Frequently asked questions - Department of History

We asked the Department of History some questions about what it's like to study with them. Here's what they said.

We are adapting our teaching methods and spaces in accordance with the latest COVID guidelines and therefore the information below may be subject to change.

What makes this department at the University of Bristol unique?

We are a large department with over fifty members of academic staff. We have historians conducting original research on everything from the early medieval world to the twenty-first century, from Britain and Europe to the Americas, Asia, Australasia, Africa – and we even have an historian of Antarctica! 

How does the research at the school benefit the experience of the students at the school?

Our degrees are research oriented and enable you to progress and become capable of conducting independent, original research. You will undertake source-based research projects in all three years of your degree, all the way from a group research project in our year one introductory unit, Approaching the Past, to your final-year dissertation.

What does the school do to welcome students when they first start at Bristol?

Our large student-led History Society is very active and, in addition to events run by the Department of History, offers a wide range of events. Many of these are free, such as coffee mornings, study sessions, and – in the past – a Valentine's Day breakfast. Each year, they have organised a Christmas Ball, a Graduation Ball and an excursion to a historic European city. 

What is the first year timetable like for this course?

We typically offer 12 contact hours per week in year one, which are a mixture of lectures, workshops and small-group seminars. We believe that the small-group seminar is the most effective way of teaching history and we have ensured that it is offered on every single unit students take (except the dissertation, which is largely based around individual supervision).

Where can I find out more about the detailed structure and content of the degree programmes?

Our online programme catalogue is the most authoritative guide to what units we offer each year. 

What support does the school offer to new students?

Every student is allocated an academic personal tutor when they arrive in Bristol and this is a vital point of contact throughout your degree. They arrange meetings with you six times per year but you are welcome to get in touch with them to arrange more meetings as required.

In addition, our Head of Year 1 makes sure that students are aware of all the support on offer to them: peer-assisted study support, writing fellows, online workshops and much more. 

How will the course set me up for my future career?

History is a well-respected discipline which opens up a wide variety of careers. Most jobs require a degree in any subject  and a traditional discipline like history from a University like Bristol makes you stand out as someone who is flexible, industrious and a great communicator. 

Are there any employers or other initiatives that the school works with for industry placements?

We do not offer industry placements. 

What do graduates go on to do after studying this course at Bristol?

Our graduates go on to a wide variety of careers. The most popular ones are quite traditional: law, civil service, journalism and education. 

What opportunities are there to study abroad as part of this course?

Usually, students doing Single Honours BA History usually have the opportunity to spend a semester abroad in Year 2. These placements are at universities which teach in English and where the history degree is cognate with our own so you can return to the same year group and be in the same position as everyone else in terms of your intellectual development. Joint honours language students spend their third year abroad and are encouraged to take history units or to work in the heritage sector.

What are the facilities like on campus that students will use to study this course?

Our new Humanities Building on Woodland Road – a major investment by the University – opened in January 2020. It contains lots of new teaching rooms, plenty of study spaces, staff offices, a cinema room and a 240-seater lecture theatre. 

How many hours (on average) are required outside of lectures for additional work and study?

We work on the assumption that full-time students are working 35 hours a week in total – the same as a full time job.

How do assessments work for the department?

We use a wide range of assessments. Our degree uses two-hour exams to ensure that academic standards are high and that the degree is really well respected but the majority of assessments are coursework: essays, source commentaries, book reviews, individual and group presentations, project pitches – these all have a place in our curriculum. 

What would you say are the main differences between studying at school and study at university?

There is no right answer! At school, your teachers are training you to learn specific facts and interpretations and then to show an examiner that you know them. You learn to write quite formulaically and often study from a textbook. We have no textbooks, instead we have an enormous library and lots of subscriptions to major online databases, scholarly journals and academic e-books. We want you to find us a fact we haven't seen before, come up with an argument that's a bit more original, and then convince us that your perspective is the correct one.

What are examples of final year projects/dissertations that students have worked on when they study this course?

In recent years we have had dissertations on radioactive sheep, the history of the earthworm, Elizabethan perceptions of Islam, and even the history of rat-rhyming (think Pied Piper of Hamelin – this was actually a real thing!). Nothing is off limits.

By the time you get to your third year we have trained you to operate as an independent historian and we encourage our students to go off and research something that really interests them. We are on hand to offer professional advice and support but really it's up to you. We publish our best dissertations online every year.

Is there anything I should check out to familiarise myself with the subject matter before I would start the course?

Start with this from the Historical Association – a short guide to the difference between school and university from the perspective of a student. 

Remember that our first-year units presume no prior knowledge on the part of any student. You should feel free to read any history that interests you. The best historians are always the ones who enjoy reading widely and read for pleasure. 

Anything else I should know about?

One of the things students often don't see but which we think makes a big difference, is that the staff of the Department of History all really like one another. We enjoy working together and solving problems together, which really helps us to deliver a flexible and responsive curriculum. It enables us to put a lot of time into thinking about how our degree fits together as a whole and students feel the benefit of this during their time at Bristol.

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