'Life, what is it but a dream?' - The Stories and Histories of Dreaming


Sleep and dreams have always been among the most mysterious, yet essential, aspects of the human condition, so it’s little wonder that a rich legacy of sleep-related myth and folklore has sprung from every culture across the world in every period in time. From the gates of ivory and horn, to modern psychoanalysis, dreams have always occupied a liminal space in our society, and our uneasy relationship with whether what they reveal might be more true than what we see in our waking lives, or lies, deceptions, or even madness and superstition. We have given forms and anthropomorphic shapes to the struggle between such ideas, and believed we dispelled them through science. But as these ‘legends’ still shape pop culture today, linking some of our most famous tales, and continue to shape our understanding of what dreams do – the story is far less black-and-white than we might think. This course will explore how we have imagined dreaming in human culture across the ages, looking at folklore and mythology, philosophy, literature and science, film, video games and even Virtual Reality, and how it is harnessed in dream therapy.

Programme details

Seminars meet each weekday morning, with afternoons free for course-related field trips, individual study, or exploring the many places of interest in and around the city.


Dreams of the Past: Mythologies are among our earliest forms of storytelling – and it is no coincidence sleep and dreaming played a central role in nearly every one of them. These ancient tales still shape the way we make sense of our unconscious. This session will explore the dreamscapes of ancient mythologies and folklore from around the world, how they imagined what sleep was, what dreams might reveal, and what ways of knowing they might make possible.


The Philosophy of Dreams: Shifting from folklore and mythology, we will look at how early philosophers to conceptualise what happened to us while we sleep. We will discover competing theories, in science, medicine, religion, and literature, and their surprisingly long shadows through the ages. We will discover and how they shapeshifted through the Middle Ages, into the Enlightenment, and re-discover such works as Dante’s Divine Comedy, Thomas More’s Utopia or Edmund Spenser’s Faerie Queene, and how they played a role in shaping our understanding of dreams for much longer than we might think.


The Stories of Dreams – the ‘classics’: This session will go on a journey to rediscover the literary dreams well-known to us – from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, or Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, to A Christmas Carol. We will explore the tensions between superstitions, myth, and the rise of natural philosophy, and eventually “science” that shaped them, and explore themes like mesmerism at their intersections. We will also discover how this period not only changed our understanding of the unconscious forever, but the important role literature played in shaping how we understand them.


In-Between Worlds: Psychoanalysts, such as Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung, dream-scientists and clinical neurologists, lifted dreaming from the realm of superstition into the clinical world of scientific practice, and they did so in a century in which the Western world was harrowed by war and trauma. We will discover in this section how historical circumstances changed how we defined the unconscious and dreaming, and how we thought of ourselves – and what obligations these insights now placed on us and how we shaped the world. We will explore the echoes of the utopian and dystopian dream narratives of old in their modern incarnations, from Slaughterhouse Five, to Clockwork Orange, to The Doors of Perception but also the work of surrealist and other artists.


The Future: Dreams and the unconscious continue to play a significant role in the modern world, from dream therapy, in the treatment of psychological disorders, but we have imagined them, and how they affect us throughout the time in which the rise of technology, and multimedia reshaped our modern lives. We will explore the artistic and fictional works that have imagined – and defined – these relationships in new forms, from graphic novels, to video games that tried to capture the nature of dreams – and explore how these, in turn, have helped scientists and medical practitioners in envisioning and re-envisioning a place for dreams in our modern societies – and why dreams, as little-understood, and contested, and mythologised as they are, aren’t going anywhere.


Description Costs
Fee option 1 (single en suite accom and meals per person) £1895.00
Fee option 2 (double en suite accom and meals per person) £1750.00
Fee option 3 (twin en suite accom and meals per person) £1750.00
Fee option 4 (twin set standard accom and meals per person) £1750.00
Fee option 5 (no accom; incl lunch and dinner per person) £1315.00
Fee option 6 (single standard accom and meals per person) £1795.00


Please note there are no sources of funding (scholarships, bursaries, etc) available for applicants.


All fees are charged on a per week, per person basis.

Please be aware that all payments made via non-UK credit/debit cards and bank accounts are subject to the exchange rate on the day they are processed.

Payment terms

  • If enrolling online: full payment by credit/debit card at the time of booking.
  • If submitting an enrolment form: full payment online by credit/debit card or via bank transfer within 30 days of invoice date.

Supplementary costs

  • Extended-stay fee: Participants staying multiple, consecutive weeks will be charged an additional £90 for the cost of the Saturday night between courses. An invoice will be emailed to participants alongside confirmation of their enrolment.
  • Excursion fee where applicable: £15-125. This fee is built into the above course fees and will not require a separate payment. If your course includes a day-long excursion, you may need to make your own lunch arrangements.
  • Course change administration fee: Please note that course transfers may be permitted in exceptional circumstances at the discretion of the programme administrator, up to the 1 May 2023. In accordance with our Terms and Conditions, an administration fee of £50 will be charged.
  • Any ticketed activities, as outlined in the Social Programme.

Cancellations and refunds

1. Cancellation by you

Participants who wish to cancel must inform the Programme Administrator in writing: by email to oxfordexperience@conted.ox.ac.uk, or by post to The Oxford Experience, OUDCE, 1 Wellington Square, OXFORD, OX1 2JA, UK.

The following cancellation and refund policy applies in all cases:

  • Cancellation within 14 days of online enrolment / payment of fees – full refund of all fees paid.

