How to become a history student at home

With Covid-19 throwing traditional teaching into disarray, now is a great time to give remote learning a try. Here we explore online courses for students, whether you’re looking for global expertise or access to a community of like-minded learners

If you’re interested in learning about history at home, there are plenty of short courses available online on a variety of topics. (Photo by Getty Images)
1

Futurelearn

Good for… engaging content

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Originally developed by the Open University, Futurelearn is an online learning platform that features a range of engaging MOOCs (massive online open courses), created by experts from leading cultural institutions and universities and intended to make education accessible to all. 

Usable via desktop, tablet and mobile, most Futurelearn courses range from 6 to 10 weeks (with some shorter options available), and include video lectures, articles, quizzes, tests and debate forums. Most are subject to a payscale (while some content can be accessed for free, learners can upgrade to take tests and receive certificates). 

The history portfolio includes courses on propaganda and ideology in everyday life, led by the University of Nottingham and the British Library; genealogy from the University of Strathclyde; British imperial- ism from the University of Exeter; and a free course on the evolution of the British Army jointly run by the University of Kent and the National Army Museum.

Find out more here

2

University of Oxford online learning

Good for… a community of learners

Oxford’s 10-week online courses – consisting of approximately 100 study hours in total – aim to help develop students’ historical skills, such as critical thinking and engaging with primary sources. Alongside allocated reading and text-based activities and assessments, students are encouraged to interact with each another on discussion forums, where they can post thoughts on questions set by the tutor and read other learners’ contributions. Fees apply and students are expected to submit two written assessments per course. 

Courses scheduled for 2020 and early 2021 include in-depth examinations of key figures from history such as Henry VIII, Elizabeth I and Churchill, as well as introductions to broad subjects such as politics, the Victorians, the history of medicine, and the making of modern Britain.

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3

Gresham College lectures

Good for… big ideas

Head to Gresham College’s website to uncover a vast and surprising variety of free talks from some of Britain’s most exciting academics. The lectures are usually delivered to a live audience but, since Covid-19, speakers have been delivering them remotely from their own homes. Beginning in October, Joanna Bourke will be delivering a six-part series on ideas about ‘evil women’, beginning with Eve and ending with Myra Hindley.

Also look out for a series of talks marking Black History Month, including David Olusoga on postwar migration, Olivette Otele on slavery and reparations and Miranda Kaufmann on black Tudors.

Other upcoming lectures range from the Mayflower and Plato to the houses of the Boleyn family, and a large archive of past talks is available for anyone to dip into.

Find out more here

4

Coursera

Good for… international expertise

Primarily aimed at those seeking to change careers or arm themselves with new skills, Coursera hosts an array of courses created by academics at universities across the US and Europe. Courses are made up of video lectures, student discussion forums and assignments, with some free elements, and some available only with an upgrade. Options include courses on ancient Egyptian civilisation, Greek and Roman mythology, feminism and social justice, and Russian history from Lenin to Putin. Those interested in historical buildings can also study courses on Roman architecture and Gothic cathedrals developed and led by scholars at Yale. coursera.org 

5

The Open University free short courses

Good for… flexibility 

As well as offering full-blown degree courses via distance learning, the Open University also has a selection of free short courses available on their website. With intended study times ranging between 2 and 20 hours, they also cater for different experience levels, from complete beginners to advanced students. Instantly available to fit in whenever suits your schedule, these short courses could be a good way to test out online learning before investing in a larger course of study, or to gain confidence before doing so. The archive includes several courses on art history, as well as on key thinkers and writers and significant historical texts.

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