Stimulate your mind in pursuit of knowledge as you immerse yourself in the lifestyle of Oxford University for a week. Choose a fascinating course of study, live at historic Merton College, sample life as a student again, and explore the charming town of Oxford.

Starting at: $5,550 * Price includes special offer Make a Reservation Ask Us A Question or Call 855-330-1542
 Merton College, Oxford University  Oxford tutors (July 2018). Credit: Wade Jennings  Welcome reception at Merton College. Credit: Wade Jennings  The dining experience at Merton College, with High Table. Credit: Wade Jennings  Conversation over dinner. Credit: Wade Jennings  The dining experience at Merton. Credit: Wade Jennings  Introduction to Merton College. Credit: Wade Jennings  Smithsonian Journeys travelers at a lecture. Credit: Wade Jennings  Merton College Library  The quadrangle at Merton College. Credit: Wade Jennings  The chapel at Merton College. Credit: Wade Jennings  Interior of the Merton College chapel. Credit: Wade Jennings  Smithsonian Journeys travelers at Oxford. Credit: Wade Jennings  Smithsonian Journeys travelers during a lecture break. Credit: Wade Jennings  Smithsonian Journeys traveler at Merton. Credit: Wade Jennings  Enjoying a few moments at a local pub. Credit: Wade Jennings  Smithsonian Journeys travelers during lecture break. Credit: Wade Jennings  Lecture break at Merton. Credit: Wade Jennings  The beautiful Oxford skyline  Housing at Merton College. Credit: Wade Jennings  Garden walkway at Merton College. Credit: Wade Jennings  The gardens at Merton College. Credit: Wade Jennings  An evening walk near Merton. Credit: Wade Jennings  Oxford  The Radcliffe Camera, Oxford  Bridge of Sighs landmark, Oxford University  View near Oxford's Main Street  Loch along the Thames River, Oxford  Sculptural detail found in Oxford

Smithsonian at Oxford

8 days from $5,550

Stimulate your mind in pursuit of knowledge as you immerse yourself in the lifestyle of Oxford University for a week. Choose a fascinating course of study, live at historic Merton College, sample life as a student again, and explore the charming town of Oxford.

or Call 855-330-1542

Tour Details

TOUR BROCHURE

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WHAT OUR TRAVELERS SAY

The Smithsonian at Oxford provides an accessible educational experience, nicely balanced with opportunities to visit nearby sites of interest. The Smithsonian at Oxford also provides an opportunity to experience true student life again.

- Christopher B.

Living and studying in a centuries old setting that famous people have lived is just...awesome!!

- Philip P.

The warm reception we received at Merton College made us feel that we really were Oxford students -- a very special sense of belonging.

- Lyn G.

I love Shakespeare; I love to study and to study Shakespeare at Oxford and to see the Royal Shakespeare Company perform is a dream come true!

- Blanche M.

The Oxford University tour was an extraordinary chance to delve into the history, architecture, and erudition of Oxford. The Merton College tutor was prepared and dedicated. Fellow travelers provided the extra inspirational touch! Amazing....

- Katherine M.

JOURNEYS DISPATCHES

See All Journeys Dispatches ››

Accommodations

* Click on hotel name to visit hotel web-site.

Merton College

Oxford, England

Merton College is a vibrant and diverse intellectual community that has been at the forefront of education and research at Oxford University since 1264. Nobel Prize winners and other cultural and scientific icons, such as T.S. Eliot and J.R.R Tolkien, adorn the list of eminent Mertonians. The living experience at this historic college includes delicious food, beautiful gardens, historic architecture, and fine accommodation. All rooms have a private bathroom, with one or two single beds, a wardrobe, a bedside table, a chest of drawers, and a desk. All bedrooms include WiFi internet access, telephones, tea-and-coffee-making facilities, but no air conditioning or hair-dryers. Bedding is changed weekly, and the College Lodge is staffed 24-hours a day and open for inquiries from 7:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. For more information about Merton College, please click here to visit their website. 

Number of nights: 6



Activity Level

Activity Level 2: Moderate


Expectations: Week-long stay featuring one destination. Light pace with daily activities of four to six hours, but also features independent time for personal interests. Most activities are based at Merton College and are within walking distance. Included day excursion beyond Oxford is by motor coach and may be a full day depending on the course selection and entails walking tours of up to three miles. Throughout the program, walking may be over uneven pavement and cobblestones, and may entail some stairs without handrails and absence of elevators. Note that Merton College does not have elevators and some travelers may need to ascend several flights of stairs in order to reach their rooms. Please reference information in the Accommodations tab for important information. 

