[skip to content]

Department of History

BA History

Programme Code: V100BA/H Duration: 3 or 4 years


2016 Entry Requirements

  • A Levels: AAB-ABB
  • IB: 35 (665 at HL)
  • Access to HE: Minimum of 30 Level 3 Credits at Distinction
  • Scottish Highers: AAABB
  • Scottish Advanced Highers: AAB
  • Irish LC: 340 points from 5 Higher level subjects at grade C1 or above
  • Advanced Placement: 4 4 5 (Two semesters - UCAS Group A) plus US HSGD with GPA 3.0
  • Euro Bacc: 80%
  • French Bacc: 14/20
  • German Abitur: 2.0
  • Italy DES: 80/100
  • Austria Mat: 2.0
  • Polish Mat: Overall 75% including 3 extended level subjects

Minimum Entry Requirements: AAB-ABB at A-level or 35 (6/6/5) on the International Baccalaureate

Interview Policy: Candidates with ‘non-standard’ qualifications usually invited

The single honours history degree provides a high standard of training in history as an academic discipline and develops in students an in-depth understanding and appreciation of the history of Africa and Asia.

The BA History course offers students different approaches to historical subject matter, interpretation and methodology—from the different perspectives of, for instance, economic history or the history of religion and culture. Undergraduate courses also follow a principle of progression.

The SOAS History Department is one of only a handful of universities to achieve the highest 5* rating in the 2001 government assessment of research in UK universities and unique in its expertise in African and Asian history.


Learn a language as part of this programme

Degree programmes at SOAS - including this one - can include language courses in more than forty African and Asian languages. It is SOAS students’ command of an African or Asian language which sets SOAS apart from other universities.

General Structure

The learning outcome of this degree is cumulative in terms of knowledge, and the courses aim at enabling students with cognitive skills essential to the understanding of the subject.  This is reflected in the levels of the courses. In the first year, students take introductory courses only, moving on to intermediate level courses in the second year, and then to advanced courses (and perhaps another intermediate course or two) in their final year.

In choosing their courses, some students choose to focus mainly on one region (Africa, Near and Middle East, Southeast or East Asia) or theme (Islam, modernisation and modernity). But others choose to range more broadly, exploring various themes and parts of the world. There are advantages to both approaches, developing an in-depth knowledge of one
particular region but also being able to place its history in comparative context.

Students will take 12 units over the duration of their degree - 4 units per year.  A single full-year course is equal to one full-unit and, while no half-unit courses (a course taught in term 1 or 2 only) exist in the undergraduate history syllabus, half-unit 'open option' courses may be taken.

Open option courses are courses from outside of this degree programme, typically language courses or non-history courses in other departments.  Open option courses may constitute part of your 12 units, however no more one unit of open option courses may be taken each year and it can only be taken if you have satisfied the history component of your programme.

Year 1: Single-subject students normally take 3 or 4 introductory courses. These include "H101" Approaching History (compulsory core course for single-subject students), "H102" The History of the World and courses designed to introduce the student to the history of a specific region: Africa, the Middle EastSouth AsiaEast Asia, and South East Asia. In lieu of the 4th introductory course, students may instead choose to take a suitable open option course in another department

Year 2: Students choose from a range of intermediate courses.

Year 3: In the third year, all students take a 300-level module, focusing on the analysis of primary sources. Students can also take one or two units chosen from: (a) a 10,000-word dissertation (either the H500 Independent Study Project or the H400-level ‘long essay’, linked to the compulsory H300-level module; (b) one or more additional modules, providing the opportunity to acquire additional context and/or comparative material for their own research.

Programme Detail

Year 1

Four units, chosen from:

  • Approaching History - the core introductory course.
  • History of the World - the compulsory introductory course
  • EITHER, 2 further Introductory History courses (100-level).
  • OR, 1 Introductory History courses (100-level) plus an approved 'open option'.
Year 2
Four units, chosen from:
  • H200-level courses
  • An approved ‘open option’
Year 3

Four units, chosen from:

  • A 'Special Subject' (compulsory) a 300-level taught course with either a linked 400-level Study Project or An Independent Study Project
  • Intermediate Level courses (200 level courses)
  • An approved 'open option'

Courses Groupings

Compulsory Introductory Course
Introductory History Courses (100-level)
Intermediate History Courses (200-level)
Advanced History Courses (300-level)
ISP and Special Subjects (400-level)


Teaching & Learning

Year abroad

Students combining history with a language in a 4-year degree spend a year abroad.

