating to disability or learning difficulty, please contact the Access Officer on 01865 280355 or via email at

You can also obtain information from:
Disability Advisory Service
3 Worcester Street, Oxford, OX1 2BX
Telephone: 01865 280459

Application details

How to apply

Prior to applying, prospective applicants are encouraged to contact the course team by email:

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

If you have any questions about the progress of your application, please contact the Department's Award Programme Administrator, tel: 01865 286945; email:
or the University's Graduate Admissions Office, tel: 01865 270059; email:

When to apply

We strongly recommend that you apply by the January or March deadlines. After the March deadline, the course will only stay open for that year's entry if places are still available. 

Remember that it can take a number of weeks to obtain all of the documents you need and to prepare a competitive application. You should also allow your referees plenty of time to submit your references. We therefore recommend you apply as soon as possible.

Funding and costs

Please visit the MSc in English Local History page on the Graduate Admissions website for details of funding and costs.


Brasenose College, in conjunction with the Department for Continuing Education, is offering a Reginald Welbury Jeffery Scholarship to meet the course fees for the MSc in English Local History for a suitably qualified candidate for 2023-24 entry. 

To be eligible, applicants must submit their applications for the MSc in English Local History by 1 March 2023. No separate application is required to be considered for this award. Open to offer holders with Home or Overseas (including EU) fee status.

View full scholarship details >