Appropriate for: Travelers who are physically fit and comfortable with longer days of touring (both walking tours and coach time).

Tour Extension

London Post-Program Option: Add a four-day extension that includes transfers and hotel accommodations in the heart of London's West End.

Accommodations

The Clermont, Charing Cross   

Just steps from Trafalgar Square and Covent Garden, the four-star Clermont, Charing Cross is the perfect base to explore London. The historic property combines modern convenience with timeless beauty and is walking distance from transit, restaurants, and many of London’s most popular attractions. Spacious rooms feature a sitting area, free WiFi, and complimentary mini-bars. The hotel also provides access to a bar, business center, and gym.

2022 Course Descriptions

2022 Course Descriptions

Spend your mornings learning from an expert from Oxford's Merton College. Choose from five featured course subjects: The English Garden in History, The Age of Winston Churchill, The Archaeology of Anglo-Saxon England,  The Rise and Fall of the British Empire, Myths and Legends of the British Isles, and Shakespeare's English History Plays: Richard II, Henry IV, Henry V. Please indicate your top three choices of course subject at the time of booking, with final assignments to be determined based on traveler interest. Enrollment is limited. Information on experts can be found on the Enrichment tab.

Classes will be interspersed with excursions, including a discussion about the UK university system and a visit to Pembroke College, which was attended by James Smithson—the founding donor of the Smithsonian Institution. Each course will also feature an additional special excursion tailored to its theme.

The English Garden in History

The University of Oxford, as the oldest center of learning in England, has exerted considerable influence on the making of English gardens over the centuries through its writers, philosophers, and scientists, so it is not surprising that Oxfordshire and its adjacent counties contain some of the finest and most representative of England's gardens. Taking advantage of this superb location, the course will trace the development of gardens, their philosophy, design and contents, over a thousand years, from the medieval monastery garden through the 18th-century English landscape garden and the spectacular gardens of Victorian England to the 21st-century suburban plot. 

Field Trip: Visit Rousham Gardens in Oxfordshire, a country house with walled garden and herbaceous borders first built in 1635 and remodeled in the 18th century.

The Age of Winston Churchill

Study Winston Churchill’s political career from 1900 to 1955 and gain an understanding of the profound political and social changes that took place in Britain over his lifetime. He was considered by many contemporaries to be a figure trapped by history as much as he was steeped in it. His influence continues, not just through the way he shaped events as a war leader and peacetime politician, and in the example, he gave of a certain political style, but in his voluminous writing about Victorian times and great events in his own lifetime, the First and Second World Wars.

Field Trip: This class features a field trip to Chartwell, Churchill’s country house and home for over four decades.

The Archaeology of Anglo-Saxon England 

In the 5th century A.D., Britain ceased to part of the Roman Empire and underwent profound transformations as a consequence: the ruination of cities, the turbulence of endemic warfare, migration from present-day Germany and Scandinavia, a near-complete restructuring of political and military institutions, and abrupt discontinuity in processes of production and exchange. Over the course of the next half-millennium, however, a host of complex and rich developments ensued. Included among them was the foundation of petty kingdoms, towns and monasteries, and a golden age in the production of Christian art and luxury manuscripts, all punctuated by Viking raiding and ultimately culminating in the establishment of the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of England.  Join us in an exploration of these developments through archaeology, from the astonishing jewelry and weaponry unearthed at the royal cemetery of Sutton Hoo, to the excavations of the humble timber dwellings of rural communities, and the architectural analysis of the first ministers and churches. This course covers all of these areas and more in order to teach a foundation in the archaeology of Anglo-Saxon England, challenging the popular notion that these centuries could ever be described as the "Dark Ages." 

Field Trip:  Tour the early  medieval landscape of Oxfordshire, including the reconstructed Anglo-Saxon Hall at Long Wittenham, South Oxfordshire, discovered during a 2016 excavation by the Oxford University School of Archaeology that revealed the remains of a large Anglo-Saxon building that reconstructed using traditional materials, heritage tools, and skills. 

The Rise and Fall of the British Empire

This course will examine the rise and fall of the British Empire, from its unlikely and unplanned origins in an age of piracy, through its rivalry with other powers, its Victorian zenith, and the two world wars, to its decolonization in the second half of the twentieth century. Such concepts as a formal and informal empires, imperial structures, and methods of control, including collaboration, will be discussed.

