History and Modern Languages

The Gibbs building

The Gibbs Building

Welcome to the History and Modern Languages subject page at King's! Here you will find an overview of History and Modern Languages at King's, the Cambridge course, the people who teach and research in College, and information about making an application.

Which languages can you study?

For 2018 entry, you can choose one of the following languages to study in the History and Modern Languages course:

  •     French
  •     German
  •     Italian
  •     Portuguese
  •     Russian
  •     Spanish

If you choose French, an A level, IB Higher or equivalent qualification in French is a requirement.

If you choose German, Spanish, Italian or Russian, this can be studied either from scratch or after an A level, IB Higher or equivalent qualification in the language.

If you choose Portuguese, this can only be studied from scratch.

The History and Modern Languages course

At an MML Open Day

Inside the MML Library at a Languages Open Day

History and Modern Languages is an exciting new joint degree course at Cambridge. Students will enjoy the opportunity to develop near native-speaker skills in a foreign language while studying a range of papers relating to the culture and history of the relevant language area. Options in some languages also include film and contemporary politics. You will also develop analytical skills in History through a wide range of topics in British, European, American and World history, as well as the history of political thought. There will be opportunities to work with historical sources in foreign languages.

The course lasts four years. First year students take core language papers (including writing, translation and oral skills), and a paper exploring cultural topics in your chosen language. On the historical side, you also take two history papers chosen from a broad variety covering different periods of European and world history and political thought.

In second year, you continue to develop your language skills through further core papers, and combine these with a) a paper chosen from a wide range on a literary, historical, cultural or linguistic topic in your language area, b) a history paper, and c) a further specialist paper from either subject. It is possible to submit two essays of 3,500-4,000 words instead of taking a written exam in some of the language papers.

Your third year is spent abroad, either studying or working, and you will also work on a project of 8,000 words relating to the culture, thought, history or politics of your language area. Having spent the year immersed in your language, you then have an oral examination when you return from your year abroad, just before the start of fourth year.

In your final year, you take five papers: two core language papers, a third paper on an area of culture or history related to your language, a history paper focusing on a particular period, region or theme, and a fifth paper that can be a specialist paper from either your language area or from history. If you want to, you can replace one of the three latter papers with a 10,000 word dissertation.

History and Modern Languages at King's

King's is a friendly, culturally diverse and exciting place to study History and Modern Languages. We have a good number of international students, which makes the College a particularly rich environment for students with an interest in languages and cultures across the world. In an average year, there are normally some native speakers of most languages taught on the course. King's travel grants are available to help fund visits to other countries during the vacations.

Bodley's Court in King's College

Bodley's Court in King's College

It is in College that students normally make their closest social and intellectual friendships. King's linguists and historians are very supportive of each other and also benefit from the strong community of students and academics in related subjects such as Human, Social and Political Sciences, Linguistics and Economics.

King's is conveniently one of the closest Colleges to the Sidgwick Site where both the History and Modern and Medieval Languages faculties are. So you'll only have to walk a few minutes to get to lectures, languages classes and seminars (see map). Students also find the proximity to the University Library just behind the Garden Hostels very useful.

In College, King's Library is available 24/7 and provides a very pleasant place to study and work on essays and dissertations (you might like to look around King's Library using the virtual tour). King's Library is well-stocked for students, and the library staff are happy to order additional books when this would be useful. The King's Archive Centre is an exciting resource for historians to explore too.

How you are taught

A lecture on Linguistics at a Languages open day

A lecture on Linguistics at a Languages Open Day

History and Modern Languages is taught at Cambridge by way of University-based lecture courses and College-based supervisions. The relationship between the two is co-ordinated by the College’s Director of Studies who arranges your supervisions each term and oversees your academic studies.

Student perspectives


Although History and Modern Languages is a new course, you may find the following student accounts helpful. Fiona (pictured left) has written about her experiences of studying History, whilst Ellen discusses French and Spanish in the MML course. Although the course details will differ, these accounts are well worth reading to get a sense of what studying these subject areas at King's is really like. 

King’s Fellows with History / Modern Languages interests

John Arnold

John H. Arnold is professor of medieval history, and has worked on various aspects of European society and culture, including inquisition, heresy, doubt and scepticism, gender, sexuality, bells, and popular uprisings. He has particular interests in southern France (prior to the Black Death), and later medieval England. His research mostly focuses on what ordinary medieval people did, thought, felt and believed.

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Gareth Austin is a Professor of Economic History. He researches african, comparative and global economic history, and his primary research focuses on Ghana and other parts of West Africa, mainly in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

Bill Burgwinkle

Bill Burgwinkle is a Professor of Medieval French and Occitan Literature. He teaches all levels of French language and lectures on medieval literature, psychoanalysis and literary theory.

John Dunn

John Dunn is an Emeritus Professor of Political Theory. He works on a wide range of issues in modern political thought, including the historical development and current significance of democracy in different parts of the world.

Brad Epps

Brad Epps is a Professor of Spanish and Head of the Department of Spanish and Portuguese. Research interests include 18th to 21st century Spanish and Latin American literature, Catalan literature and film, Ibero-American cinema, photography, and art, Hispanophone Africa, theories of visuality, modernity, critical theory, gender and sexuality studies, feminist thought, queer theory, urban cultures, immigration, and post-colonial studies, among others.

