Each student selects one seminar.  Seminars complement the one-to-one work of the tutorial by fostering students’ presentational skills, by encouraging students to learn from each other, as well as from the tutor, and by requiring a substantial research essay produced over the period of ten weeks.

Globes, books, a telescope, and a bust on display

Seminar sessions are one and a half to two hours long, and vary in format and style according to the requirements of the subject and the needs of the participants. They range from one-hour formal lectures followed by a discussion period, to sessions where students present points for discussion and explore them under the guidance of their tutor.

Considerable importance is attached to the research essay. The seminar tutor assists in the choice of topic, advises on the use of resources, including the Bodleian Library, and monitors progress. The essay is expected to be a substantial and exemplary piece of research, which should be valuable in future applications to postgraduate or professional programs.

Browse the comprehensive list of seminars.

Fall 2020 Seminars

Each seminar runs only subject to sufficient student demand. Against the backdrop of the Reformation and Counter-Reformation, this course explores efforts to control the visual arts by both Catholics and Protestants in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. It considers a wide range of patrons (from small confraternities, to emperors and popes), as well as a broad range of examples that include artists such as Tintoretto, Michelangelo, Cranach, Rubens and Holbein. The geographical focus is expansive, including works from England, Italy, the Low Countries and Germany.

Using a variety of primary sources, students will explore contemporary debates surrounding the appropriate role and appearance of images, as well as considering fundamental questions concerning artistic liberty and interpretation - topics that transcend the chronological focus of this course and are pertinent to current debates concerning controversial artworks and exhibitions.  

Art and Censorship contrasts the iconoclasm that took place in large areas of Northern Europe with the ‘go-ahead’ given to images decreed at the Council of Trent (1545-63). It will also examine the phenomenon of a diluted or ‘soft’ iconoclasm in Catholic countries, evidenced in the transformations made to the ecclesiastical space in this period. Drawing upon the most recent scholarship concerning the impact of religious reform on artists and patrons, students consider the mechanisms used to control and vet the arts, the new genres and typologies that arose in this period, as well as what examples of artworks being rejected or criticised can tell us about the ‘ideal’ sacred image in this epoch.

Sample Syllabus

  1. ‘Here the Arts Freeze’: The Impact of Iconoclasm
  2. Cranach’s Pragmatism
  3.  Hans Holbein in England
  4.  Brueghel’s Innovations
  5.  The Council of Trent and Michelangelo’s Last Judgment
  6.  Veronese and the Inquisition
  7.  Transforming the Sacred Space
  8. Caravaggio’s Rejected Works
  9.  Artist and Diplomat: Peter Paul Rubens

Key Readings

Marcia Hall, The Sacred Image in the Age of Art, Yale University Press, 2011

David Freedberg, The Power of Images: Studies in the History and Theory of Response, University of Chicago Press, 1989

Jeffrey Chipps Smith, The Northern Renaissance, Phaidon Press, 2004

Linda Murray, The High Renaissance and Mannerism: Italy, the North and Spain 1500-1600 (numerous editions)

Renaissance Art Reconsidered: An Anthology of Primary Sources, eds. Carol Richardson, Kim Woods and Michael Franklin, Wiley-Blackwell, 2006

Anthony Blunt, Artistic Theory in Italy 1450-1600 (numerous editions – focus in particular on the chapter concerning the Council of Trent and religious art)

Alexander Nagel, Michelangelo and the Reform of Art, Cambridge University Press, 2000

Bruce Boucher, Italian Baroque Sculpture, Thames and Hudson, 1998

View in the Course Database.

Each seminar runs only subject to sufficient student demand. The Jesuits (also known as the Society of Jesus) were founded in 1540 as a new order in the Roman Catholic Church. They had a greater impact on the global diffusion of Christianity than any other religious order. Their intrepid evangelising activities took them across the globe and through the foundation of schools, colleges and universities, as well as a range of other charitable organisations they grew in popularity and power. This course explores the architecture and broader material culture of the Jesuit missions during the early modern period in the Americas and Asia, and drawing also on their European origins. Spanning from the reductions of Paraguay to the church of the Bom Jesus in Goa, we will examine how art was used to convert, how new artistic expressions were made possible by fusions of diverse visual traditions, as well as the role that material culture played in establishing Catholicism as a world religion.