Teaching & Learning

Most courses are taught through a combination of lectures and tutorials, usually one hour a week of each. Sometimes, one follows the other in a two-hour bloc; sometimes, the tutorial is at a different time or on a different day than the lecture. Depending on the size of the class, some intermediate and advanced level courses are less strictly divided between a formal lecture and a tutorial discussion; instead, the topic of the day may briefly be introduced by the lecturer, followed by a seminar discussion. Advanced level courses, which are usually taught in one two-hour bloc, often take this format. Whatever the exact balance, students are expected to prepare for tutorials, to present reports on specific readings and to take the lead in discussions.

Learning Resources

SOAS Library is one of the world's most important academic libraries for the study of Africa, Asia and the Middle East, attracting scholars from all over the world. The Library houses over 1.2 million volumes, together with significant archival holdings, special collections and a growing network of electronic resources.


Introductory courses

Introductory courses (or 100-level courses) are taken in the first year only. The foundation stone of a history degree is Approaches to History (its designated course number is H101, by which it is commonly known) and The History of the World (its designated course number is H102, by which it is commonly known). For all first-year single-subject history students, H101 is a core course. That means that is must be passed in order to proceed to the second year. H101 is optional for joint-degree students: if taken, it acts as their core course (i.e., it must be passed to proceed); if not, then either one of the two regional introductory courses is the core (i.e., at least one must be passed to proceed).

The other five introductory courses are defined regionally. They survey extended historical periods and broad geographical/cultural areas and are intended to introduce students to the main processes of historical development in the five regions covered by the department: Africa, the Near and Middle East, South Asia, East Asia and Southeast Asia. 

All introductory courses are assessed through a combination of essays, oral presentations on selected readings or topics and a three-hour examination, taken in Term 3. Introductory courses are not open to second- and third-year history students.

Intermediate level courses

Intermediate level courses (200 level) provide specialised study in the history of particular regions, building on the introductory courses. With the exception of the Group Study Project (see below), they are assessed by: (a) two or three essays, and (b) a three-hour examination, taken in Term 3. For intermediate courses the weighting of assessment between essays and examination varies, with coursework essays counting for between 25 per cent and 60 per cent of the total mark. For the specifics of each course see the individual course unit listings. Group Study Projects are assessed on the basis of three written reports (see below).

Group Study Project

The Group Study Project can be taken by second-year students only. Like the ISP, its aim is to allow students to work independently, to formulate a specific research agenda, and to conduct in-depth analysis of a particular historical theme or issue. Also like the ISP, it is not formally linked to a taught course, but may well arise from a topic that has been encountered in an introductory course taken during the first year.

The main difference is that the Group Study Project is undertaken by groups of two, three or four students working together. Its focus is therefore on collaboration and intellectual interaction; on the sharing out of research tasks and on the discussion and synthesis of findings. It may, but does not necessarily, involve the use of primary sources; rather, its focus should be on a particular issue, problem or argument in the historical literature, that is, on a so-called ‘historiographical debate’. It is assessed by three pieces of written work, the first two produced by each member of the group individually and the third produced collectively by the group: (a) a preliminary annotated bibliography relating to a particular aspect of the research topic; (b) an essay on that aspect; (c) a final, jointly-authored essay.

In common with the ISP, students wishing to do a Group Study Project need to have formed their group, to have figured out what topic they wish to investigate and to have secured the agreement of a lecturer to supervise the project by the end of enrolment week. The supervisor will hold a preliminary meeting to explain submission dates, the keeping of minutes of subsequent meetings and other details early in Term One.

Group Study Projects can be particularly stimulating and fulfilling. If you think you might like to do one in your second year, then keep an eye out for potential topics and discuss them with fellow students during your first-year introductory courses.

Advanced level courses

Advanced level courses (300 and 400 level) aim to introduce students to the reading and use of original historical documents, so-called ‘primary sources’. The 300 level courses are taught courses, assessed in the same way as intermediate level courses, i.e., a varying combination of essays and a final examination. For each 300 level course there is an attached 400 level course, for which there are no additional classes and which involves the writing of a 10,000-word dissertation on a topic arising from the content of the 300 level course. There is no final examination for 400 level courses; assessment is on the basis of the dissertation alone.

Together the two courses form a Special Subject, which must be taken by all single-subject history students. Joint-degree history students may also take the full double-unit Special Subject, although this is not compulsory.

