King's historians

Joel, Jennifer Regan-Lefebvre (ex- Director of Studies), Meera, Ruby and Oleg on graduation day

Welcome to the History subject page at King’s! Here you will find an overview of History at King’s, the Cambridge History course, the people who teach and research history at King’s, and information about applying to study History as an undergraduate.

King’s has produced many distinguished historians

King's is a friendly and exciting place to study History, following in a distinguished College tradition in this subject. In the middle of the twentieth century, King's was pioneering in economic history: Sir John Clapham was a lecturer and Eric Hobsbawm an undergraduate. In recent years, the college has been particularly distinguished in the history of political thought, numbering among its Fellowship John Dunn, Istvan Hont, Michael Ignatieff, Tony Judt, Melissa Lane, Michael Sonenscher, and Gareth Stedman Jones, who between them have rewritten the subject from Plato to the present day. Economic history and political engagement continue to be hallmarks of History at King’s, which hosts the Centre for History and Economics.  King's historians also join in the College's long tradition of archaeological and anthropological studies, drawing upon interdisciplinary methods to advance historical research.

King's will suit you wherever your interests lie within the History course. Academics at King's currently teach Greek and Roman history, medieval history both early and late, European history from 1715 to the present, world history, and the history of political thought from Plato and Aristotle to Rousseau and Marx.  For other areas of the course the Director of Studies arranges teaching with specialists in other Cambridge colleges.

History students

Aurien, Anna and Matilda

It is in College that students normally make their closest social and intellectual friendships. King's 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 and Economics.

King's is conveniently one of the closest Colleges to the History Faculty on the Sidgwick Site, a few minutes' walk away, where historians have lectures 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 historians, and the library staff are happy to order additional books when this would be useful. The King's Archive Centre is an exciting resource to explore too.

The College History Society is the oldest in the University. Its activities and vitality depend upon the interests and enthusiasm of its members. It variously forms a venue for reading groups, for talks on their research by graduate students and for papers by invited outside speakers.

The Cambridge History Tripos (Tripos = course)

In the Cambridge History Tripos, you begin by building a broad base of historical knowledge over two years. This is Part I. You take at least one British political and constitutional history paper (option), at least one British economic and social history paper, and up to four more papers in European history, extra-European history or the history of political thought. You also choose one ‘Themes and Sources’ option, which is taught in University classes and examined by an extended essay. You have to show:

  • historical breadth (you must take at least one paper that falls before 1750 and at least one paper that falls in a period from after 1750)
  • geographical breadth (you must take at least one paper in European History).

In third year (Part II), you apply your skills to very specific historical issues and problems, working closely from primary sources in a range of what are known as ‘special’ and ‘specified’ subjects. You may substitute a 10,000 word dissertation on an approved subject of your own choice for one specified subject paper. You also reflect more broadly on what you have learned in a paper on historical argument and practice. Undergraduates who transfer to the History Tripos from other subjects may take Part II of the Tripos over two years, instead of one.

How you are taught

History Faculty

The History Faculty (you'll have University lectures and classes with historians from all Colleges here)

History 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 in History who arranges your supervisions each term and oversees your historical education.

The normal pattern of undergraduate work in Part I of the History Tripos consists of reading for a paper a term. In practice, this means that you write one essay a week on a topic set by the supervisor, who then spends an hour exploring it further with you in your supervision. Lectures take place in the History Faculty and are one vital source of material for these essays, but most of your time will be spent in libraries, either the History Faculty library, the King's Library or the University Library.

In third year, Faculty-based lectures and classes are provided for the Special Subjects (which are not supervised), and weekly supervisions for specified subjects. You will also be advised by an expert supervisor for your dissertation.

Student perspectives


Abdulla (pictured left), Hannah, Joel and Fiona have written about their experiences of studying History at King's, including what attacted them to the course, the transition from sixth form, the teaching, their choice of papers, timetable and workload, sports and social life, and the application process. These are well worth reading to get a sense of what studying History at King's is really like. 