Field Trip: Participants in this course will travel to Sezincote House in Gloucester, constructed in 1805 when British India was becoming the “jewel in the crown” of the world’s largest empire.

Myths and Legends of the British Isles

There is a rich tradition of legendary history in the British Isles which makes us, as 21st century readers, question how we come to understand the meaning of ‘legend’, ‘history’ and folklore in our own time. To frame the course, we’ll consider how much myth-making in the British Isles stems from the natural world. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, arguably the most complex English treatment of an Arthurian romance, draws on the deliberately contrasting environments of the court and the natural world. The natural world also plays a significant part in the four branches of the Welsh Mabinogi, and we’ll explore some of the legends from the fourth branch. Scottish mythology reflects a tough and uncompromising approach to the creation of the natural world: the goddess representing winter is all-powerful and feared rather than revered. To complete the frame, we shall consider the ways in which these myths have come to us today through literature and film, and how they have rooted themselves into our cultures.

Field Trip: Students in this course will visit three pre-historic sites along the Ridgeway, the ancient route than ran from Dorset in the southeast of England to the Wash in the northwest. The White Horse is the most famous of the sites and the oldest chalk-cut hill-figure in Britain. It is perhaps over 3,000 years old. Uffington Castle is a rare example of a large Iron Age hillfort, and Dragon Hill, a natural mound about 10 meters high, is named for its association with the legend of St George which survives in the tradition of mumming plays.

Shakespeare's English History Plays: Richard II, Henry IV, Henry V

Shakespeare wrote eight plays concerned with the period of 1398 through 1485, from the impending fall of Richard II to the Battle of Bosworth, the death of Richard III and the accession of the first Tudor monarch Henry VII. These comprise two groups of four plays. Participants in this course will study Richard II, Henry IV Parts 1 and 2, and Henry V. These plays are full of action, the deposition and murder of Richard II, civil war and war with France, the battle of Agincourt and the marriage of Henry V. Through close readings and lively discussion, course participants will appreciate the plays in their theatrical and cultural context and explore Shakespeare’s interpretation of the historical period. The course will also examine the history plays relative to Shakespeare’s achievement in other genres.

Field Trip: Students will visit Stratford-upon-the Avon, the Bard’s childhood home.

2023 Course Descriptions

2023 Course Decriptions 

Spend your mornings learning from an expert from Oxford's Merton College. Choose from five featured course subjects: The Rise & Fall of the British Empire; The Monarchy and the British Constitution, 1660-2023; Archaeology of Britain; The Beatles, Popular Music and Sixties Britain (July 2023 only); Jane Austen’s Novels and Contexts (September 2023 only). Please indicate your top three choices of course subject at the time of booking, with final assignments to be determined based on traveler interest. Enrollment is limited. Information on experts can be found on the Enrichment tab.

Classes will be interspersed with excursions, including a discussion about the UK university system and a visit to Pembroke College, which was attended by James Smithson—the founding donor of the Smithsonian Institution. Each course will also feature an additional special excursion tailored to its theme.

The Rise & Fall of the British Empire

This course will examine the rise and fall of the British Empire, from its unlikely and unplanned origins in an age of piracy, through its rivalry with other powers, its Victorian zenith, and two world wars, to its decolonization in the second half of the twentieth century. Such concepts as formal and informal empires, imperial structures, and methods of control, including collaboration, will be discussed.

Field Trip: Travel to Sezincote House in Gloucester, constructed in 1805 when British India was becoming the “jewel in the crown” of the world’s largest empire.

The Monarchy and the British Constitution, 1660-2023

Queen Elizabeth II has now served seventy years as the British sovereign and it is timely to consider how this institution has survived into the 21st century and why it just might continue for considerably longer. Taking the restoration of the monarchy under Charles II as our starting point, we will explore the long process of constitutional reforms through which the divine and hereditary rights of earlier monarchs were successively eroded and the powers of sovereignty ultimately transferred to the Houses of Parliament. As we will find, this did not mean that British monarchs were ever powerless. Royal influence and patronage continued to operate at the very heart of British politics, shaping the course of events both at home and abroad. Today, the monarchy faces an uncertain future: can it still have a role to play in British public life through the twenty-first century? 

Field Trip: Visit Windsor Castle in Berkshire, the royal residence associated with the English and succeeding British royal family, with a rich architectural and cultural history.

