In 2020, the admissions process is not operating as set out in the text below. The interviews in 2020 will be conducted remotely, and as a result the structure of the interviews and some of the assessments will be changing for this year. All applicants in the 2020-21 round should instead consult the ‘Pre-interview and interview notes’ document for 2020, which they will have been sent separately.
The joint degree programme in History and Politics provides an innovative opportunity to understand how institutions and governments, ideas and values, and power and politics have come to operate in societies and in international relations around the world. The degree programme will enable you to draw upon Cambridge University’s key intellectual strengths in political history, the history of political thought, and the evolution of global politics.
Teaching is provided through bespoke courses specifically organised for students on this programme, along with courses drawn from the degree programmes in Politics & International Relations (within the HSPS degree programme) and those from History. This degree programme balances a strong grounding in the two component subjects with the opportunity to explore the ways in which historical and political understanding together illuminate the modern world. The range of available specialist courses is very broad, from the history of political thought in ancient Greece to modern political philosophy, from the history and politics of Africa and the Middle East to that of Europe and North America, and from ancient empires to contemporary conflicts.
Teaching at Trinity College
Trinity is superbly placed to provide high quality teaching for History and Politics, and a stimulating environment in which to study it. Your director of studies in your first year will be Dr Glen Rangwala, who specialises in the development of the modern politics of the Middle East. Closely involved in the joint degree programme are Dr Daniel Larsen, who works on international and intelligence history; Dr Richard Serjeantson, who works on European history between the Renaissance and the Enlightenment; Professor Samita Sen, who works on global economic history and the history of modern South Asian; Professor Peter Sarris, who works on Roman, medieval European, Byzantine, and Islamic history; and Dr Damian Valdez, who is an historian of Germany.
Among the other fellows at Trinity who may teach you as part of this degree programme are Professor Boyd Hilton, whose speciality is eighteenth- and nineteenth-century British history; Professor Sachiko Kusukawa, who teaches early modern Europe; Professor Dominic Lieven, who works on Russian politics and history; Dr David Washbrook, who works on the politics and history of South Asia, particularly southern India; and Dr Tessa Webber, a medieval British historian. Trinity values the diversity of the scholarship of its teaching staff, leading to a broad range of approaches and a vast geographical span: our students, too, will pick up on the excitement of engaging with this broad array of interests.
Studying History and Politics
Each of the three years has a mix between History, Politics and bespoke courses. In the first year, you take four courses: Politics, International Relations, either British political history or European history or North American history, and our unique Evidence and Argument course, which will introduce you to a range of methods and approaches from across the two subjects. In the second year, you will take courses in the history of political thought, either comparative politics or international relations, one from a range of history options (World, European, American or British), and a tailored course consisting of a project, long essay or statistics assignment. The final year offers a large and diverse collection of over 30 specialist courses, from the history of international political thought through to the politics of gender and many subjects in between: you will do either three of these, or two courses plus a research dissertation. All students also take a paper in General Themes and Issues in History & Politics, which develops the relationship between the two subjects and encourages you to think about what a political approach to history, and historical understanding of politics, has to offer.
Cambridge offers well-designed, rigorously taught courses. But there is also a high degree of flexibility within the system. Part-way through the joint degree programme you may decide at the end of an academic year that you wish to specialise in one of the two subjects around which the joint degree is based. If your interests have turned more to History, you can transfer into the single-subject History degree programme at the end of either the first year or the second year. If your interests are more in Politics, you can transfer into the Politics & International Relations track of the HSPS degree, which enables you to do options entirely from this track in your second and third years in Cambridge. In that way, the joint degree programme provides an alternative route into specialising in Politics & International Relations to that offered by the social sciences route within HSPS.
Course requirements and the application process
Applicants will have a variety of relevant examination qualifications, though not necessarily in both history and politics. A-Level or its equivalent (e.g. IB Higher Level) in History is desirable, though not absolutely essential. What we look for most is a sustained interest in both subjects, and good writing and analytical skills, usually as evidenced in an essay-based course. There are many ways to develop these interests, and we encourage you to think about how to engage actively in furthering them, more than by simply reading a lot (though reading widely is of course is essential). Two possibilities are the essay-based competitions run from Trinity College in History (the Robson History Prize) and Politics (the RA Butler Prize). Both are for Year 12 (Lower Sixth) students who may be considering applying to university to study one or both of these subjects:
If you apply to this joint degree programme, you will be asked to submit two examples of recent written work. We encourage you to submit a coursework essay or dissertation, not a text of short answers or a personal opinion piece. If your schoolwork does not include essays, it is best to ask your teacher to set you an essay to write in your own time, and then to confirm that the essay is your own work in an attached statement.
If you are called to interview, the essays from your coursework may form part of the discussion. You can expect to have two interviews, each lasting between 25 and 40 minutes. In one of these, you will be asked to discuss a set of documents that you will have had a chance to study beforehand and on the subject of which you will also have been asked to put down some thoughts in writing. No other specific preparation is required for the interviews.
Our typical conditional offer for History and Politics will be A*AA at A-Level; comparable conditions are set for those taking the IB and other school-leaving examinations.
The University’s pages for History and Politics are at http://www.hist.cam.ac.uk/prospective-undergrads/history-politics.