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Study Asian and Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Cambridge

Asian and Middle Eastern Studies

Fact File

Magdalene Campus code: M
UCAS code: TT46
Course duration: Four years – BA (Hons)
Typical offer: A-level: A*AA, IB: 41-42 points
Essential subjects: None
Useful subjects: Languages

The Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies (FAMES) consists of two departments - the Department of East Asian Studies and the Department of Middle Eastern Studies. Each department offers a ‘pathway’ in the AMES Tripos.

Our courses cover the major languages and history and culture of the Middle East and East Asia. The Department of Middle Eastern Studies offers Arabic, Persian and Hebrew language and literature courses and departmental-wide courses in history, literature and anthropology. The Department of East Asian Studies offers Chinese and Japanese language, literature and history courses, and Korean as a final year option.


At Cambridge
At Magdalene
What we are looking for
Subject Requirements
Teaching Staff

The AMES tripos is a four year course which is divided into two parts. In Part I (two years), students receive intensive language training and introductions to history, literature and culture. In Part II (two years) students spend a year abroad practising their spoken language, taking courses and sometimes doing research towards their final year dissertation. They then return to Cambridge for a final year of more specialised courses.

1) The East Asian Studies pathway offers Chinese or Japanese language courses and a variety of literature, history and culture courses. Korean is normally available as a final year option. Students following the East Asian Studies pathway must choose Chinese or Japanese.

2) The Middle Eastern Studies pathway offers Arabic, Hebrew and Persian language and literature courses and departmental-wide courses in history and culture. Students may choose to study Arabic or Hebrew alone, or to combine two Middle Eastern languages (Arabic, Hebrew, Persian). Students may also choose to study one Middle Eastern language combined with a modern European language such as French, Spanish or German as long as they have an A level in the European language.

*Students must apply for this option through AMES, not Modern and Medieval Languages (MML).

Undergraduates reading Asian and Middle Eastern Studies attend more classes than students reading some subjects due to the intensive language teaching element of the course. Most teaching takes place in the Faculty building and is complemented by weekly language supervisions, and approximately bi-termly supervisions for essay-based courses in which students review their own work in small groups with their instructors.

Magdalene warmly welcomes applicants in both East Asian and Middle Eastern studies. There are usually between 5 and 8 AMES undergraduates at the college across all years, as well as a small group of postgraduates. Magdalene has an internal Fellow in AMES, Prof Amira K. Bennison, who meets with students on a regular basis and a growing AMES library collection to enhance our students learning experience. As a college supportive of small subjects, Magdalene encourages students to make connections outside their immediate subject. AMES has very close links with MML and we organise many college events that bring together students from both faculties.

Understanding the peoples and cultures who live around us is vital in today’s global world. We are looking for applicants who have a tremendous curiosity about Asia or the Middle East. It does not matter whether you are intrigued by the challenge of learning languages that are structured in a very different way to European languages, you love Japanese Manga, you admire the dexterity and beauty of Chinese or Arabic calligraphy, you spend your spare time reading Persian poetry or Israeli novels, or you want to know more about world religions, the key is that you have a genuine, deep commitment to the subject. Our course is very rewarding but it is also intense so we are looking for people who really want to learn about the languages and cultures they are studying.

The first few years of the course involve extensive language learning so you need to be comfortable with grammatical terminology, acquiring vocabulary quickly and, in the case of character-based Asian languages, have a good memory and visual sense. The third year of the programme is a Year Abroad, so we are also looking for people keen to explore and make the most of the opportunity to travel to China, Japan or the Middle East. Writing skills and the ability to analyse are also important. Once you have learned the basics of your language, you have the opportunity to delve into literature and read historical texts, and write essays that present your knowledge of the subject and your own views on it.

No prior knowledge of the selected AMES language(s) is assumed, and there are no specific admissions requirements. However, prior experience of learning a foreign language to A-level or equivalent and of writing essays that demand some measure of critical ability is highly desirable. Students wishing to combine a Middle Eastern language with a European language must have studied their European language to A-level.

Our typical offer for AMES is A*AA at A-level or 41-42 in the IB with 7,7,6 at Higher Level.

Interviews and Written Assessment

Applicants for AMES are not required to submit written work unless they are proposing to combine with a European language, in which case they should submit one piece of work in the European language they intend to study.

If invited for interview normally have two interviews including one with specialists in Asian and Middle Eastern Studies (usually the Director of Studies plus an academic in the student’s area of interest if necessary). Students wishing to combine AMES with a language from the Modern and Medieval tripos are advised to find out about the admissions procedure for that language here.

There is no admissions assessment for AMES applicants at Magdalene who are not intending to study a Modern European Language as part of their degree.

Combined AMES with MML candidates, however, will be expected to take the MML written assessment if invited for interview. The assessment for MML is a Cambridge College-registered assessment. This means you will not need to register for this assessment in advance and the College will provide details directly to you. More information about the assessment (along with some sample questions) is available here. Please note that your performance in the written assessment will not be considered in isolation, but will be taken into account alongside the other elements of your application.

Professor Amira K. Bennison

College positions: Professorial Fellow, Director of Studies in Asian and Middle Eastern Studies

Professor Bennison is Director of Studies in AMES. She is also Professor in the History and Culture of the Maghrib in the Department of Middle Eastern Studies. Her research interests include the history and culture of the Maghrib from the Islamic conquest to 1900, Islamic political legitimacy, Islamic urbanism, the role of the Berbers in medieval Maghribi history.

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