History is a large and flourishing subject at Fitzwilliam. In recent years History has ranked as a strong subject academically within the College.
Number of students
We typically admit between seven and nine undergraduates per year.
At Cambridge, History teaching consists of lectures provided by the university and supervisions provided by each college for its own members. This pattern stresses learning rather than teaching.
In Part I of the Tripos (years 1 (IA) and 2 (IB)), undergraduates are examined in six papers. One of these, 'Historical Themes and Sources', is examined by a long essay (approximately 5,000 words) submitted during the second year. The remainder of the Part I examination consists of five 3-hour papers sat at the end of the second year.
Most history in Part I is outline and 'broad sweep' in nature, and the timespan covered by papers in this section is very long. Candidates can choose, for example, to study subjects as diverse as Ancient Greece and twentieth-century World History, taking in medieval political thought on the way. Two British history papers - one political, one economic and social - need to be taken from the five available periods. But other constraints are very few, and the History syllabus at Cambridge is remarkably open and flexible.
In Part II (year 3) there are some opportunities to take similar papers, but the strength of this section is the opportunity to work in depth with original sources - notably in the Special Subjects, but also in focusing on a limited theme or question, such as 'The American Experience in Vietnam'. Once again, there is a very wide choice of papers, with up to forty options on offer each year. Undergraduates may also choose to write a dissertation instead of an unseen paper, and it is the policy at Fitzwilliam to encourage this option, since students find that undertaking a piece of original research is often the most enjoyable part of the course.
Undergraduates who join us from 2021 will follow this programme of study. Those joining us in 2022 will study a substantially new and significantly enhanced course. The hallmarks of the Cambridge History degree - detailed and in-depth study across a vast range of subjects, supported by expert and personalised teaching - will be reconfigured around three types of historical study: area-specific content, the interpretation of primary sources, and the analysis of historiography (the history of how history has been written). This new course will help students develop their historical skills more effectively and progress from part IA fully-equipped for the more challenging and demanding papers in Part IB. See here for more information.
The benefits of History at Fitzwilliam College
Fitzwilliam's History Fellows cover between them a wide range of popular subjects, allowing a significant proportion of the weekly supervisions to take place 'in house'. At Fitzwilliam we encourage co-operative learning and group discussion. All first year undergraduates meet together in their first term for general discussion of historical method and broad historical themes (particularly useful preparation for the 'Historical Argument and Practice' examination taken in the third term). For other papers undergraduates are supervised in ones or twos, by Fitzwilliam Fellows where their specialisms are involved, or by colleagues from other colleges. The Director of Studies, who arranges the supervisions, is always on hand to offer help and advice.
Fitzwilliam boasts an impressive, modern library, with a particularly strong history section. The librarian welcomes requests from students for the purchase of books relevant to their courses.
The College is also home to a dynamic and flourishing History Society, in which students of History, and other subjects are able to come together for a varied programme of academic talks. Fitzwilliam History Society is open to students across the wider university, and its events stimulate discussion and further engagement with historical topics, as well as providing all those with an interest in history with an opportunity to socialise together.
The admissions process
All applicants for History are required to take a History admissions assessment if invited to interview.
Those called for interview are asked to submit two pieces of written work prepared as part of their school work. Candidates should normally expect two interviews. In the interview itself they may be asked to read and then discuss with the interviewers a piece of historical writing.
Our standard conditional offer for this subject is usually A*AA at A-level or 40-42 points overall and 7, 7, 6 at Higher Level in IB. An A Level (or equivalent) in History or Ancient History is required. We may modify offers to take account of individual circumstances.
The A* does not necessarily need to be in History, but ideally will be in a relevant Humanities subject. In addition to A Level (or equivalent) History, applicants might have studied a broad range of subjects, including humanities, languages, social sciences, maths and science. As the study of history itself changes, these subjects increasingly complement it and we welcome the wide intellectual background of Fitzwilliam historians. Most importantly, we also look for intense and enthusiastic commitment to historical study, and a desire to put it first in the undergraduate years.
Directors of Studies
Director of Studies (1st year)
Research interests: American social and cultural history.
Director of Studies (2nd year)
Research interests: social and cultural history of modern Europe.
Director of Studies (3rd year)
Research interests: early modern Britain's relationship with the wider world.