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.
- History at King's
- The Cambridge History Tripos
- King's History fellows
- Applying to study History
- Introductory reading and resources
- A student perspective
- Further information
King’s has produced many distinguished historians
In the middle of the twentieth century King's was a pioneering college in economic history: Sir John Clapham was a Fellow, 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 the hall-marks of History at King’s, which hosts the Centre for History and Economics.
Fellows of the College currently provide supervision for papers in Greek and Roman history, medieval British history, Tudor and Early Stuart political history, European history from 1715 to 1890, extra-European history, and the history of political thought. The Director of Studies arranges teaching in other areas with specialists in other Cambridge colleges.
King’s historians have particular interests in Greek history, the history of Africa, medieval Scotland, British political history under the Tudors and Stuarts, the history of political thought from Aristotle and Plato to Hegel and Marx, French history in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, the Scottish Enlightenment, and the history of nineteenth century socialism.
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. Students also find the proximity to the University Library by the Garden Hostels very useful (see map). In College, King's Library is available 24/7 and provides a very pleasant place to study (a virtual tour is available). It is well-stocked for historians and the library staff are also 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
In the Cambridge History Tripos you begin, in Part I, by building a broad base of historical knowledge over two years. You take at least one from a choice of papers in British political and constitutional history, at least one from a choice of papers in British economic and social history, and up to four further papers in European history, extra-European history or the history of political thought. You also choose one from a range of ‘Themes and Sources’ options taught in University classes and examined by an extended essay. You are obliged to show breadth by taking at least one paper that falls before 1750 and at least one paper that falls in a period from after 1750, and geographical breadth by taking at least one paper in European History.
In Part II of the History Tripos 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.
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 with you. Lectures, which take place in the History Faculty 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 college library or the University Library.
In Part II of the Tripos 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.
King’s History Fellows
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.
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 is a professor of Ancient History, and works on aspects of Greek history to which material evidence is relevant.
Michael Sonenscher (Director of Studies) 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.
Megan Vaughan is the Smuts Professor of Commonwealth History and works particularly on the history of Africa. Her interests include Africa's social, economic and cultural history, the history of medicine and psychiatry in Africa, and slavery in the Indian Ocean.
To apply to study History
To apply to study History at King’s you do not have to have studied History at school. What you need is a curiosity not just about the past but about how we can know about the past. General advice about choosing school subjects is available in our Subject Matters leaflet.
We advise you to read our how to apply page thoroughly for details of the application process and timetable. When you apply to read History you will be asked to submit two pieces of written work.
If you are asked to attend interviews in Cambridge, you will normally have two interviews in which we will seek to explore areas of history that are familiar to you, but problems that are unfamiliar. You may be asked to talk about questions arising from the work that you have submitted and 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.
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.
Introductory reading and resources
- There is no required reading material for History applications but do read our general advice about developing your interests.
- If you would some specific material to think about, the Director of Studies in History has provided some examples of historical writing.
- You will find further reading advice, a virtual classroom and some online lectures on the faculty website.
- Events which may be of interest in the year before you apply (year 12 in the UK) include Oxford and Cambridge Student Conferences, CU Masterclasses and King's Open Days. Students from backgrounds where there is little tradition of entry to Higher Education might like to think about applying for the Sutton Trust Summer Schools or the CUSU Shadowing Scheme.
A student perspective
Fiona is in third year and has written about her experiences of studying History at King's, including the choices she made, the transition from sixth form, the teaching, timetable and workload, her sports and social life, and the application process. This is well worth reading to get a sense of what studying History at King's is really like.
- Course outline and film
- Course details and options
- Faculty website
- Applying with limited support or advice
- International students
- Extenuating circumstances
- If you have further questions about studying History at King's, please feel free to email King's Admissions Office.
- Students interested in History may also like to consider Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, Classics, Economics, or Modern and Medieval Languages.