Studying History in York – History on your doorstep.

One of the most important things about going to university is the town/city in which you study. For history students in particular, the choice of location is often one of most important factors in choosing where to study. So, for my first post, let’s have a look at York as a city to study history in.
There is a good chance that many of you will be aware of York’s history. For anybody who has visited York previously, you will be well aware of just much of a historically rich city it is (to say that it is obvious at every corner is a bit of an understatement!). For me, even though I had little interest in the history that York is mostly famous for, it remains a fantastic city to study history in.

How many other cities can you go for a casual walk on city walls?
How many other cities can you go for a casual walk on city walls?

Being one of the oldest cities in England, from its foundation in AD.71, it has found itself at the forefront of history, right from the Romans until the present day. From Roman Emperor Constantine to Guy Fawkes; York Minster to highway man Dick Turpin; and from Romans to one of Britain’s main railway centres and Rowntree, there are very few cities which offer such a broad experience of history. By studying at the University of York, you as a student, get direct experience to the history of the city.

Away from the more obvious aspects such as physically having to walk through the city walls every time you pop into town, to Northern Europe’s largest Gothic cathedral (entry is free if you’re a student!), there are many other aspects of history in the city that get overlooked.

In your first few weeks you will have a compulsory tour as part of your Making Histories module, where your seminar group will be taken on a walk around the city by your tutor to get to learn about some of the more hidden aspects of York’s history. From the Roman history of the city, the dark history of Clifford’s Tower, through to the origin of The Shambles and ‘Whip-ma-whop-ma-gate’, you get to see a wider version of history away from the typical ‘tourist version’. In addition, as well as learning about these aspects of York’s history, you get a great chance to meet your fellow course mates – once we had finished the tour, we all went to The Blue Boar, a historic pub allegedly built on Dick Turpin’s grave (in the most York tradition possible!) to get to know each other. The people I went with on the tour remain some of my best friends away from the course!

King's Manor - Formerly the base of Henry VIII's Council of the North, today many mediaval modules are taught here.
King’s Manor – Formerly the base of Henry VIII’s Council of the North, today many medieval modules are taught here.

Even if, like me, medieval history is not your interest (putting it nicely in my case – sorry mediaevalists!), York offers plenty of areas of interest for the modern historian. When you begin studying in first year, your Making Histories core module gives you an opportunity to study a case study to get an idea of the nature of historical work based around a particular aspect of the city’s history, the skills from which you later apply to your own personal areas of historical interest. As the case study list varies from Roman towers to Rowntree’s chocolate advertisements; sex and masculinity in medieval York to Dick Turpin’s execution; Henry VIII’s visit to the city to trams; and from the illegal coiners in York to anti-Irish prejudice and poverty and the city, there are a wide variety of different topics that you can study that will help develop your approach to, and interests in history. You may even find interest in a topic that you had no awareness of before, as I did with my Irish in York case study.

Away from the more serious side of being a student in York, the experience of studying History at York is unique. There are plenty of student-led activities themed around York’s history. From Roman themed bar crawls and socials to group visits to York’s historical attractions, many student-run societies (on top of History Society) organise events throughout the year where you get to meet students of all different interests and subjects. Look out for my forthcoming post on historical activities in York!

If you want to take your passion for history further, then there are countless opportunities for historical related work. From working at the York Castle Museum (as my flatmate did last year), working at York’s Chocolate Story, through to volunteering at places such as the National Railway Museum, there are countless opportunities for you to enhance your experience through history related activities.

All of this within a thirty minute walk of university! What other cities and universities offer such a rich variety of history to study on your doorstep, and so many opportunities to engage with history?

Next time, what you can study in the department!


The Minster from the city walls. A nice walk, especially in summer!
The Minster from the city walls. A nice walk, especially in summer!
York Mansion House – home to the Lord Mayor of York since 1732!
Stonegate - a historic street with many interesting shops (and some excellent pubs if you're so inclined!).
Stonegate – a historic street with many interesting shops (and some excellent pubs if you’re so inclined!).
York’s historic riverfront is a favourite place to meet with friends when it’s dry. When it’s wet, it does tend to flood – always a good sight. Watch the geese.

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Second year history student and Vanbrugh College member. A stray Welshman in Yorkshire. If you have any questions please contact me! :)

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