Honours in the Department of History

The Honours year gives students a taste of history as a vocation. In seminar work, students grapple with problems in the theory and practice of history; the thesis gives you the experience of formulating a significant historical problem and writing a substantial piece of original research.

Students who take Honours at the University of Sydney study in one of Australia’s leading history departments. You work closely with dedicated teachers and active researchers whose interests span a wide variety of fields and methodological approaches.

The department is proud of its Honours programme, graduates of which have gone on to a rich variety of rewarding careers. For some people, the honours year is a critical step on the path to further study (some of your teachers are University of Sydney Honours graduates). For others, the fourth year is the culmination of formal education, an experience that helps you refine your skills in research, analysis and writing; extend your intellectual range; and develop personal and professional skills needed to see a major project though to completion.

Download the Department of History's Honours Handbook

Undertaking Honours

Honours is a year-long program of advanced study entirely devoted to History. The Honours year dramatically extends what you have learned in your Bachelor’s degree. Honours in History at the University of Sydney is a valuable qualification–many of our Honours graduates go on to rewarding careers in the federal and state government, others in the private sector–because it nurtures both originality and discipline.

You take two advanced seminars, one tackling methodological questions and one exploring a particular field (e.g. Australian history, American history) in depth, and you write a thesis on a historical question that you devise and research yourself, with the guidance of a supervisor. For some of you, the Honours year will be a critical step on the path to further study – a first-class Honours degree will equip you to undertake a PhD here or anywhere in the world. For others, it will be the culmination of your formal education, an experience that helps you refine your skills in research, analysis and writing, extend your intellectual range and develop the body of personal and professional skills you need to see a major project through to completion.

Students who started their bachelor’s degrees before 2018 are eligible to do Honours if they have completed a major in history and have an average mark of 70% or higher in their 2000- and 3000-level History units.

If you are beginning your undergraduate study in 2018, you’ll do Honours as the fourth year of the new combined degree of BA/BAS. To be eligible to undertake Honours as part of the BA/BAS you’ll need a major in History and a second major in your bachelor’s degree. Your second major might complement your History major–a relevant language, literary study, or a social science discipline, for instance–or it could have no direct connection with your historical studies. To do Honours you’ll also need an average mark of 70% or higher in your 2000- and 3000-level History units.

Honours Seminars 2018

Honours Seminars: Semester One 2018

  • Field Seminars are grounded in a particular context, be that geography, place or time. They are designed to explore current or emerging debates or research foci in the areas in question.
  • Approach Seminars cross a diverse array of contexts in order to emphasis a particular approach to history writing and to understand the way in which this approach has developed in the scholarly literature.


FIELD 1 – Robert Aldrich, “Europe through Non-European Eyes”
Wednesdays 9-11am
Eastern Avenue seminar room 404

Europeans, in their travels, writings and politics, often regarded non-Europeans as the ‘other’. But what about when the tables are turned? This seminar will examine the way that non-Europeans, particularly travellers, writers and painters from Asia and Africa, viewed Europe and Europeans. Moving from the late 1600s through the twentieth century, we will examine a number of works – reports by diplomatic delegations, travelogues and memoirs, novels and paintings – by non-Europeans who sojourned in Europe. These will include a Thai diplomatic delegation that visited the court of Louis XIV and a Burmese ambassador to Britain in the age of Queen Victoria, memoirs by one of Napoleon’s bodyguards (a former slave in Egypt) and a North African imam who visited Paris in the 1820s, documents from visits by King Chulalongkorn of Thailand, King Sisowath of Cambodia and Emperor Khai Dinh of Vietnam, travelogues by Indian visitors to Europe in the late nineteenth century and letters home from Indian soldiers serving in the First World War, essays on London by Japan’s most famous early twentieth-century novelist, Natsume Soseki, and a later novel by Shusaku Endo, as well as one by a travelling Thai prince, and paintings by Indonesian, Japanese and Chinese artists who worked in Europe. Secondary readings on Europe and Asia will contextualise these accounts. We will be asking what the primary documents say about Europe, about non-European areas of the world, and about the transnational and intercultural encounters that they record, and how we as historians can approach these sources.

APPROACH 1 – Andrew Fitzmaurice, “Intellectual History”
Mondays 2-4pm
Merewether Seminar room 398

We cannot do anything without first conceiving of it and this means we have an idea of what we do. Ideas shape the scope of human action. They define what is legitimate and is not. They motivate and they explain. But ideas do not live an independent life, separate from human experience. They are deeply embedded in the social world. They shape that world and are shaped by it. This seminar will examine the history of ideas paying close attention to the contexts through which they are shaped. It will explore ways in which ideas can be used to understand history and in this sense it will introduce the history of ideas as an historical methodology. But the seminar will also pursue these aims through looking at the history of particular ideas, for example ideas of freedom and rights, and in this way it will range broadly through historical time, examining ideas in Classical, Medieval, Renaissance and Modern contexts.

FIELD 2 – Chris Hilliard, “Topics in Modern British History”
Wednesdays 10am-12pm
Storie Dixon room 3

Twentieth-century Britain is the subject of a sophisticated and exciting historiography and the primary source base accessible from Sydney is both deep and textured. The focus of this seminar will be on ‘domestic’ social, cultural, and intellectual history rather than the transnational dimension of Britain’s past, which gets usually gets more attention in courses in this department; among other things, we’ll consider the validity of this distinction. Topics include working-class culture; popular culture and its interpreters; and questions of race, gender, sexuality, and personal freedom in the 1960s and 1970s and beyond.

FIELD 3 – Miranda Johnson, “Indigenous History”
Tuesdays 3-5pm
Eastern Avenue seminar room 404

This seminar introduces students to the complexities of doing Indigenous history in an inter-disciplinary context. We will discuss issues of representation, community engagement, ethical responsibilities, and archival and theoretical challenges that Indigenous history forces historians to confront. Topics will include: beginning cross-cultural research; oral history methodology; writing subaltern history; the ethics of engagement; ethnographic refusal; approaching unconventional sources; and other issues. The seminar will have a strong focus on Indigenous historical research and writing in Australia, but we will also draw on examples from around the world in order to amplify transnational connections and better identify particular concerns. The major piece of assessment will be a research essay, with other tasks linked to undertaking that research.

APPROACH 2 – Chin Jou, “Historical and Anthropological Approaches to Food and Eating”
Mondays 2-4pm
Merewether seminar room 426

Food has been central to lived experience. It has shaped history through events and phenomena such as famines, uprisings, imperialism in search of commodities and markets, and population surges though more efficient methods of agricultural production. It has informed the development of structures of labour along lines of race, gender, and class; it has, of course, also been an essential part of daily life. In this seminar, we will consider examples of how historians and anthropologists have written about food and eating in order to illuminate broader historical developments, social relations, and identity. Readings will cover a variety of chronological and geographic contexts, although a disproportionate share of readings will focus on the United States since the early-twentieth century.

APPROACH 3 – Andrés Rodriguez, “Writing War in the Modern World”
Wednesdays 3-5pm
Quadrangle Building, Latin 2 S225

What do written sources tell us about the meaning of war in the modern world? How do ideologies, traumas, anxieties, and self-discipline linked to war express themselves through writing? In this seminar we seek to understand the ways people have made sense of war through writing between 1850 and 1950. By exploring diaries, letters, and frontline reportage we will discuss the written legacies of a whole range of wartime witnesses and actors that emerged during this period. The seminar will examine a number of case studies (Crimean War, Boer War, Chinese Civil War, among many others) interconnected with histories of empire, nationalism and ideological struggle.