  • Cancellations received up to and including 30 April 2023 – OUDCE will retain an administration fee of £100 per week booked; all other fees paid will be refunded.
  • Cancellations received between 1-31 May 2023 – OUDCE will retain 60% of the fees paid; the remaining 40% of fees paid will be refunded.
  • Cancellations received on and after 1 June 2023 - no refunds will be made under any circumstances.

Where course fees have been paid in currencies other than pounds sterling, refunds will be subject to the exchange rate on the day they are processed.

2. Cancellation by us

OUDCE reserves the right to cancel a course where there is good reason, for example, if exceptionally low enrolment would make it educationally unviable. In these cases we will refund the course fees that you have already paid. If we cancel a course, our liability is limited to the fees that we have received from you; this means that we will not compensate you for any pre-booked travel costs or any other expenses incurred.

Where course fees have been paid in currencies other than pounds sterling, refunds will be subject to the exchange rate on the day they are processed.

The status of this course will be reviewed on 1 May 2023. If it is likely that the course may be cancelled, all those affected will be notified by email within 7 days; if you have not heard from OUDCE by 8 May 2023, you should assume that your course will be running. You may wish to delay finalising your travel arrangements until after this date.

3. Travel insurance

All participants need to purchase travel insurance to cover the programme fee, travel costs, and any other expenses incurred. OUDCE cannot be held responsible for any costs you may incur in relation to travel or accommodation bookings as a result of a course cancellation, or if you are unable to attend the course for any other reason. 


Dr Franziska Kohlt


Dr Franziska Kohlt is a Leverhulme Research Fellow at the Centre for the History of Science at the University of Leeds. She previously held a post at the University of York’s Department of Sociology, researching science-religion narratives in science communication, past and present. She completed her DPhil in English Literature and the History of Science at Brasenose College, Oxford, and her thesis investigated the emergence of both fields as sister phenomena. Franziska’s work focuses on science communication, especially on the interactions between evolutionary psychology and built and natural environments. She also holds degrees in communication & media science, and has appeared on international radio and television, and at literary festivals. She has curated award-winning exhibitions on Insects, together with the Royal Entomological Society, and on Automata at Compton Verney, and presented at events exploring the literature of AI and Humour, together with the makers of Have I Got News for You. Franziska is also the Editor of the Lewis Carroll Review, and Reviews Editor of the British Society for Literature and Science, and inaugural Carrollian Fellow at USC. When she isn’t engaged in academic work sings in several choral ensembles and Gilbert & Sullivan operettas, and is an avid gardener.

Teaching methods

Participants will be taught in seminar groups of up to 12 people. The teaching methods used during this course will include:

  • Short lectures/Presentations
  • Physical handouts
  • Seminars/group discussions
  • Written exercises in-class
  • Video recordings

Assessment methods

There are no assessments for this course.


Registration closes on 1 May 2023.

Please note: most courses fill up fast so early registration is strongly recommended.

Single accommodation and non-residential places may be booked online by clicking on the “Book now” button in the “Course details” box at the top right-hand side of the course page.

If you experience any difficulties enrolling online please contact the Programme Administrator at oxfordexperience@conted.ox.ac.uk

Those requiring twin or double accommodation should complete an enrolment form as these rooms cannot be booked online. Completed forms should be sent:

Level and demands

The Oxford Experience is aimed at non-specialists: no prior knowledge is required, and classes are pitched at an introductory level. The courses are designed for an international audience aged 18 and over.


During your course you will stay in typical Oxford student accommodation at Christ Church, in buildings which range from the 18th to the 20th century. The course fee includes breakfasts Monday-Saturday, lunches Sunday-Friday, and 3-course dinners Sunday-Friday. All meals are taken in Christ Church’s spectacular dining hall.

Please note that bedrooms are modestly-furnished and do not have air-conditioning. Photographs of example rooms can be found at: www.chch.ox.ac.uk/chch-rooms.

The following types of accommodation are available:

  • Single en suite;
  • Double en suite;
  • Twin en suite;
  • ‘Twin set’ standard.

En suite rooms include private bathroom facilities (shower, washbasin and toilet). ‘Twin set’ standard rooms comprise two separate single standard rooms, each with a washbasin and shaver point only, opening onto a private sitting room. Bathroom facilities are shared with other rooms. All twin, twin set and double rooms are shared between participants that apply to the programme together, and cannot be booked by individuals.

Please note that only single accommodation may be booked online; those requiring twin or double accommodation should complete an enrolment form (see ‘Application’).

Please note that Christ Church rooms do not have lift access, and the higher rooms can be located up a few flights of stairs. If you need a room on a ground or lower floor please indicate this either online or on your enrolment form, or contact the programme administrator directly at oxfordexperience@conted.ox.ac.uk prior to your arrival.

We regret that we are unable to offer accommodation at Christ Church prior to or following your course. Additionally, family or friends who are not enrolled in the programme cannot be accommodated in college.

Participants Attending Multiple Weeks

The Oxford Experience welcomes participants who want to attend multiple courses over a number of weeks. Resident participants staying in Christ Church for consecutive weeks will be offered a reduced rate for the Saturday night between their courses.

This extended-stay fee is £90 per person, per Saturday. An invoice will be emailed to participants alongside confirmation of their enrolment. Please note that Saturday lunch and dinner and Sunday breakfast are not provided, however we are happy to make recommendations for alternative places to eat in Oxford.