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Cambridge has one of the largest and most renowned History departments in the world, with a huge variety of expertise and courses on offer. Coverage ranges from ancient Greek to the present day. Political, economic, social, international, imperial and cultural history are all well catered for. Globalisation, spying, religious fervour, disease and environmental change are among the many themes on offer to students. A number of courses are shared with other departments, such as Classics, Modern Languages and Politics. Learning at Cambridge involves lecture- and class-based teaching but also an emphasis on individual tutorials ('supervisions') and self-directed research. You will develop the ability and confidence to analyse a wide variety of historical problems and themes, build an understanding of significant processes and changes across time, and learn how to set out your ideas to maximum effect in class and on paper. These are important skills which many employers value, and Pembroke historians have gone on to be successful in very many different careers, for example in research, administration, finance, the law, teaching, and the media.

The Course

The History Tripos is divided into Part I and Part II. Examinations for Part I of the Historical Tripos are taken after two years. The examinations for Part II are taken at the end of your final year. The results for each part stand separately. You will also sit 'Preliminary' examinations at the beginning of the third term of your first year, in order to practise exam essay, and to gain a sense of your progress. 

Part I (first two years)

Students offer six papers, which are taught over five terms. The final term of your second year is devoted to consolidation and revision before your Part I exams.

  • Each term you will take a 'survey' paper covering a set period and geographical area, for which you receive eight supervisions. Within each paper there is a wide range of topics, usually around 20, from which you choose eight, in consultation with your supervisor. Out of the 23 papers available your choice of five must include at least one period of British social and economic history, one period of British political and constitutional history, and one period of European history. One of your five papers needs to fall in the period before 1750. Other areas covered include the History of Political Thought, North America, and 'Extra European' history covering Asia, Africa, Australasia and Latin America. For each of the five courses you will sit one 'conventional' exam paper, answering three essay questions, at the end of your second year.
  • The sixth course is called 'Themes and Sources'. For this course you will write a Long Essay of 5000 words done in your own time, on one of a number of topics studied during first-year classes. These courses emphasise engagement with and interpretation of primary sources, often examining a theme comparatively across a long period of time. Current courses touch on topics as diverse as the body, collecting, film, memory, occupation and race.  There is an option within this course to develop language skills in French and German.
  • In your first year you will also have lectures and classes on 'Historical Argument and Practice', studying the history of historical writing, methodology, and the philosophy of history.


Part II (final year)

In Part II of the Tripos papers are offered in more specialised topics that change from time to time, but which always offer an exceptionally wide range of chronological, geographical, and topical choice.

  • You may take either one special subject and two 'specified subjects' or one special subject, and one specified subject and a dissertation.
  • Special subjects are taught in classes across the first two terms of the final year. There is a wide choice of courses; all emphasis reading and interpreting primary sources. These are examined through a written exam and a take-home paper.
  • Specified subjects are taken in one term, generally with seven supervisions and seven weekly essays. They are examined through one three-hour exam where you must answer three questions.
  • An optional dissertation is researched and written in the student's own time, under the supervision of one of your lecturers. Subject to approval of the History Faculty the subject is of the student's choosing. Students usually spend a greater part of one term and some of the vacation working on their dissertation.
  • You will also take a paper on 'Historical Argument and Practice'. This paper is assessed through an examination in which you answer one essay question in three hours. Lectures and classes support your preparation for this paper, which draws on your work over the whole three-year degree.

If you are considering applying for deferred entry (in 2021), please note: the structure of Part I of the History Tripos will change in that year. More information will be available on the History Faculty website.

History at Pembroke

Pembroke College has a rich history to draw from and its current students - there are about 10 in each year -  are characterised by their interest, their talent and their diversity.  We work hard to help our students realise their full potential and we encourage them to explore widely among the available courses in order to develop their own interests.  All Cambridge colleges pool their teaching resources to provide supervisions to students in the University, so what students cover is not dependent on the expertise of the fellowship in the College.  Our historians have a strong sense of group identity and individual satisfaction, and over the last ten years our exam performance has been among the best in the university. Throughout the three years of the course, the main compulsory teaching that students receive is the weekly supervision. Preparation for the supervision involves guided and self-organised reading and writing an essay. This teaching is arranged by your College Director of Studies. We seek to find the best and most appropriate supervisors for each student and course. Much of this teaching is provided inside the College but the rest is organised by swap arrangements with other Colleges. Your Director of Studies will discuss your course choices, arrange your supervisions, and provide oversight over your progress. In addition to your weekly supervision, you will find many of the lectures put on by the History Faculty very useful for your courses, and you can expect to attend 8 to 10 lectures a week. First- and third-year History students at Pembroke also meet in classes two or three times most terms, to discuss general historical problems.  Pembroke also has a beautiful library with a large collection of history books and journals, kept up to date, often in response to student requests. Moreover, the University Library and the History Faculty Library are two of the finest libraries in the country open to History students.

History Fellows

The College has several Fellows involved in teaching undergraduates:

  • Dr Caroline Burt is a political historian of medieval Britain, who teaches its political, social and economic history. She writes on 13th- and 14th-century England, especially the reigns of Edward I and Edward II.
  • Dr Paul Cavill teaches early modern British history and writes on law, parliament, and religion in 15th- and 16th-century England.
  • Dr Nicki Kindersley researches the history of 20th-century Sudan, concentrating on popular political organisation and resistance.
  • Prof. Jon Parry works on the political history of 19th- and 20th-century Britain. He has recently written about British attitudes to Europe and about the Prime Minister Disraeli. He us currently researching British perceptions of the Middle East
  • Dr Chika Tonooka researches modern British history and its intersections with global history, focusing on perspectives on Japan.
  • Dr Paul Warde teaches environmental and economic history. He has  recently published a book on the concept of sustainability and a co-written history of the environment.

In addition, the College has a Fellow in the History and Philosophy of Science, Dr Lauren Kassell, a specialist in 16th- and 17th-century English medicine and magic. The College arranges teaching in the other papers that students wish to take, usually with Fellows of other Colleges.


Pembroke is keen to attract the most able, interested and hard-working historians; in selecting we place a good deal of emphasis on strong examinations results and predictions.  We are always keen to encourage the very best students from all backgrounds to consider applying to us.  We are looking for applicants who show a genuine engagement with their subject, and an ability to think laterally and analytically.  You must also like reading! Please consult the Faculty and the College websites for up-to-date information. 

The admissions process will continue to include two interviews conducted by the College's historians. Interviews may be based on pieces of work, submitted in advance, which you have written for your present History course.  Interviews may also be based on short extracts from primary sources which you are given to read shortly before the interview. We make decisions about whom to admit to study History at Pembroke on the basis of as many pieces of information as possible.  Interviews are an important factor in our decision-making, but not the only factor.  We take into account all the information we have about an applicant including exam record and predictions, submitted written work, school or college essays, UCAS personal statement and school references. History is highly desirable but not essential for this course. To prepare for interview, you should go back over the History you have studied in the sixth form, remind yourself of things you talked about in the UCAS personal statement and read through any written work you have submitted. We do send guidance notes about interviews beforehand. Each year, a few undergraduates reading history at Pembroke take a year off after completing school before coming up to university, and the College is happy to accept deferred applications. If you apply for deferred entry your chance of securing a place is the same as for immediate entry. 

Further enquiries should be addressed to the Admissions Office at Pembroke. Further information can be found on the page about History on the University website. To read a day in the life of one of our recent Pembroke Historians click here.

Go to the History faculty website