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Oxford: History, Anthro & The Centre for the History of Childhood—? Watch

    • Thread Starter

    Heya, TSR folks. I wasn't sure whether I should put this in the Oxbridge forum or here, so please bear with a complete newbie, and mods, please just move this post if you feel it would be more appropriate elsewhere.

    I'm a nearly 23-year-old American graduate of an Ivy League university. I received my B.A. in Social / Cultural Anthropology last May and graduated with university and departmental honors based on my GPA and on a thesis. (I only add this because I never published anywhere, and I'm trying to convince myself that I could be Oxford postgrad material in spite of that!) I've been working as a test-prep and writing tutor since graduation and am only now beginning to consider the whens, wheres, and whats, and hows of graduate school.

    From where I currently stand, Oxford appeals on several levels beyond the—admittedly not insignificant—awe factor: first, I was very impressed with the work a friend was doing when I visited him there; second, certain Oxford colleges are home to child choristers, who were the subject of my undergraduate thesis and who will hopefully figure in my postgraduate work; and third, Oxford appears to be one of the only institutions in the English-speaking world that has dedicated resources for the social study of childhood (not of education), which is the fairly new and completely impractical field that I'm considering pursuing.

    Apart from the lack of funding and the £30,000+/year (!!) overseas student price tag, I can already think of two potential stumbling blocks in the way of my still-embryonic dream plan: the Centre for the History of Childhood, which is an enormous element of Oxford's draw, is part of the Faculty of History (Social & Economic History), but my undergraduate background is in Anthropology, and I have no real interest in switching entirely to History; and the Center is situated at Magdalen College, to which I know I would have no guaranteed admission even were I to be accepted into a postgrad course.

    I'm not too well-versed yet in Oxford's academic structure, so I'd hoped to ask the advice of anyone who's studied Anthropology or History (preferably at the postgraduate level) at Oxford about inter-college and interdisciplinary study there. Would I, as a hypothetical non-History and non-Magdalen postgrad, be able to avail myself of the Centre's resources and incorporate its work into my studies and research, or is that sort of work discouraged? Would faculty in SHE generally be willing and/or able to advise or otherwise just worth with a student from another discipline?

    I'd so appreciate any advice, anecdotes, or guidance. Thanks a lot!

    Hello! I'm not a historian or an anthropologist, nor a postgraduate student (yet - I will be in the autumn), but I can answer a couple of these points, and with any luck someone more informed will come along.

    So, firstly, you definitely don't need to be at Magdalen. Which college you're attached to has virtually no academic significance at postgraduate level. Undergraduates are taught within the college, but postgraduates aren't: it is where you (usually) live; it is a social centre; it may have useful resources for you (e.g. applying for funding to attend conferences), but it's not at the centre of your academic life.

    Most special centres within Oxford are very keen to get as many people attending their events as possible! I am on the mailing list of a couple, and they very much have an 'all welcome' attitude. In fact, I think I might even have been on the Centre for the History of Childhood mailing list at one point - I definitely remember seeing or getting notifications about their seminars; I think it struck me that they were timed to be on alternate weeks with those of the Children's Literature and Youth Culture Colloquium (which is run out of the English Faculty). Anyway, I just glanced at the Centre for the History of Childhood's website, and it looks like the topics of the papers being given this term are not restricted to historical topics ('Programme Trinity Term 2012'). Equally, following the link to the Economic and Social History page, it seems that that department is welcoming of interdisciplinarity. Their Thursday graduate seminar page says:

    Students and academics of all disciplines are welcomed. The Workshop provides researchers with an opportunity to present their work in a friendly and relaxed environment. Papers are normally ‘works in progress’ rather than polished pieces. A short presentation of approximately 25 minutes is followed by discussion and questions. A free sandwich lunch is provided.
    I hope that's at least a little encouraging - that particular seminar obviously has a historical focus, but it's not highly restrictive (also, hurrah for free lunches). I can't comment on exactly how the intricacies of interdisciplinary work between two faculties would pan out, but I think you should be optimistic. I know of other people working between two faculties (albeit not the same ones) in very broadly-spread ways who have been extremely successful - including winning major funding awards for their graduate studies.

    If you don't get enough advice here from further responses, there'd be no harm in contacting someone at the centre and asking about how interdisciplinary projects work in practice. I think the thing about choristers actually being present in Oxford is a compelling argument, since applying for graduate programmes is partly, as I'm sure you know, about the fit. Normally that is an argument one has to develop by lots of looking into the faculty's focus, the resources in libraries (for my subject, at least), etc. - whereas for you, it will be immediately obvious, and you should be able to create a very coherent academic narrative. So, I hope some historians and/or anthropologists will emerge later (it's 7 am here!), but just wanted to give you a few initial thoughts, and especially to clear up the Magdalen issue.
    • Thread Starter

    Hey! Thanks kindly, @thatfineframe, for your early morning response. Anthropologist and postgrad though you may not be (yet), you've really managed to address the heart of my question. If I can fault you for anything at all, it's for only increasing my enthusiasm for a project that may turn out to be a pipe dream!

    Concerning undergraduate programs, we often hear something to the tune of "American courses: open and interdisciplinary; British courses: rigid and restricted." Whether or to what extent that's true of undergraduate courses, I'm glad to hear that, at least to your knowledge, it isn't necessarily true at the postgraduate level. Anthro, that all-compassing of all-encompassing disciplines, is little use to me without interdisciplinary opportunities. (Also: a Children's Literature and Youth Culture Colloquium? Sign me up!)

    It's also great, in a way, to hear that I wouldn't need to be at Magdalen to work with or around the Center for the History of Childhood. Though I'd hardly turn my nose up at Magdalen—which, of course, has choristers in college, further simplifying my projects!—I don't think that it's even a remote possibility or me; funding for Americans seems difficult enough to find generally, and at Magdalen, it appears to be almost nonexistent. Ah, well.

    Thanks again for the advice. I'd love to hear more from others, of course, but in the meantime, you've certainly put me at ease on at least a few points, and I really appreciate it.
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Updated: May 6, 2012
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