The Archaeology of Britain

The archaeology of Britain is rich in culture and heritage from its earliest presence of hunter-gatherers from the Upper Palaeolithic (ca. 40,000-10,000 BCE) to the present day. In this course, students will reference artifacts, landscapes, burials, settlements, and monuments to explore the significant changes in the lifeways and material worlds of the people who arrived, moved around and dwelt in the British Isles. Explore Britain’s archaeological history and gain unique insight into the culture and stories of this unique island archipelgo from the introduction of the great stone henge monuments of the Neolithic (e.g. Orkney, Scotland), rich burial evidence that demonstrates migration and cultural identities (e.g. Amesbury Archer, Wiltshire), ritual and religious practices (e.g. Roman Baths, Bath), and heritage.  

Field Trip: Visit the ceremonial World Heritage sites of Stonehenge and Avebury, which present evidence from the earliest presence of human interaction to the present day. Also visit Oxford’s Ashmolean Museum of art and archaeology.

The Beatles, Popular Music and Sixties Britain (July 2023 only)

Revered and reviled in almost equal measure, the Sixties continue to fascinate. One musical group dominates accounts of the decade’s music. We will explore how the Beatles made that music, tracing its development from the relatively simple recordings of their first album to the layered techniques of Abbey Road. We will hear new details in familiar songs and identify how the group developed their expressive musical vocabulary. The course also includes some British poetry and articles from the decade, as well as archive film of Swinging London and other clips, and touches on some key events in British art and politics. However well-known you think the Beatles’ music is, you’ll hear more than before. A fab time is guaranteed for all! 

Field Trip: To be announced soon!

Jane Austen’s Novels and Contexts (September 2023 only)

Jane Austen jokingly declared that “I think I may boast myself to be, with all possible vanity, the most unlearned and uninformed female who ever dared to be an authoress.” But even just a quick perusal of her novels shows this to be laughably inaccurate. She was deeply learned in the art of novels and incredibly informed about the intricacies of social interactions. As Virginia Woolf opined in “The New Republic” (January 30, 1924), “Of all great writers she is the most difficult to catch in the act of greatness.” This course aims to catch Austen in the act of greatness by analyzing the style and techniques that make her writing so distinctive and compelling, and still so enduringly popular over two-hundred years after her death. We will consider Austen’s literary, historical, social, and cultural contexts, which will enhance your knowledge, understanding, and (most importantly) enjoyment of the novels Sense and SensibilityPride and Prejudice, Northanger Abbey, and Persuasion.

Field Trip: Visit the Jane Austen House Museum, where Austen lived for the final eight years of her life, along with the nearby Chawton House Library, a historic Elizabethan home, which serves as the The Centre for the Study of Early Women’s Writing. 

Testimonials

WHAT OUR TRAVELERS SAY

The Smithsonian at Oxford provides an accessible educational experience, nicely balanced with opportunities to visit nearby sites of interest. The Smithsonian at Oxford also provides an opportunity to experience true student life again.

- Christopher B.

Living and studying in a centuries old setting that famous people have lived is just...awesome!!

- Philip P.

The warm reception we received at Merton College made us feel that we really were Oxford students -- a very special sense of belonging.

- Lyn G.

I love Shakespeare; I love to study and to study Shakespeare at Oxford and to see the Royal Shakespeare Company perform is a dream come true!

- Blanche M.

The Oxford University tour was an extraordinary chance to delve into the history, architecture, and erudition of Oxford. The Merton College tutor was prepared and dedicated. Fellow travelers provided the extra inspirational touch! Amazing....

- Katherine M.
Reading List

Before your tour you will receive a reading list specific to the course you have chosen.

Below are a few books about Oxford which you can also read to prepare you for your visit.

