Everything you are about to read has been written by current and recently graduated students at the University of Cambridge, to give you honest information about what it’s like to be a student at Cambridge.

Studying history at Cambridge is inspiring. People often think that the history course here would be restrictive due to Cambridge being a ‘traditional’ university, but it’s actually the opposite: you get an amazing amount of choice and variation right from your first term. History is taught in your college and in the History Faculty. The faculty includes lecture rooms, seminar rooms, a spacious history library called the Seeley Library, and a little café. It’s one of the bigger faculties in terms of the number of students, so there is never a shortage of new people to meet and new ideas to explore.

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What about the History course at Cambridge appealed to you?

Natalia, History, Murray Edwards College, 1st Year
Murray Edwards College, 1st year

What makes the Cambridge course unique is that you get to do what you personally enjoy as soon as you start. I chose modern British social & economic history, and modern British political history, because I knew I wanted to know more about that period. For my European paper I chose to do Ancient Greece, because it was something completely new to me! I also wanted to get a more global perspective, so for Themes & Sources I am studying Southern African race, class and culture since 1850. My favourite thing about the course is that you are encouraged to take risks in your essays, twisting the question and trying new things to find your own style.

How have you found the structure of the course?

Irma, History, Churchill College, 1st Year
Churchill College, 1st year

The course is very broad, which allows you much choice of what you can study across both space and time. Forget about the dictators and wars that can often put off many from pursuing History further (although there is nothing wrong with these subjects, but due to the limits of curricula they are often taken as the main focus of the discipline). From Greeks to postcolonialism, there is bound to be something that you will be interested in. Even though we have to take two compulsory British history papers in the first year, the time period to explore is up to us, and there will be plenty of other topics left to study, over choice of which you will have an increasing liberty as the course will go on.

What is your faculty/department like?

Irma, History, Churchill College, 1st Year
Churchill College, 1st year
The Department

The History Faculty is a lovely department that is home to one of the biggest number of the subject academics in the world. Most of the lectures are extremely engaging, and I find the lecturers to be open to both questions and emails. Although, it might sometimes feel solitary studying the subject, there are ways to connect across years and colleges, by, for example, joining CLIO (University History Society), or any other from a different college. If you find yourself keen about engaging in a bit of politics, you can stand for becoming a student faculty representative, to have a chance of getting your fellow historian voices heard and pursue change. Also, the faculty regularly sends a list of forthcoming events, about which I get especially excited, as you can join almost every single one of them, regardless of your knowledge.

What types of work do you have to do?

Irma, History, Churchill College, 1st Year
Churchill College, 1st year
Types of work

The part and parcel of History course is reading and writing essays, but do not fear the monotony, as you will be doing a different topic for every one of your weekly supervisions. As I am currently in my first year, diversity to my usual types of works adds the Themes & Sources paper, where you get a chance to look closely at primary sources of your chosen topic and have discussions and debates in biweekly classes. For instance, next term I will also have a few trips to Cambridge museums, to explore their collections as part of my subject :). As for books, you’ll be able to find them in your college library, the Faculty library or the one of the University, the latter of which many find intimidating mostly due to its size, but I promise you, it is awesome!

Do you have career plans?

Natalia, History, Murray Edwards College, 1st Year
Murray Edwards College, 1st year

I have no specific career plans, but what is reassuring about doing a history degree is that you learn skills that are applicable to a wide variety of jobs. Writing one essay per week and discussing it with your supervisor means that you learn how to quickly digest a lot of information and think on your feet. Once you do have some ideas for jobs, or need help on where to get started, the Careers Service here is really helpful – you can have free one-on-one meetings for advice, as well as find out about summer opportunities (such as internships) that might give you experience in the world of work.

What about your course would you change?

Natalia, History, Murray Edwards College, 1st Year
Murray Edwards College, 3rd year
Irma, History, Churchill College, 1st Year
Churchill College, 3rd year

Natalia: One thing that I found difficult with the history course is that it can be hard to fully understand the primary sources that the books and articles you read are based on (except for the Themes and Sources papers, which go into sources in detail). However, the history faculty this term introduced a series of primary source discussion classes for several of the papers – these have been really useful, especially in building up the picture for writing essays on social history. Other than that, longer borrowing times in the Seeley library would be great, although you can easily work around this since the University Library and your own College libraries often have the books you need, with long borrowing times!

Irma: Doing History at Cambridge is quite a solitary endeavour. Although the nature of work requires you to spend a lot of time alone in the library/ in your room/ at a coffee shop etc., in my experience, it can be isolating and lonely. To solve this, I think it would be great if the Faculty would take time to organise study groups based on the papers they offer. This would offer an opportunity for students to connect and make friends on inter-collegiate level, debate, and help each other study and stay engaged with the subject as a whole. However, if this idea is never adopted, you can always take the initiative into your own hands, and sometimes study with your friends or those you know are doing the same paper as you.

Typical timetable of a 1st year History student

- Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday
9am - - Western Europe, c.300-c.900 British social history since c.1880 Western Europe, c.300-c.900
10am British economic history since c.1880 The Roman emperor: from Tiberius to the Severans - - -
11am British Political History Sinces c.1880 - Themes and Sources:History of Collecting Living and Dying in the Ancient World Social Movements in twentieth-century Britain
12am - - - - -
1pm - - - - -
2pm HAP:Empires - - HAP:Memory -
3pm - - - - -
4pm - - Supervision - -

What has been going on at History?

- Recent Events -

Holocaust Talk

Last week Eva Clarke gave a talk at Selwyn College, which history students were invited to. She talked about her story as a Holocaust survivor, and lessons we can learn from it.

Academic Talk

A.G. Leventis Professor of Greek Culture Tim Whitmarsh on: 'Atheism and Christianity: An Ancient Tango’?: A talk by Professor Whitmarsh about his book ‘Battling the Gods’, which explores the degree of novelty of atheism and its place in the public debate

Annual History in Question panel event

A wonderful opportunity to ask questions to a group of academics regarding practice of History, Faculty affairs, or any other queries about the subject and your interests within it.

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