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Online chat with Oxford dons

A-level history students are being given the opportunity to debate their subject with top Oxford dons through a new website.

History off the Shelf, or Hots, was originally set up by Oxford university's history faculty in a bid to encourage sixth-formers from more diverse backgrounds to apply there.

But the academics running the website soon realised that the site's message boards had the potential to promote a more general interest in the subject.

Run on a strictly anonymous basis, it allows sixth-formers to share and discuss their ideas and theories on history with academics and students from the university, and with each other, on an equal footing.

Topics cover everything from the Tudor dynasty to the assassination of President John F Kennedy. Catherine Holmes, one of the academic staff overseeing the project, said: "It has shown that the student body out there has much more diverse interests than we would have assumed. Students are more interested in medieval and ancient history than we expected."

Some topics on the site are started by the sixth-formers themselves. They have included "Nazi Germany - are we obsessed?" and "What was best, the British empire or the Aztec?"

The site also gives tips on study skills and information about how to get into Oxford.

Originally piloted with 30 state schools, it is now available to all sixth-formers. For more details see http:hots.modhist.ox.ac.uk

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