The aim of the Special Subject dissertation is to enable students to formulate their own research topic, to explore that topic in much greater depth than the normal coursework essay allows, and to identify, collect and mobilize a combination of secondary and primary historical sources. The research and writing of dissertations spans the first and second terms of the academic year. Students are expected to choose and develop their topic in consultation with their course teacher during Term One and to research and write the dissertation during Term Two and the following break. Dissertations should be approximately 10,000 words in length, including notes but excluding bibliography.

Independent Study Project

The Independent Study Project (ISP) can be taken by final-year students only. Like the Special Subject dissertation, its aim is to provide an opportunity for students to conduct original historical research on their own initiative, to engage in in-depth analysis of particular subjects and to use a range of primary historical sources. It too involves no formal classes and is assessed by a single 10,000-word dissertation (including notes but excluding bibliography). The main difference between the Special Subject dissertation and the ISP is that the latter is not linked with a 300-level taught course (although the topic may well arise out of a course the student has taken previously). It stands alone, thereby allowing students to write on regions, themes or topics not covered by the selection of 300-level courses.

Note too that, unlike the Special Subject dissertation, students wishing to take the ISP need to have formulated a viable topic by the outset of Term One and to have secured the agreement of a lecturer within the History Department to supervise the project. They must complete an ISP proposal form, available from the faculty office, which must be signed by the supervisor and returned to the office during enrolment week. Any student having problems identifying a supervisor should contact the ISP convenor and their personal tutor who will assist you in doing so. The ISP convenor will also hold a preliminary meeting with all students enrolled for the ISP early in Term One. Following that, students will meet regularly with their supervisors throughout Terms One and Two. 

Students are permitted to take both a 400-level dissertation and do an ISP in their final year. The research and writing of two, concurrent 10,000-word dissertations, however, involves careful time-management and a high degree of self-discipline. It should not be undertaken lightly – and certainly not as a way of avoiding taught courses and their examinations. Students wishing to enrol for both a Special Subject and an ISP dissertation must get the approval of the undergraduate tutor during enrolment week.

Open option courses

An ‘open option’ course is a course from another SOAS department which is not a history course. For joint degree students, it is a course from a department which is neither of the two they are enrolled in. A maximum of one open option per year (i.e. three overall) may be taken by single-subject history students, and a maximum of two overall by joint-degree students.

Pre Entry Reading

  • JR McNeill and WH McNeill, The Human Web: A Bird’s Eye View of World History
  • John Darwin, After Tamerlane: The Rise and Fall of Global Empires
  • CA Bayly, The Birth of the Modern World, 1780-1914
  • Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities
  • John Iliffe, Africans: The History of a Continent
  • Albert Hourani, A History of the Arab Peoples
  • Barbara D and Thomas R Metcalf, A Concise History of India
  • MC Ricklefs et al., A New History of Southeast Asia
  • Charles Holcombe, A History of East Asia
  • J Black and DM MacRaild, Studying History


With specialised knowledge of the history and broad cultural sensibilities of a region, SOAS History graduates have found employment in a variety of sectors. As a History graduate you are likely to have developed valuable transferable skills, including familiarity with methods of research, the competence to manage large quantities of information and the ability to select and organise information.

Graduates have gone on to work for a range of organisations including:

Embassy of Qatar, Cultural Attache's Office
United Nations Development Programme
Social Action for Health
Abner Stein Literary Agency
Salusbury World Refugee Centre
Standard Chartered Bank
Bunkyo Gakuin University
Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Republic of Cyprus
Teenage Cancer Trust
UK Government Stabilisation Unit
Oriental and African Strategic Investment Services Limited
Prisoners of Conscience
British Library
Amnesty International
International Committee of the Red Cross
University of Oxford
Natural History Museum
Thai Government
Public Policy Exchange
Global Philanthropic
British Broadcasting Corporation

Types of roles that graduates have gone on to do include:

Chief Risk Officer
Civil Servant
Consultant, IT Practice
Deployments Officer
Head of Operations
Professional Researcher
Programme Developer for Community Learning
Project Manager
Regional Social Action Coordinator
Research And Development Executive
Risk Research Analyst
Senior Consultant

For more information about Graduate Destinations from this department, please visit the Careers Service website.

A Student's Perspective

It’s a global experience and, thankfully, everyone is included, no matter what their colour, religion, or ‘class’.

Mysa Kafil-Hussain