Looking for Class: Days and Nights at Oxford and Cambridge
By: Bruce Feiler
An irresistible, entertaining peek into the privileged realm of Wordsworth and Wodehouse, Chelsea Clinton and Hugh Grant, Looking for Class offers a hilarious account of one man's year at Oxford and Cambridge -- the garden parties and formal balls, the high-minded debates and drinking Olympics. From rowing in an exclusive regatta to learning lessons in love from a Rhodes Scholar, Bruce Feiler's enlightening, eye-popping adventure will forever change your view of the British upper class, a world romanticized but rarely seen.
Oxford: A Cultural Guide (Interlink Cultural Guides)
By: Martin Garrett
ENTERTAININGLY- WRITTEN AND CONCISE GUIDE TO OXFORD AND ITS ENVIRONSOxford started as an Anglo-Saxon border outpost, with a bridge replacing the "oxen ford" from which it takes its name. It became a center for trade and religion and developed one of the oldest universities in Europe from the late twelfth century. Since the Middle Ages its individual colleges have gone on building-chapels, halls, accommodation, libraries-in an extraordinary variety of styles from Gothic to Brutalist. Oxford also has many churches, a Covered Market, an extraordinary museum of Natural History in soaring iron, glass and stone, and a flamboyant neo-Jacobean Town Hall.In such a place, suggested W.B. Yeats, "one almost expects the people to sing instead of speaking." Nevertheless, Oxford has become a busy modern city. For much of the twentieth century the car industry, established in Cowley by William Morris (Lord Nuffield), dominated local life. Today there are cinemas, theaters, innumerable restaurants, shopping centers, an ice-rink, business and technology centers, close links to London by bus and train. Amidst the expanding city Oxford University retains its academic excellence, its student exuberance and its physical beauty. And it has been joined by a notably successful second university, Oxford Brookes.Martin Garrett discusses the literature Oxford has generated: from Chaucer to Lewis Carroll, Wilde, Evelyn Waugh, Barbara Pym, Tolkien and C.S. Lewis and Iris Murdoch. There are also chapters on architecture, on religion, on theater, film and art-including Oxford's great museum of art and history the Ashmolean-and on leisure pursuits (punting and rowing, gardens, student pranks, city fairs and carnival). A chapter on commerce focuses on Victorian shops, Cornmarket and the Morris Motor Works, while a brief social history includes the former Oxford Castle and a gallery of dons as rulers-visionary or ignorant, charismatic or dull.Garrett looks at social change, especially the transformation in the position of Oxford women, and considers the city's darker side of crime. A final chapter explores its rich surroundings: the countryside where Matthew Arnold's "black-winged swallows haunt the glittering Thames," the baroque grandeur of Blenheim Palace, the ancient windswept Ridgeway and White Horse.
A Traveller's History of Oxford
By: Richard Tames
A Traveller's History of Oxford gives the reader a clear account of Oxford's earliest beginnings from Roman times, its Anglo-Saxon past, its importance in medieval England, the founding of the different colleges, its status as Royalist capital during the Civil War and after this crisis, and its recovery and continuing growth right up to the twenty-first century. The book also looks closely at the story behind the beautiful buildings and discusses Oxford's gifts to the world both in the alumni, which include five kings, 25 British Prime Ministers, 36 Nobel Prize winners, and 85 archbishops, and in the world of ideas: the legends of King Arthur, the English Bible, Anglicanism, the Royal Society, Methodism, Pre-Raphaelites, Alice and Wonderland, Aestheticism, OED, Inspector Morse, ...The list is endless. It also has practical information, illustrated with maps, on exploring the town and a Chronology of Events.
The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary
By: Simon Winchester
The Professor and the Madman, masterfully researched and eloquently written, is an extraordinary tale of madness, genius, and the incredible obsessions of two remarkable men that led to the making of the Oxford English Dictionary -- and literary history. The compilation of the OED began in 1857, it was one of the most ambitious projects ever undertaken. As definitions were collected, the overseeing committee, led by Professor James Murray, discovered that one man, Dr. W. C. Minor, had submitted more than ten thousand. When the committee insisted on honoring him, a shocking truth came to light: Dr. Minor, an American Civil War veteran, was also an inmate at an asylum for the criminally insane.This P.S. edition features an extra 16 pages of insights into the book, including author interviews, recommended reading, and more.
Last Bus To Woodstock
By: Dexter, Colin
Brideshead Revisited
By: Evelyn Waugh
Waugh tells the story of the Marchmain family. Aristocratic, beautiful and charming, the Marchmains are indeed a symbol of England and her decline in this novel of the upper class of the 1920s and the abdication of responsibility in the 1930s.
24x36 World Wall Map by Smithsonian Journeys - Tan Oceans Special Edition (24x36 Laminated)
Travel Insurance

For the convenience of our travelers, Travel Guard provides an on-tour Insurance Plan. On-tour emergency evacuation insurance (up to $100,000), medical expense coverage (up to $25,000), dental expense coverage (up to $500), travel medical assistance and worldwide travel assistance (U.S. Residents only). It also includes up to $25,000 medical and up to $500 dental expense coverage, and 24-hour worldwide travel and medical assistance. Please click here to view complete coverage details.

Please visit www.TravelGuard.com/SmithsonianJourneys or call Travel Guard at 1-800-208-6142 to learn about additional (optional) coverage.