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History

Churchill Archives Centre Display Cabinet containing historical documents and photographs

Historical documents and photographs from the Churchill Papers Collection held at the Churchill Archives Centre, Churchill College.

History at Cambridge

Cambridge is one of the world’s great History faculties with over 100 academics who publish world-class research. Many have won prestigious prizes for their work.

The life of a successful Cambridge History student is a very busy one. You will be expected to attend up to eight lectures a week and participate in one or two classes (for which preparation is necessary); and each week you will have to read extensively and intensively on a specific subject and write an essay. This essay (typically 2000 words in length) is not formally assessed as it might be at other universities. Rather, it forms the basis for discussion in your weekly supervision. Your supervisor will be less interested in what you know than in the ideas thrown up by your reading, however under-developed or trivial they may seem to you.

Full details are provided on the Faculty of History website, and summarised in the University Undergraduate Prospectus.

History at Churchill

Historians try to reconstruct the lives, minds, and cultures of people in the past, and historians at Churchill College are no exception. Studying History here involves imagination and a good measure of scepticism, requiring you to keep questioning and testing the limits of what we can reasonably know about other societies and eras. These are questions you can explore on a broad canvas: examining the experiences of the powerful and the weak; imagining long-lost mental worlds, whether political, philosophical or mystical; from empires to cities to villages; in Mexico, Mozambique or Manchester. You can investigate why people killed for Christ in the Crusades, why they hunted witches in the seventeenth century, why they voted for Thatcher in the 1980s, or what the Victorians thought about sex. These diverse topics all present searching problems about how we should understand our ancestors and ourselves in time.

For the first two years of the course you will tackle such problems, weighing up the validity of historical sources: the scribal, the literary, the visual, the oral. By your third year you will reach the frontiers of professional historical research in a Special Subject using primary sources, or in a dissertation based on your own archival research - perhaps using papers in the Churchill Archives Centre, with its 3000 boxes of the great war leader's papers and over 570 other collections besides.

While Churchill is well-known for being a college devoted to sciences, mathematics and engineering, 30% of our undergraduate students study arts and humanities subjects. History students at Churchill can expect to draw upon considerable strengths of expertise and experience in teaching and research. These include; Archives Centre staff, numerous postgraduate History students, one or more Junior Research Fellows, and usually a handful of Visiting Fellows. Amongst the teaching staff, History at Churchill is represented by Professor Mark Goldie, Dr Leigh Denault, and Mr Richard Partington, who all have a strong commitment to social, economic, political and cultural History.

No Cambridge college is able to depend entirely on its Fellowship in History to supervise all of its own undergraduates. The demand for variety within the Tripos will always exceed the specialisms of the teaching staff and it is common for students be sent to supervisors at other colleges to be supervised. Students will also spend a great deal of time in departmental and University libraries, and attending lectures and classes at the Faculty.

Churchill sets the highest standards and expects the greatest degree of commitment from its students, while providing the best quality teaching and guidance. At the same time, this is a friendly and relaxed environment in which to live and learn, where you will feel enthused and energized into studying, not stressed and intimidated.


Admissions

To apply to Churchill, you need to love libraries and books, reading and writing, to have the patience to investigate, to have the discipline to govern your own time, and to care about the details as well as the big ideas.

There is no secret about what Churchill looks for in its students. We need bright, energetic, hard-working, enthusiastic, open-minded, committed students with an uncommon passion for reading, thinking, writing and discussing History. If that is not really you, you may still be able to get through the interview, but it's unlikely you would thrive here, nor would you be very happy. So be honest. We want the right students (not necessarily the most brainy or the best-taught) for the way we teach and learn in this College, and this University. So if you have these attributes we would very much like to meet you.

Typically, we receive between ten and twenty applications each year; a combination of direct applications and open applications allocated to us by the University. Each year, we aim to admit a small number of candidates for the following academic year, and a similar number for deferred entry places. Overall, the intention is to maintain a cohort of four students in each of the three academic years — so a total of twelve.

Unsuccessful candidates may be entered into the Inter-collegiate Pool (from which they may be selected by another College in the following January), although we usually take more historians out of the Pool than we put in. The misconception that Churchill is a science-obsessed College where no arts student can ever survive needlessly deters strong applicants who, in fact, may stand a better chance of being offered a conditional place here than they would at colleges more strongly associated with History. Christ's and Caius, for example, are strong History colleges, but are routinely deluged with applications, causing a great many hopeful candidates to be disappointed. In every instance, a direct applicant to Churchill can expect to have their forms scrutinised very carefully among the handful of others we receive each year, and it would be very unlikely that he or she would not be invited to an interview.

Subject pre-requisites

Essential Highly desirable/useful
A Level/IB Higher Level History No specific subjects

Standard entry requirements

Written assessments

Cambridge University uses a system of common format written assessments, specifically tailored to each subject. These give us valuable additional evidence of your academic ability, knowledge base, and potential to succeed at Cambridge. For more information about written assessments in this subject, click on:

Written assessments

Written work

We will ask you to submit two examples of teacher-marked History essays on different topics.

Interviews

If called, you will normally have two interviews, both with academic Fellows of the College. The conversations will focus very much upon your own interests. Before one interview, you will be allowed half an hour to study a short passage of historical writing for discussion, but we are interested only in your reaction to that, not your ability to date it or identify its provenance - interviews are not oral examinations to test knowledge. We understand that interviews can be nerve-racking so we will do what we can to put you at your ease and help you show yourself in the best light.


Resources

You may find it useful to do some preparatory reading, and — most importantly — to think about what you have read. Here are some suggestions:


Careers

The range of careers open to History graduates is vast and varied. Some of Churchill's recent History graduates have secured management training contracts or have taken law conversion courses after graduation. Others have gone into teaching, and at least one has stayed on to further his historical research at doctoral level. Three years studying History at Churchill is about much more than just gaining a degree. The effects the experience will have on your thinking, your personality, and your outlook on life are likely to be profound and will last forever.


Contact

For more information and for all admissions enquiries, please contact the Admissions Office.

Admissions Office

Fellows in History

Dr Leigh Denault

Director of Studies (Part I) and College Lecturer in History

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Dr Peter Sloman

College Lecturer in History

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Mr Richard Partington

Senior Tutor & College Lecturer in History

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Dr Mark Goldie

Fellow & College Lecturer in History

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