Through weekly seminars pivoted around carefully chosen case studies, you will consider the extent to which public rituals or lavishly built and decorated churches were tied to early modern imperialism, as well as how the Jesuits partnered with local communities and how these communities in turn used European visual culture to their own ends. At stake is the very question of the power of art and the different ways in which it was harnessed for its didactic and emotive potential by both the convertors and the converted.

Sample Sylabus

  1. The Jesuits and the Visual: from the Spiritual Exercises to the Evangelicae Historiae Imagines
  2. Relics and Ritual: Saint Francis Xavier and the Bom Jesus in Goa
  3. The Architecture of the Jesuit Reductions
  4. Fumie and the Kirishitan in Japan
  5. Mughal Miniatures
  6. The Art of Martyrdom
  7. Translating ‘the other’: Peter Paul Rubens and new Iconographies

Key Readings:

  • The Jesuits: Cultures, Sciences, and the Arts, 1540-1773, ed. John W. O’Malley
  • The Jesuits II: Cultures, Sciences, and the Arts, 1540-1773, ed. John W. O’Malley
  • Gauvin Bailey, Art on the Jesuit Missions in Asia and Latin America, 1542-1773
  • Circulations in the Global History of Art, ed. Thomas DaCosta Kaufmann
  • Hans Belting, Likeness and Presence

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This seminar tells the story of two rival dynasties, and their struggle for dominance in north-western Europe over the course of the central Middle Ages. In England’s case, moreover, this conflict was instrumental in creating one of the most celebrated documents in history: the Magna Carta. All in all, it is an exhilarating tale of politics, sex and violence in a world of knights and castles, peopled by some of the most interesting personalities of the time: figures like Eleanor of Aquitaine, Thomas Becket, Richard the Lionheart, St Louis, and so on and so forth. However, there is much more to it than the mechanics of state-building in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. In this module, we will also look very closely at related themes, such as ‘Church and State’ in the Middle Ages; gender and the nature of queenly power; community, society and culture; and chivalry, crusading and holy war.

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Each seminar runs only subject to sufficient student demand. The purpose of this course is to show how thinkers have analysed and justified the role and existence of the state, and to consider various theories of government. Based on the study of primary sources in translation, it also examines the philosophical and historical backgrounds of the various thinkers and how these affect their political thought. This term starts with Greek thought, and ends with the use made of classical political thought by Machiavelli.

Sample topics:

  1. Plato, The Republic
  2. Aristotle, Politics
  3. Cicero, On Duties (On Obligations)
  4. The influence of the Bible on medieval political thought
  5. Augustine, City of God
  6. Carolingian political thought
  7. John of Salisbury, Policraticus
  8. Aquinas’s political thought
  9. Dante, On Monarchy
  10. Machiavelli, The Discourses

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Each seminar runs only subject to sufficient student demand. Shakespeare came up to London from the country, where he had already been associated with household players, just after 1590. He entered a lively world of public performance, already marked by such major dramatic presences as Christopher Marlowe and Thomas Kyd. In this, the first half of his career, he showed a readiness to turn his hand to anything (including fairly trashy piecework collaborations with other playwrights). The seminar explores the variousness of this output, both comic and tragic. It also investigates Shakespeare’s enormous contribution to one craze of the 1590s, the English history play, and concludes (as it began) with Shakespeare’s contemplation of Roman history.

