School of History




An integral part of all our History courses here at Queen Mary is the final-year dissertation – an extended essay of 10,000 words based on primary source research.  Dissertations form part of your final-year Special Subject module.

This page will outline the skills your dissertation will help you to develop; the benefits of studying at Queen Mary, University of London; and address some practical aspects of planning and writing your dissertation.

You’ll also be able to hear from students about their own experiences of writing a final-year dissertation.

What skills will I develop from researching and writing a dissertation?

Your dissertation is the culmination of three years' training as an historian. It’s also the chance for you to start something new and exciting.

The most obvious skills you gain are the ability to analyse evidence and use that evidence to construct an argument. In fact, actually finding the evidence in the first place is also a skill.  So too is the ability to look for a new angle on a topic, and reflect critically on what other historians have already written on the subject - these are examples of independent thinking.

A dissertation does not simply prepare you for further study in history; it develops a range of skills that are transferable to many other careers.

Why is Queen Mary, University of London a great place to complete a History dissertation?

As one of the constituent colleges of the University of London, Queen Mary offers our students free access to a wide range of resources, including the University of London Library at Senate House.

Our team of world-renowned academics are involved in ground-breaking research, making this the ideal teaching environment for you to complete your own piece of research and writing.

Studying in London also puts a wealth of resources within easy reach, including the British Library and the National Archives.

Planning and writing your dissertation

We encourage all our students to develop their own dissertation topic, with the support of a dissertation supervisor.

Your dissertation allows you to learn about your chosen topic first-hand from a range of primary sources.

What is a primary source?

A primary source is a text or image that is contemporary to a particular historical period. This could include letters and diaries, books and newspapers, paintings, films, or artefacts. Some primary sources can only be accessed through visiting archives, such as the British Library or the National Archives at Kew; others are available through published collections and online databases, many of which can be accessed through Queen Mary Library.

How do I choose a topic?

By your final year, you will have gained a knowledge of which types and periods of history interest you the most, and this will guide your choice of a Special Subject module.

The member of staff teaching your Special Subject will also serve as your dissertation supervisor, and will help you to choose a topic for your dissertation that enables you to make use of your own distinctive set of skills and approaches.

What help will my dissertation supervisor give me?

The dissertation offers students a balance of independent learning and expert guidance.

You will take responsibility for developing a question, planning and conducting your research, structuring and writing your dissertation, and managing the project as a whole.

Throughout this process your dissertation supervisor will support you.

Dissertation supervisors are experts in their field – they will help you choose a topic, and can offer advice on how to deal with any challenges you might face.

All students have regular one-to-one meetings with their supervisors to ensure that they are on track and making good progress