King’s History Fellows

King’s History Fellows have particular interests in Greek history, medieval Europe and the Mediterranean, the history of Africa, the history of political thought, French history in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, the French Revolution, German and European History in the nineteenth century, and the history of nineteenth-century nationalism.

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.

Gareth Austin

Gareth Austin is Professor of Economic History. He works on African, comparative and global economic history, especially in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Much of his primary research has focussed on Ghana and other parts of West Africa.

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.

Caroline Goodson is a University Senior Lecturer in Early Medieval History. Her research examines the formation of early medieval societies in the post-Roman world, especially Italy and North Africa. She works with both archaeological and material evidence as well as the written record, and is interested in people's experiences of the material world of the early Middle Ages,  and how those experiences shaped political power and religious belief

Peter Jones

Peter Jones works on the history of medieval and early modern science and medicine, including research on medical books and the circulation of medical information.

Robin Osborne

Robin Osborne is a professor of Ancient History, and works on aspects of Greek history to which material evidence is relevant.  His research is known for its use of the evidence of art and material culture to address historical questions.

Mezna Qato

Mezna Qato works on the history of education, development, popular mobilisation, and class in the Arab world. Her current research is on Palestinian students and teachers in exile and their relationships with governments, international regimes, and each other.

No photo available

Mark B. Smith (Director of Studies) 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 eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and the history of political thought. He has an interest in French political thought in the eighteenth century, the history of the French Revolution, and the history of modern political ideologies.

Applying to study History
outside the history faculty library

Applying with limited support?

King's historians 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 numbers admitted in History vary from year to year, but we rarely admit fewer than seven or more than ten undergraduates.

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 choices for History, the pre-interview assessment, sending school essays, and interviews.

Subject requirements

History is a required subject for students applying for History at King's. You could be taking A level History, Higher Level History in the International Baccalaureate or another equivalent in one of the other qualifications listed on our entrance requirements page. When choosing your other subjects, please also read the general advice on subject choices, and feel free to email us if you have questions.

For a strong application in History, 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 History and will be assessed on the potential to succeed in this subject.

pre-interview assessment

All candidates for History are required to take the pre-interview admissions assessment for History, which will take place in schools and other assessment centres on 2 November 2017. You must be registered in advance (separately to your UCAS application) to take the assessment. The registration deadline is 15 October 2017 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 candidates have applied through UCAS, they are asked to submit two recent History essays. These are to be essays completed as part of your A Level or equivalent studies in History (please don't send work from other subjects) and they must contain your teacher's comments / marks. 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.


If you are asked to attend interviews in Cambridge in early December, we will seek to explore areas of history that are familiar to you, but problems that are unfamiliar. You may be asked to say something about the type of history that interests you and to explain why it does. The aim of the interviews is to give you a chance to show the sort of historical curiosity and motivation that will allow you to take advantage of the opportunities for original thinking and independent work provided by studying History at King’s.

Information about the interview options for international candidates are in the International Students section.

What are we looking for?

Students at an Open Day

Tour of King's with a current student

The most important criteria are enthusiasm, dedication and potential and we consider each case on an individual basis. This History course requires a considerable commitment in terms of time and energy, but it is well worth the effort!

We will be interested in:

  • your existing examination results which we consider carefully, taking into account your personal and educational background;
  • your academic interests and motivation as explained in your UCAS personal statement and explored further in interviews;
  • your school reference and predicted grades for any exams you have yet to take;
  • the quality of the school work that you send;
  • your performance in the pre-interview written assessment for History
  • how you approach questions designed to make you think at interview - our interviewers will work closely with students invited for interviews to assess your suitability for the challenges of Cambridge History.

At King's, we are looking for promise and potential. So although existing and predicted grades form a central criterion for admissions, we are careful to interpret grades in light of your personal and educational background. We assess each application individually. We are interested to learn about your existing knowledge and skills, but we endeavour also to find out how you would deal with the new materials and ideas you would encounter at Cambridge.

Introductory reading and resources

Listen to Hanna Weibye (one of the King's Fellows in History) giving advice about how to prepare for your application to study History.


Further information

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