Weekly Topics:

  1. Introducing Shakespeare
  2. Titus Andronicus
  3. Henry VI, Part 2
  4. Romeo and Juliet
  5. A Midsummer Night’s Dream
  6. Themes and Issues
  7. Much Ado About Nothing
  8. Henry IV, Part 1
  9. Henry V
  10. Julius Caesar

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Each seminar runs only subject to sufficient student demand. The constellation of talents known collectively as the ‘Inklings’ met regularly in Oxford between the 1920s and 1950s. Comprising of scholars, poets, novelists and visionaries of varying hues, they gathered for weekly meetings in each other’s homes, college rooms, and pubs to discuss the books they were writing, and the ideas about which they were so passionate. C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien and Charles Williams were at the heart of the group, and around them formed a coterie of thinkers whose ideas about the role of mankind in a modernizing world, and the places occupied by literature, tradition and faith in that world, constituted a landmark in western culture. Although fittingly based in Oxford, their works have achieved worldwide renown, and their influence continues to grow with each new generation of readers. This seminar explores these works in the city which inspired and nurtured them

  1. Other worlds, new worlds: C.S. Lewis as Christian apologist & novelist
  2. Mythopoeia: Lewis, Tolkien, and myth-making in the modern world
  3. Spiritual thrillers: Charles Williams as novelist
  4. Inside language: structure and pattern in The Lord of the Rings
  5. ‘The road runs ever on’: meanings and interpretations of The Lord of the Rings
  6. King Arthur and Britain: Charles Williams as poet
  7. ‘Planet Narnia’
  8. J.R.R. Tolkien and the medieval world
  9. C.S. Lewis and Renaissance literature
  10. ‘Beer and Beowulf’: the legacies of the Inklings


Sample Readings:

  • Humphrey Carpenter, The Inklings: C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Charles Williams and their Friends. London: Harper Collins, 2006
  • Humphrey Carpenter, J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography. London: Harper Collins, 2006
  • Glen Cavaliero, Charles Williams, Poet of Theology. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1983
  • Colin Duriez and David Porter, The Inklings Handbook. St Louis, MO: Chalice, 2001
  • Diana P. Glyer, The Company They Keep: C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien as Writers in the Community. Kent, OH: Kent State University Press, 2007
  • Alice Mary Hadfield,\Charles Williams: An Exploration of his Life and Works. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1983
  • Gareth Knight,The Magical World of the Inklings. Cheltenham: Skylight Press, 2010
  • George Sayer, Jack: C.S. Lewis and his Times. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2005

View in the Course Database.

Spring 2021 Seminars

Each seminar runs only subject to sufficient student demand. This seminar explores western political thought at a crucial period in its development, between the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries. It centres on readings from key texts in the era\xe2\x80\x99s political thought, informed by consideration of the wider historical and intellectual context. Among the major themes of the era were the religious strife generated by the Protestant Reformation, the intellectual aspiration for rationality, and the increasingly intensive governments developed by western European states, including their colonial ventures. (Foreign language texts are read in English translation: there is no language requirement for this course.)

Sample topics

  1. The Renaissance background
  2. More and Erasmus
  3. Reformation Political thought: Luther & Calvin
  4. Jean Bodin
  5. Thomas Hobbes
  6. John Locke
  7. David Hume, Political Essays
  8. Adam Smith
  9. Voltaire, Political Writings
  10. Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Discourse on the Origins of Inequality and The Social Contract

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Each seminar runs only subject to sufficient student demand. New technologies of communication inevitably raise thorny questions of access, control, surveillance and freedom. In the wake of the invention of Gutenberg’s press, printed media became integral to political life in early modern England, interacting in novel and often unexpected ways with existing forms of political communication and representation. This course will explore the ways in which print and politics intersected in early modern England from the Protestant and Catholic Reformations through to the Glorious Revolution of 1688-9. It considers how this phenomenon reshaped the body politic as political actors attempted to manipulate and control it for their own means, and the changes this produced in popular political engagement. Topics include: visual and written propaganda, censorship, manuscript pamphleteering, book burning, secret printing, freedom of the press, growth in printed news, coffeehouses, the public sphere, and political debate during the English Reformation, Civil Wars and Glorious Revolution.

View in the Course Database.