Rachel G. Hoffman

Rachel G. Hoffman works on modern European History. Her research focuses on assassination plots and attacks, revolutions, conspiracy, and, more generally, violence and politics, and state attempts to maintain order in the modern age.

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Aileen Kelly is a Life Fellow in Slavonic Studies. She has published widely on the late nineteenth and early twentieth-century literature and intellectual history, with particular interest in such figures as Bakunin, Dostoevsky, Herzen, Chekhov and Bakhtin.

Rory O'Bryen

Rory O’Bryen is a University Lecturer in Latin American literature and culture. His research includes Colombian literature, cinema and history, the novels of Roberto Bolaño (1953-2003), and the cultural history of the Magdalena River in Colombia.

Chris Prendergast

Christopher Prendergast is a Life Fellow in French (retired) who has published widely on nineteenth-century literature, culture and aesthetics.

Paul Sagar

Paul Sagar works primarily on political philosophy and the history of political thought. He is particularly interested in the works of Thomas Hobbes, David Hume, and Adam Smith, and theories about how to understand the nature of the modern state.

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Mark B. Smith teaches modern European history. His research has focused on the history of the Soviet Union, especially on such topics as housing, property, welfare, and rights: it asks how people lived their lives and why the dictatorship endured. He is the author of the blog Beyond the Kremlin.

Mike Sonenscher

Michael Sonenscher teaches European history in the 18th and 19th centuries and the history of political thought. He has an interest in French political thought in the 18th century, the history of the French Revolution, and the history of modern political ideologies.

Erika Swales

Erika Swales is a Life Fellow in German (retired) who has written extensively on German drama and prose fiction of the 18th and 19th century, including studies on Adalbert Stifter, Gottfried Keller and Goethe.

Godela Weiss-Sussex

Godela Weiss-Sussex is a King's Fellow in German and Senior Lecturer at the London Institute of Germanic & Romance Studies. Research includes: works of German-Jewish writers produced in Germany and in exile; contemporary women’s writing; the city in literature; and the relationship between literary text, contemporary aesthetic theory and the visual arts.

To apply to study History and Modern Languages

applying for history and modern languages

Applying with limited support?

King's students come from all educational backgrounds and we welcome applications from international students as well as those at school in the UK. A list of our standard offers is available on the entrance requirements page.

The application process for all subjects is explained on our how to apply page, which we advise applicants to read thoroughly in combination with the details below about subject requirements and interests for History and Modern Languages, sending school essays, the written assessments and interviews.

Subject requirements

An A-level or equivalent qualification in the language you wish to study is a requirement, except for candidates in laguages which can be studied from scratch if you are not already studying it. Please see the advice for students planning to take Russian from scratch if relevant.

You do not have to have studied History at school, but you need a curiosity, not just about the past but about how we can know about the past. Applicants will be expected to demonstrate interest in both history and modern languages and will be assessed on the potential to succeed in them.

Further information is available in the general advice on subject choices.

pre-interview assessment

All candidates for History and Modern Languages are required to take the pre-interview admissions assessment for History, which will take place in schools and other assessment centres on 31 October 2018. You must be registered in advance (separately to your UCAS application) to take the assessment. The registration deadline is 15 October 2018 and there is a deadline of 30 September if you normally get exam adjustments for a disability/Specific Learning Difficulty/long-term illness. Your assessment centre must register you for the pre-interview assessment (you can't register yourself).

Brief information about admissions assessments
History Admissions Assessment (HAA) format and specimen papers
Important: If you're not registered by 15 October (30 Sept for special arrangements) you won't be able to take the assessment. Unfortunately, this would mean that your application is not valid.

Your performance in the assessment will not be considered in isolation, but will be taken into account alongside the other elements of your application.

written work

Once History and Modern Language candidates have applied through UCAS, they are asked to submit:

  • two History essays. If you are taking History at school, these are to be essays completed as part of your A Level or equivalent History course and they must contain your teacher's comments / marks.
  • a third essay written in the post-A level (or equivalent) language they are applying for. Candidates for a language from scratch do not submit a third essay.

For those looking early, written work guidelines are published in September as part of the Applicant Information. All applicants will receive an email shortly after the 15 October deadline sending you to this information. The deadline for written work will be in early November (see how to apply) and essays must not be sent before 15 October.


Most (but not all) candidates are invited for interviews in King's, which take place in early December. Candidates for History and Modern Languages have two interviews, one with History specialists and another with a specialist in your chosen language. For the language interview candidates are asked to prepare some material which they collect half an hour before the interview. This may be a text written in one of the languages you plan to study at Cambridge (in English if you are applying for a language you have not studied before), or some grammar questions to think about etc. Please see the general information about interviews.

Information about the interview options for international candidates are on the International Students page.

admissions assessment

If you are invited for interview and are applying for a post-A level (or equivalent) language, you will also be asked to take the at-interview written assessment for MML, which lasts one hour. You do not need to register for this written assessment as it will be organised automatically by the College if you are invited for interview. 

Introductory reading and resources

Further information

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