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Humanities & social sciences

The theme of the OxNet Humanities & Social Sciences programme is 'Thinkers and Cultures'. Students will engage with a varied range of scholars, perspectives, concepts, sources and ideas that have shaped the world we live in today. The programme is rigorously interdisciplinary in its approach; history, literature, economics, philosophy, politics, and other disciplines are all drawn upon in order to create an undergraduate-style, holistic academic experience.

To apply for the Humanities and Social Sciences course, there are two steps. Both of these are compulsory.

1) Fill in this application form

2) Answer one of the following questions in response to the prompt. You must write a one-page essay (one side of paper) using size 12 font. 

You must submit your completed essay to before 9am on 8th November.

Late submissions will not be considered.

Before proceeding to the extracts in the theme you are interested in, you should read the following:


REMEMBER: This is simply a device to allow us to get (a) a sense of your understanding and approach to an unfamiliar exercise that you are unlikely to have encountered at school or college  and (b) find out your approach to writing or/and problem solving. 

What is a Gobbet?  

It is a short commentary relating to a piece of primary evidence, a passage of literature, an ancient image, an artefact etc. or (included in this instance) a science or mathematics-based question.  

A response to a gobbet is an analytical commentary on a brief extract from texts that you are probably not encountered before based on the themes of our intensive courses.

It should not be a wide-ranging essay and should be no more than a page in length. It does not require an introduction and a conclusion in the way an essay does. However, it should have a narrative arc; that is, the reader should note a structure and shape to what you have written. 

What you need to do above all is to extract as much meaning as you can from the text. Squeeze it until the pips squeak! In the case of science, what is the essence of the problem under review and how might it be solved. 

What is its purpose?  

The idea of a gobbet is for you to show that you less know something about the extract but that you can display curiosity, imagination, and enough intellectual independence to tackle material that you would have not necessarily have encountered before. It is a chance for you to show the examiner you can work critically, deploy the relevant knowledge that you do have and feel able to either assess the value of what they tell us or answer the problem with some flourish.  

No extract will be without bias of some kind, and none will give you the complete picture, so it is your job to identify that bias, establish the limits of the picture it gives us, and to extract information accordingly shaping it as you will.  

How do you write a Gobbet?  

Approach a gobbet like an upturned pyramid: start with the more general information and work toward the more specific. 



1. DON’T write an essay about the subject the piece relates to. If you are shown an extract, say from and eighteenth century ‘economist’, don’t just write an essay about she/he was. Say a little bit about him but also talk about the WHEN, WHERE and WHY the source was created.  

2. DON’T just paraphrase what is already in the piece. You need to evaluate that information as well, that is the point of a gobbet.   

3. DON’T get carried away writing a short biography of the author or the extended background to the scientific of mathematical problem: only include information on the author that is relevant to assessing the value of this particular piece; for example, don’t write a gobbet about a passage from Hume by writing down all you know about his life. The gobbet is about THIS PASSAGE, not Hume in general. Aspects of his life will be relevant to evaluating the information contained in the passage, so keep it to that.  

4. DON’T write an introduction and conclusion as you would with an essay.  


1. DO include cross-references to any other sources, written or otherwise, that you are aware of that contrast or corroborate with what is said in this piece 

2. DO be PRECISE, CONCISE and STRICT about only sticking to relevant information:  you’ve a limited time on each response 

Make one response from each extract in your chosen subject. You may seek to answer the accompanying ‘guide question’ or challenge it.

Respond to one of the extracts and questions below. Submit your response to before midnight on the 8th of November 2021.