Each seminar runs only if there is sufficient student demand. Shakespeare’s career from 1600 is renowned for its deep analysis of the human capacity for depravity and for ruin. The seminar examines this increasingly sombre mood, contemporary with Elizabeth’s last years and the developing sense in England of what is often described as a ‘counter-Renaissance’. We will read a problematic late comedy before approaching four of the great tragedies, analyses of the human capacity to err disastrously unmatched since ancient Athens. Yet at the end of his public career, Shakespeare discovered a new balance, and the course will conclude with a look at the late ‘tragicomic’ plays.

This seminar is taught by Professor Ralph Hanna, Professor emeritus in the English Faculty at the University of Oxford, and emeritus Fellow of Keble College. It includes a session examining some of the earliest printed material associated with Shakespeare.

  1. Introducing Shakespeare
  2. Twelfth Night
  3. All’s Well that Ends Well
  4. Hamlet
  5. Othello
  6. King Lear
  7. Antony and Cleopatra
  8. Pericles
  9. The Winter’s Tale
  10. The Tempest


Key Reading:

  • The Cambridge Companions series has several volumes on Shakespearian subjects, especially M. De Grazia and S. Wells (eds), The New Cambridge Companion to Shakespeare (2010) (although the first edition, published as S. Wells (ed), The Cambridge Companion to Shakespeare Studies (1986) has at least two still useful seminal essays, by W. R. Elton and Peter Thomson).
  • E. Smith, Shakespeare’s Comedies: A Guide to Criticism (2003); Shakespeare’s Histories: A Guide to Criticism (2003); and Shakespeare’s Tragedies: A Guide to Criticism (2003)
  • The Blackwell Companions to Literature and Culture series also has a number of volumes on Shakespeare, centrally R. Dutton and J.E. Howard (eds), Companion to Shakespeare’s Works (4 vols, 2004)
  • E. Smith, The Cambridge Introduction to Shakespeare (2007)
  • S. Greenblatt, Renaissance Self-Fashioning: from More to Shakespeare (1980).
  • S. Greenblatt, Shakespearean Negotiations: The Circulation of Social Energy in Renaissance England (1988)
  • J. Dollimore, Radical Tragedy (1984)
  • A. Patterson, Shakespeare and the Popular Voice (1989)
  • T. Stern, Making Shakespeare: From Stage to Page (2004)

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Each seminar runs only subject to sufficient student demand. According to the classic definition of the subject, the Crusades came to an end more than 700 years ago. Yet they remain important for understanding the rhetoric of conquest, power and resistance concerning the future of the modern Middle East. As a result, it is possible to argue that, of all medieval topics, the Crusades is the one that has retained the most resonance into the present day. This seminar series will focus on the ‘Age of the Crusades’, 1095-1291: this takes us from the First Crusade, which set out from western Europe to capture Jerusalem in 1099, to the final destruction of Latin Christian polities in the Levant in 1291. However, it will also examine the remarkable afterlife of the crusading movement, considering the shifts in the patterns of remembrance that reflect the interests and preoccupations of later periods.

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Each seminar runs only subject to sufficient student demand. This seminar course explores early medieval heroic culture and beliefs from northern and western Europe, as presented in both older and later (West and North Germanic) literature and legend. It examines the historical background and related archaeological evidence as well as the ideological influences which shaped the texts. The seminar will involve extensive reading of primary sources in translation.

Possible seminar outline:

  1.  Introduction to Viking Literature and Culture
  2. The Gods -  The Mythological Poems of the Poetic Edda
  3. The Heroes - The Heroic Poems of the Poetic Edda; Völsunga saga (and its historical background)
  4. The Saga - Gísla saga
  5. Introduction to Old English Literature and Anglo-Saxon Culture
  6. Legendary Heroes: Waldere, Widsith, Finnsburgh; Beowulf (with sources and analogues) 
  7. Historical Heroes: The Battle of Maldon, Brunnanburgh and the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle
  8. Christian Heroes: The Dream of the Rood, Edmund, Judith
  9. The Hildebrandslied with Scandinavian/Old Irish/Middle English analogues
  10. The Nibelungenlied

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