School of Area Studies, History, Politics and Literature


History at the University of Portsmouth is a distinctive field, in which the comprehension of the past and an awareness of the processes of social change combine to create a stronger understanding of our present.

From war, revolution and religious persecution to gender theory, leisure activity and heritage, the interests of our academic staff range widely.  For those considering an undergraduate course, this offers satisfaction of your existing interests and the possibility of discovering new passions. Postgraduates, meanwhile, may expect to find specialists who can assist with deeper study of a discovered interest through MRes and PhD research.  

Image: The Duchess of Albany christening the Neptune, September 1909. Used by kind permission of the National Museum of the Royal Navy.

History at Portsmouth

Course content

Have you ever wondered what it was like to be a pirate on the high seas in the 17th century? Or a criminal in Victorian London? Or live under Communist rule in East Germany? Or be a punk rocker in the late 1970s? These are just some of the many exciting things that you can explore as a history student at Portsmouth.

At Portsmouth, we specialise in a range of British and European history topics from the fifteenth century to the present. We focus on the experiences and perceptions of people from a variety of different standpoints, from leaders and generals to ordinary men and women over time - how they experienced their worlds, became involved in popular revolts or revolutions or how their working and leisure time was transformed by industrialisation and urbanisation.  

Studying here, you may investigate how, during the early modern period, the "discovery" of the Americas and the reformation impacted upon peoples' lives. From the nineteenth century, you might examine how issues such as industrialisation, imperialism and pseudo-science helped shape government social policies and nurture political movements that went on to significantly influence the twentieth century.  From the last century, we offer key themes such as the First and Second World War, the rise and fall of Fascism and Communism and the development of counter-culture, new expression, riot and protest. 

Visit the University of Portsmouth History blog:

Undergraduate study

As an undergraduate studying history at Portsmouth, you will be learning about a fascinating subject  from expert historians, teaching what they research and delivering cutting edge scholarship in an environment that has been praised by external auditors and the National Student Survey. You will study the past in a city teeming with its own unique heritage. With a story stretching back to the Roman period, the historic home of the Royal Navy, and the UK’s only island city, you will see the impact of the history you study on the streets around you, connect local, national and global themes, and see the real influence of big issues like empire, war, class, gender and race.

The department has strong links with the many world-leading local and regional museums and heritage organisations, and students can choose to gain valuable work experience as part of their degree through optional work placement units. Final year students can also work with archival collections at local museums as part of the student research units “Into the Archives” and “Archival Research Project”, presenting this research to their peers, staff and members of the public.

Postgraduate study and research

Taught MA in history

Our MA Naval History examines the importance of the Royal Navy to British and global history, while engaging with the life of the ordinary sailor in peace and war, the cult of the naval hero, and the navy – and its sailors – in popular culture.


The Research Master's or MRes Humanities and Social Sciences is unique because the course content is determined by you, the student. Offering you the opportunity for tailored-learning to meet your academic or professional needs, you get to work with relevant staff to set your own timetable, objectives and deadlines. You can study the MRes as a campus-based or distance learning course, full-time or part-time. The distance learning course is supported by excellent online materials and offers you even more flexibility so that you can tailor your learning to suit you and your employer. The distance learning route also allows you to gain a university qualification without taking a career break and provides an opportunity to gain professional recognition. On the campus-based course, you will spend part of your time in the taught element of your course - covering your chosen subject and training in research methodology - and part in your personalised research project. 

Recent MRes projects include studies of Anglo-Portuguese relations in the early modern period, the Reformation and landscape in West Sussex, monstrous environments in nineteenth-century Britain, a social history of the naval frigate in the Second World War, British Imperialism in India, and a cultural history of TV comedy in the 1970s and 1980s.

For those interested in pursuing research to higher levels, both programmes are directly tailored to the research preparation requirements of relevant funding bodies, and provide a solid methodological grounding for doctoral work as well as enhancing a graduate's profile.

MPhil/PhD Study

This is offered on a full-time and part-time basis. Competitive bursaries are available through the Centre for European and International Studies Research, and in recent years students have also been successful in securing Arts and Humanities Research Council funding. In recent years, students have undertaken PhDs in History in areas including women’s suffrage biography, cinema history, the urban history of citizenship, Irish diaspora studies, the culture of suffragette marketing, military nursing in the English Civil War, Catholics in the armed forces, military engineering education, and gender and maternity provision, the Edwardian Dockyard worker; sailortown; the Boys Brigade; the Royal Navy and the development of public health initiatives; newspaper advertising in the Second World War; nineteenth-century Cornish communities and the Poor Law; monstrous perceptions of early nineteenth-century radicalism. Read more: PhD Study in History, Sociology and Politics.


Portsmouth has a strong record in historical research and publication, and offers a productive and supportive environment to academic staff and doctoral students alike.  Areas of expertise include the French Revolution, port towns and urban cultures, working-class leisure and popular culture, magical beliefs and practices and the supernatural, gender and sexuality, students and youth in the twentieth century, the cultural history of safety, risk and accident prevention, Elizabethan religious culture, anti-clericalism, religious conflict, family and memory in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, heritage, public history and collective memory, the German nation and maritime empires.

Our academic staff are members of the University's research centre CEISR, among the largest of its kind in the UK.  Current research projects include work on Port Towns and Urban Cultures and Students in 20th Century Europe, interdisciplinary research network Citizenship, ‘Race’ and Belonging, and the Supernatural Cities project.   The Centre has been highly rated by the Research Excellence Framework and actively creates a vibrant cross-disciplinary environment for academic study.

Visit CEISR for more information about research in history and across the Faculty.

Career opportunities

Employers value history graduates because they know that they bring a wide range of highly developed and useful skills to the job. History graduates from Portsmouth will have skills that are easily transferable to the workplace such as the ability to analyse and manage large quantities of information, research in groups or independently, and write in a concise and informative fashion. They will also leave with excellent communications skills, qualities that are essential for the modern graduate. 

Recent history graduates from Portsmouth have gone on to pursue a range of graduate careers such as journalism, law, teaching, university administration, archive and museum work, recruitment management and consultancy.

The history degree at Portsmouth also offers a firm foundation for those who want to study history at Master's or PhD level.