BA (Hons) History preparatory reading

One of the questions we often get asked by new history students is: 'what should I read to prepare?' The answer to this is pretty simple: just read whatever history interests you! You don't have to do any preparatory reading before the course starts and we don't expect you to come having learnt it all already.

However, if you are very keen and would like to do some preparation, then please read on.

For the first year of the degree you will take a range of modules that cover Britain, Europe, and the globe. You will also engage with the question of public history and creative responses to the past (films, tv, novels, and so on). We recommend that you introduce yourself to the topics, periods, and places that you will be studying. But we also want you to start thinking about the role of history in the world around you.

So in addition to some of the suggestions for books and readings below, we also recommend that you keep up with history:

  • in the news. For example the debate over statutes and Black Lives Matter or the response to COVID-19. What role does history play in public debate?
  • on the TV. Any new history documentaries - for example David Olusoga's A House Through Time. Whose history and what history gets onto the TV? Who gets to present it, and why?
  • On the radio. For some different approaches you could try In Our Time, History of the World in 100 Objects, or browse the material on BBC Sounds. How do you make a successful and appealing radio show out of history?
  • On the big screen. Anything you fancy! How is the past represented on film, and what role does film play in the public understanding of history?
  • In the world of historical fiction. Again, anything you fancy, although Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall series is a good place to go if you haven't read it, or Adam Thorpe's Ulverton if you want something a bit different, and more difficult. What is the line between history writing and fiction?

For some module-specific ideas, here are some books you will find helpful in preparing for your modules, and that will also be useful once you start the course. We've tried to list one book that provides an overview, as well as something a bit different.

Creating the Past

This module is all about the public role of history. Instead of a book, Iwe recommend you listen to the great podcast series by Professor Jill Lepore called The Last Archive, which is available online in a range of places.

For a book that introduces many of the themes we will examine, you could look at Tracey Loughran (ed.), A Practical Guide to Studying History: Skills and Approaches (Bloomsbury, 2017).

Global Histories

This module is all about the global history of Britain in the early modern period, but we teach the module through the collections of the early modern collector Sir Hans Sloane (who founded the British Museum). There’s a huge range of reading you could choose from, but James Delbourgo's Collecting the World: The Life and Curiosity of Hans Sloane (Penguin, 2018 paperback edition) is really useful.

For a survey book we will refer to on the course, you could try: Miles Ogborn, Global Lives: Britain and the World, 1500-1800 (Cambridge University Press, 2008).

Uniting the Kingdoms

This module covers the early modern period in Britain, focusing on the Tudors and the Stuarts. The textbook, which is also quite an easy read, is Ron Hutton, A Brief History of Britain 1485-1660: The Tudor and Stuart Dynasties (Robinson, 2011).

Another survey is Richard Rex, The Tudors (Amberley, 2012).

For some different approaches that focus on religion and Scotland respectively, you could also try:

Eamon Duffy, The Stripping of the Altars (Yale University Press, 2005)

John Guy, My Heart is my Own: The Life of Mary Queen of Scots (Harper, 2004)