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The University of Southampton
HistoryPart of Humanities

History Student Specification

In the information below each of our admissions tutors has made some observations on the skills and qualities they see as important when they consider an application for BA History.

Intellectual Flexibility
Reading Single or Combined Honours at Southampton, you'll be introduced to wholly fresh ways of understanding the present through immersing yourself in the past; and actively encouraged to study history across a broad spectrum of space and time, from culture in the ancient world to conflict in the modern. You'll rely upon a wide range of media, including film and the visual arts; and sometimes studying topics which at first sight might not appear of academic interest, say cooking or sport. This means that you'll need to be open to new ideas, willing to work across disciplines, and prepared to modify your expectations of what the study of history might involve.

Intellectual Independence
Admissions selectors will be looking particularly for evidence that you are capable of thinking for yourself, rather than simply repeating the opinions of others; this quality will help you to keep your bearings among the different and often conflicting approaches to the study of history that you'll encounter during the course, and equip you for further study beyond undergraduate level.

At university level, this means not just ‘liking history’, but an active willingness to read widely and to engage with original source material, in whatever form that may be; also, when appropriate, a readiness to acquire the theoretical and practical skills necessary to appreciate fully secondary literature and primary evidence. If you're studying full-time, you'll be expected during the term to spend about four hours in independent study for every hour in class (that is, roughly the equivalent of a full working week); you'll need to make sure that your other activities and commitments don't clash with this.

Study Skills
At university, you'll be spending much of your time working on your own. This will mean that you need the ability to organize your own working day, the self-discipline to keep to your own timetable, the ability to prioritize what may seem an alarmingly long list of reading commitments, and the planning capacity to meet a continuous series of deadlines. Admissions tutors will be looking for evidence of organization and self-motivation in your UCAS form; further guidance on study skills will be available when you reach university.

Writing Ability
At the most basic level, this means a good standard of written English, allowing you to express your ideas clearly and effectively. We also look for a feeling for style: the ability to use the right words for a particular context. Good historians have to be able to communicate clearly and coherently, both verbally and in writing. Selectors will look particularly at your personal statement on the UCAS form for evidence of writing ability; during the course, your seminar tutors will give you regular feedback on the style of your essays, emphasising the importance of correct sentence construction, proper punctuation, and sound grammar.

Independent Reading
We look for evidence of independent reading in our applicants, since it indicates self-motivation and a genuine interest in history. It doesn't have to be confined to high-profile historians; but admissions tutors will be looking particularly for evidence that you have read around the syllabus you are following, and that your reading reflects a wide range of serious interests.

Wide Reading
We're aware that not all applicants have had the opportunity to read widely (this applies particularly to mature applicants, who may have been introduced to serious study of the past only at a very recent stage in their career), and make allowances accordingly; but since no university undergraduate course can provide more than a very selective introduction to the study of history at an advanced level, you're strongly urged to add further depth and breadth to your knowledge by reading as widely as possible.

Relevant Cultural Interests
Interests in disciplines other than history (e.g. English literature, philosophy, social or cultural studies, politics) and in media other than the written word (e.g. live theatre, television, film, the visual arts) may well be relevant to what is an increasingly interdisciplinary subject; if they aren't evident from your choice of A-Level, you should mention them on your UCAS form. The Southampton Humanities' system of 'alternative subjects' (modules from other arts courses which may be substituted for modules on your main course) may make it possible for you to follow these interests further at university.

Oral Skills
In most occupations, whether within or outside the academic life, the ability to communicate successfully with others is a valuable asset. We particularly welcome applicants who can make an effective contribution to class discussion; and we are increasingly encouraging our students to enhance their presentational skills by incorporating single or joint presentations into our seminar teaching. The Year 2 Group Project for all Single Honours students places great emphasis on the ability to convey one’s ideas to a non-specialist audience.

IT Skills
We don't assume that all our applicants have information technology skills (this applies particularly to mature applicants, who may not have had the opportunity to acquire them); however, we think it's important that all students should be computer-literate, and encourage them to develop their skills, if they don't have them already, with the help of the networked computers and self-paced training facilities provided by the University. For your work in history, you'll be expected to have at least some basic IT skills (word-processing, email, confidence in using the internet, and preferably PowerPoint); the Library offers facilities for on-line bibliographical searches and the use of large specialist databases; and you'll have the opportunity to develop your skills in other areas through briefings by specialist tutors and library staff.

Language Skills
Language skills will make it much easier for you to study within relevant specialist modules, especially in Year 3; and will give you access to a much wider range of relevant primary and secondary literature (desirable at undergraduate level, essential at postgraduate level). If you haven't gone beyond GCSE level in languages, or don't have a language at all, you should seriously consider the possibility of developing your language skills while at university; the University's Centre for Language Study offers not only self-teaching facilities but courses in modern languages at various levels, which may be taken for one or more years as substitutes for modules in your main course.

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