The Cambridge History Faculty is one of the largest history departments in the world.
The Faculty has consistently obtained the highest ratings in official evaluations for teaching and research. Its work spans three millennia, straddles the globe and exemplifies the rich variety of sub-disciplines that constitutes history today.
The Cambridge History course (Tripos) is divided into two parts: Part I and Part II. Part I lasts for two years; Part II occupies the third and final year of the course. In general, Part I emphasises a breadth of understanding of historical issues, encouraging students to study papers from a variety of periods and perspectives; Part II concentrates on acquiring depth of knowledge.
The Part I course is extremely flexible and there are very few limitations to the choice of papers. The only requirement is that undergraduates must take one paper from the period before 1750 AD, as well as a paper in British political history, one in social and economic history and one in European History. It is up to the individual student to decide whether to specialise in one area: for example ancient and medieval history, or twentieth-century history, or to choose papers from across the whole range of faculty teaching. Equally, some students opt to focus on a single approach to history, choosing, for example, papers on political history; others sample a wider range of topics, embracing economic, social, intellectual and cultural approaches. The Director of Studies will advise you about how to get the most out of this freedom of choice and lack of prescription in the course.
At the centre of the Part II course are document-based Special Subjects, which are often based on a lecturer’s current research, as well as other specialised papers. Students have the option to substitute one paper with a dissertation, the subject of which they can devise themselves, with the help of a supervisor. The majority of Part II students choose to do a dissertation and find developing their own research project very rewarding.
Teaching and Other Arrangements
In History, Part I undergraduates will study one paper each Term for the first five Terms. The sixth paper, the 'Themes and Sources' paper, will be taught in classes in the Lent and Easter Terms of your first year. It is examined by means of a Long Essay, which is completed by the beginning of the Lent Term of the second year. The sixth Term is devoted to revision.
The weekly supervision - usually on a one-to-one basis or in a small group of two - is at the heart of the Term's work. It is one of the most distinctive features of study in Cambridge and provides undergraduates with expert personal guidance in their historical studies. Each week supervisors set an essay on a topic within the paper the student is studying. Usually the questions will be broadly conceived and allow students to get a wide coverage of the paper during the course of a Term. This also allows scope for undergraduates to develop their own individual areas of interest. Supervisors will give you guidance on reading and the most important lectures to attend in the Faculty.
A supervision is only one stage in the development of students' historical knowledge: a synthesis and assessment of their own ideas, so far as time, knowledge and development of one's critical powers, allow. A supervision is a dialogue with an expert in the field, and is supplemented by other forms of teaching in the Faculty, such as lectures and larger-group classes.
If you are considering apply for deferred entry in the coming round, please note that the structure of the History tripos is due to change for new entrants from 2022. More details of the new course are available here. These changes will not affect new History undergraduates beginning their studies in October 2021.
History has always been a major part of the intellectual life of Magdalene College. Although the College is one of the smaller Colleges, there are a number of Fellows teaching in History or related disciplines, and their research interests reflect many of the areas of historical studies in Cambridge.
At any one time we have around 18 students reading History in the College, in addition to 6-10 graduate students embarked on MPhil or PhD study. It is a diverse and cosmopolitan community of scholars. We believe that a College environment provides unique conditions in which students can best develop their own intellectual interests in discussion with people with similar enthusiasms.
Although individual study is the principal foundation of the course, in College we supplement Faculty and supervision teaching with seminars, discussion classes, guest speakers and social events. For example, much of the teaching for the general paper in Historical Argument and Practice takes place through College discussion classes.
Magdalene has an active History Society, open to all Magdalene historians - Fellows, graduates and undergraduates. It meets several times a Term, organises talks, excursions and social events. We also hold an Annual Dinner in Lent Term. In addition to the core teaching staff listed, the College has Research Fellows in History (Professor James Raven and Dr Sara Caputo). There are also several active retired Fellows in History (Professor Eamon Duffy, Dr Ronald Hyam, and Professor Emma Rothschild), as well as historians working in cognate subject areas, such as Dr John Patterson (Classics/Ancient History), Professor Amira Bennison (Middle Eastern Studies), and Dr John Munns (History of Art).
Magdalene history is very committed to the ongoing development of students' language skills. Every historian is entitled to language tuition in any language he or she chooses. Some keep up those they have studied at school; the more courageous tackle something entirely new. Knowledge of one or more languages helps with many Part I papers, and is particularly useful for some Part II courses, especially certain special subjects and dissertation topics. The most popular choices are French, Arabic, German, and Spanish.
The Centre of History and Economics at Magdalene College
From 2010, The Joint Centre for History and Economics has been based at Magdalene College and King's College, Cambridge, and at the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Harvard University. It was established in 1991 to promote research and education in fields of importance for historians and economists. Its aim is to provide a forum in which scholars can address some of their common concerns, whether through the application of economic concepts to historical problems, through the history of economic and social thought, or through economic history.
The objective of the Centre is to encourage fundamental research in each of the two disciplines. It also encourages the participation of historians and economists in addressing issues of public importance. In cooperation with its counterpart Centre at Harvard, the Cambridge Centre undertakes research projects and organizes workshops, seminars and exchanges of faculty and graduate students.
The best preparation for applying to Magdalene, and for interview, is to read as widely as you can. This can be both in History and in related fields such as literature and current affairs. There are no ‘set texts’ that we prescribe, but try and extend your reading around what you may have studied at school, and look beyond it to other periods and places. Follow your own interests and develop them. An enthusiasm for the subject is vital to studying History at university, and, when you apply for a place, reading is the best way of demonstrating this. There is excellent advice to how to go about this on the Faculty’s ‘Virtual Classroom’.
We normally expect candidates to have or be on course to obtain History at A-Level, at Advanced Higher Level, or at the Higher Level of the IB (or an equivalent national qualification such as the German Abitur, French Baccalaureate, etc). Two additional subjects at advanced level (A-level or equivalent) are normally required; we are willing to consider a wide range of subjects. Languages, English, Mathematics and Social Sciences are all particularly useful, but almost anything you study will have relevance. At GCSE level (or equivalent), we like to see a mixture of Arts and Science subjects and, normally, successful candidates will have obtained a good range of subjects, many of which will be at grade A or A*.
We typically require a minimum of A*AA at A-Level, or AAA at Advanced Highers. In the IB we typically ask for 41-42 points overall with 7, 7, 6 at Higher Level. Sometimes we may ask for an A* (or 7 at IB Higher Level) in History specifically. However, our offers are always tailor-made to the individual candidate and we try to set the offer at a realistic level.
Interviews, Written Work, and Assessments
Candidates for admission in History are asked to send two essays in to College in advance of their meeting with the History Fellows. These essays should preferably have been written as part of the candidate's A-level History course (word limit 3000) and form the basis of part of the discussion and allow the candidate to set the agenda for a substantial element of the interview process. There will also be general discussion both about the choice of course and about historical issues. Candidates will usually have two interviews. One will be with the Director of Studies and another historian, the second with two other Fellows, either in History or a related subject.
Candidates for History who are invited for interview will also be required to take an at-interview written assessment. The details of this assessment are being finalized, and will be available here in due course.