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.
- History at King's
- The Cambridge History Tripos
- How you are taught
- A student perspective
- King's History fellows
- Applying to study History
- Introductory reading and resources
- Further information
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 the hall-marks of History at King’s, which hosts the Centre for History and Economics.
King's will suit you wherever your interests lie within the History course. Academics at King's currently teach Greek and Roman history, European history from 1715 to the present, extra-European history, and the history of political thought from Plato and Aristotle to Rousseau and Marx, while in other areas of the course the Director of Studies arranges teaching with specialists in other Cambridge colleges.
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. Students also find the proximity to the University Library just behind the Garden Hostels very useful (see map). 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
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.
A student perspective
Fiona (pictured left) 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.
King’s History Fellows
King’s History Fellows have particular interests in Greek history, 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 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.
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.
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. His research is known for its use of the evidence of art and material culture to address historical questions.
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.
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.
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.
Hanna Weibye works on the history of Germany in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Her research focuses on the intellectual history of nationalism, particularly the use of national character as a political concept. She is also interested in performativity in politics: the idea that bodies and gestures, much as words and ideas, can make political statements. You can read more about Hanna's interests in current research.
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
Listen to Hanna Weibye (one of the King's Fellows in History) giving advice about how to prepare for your application to study History.
- 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.
- The subject resources page has a tag for posts on Humanities, which you may like to browse.
- 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.
- 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 Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic, Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, Classics, Economics, or Modern and Medieval Languages.