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Why study History at Cambridge?

For those interested in the Humanities and Social Sciences, History is perhaps the key discipline. It covers many diverse aspects of human life through the ages, and encompasses different approaches to the past, from the study of cultural, religious or social factors to that of political thought or changes in economic life. More than this, it provides a solid training in analysis and argument that students often find invaluable in their subsequent professional life. As one of around 200 undergraduates a year across the university, you would be part of one of the largest and most diverse History departments in the world, with over 160 academics whose expertise covers all continents and more than two millennia of history, from classical Greece and Rome to twentieth-century China or the United States. In addition, you would have access to unsurpassed library and digital resources.

Why study History at Corpus?

Most descriptions portray Corpus as old, small and pretty.  All three are true but we are much more than this: Corpus is a thriving academic community of scholars, and a wonderful place to study History.  The college itself is steeped in it. Founded in 1352 by the members of two urban guilds in the wake of the Black Death, the college possesses one of the finest libraries in the world, the Parker Library, which includes the oldest book in England and the first picture of an elephant ever drawn in this country.

Although Corpus is a small college, admitting around 90 undergraduates a year, History is a big subject within the college in terms of both size and achievement. We usually admit around eight students to read History every year, making the proportion of Historians at Corpus much larger than at bigger colleges. What’s more, we pride ourselves on identifying and nurturing excellent candidates from whatever background they may come.  This is reflected in our exam results.  Individual Corpus students have frequently achieved the top result in History at the university and as a group Corpus Historians in recent years have been at or near the top of the exam tables in History, achieving first place in 2012.

How do we achieve these outstanding results? Once you arrive as one of the students who we have chosen as having the most potential to do well, you will be provided with the close attention that will allow you to thrive and develop your intellectual capacities. Your Director of Studies will help to guide your paper choices and set you up with the best supervisor for each paper. They will often be from amongst our own Fellows at Corpus, but more commonly they will be a Fellow from another college who we know has looked after our students well in the past.

You will be taught, for the most part, through weekly one-to-one one-hour supervisions – an essential feature of the Cambridge system, and one that makes it so special. Each week, you will be set an essay on a particular question, and given a reading list. The essay is then handed in on the day before the supervision, which consists of a discussion of the written work and of the wider subject. The great advantage of this system is that the supervisor can meet students at their own level and enable them to progress from that point. From the student’s viewpoint, direct engagement with the supervisor can give them the kind of stimulus lacking at other universities. Furthermore, in your first and third years you will meet fortnightly as a group with one of our fellows to discuss historical ideas and problems. We also provide group and individual classes on essay writing to ensure that you are as well prepared as possible for exams, come the time.


In your first year we encourage you to take at least one paper in college so we can monitor your progress as you settle in. The college has particular strengths in World History, the Enlightenment, the History of Science and Medicine, modern British History and Medieval History. Our internationally-renowned active fellows in History include Dr Shruti Kapila, a historian of modern India, imperial and global history, and Dr Emma Spary, a historian of science, medicine and technology in eighteenth-century Europe. Dr Charles Read has research and teaching interests relating to the economic history of Britain and Ireland in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. You can listen to Dr Kapila discussing the Bombay Plague of 1896 on the History Department's podcast, and watch Dr Spary give a talk on exotic drugs in 18th century Paris.

Other historians amongst the Corpus fellowship who interact with our students include the best-selling medieval economic and social historian, Professor John Hatcher; Professor Christopher Kelly, a historian of the Roman Empire; and Professor Barak Kushner, a historian of Japan and China. We also have Professor Christopher Andrew, the official historian of MI5 and author of numerous works on spies and intelligence.


What we look for

A typical offer consists of A*AA at A2, 7 7 6 (41-42 overall) in the IB, or the equivalent in other educational systems. We expect no particular combination of subjects, although A level History or the equivalent is required.

Candidates are usually interviewed in the first two weeks of December. You will typically have two interviews, both of which may involve questions on a source that you will be given shortly before the interview. Part of the interviews may also involve a discussion of any written essays you have submitted in advance.  If you wish to know more, we would love to meet you at one of our College Open Days. At these you can discuss the course in more depth with our Directors of Studies and also get a chance to meet some of our students. Alternatively, you can address individual queries to our Directors of Studies: Dr Emma Spary and Dr Charles Read.

College and University life is what you make of it, and our History students are often at the forefront, involving themselves in running the Junior Combination Room; the Cambridge Union; acting in and directing plays; singing and playing in college and University choirs, orchestras and bands; and participating at all levels in college and University sport as well sampling the dizzying array of clubs and societies that Corpus and Cambridge has to offer.

On leaving Corpus, our History students have gone into many varied careers, including law, journalism, the City, performing arts, the Civil Service, teaching and other professions. Many decide they like History at Corpus so much that they wish to stay and engage in further studies.


History Masterclass

Dr Laure Miolo, Research Fellow at the Parker Library, discusses Medieval Magic.