History at Oxford
Hello! I’m Jade (she/they) and a second year History student at St Peter’s College. Being a Historian (or a humanities student more generally) it is really up to you to structure your days and weeks yourself, and definitely in first year it took me some time to develop the skill of time management with the workload!
As a History student I have about 3 essays a fortnight, and sometimes I have to prepare short presentations or additional readings for a class discussion. Having two different essays to be working on at the same time can be nice as there are definitely occasions when the two topics overlap; it is the task of a good historian to be able to draw out these connections in order to widen your scope and strengthen arguments with interesting case studies.
In order to fit all of the reading in I start off at about 9:30 in the morning after having a relaxed breakfast and checking my emails - I am a committee member of quite a few societies, and in particular as the co-president of the Undergraduate Historians Assembly I have quite a few meetings with the faculty and various sub-groups and committees (very exciting!)
I work through my reading list, having made a note of where I can locate each book which I want to take a look at for my essay. Sometimes a tutor highlights which books and journal articles are more essential for the essay, which can be helpful when it comes to prioritising what to work through and get an idea of the key themes and ideas which I can explore further in the additional reading. On a day which I have allocated to writing my essay I wake up to start work a bit earlier, say at 8 am, so that I have sufficient time to get it finished; I think I’m on the slower side when it comes to writing essays so I try to accommodate for that in order to avoid having a minor panic about making the submission deadline.
After breaking for lunch I will head to a library at around 1:30 if I don’t have any meetings or contact hours in the afternoon. My favourite study spots are the Social Science Library, which is quite modern and spacious, or the Gladstone Link, which is the underground connecting section between the much-photographed Radcliffe Camera and Old Bodleian Library. Fortunately for me it is part of the History Faculty Library, and as it has a bit of an underground bunker vibe it isn’t as busy as the more ‘pretty’ and older parts of the library.
I currently live slightly out of the city centre in a student house, so I walk back home to make dinner. This takes about 20 minutes and I get to cross the Magdalen bridge and enjoy the pretty sights of the dreaming spires on the way home! Every few days or so I’ll head to one of the small supermarkets en route to do a small grocery shop.
After dinner, which I’ll have at about 7 or so, I’ll work until about 9 on other projects I have going on, such as articles for student newspapers or a comedy sketch as I am a member of the Oxford Revue. During normal times I would also do a pub quiz with some of my friends from college on Wednesday evenings - hopefully we’ll be able to do them again! If I’m not too tired, I might switch back to taking notes from my readings until around 11 pm, but sometimes I’ll call it a night a bit earlier and unwind by watching something on Netflix (probably The Office).
Things are slightly different on days where I have a tutorial or class as I prefer to stay in my room so I am not rushing about too much beforehand. I’ll perhaps spend a bit of time gathering my thoughts about what I read and any conclusions from my essay, and also what I found interesting and may want to read up on as consolidation work for my collections (start of term mocks).
I am now on my second term of having one-on-one tutorials without a tutorial partner, and this brings with it its own advantages and challenges. On the one hand there is more pressure on you to fill the hour with interesting reflections so you definitely have to come prepared, but on the other hand a leading expert is spending an hour engaging with you on the topic, and often they can tailor the term’s work to reflect your personal interests better. When I started at Oxford I was sometimes rather quiet and shy in tutorials, but by this point in my degree I feel far more comfortable talking in them!
After the tutorial is over, I often spend a bit of time sorting out the reading list for the next essay by working out where the books can be located and file away my notes from the last essay. Doing basic admin tasks allows me to have a bit of a breather if I’ve had an intense tute and my brainpower feels used up!
Weekends are a little different, and it is important to have some time allotted where things are a little slower in pace; Oxford terms can be intense so you need it! For example, I may meet up with a friend to grab lunch or walk around Christ Church Meadow, or I might try out a new library to get a bit of work done. I am also involved with student journalism a fair bit, so I dedicate a bit of time to writing articles, attending editorial meetings or working on putting together the weekly newspaper at the student union building. Of course, I’ll always make sure to have time for movie and takeaway nights with my housemates!