  1. Even those who do not look upon a voice in the government as a matter of personal right, nor profess principles which require that it should be extended to all, have usually traditional maxims of political justice with which it is impossible to reconcile the exclusion of all women from the common rights of citizenship. It is an axiom of English freedom, that taxation and representation should be co-extensive. Even under the laws which give the wife's property to the husband, there are many unmarried women who pay taxes. It is one of the fundamental doctrines of the British Constitution, that all persons should be tried by their peers; yet women, whenever tried, are tried by male judges and a male jury. To foreigners, the law accords the privilege of claiming that half the jury should be composed of themselves: not so to women. Apart from maxims of detail, which represent local and national rather than universal ideas, it is an acknowledged dictate of justice to make no degrading distinctions without necessity. In all things, the presumption ought to be on the side of equality. A reason must be given why anything should be permitted to one person, and interdicted to another. But where that which is interdicted includes nearly everything which those to whom it is permitted most prize, and to be deprived of which they feel to be most insulting; when not only political liberty, but personal freedom of action, is the prerogative of a caste; when, even in the exercise of industry, almost all employments which task the higher faculties in an important field, which lead to distinction, riches, or even pecuniary independence, are fenced round as the exclusive domain of the predominant section, scarcely any doors being left open to the dependent class, except such as all who can enter elsewhere disdainfully pass by,---the miserable expediencies which are advanced as excuses for so grossly partial a dispensation would not be sufficient, even if they were real, to render it other than a flagrant injustice: while, far from being expedient, we are firmly convinced that the division of mankind into two castes, one born to rule over the other is in this case, as in all cases, an unqualified mischief; a source of perversion and demoralization both to the favored class and to those at whose expense they are favored; producing none of the good which it is the custom to ascribe to it, and forming a bar, almost insuperable while it lasts, to any really vital improvement, either in the character or in the social condition of the human race. 


Harriet Taylor Mill, The Enfranchisement of Women (1851) 


Is gender inequality as depicted here, irrational, or just plain unfair?  


  1. In the social production of their life, men enter into definite relations that are indispensable and independent of their will, relations of production which correspond to a definite stage of development of their material productive forces. The sum total of these relations of production constitutes the economic structure of society, the real basis on which arises the legal and political superstructure, and to which correspond definite forms of social consciousness. The mode of production of material life conditions the social, political and intellectual life process in general. It is not the consciousness of men that determines their being, but on the contrary, their social being that determines their consciousness. At a certain stage in their development, the material productive forces of society come into conflict with the existing relations of production, or – what is but the legal expression for the same thing – with the property relations within which they have been at work hitherto. From forms of development of the productive forces these relations turn into their fetters. Then begins an epoch of social revolution. With the change of the economic foundation the entire immense superstructure is more or less rapidly transformed. In considering such transformations, a distinction should always be made between the material transformation of the economic conditions of production, which can be determined with the precision of natural science, and the legal, political, religious, aesthetic or philosophic – in short, ideological forms in which men become conscious of this conflict and fight it out. Just as our opinion of an individual is not based on what he thinks of himself, so we cannot judge of such a period of transformation by its own consciousness; on the contrary, this consciousness must be explained rather from the existing conflict between the social productive forces and the relations of production. No social formation ever perishes before all the productive forces for which there is room in it have developed; and new, higher relations of production never appear before the material conditions of their existence have matured in the womb of the old society itself. Therefore mankind always sets itself only such tasks as it can solve; since, looking at the matter more closely, it will always be found that the task itself arises only when the material conditions for its solution already exist or are at least in the process of formation. In broad outlines, Asiatic, ancient, feudal, and modern bourgeois modes of production can be designated as progressive epochs in the economic formation of society. The bourgeois relations of production are the last antagonistic form of the social process of production –antagonistic not in the sense of individual antagonism, but of one arising from the social conditions of life of the individuals; at the same time the productive forces developing in the womb of bourgeois society create the material conditions for the solution of that antagonism. This social formation brings, therefore, the prehistory of human society to a close. 

Extract from Karl Marx, Preface to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy (1859) 

Is the author trying to explain how history works? If so, how, and is he correct? 

Below are examples of some of the topics that OxNet Humanities & Social Sciences participants encountered as part of their seminars this year.

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