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History and Modern Languages

The subject at Selwyn

This joint degree combines the best of both subjects, offering the opportunity to develop skills in a foreign language while studying a range of papers relating to the culture and history of the relevant language area. You will spend your third year studying or working in one of the countries where your language is spoken, immersing yourself in its language, culture, history and politics.

Students will develop analytical skills in History through a wide range of topics in British, European, American and World history. There will also be opportunities to work with historical sources in foreign languages.

For 2025 entry, you will be able to choose from French (post-A Level only); Spanish, German, Russian and Italian (either post-A Level or from scratch); or Portuguese (ab initio only). Selwyn usually makes eight or nine offers to students for each of the History and the MMLL Triposes, so a student studying for the combined course would be part of a large peer group. The combined History/ML Tripos is a new Tripos and the numbers of offers made will depend on the numbers of applicants. In Selwyn, the College Library holds over 40,000 books. This includes a large History section, housed in its own room, where you will find books of central importance to your course. The Library’s holdings in History are continually updated.

Students at Selwyn are supported by a wide range of College travel grants, including the Gebauer fund for the study of Germany and The Master's Fund For Summer Projects, to assist their academic travel and research projects.

The Teaching Fellows

Selwyn has a number of fellows in both History and Modern Languages and can therefore provide supervisions on many subjects in College as well as being in a strong position to exchange teaching with other Colleges. Dr David Smith specialises in seventeenth and early eighteenth-century British and European history. Dr Christopher Briggs is an Associate Professor in Medieval British Social and Economic History. Dr Bobby Lee is a Lecturer in American History. Dr Mike Sewell specialises in modern American history. Dr Tom Smith specialises in the history of religion. In addition Dr Tom Hopkins teaches the history of political thought for both history and HSPS; and Dr Nicole Hartwell is the National Army Museum Research Fellow in Indian Military History.

Directors of Studies in French, Spanish, German, Italian and Russian
Directors of Studies in French, Spanish, German, Italian and Russian

In languages, Selwyn’s teaching officers range across all the principal languages of the Tripos. Dr Edmund Birch (French) has research interests in French literature of the nineteenth century; Dr Bryan Cameron (Spanish) is a specialist in modern Spanish culture, with research interests in the nineteenth-century Spanish novel and experimental film; Dr Elena Filimonova (Russian) has research interests in Russian linguistics; Professor Heather Webb (Italian) has research interests in medieval literature and culture with a particular interest in Dante, early Italian lyric poetry, Boccaccio, models of female piety and the history of concepts; Dr Charlotte Woodford (German) has published on early modern, nineteenth-century and early twentieth-century German literature, with a special focus on women’s writing and the novel. The College also has its own lectors in French and German.

Qualities we are looking for

Russian dolls

Applicants will have a variety of relevant examination qualifications, though not necessarily in both languages and history; they will be expected to demonstrate an interest in both subjects and will be assessed on their potential to succeed in them. We require A-Level (or equivalent) in the relevant language, except where you are applying to learn a language from scratch.

Admissions assessment

Applicants will take an hour long written language assessment, which follows the same format in all Colleges.  Based on a passage in English, this is designed to assess writing skills in a foreign language, the ability to put forward an argument, and to write in English.  No special preparation or prior knowledge is required.  

Those applying for a language from scratch will sit an assessment intended to assess their writing in English and their aptitude for studying languages.

You will not need to register in advance for this assessment and the details will be sent alongside interview invitations.

Written Work

If you apply to us you will be asked to submit a recent and marked essay in History. The essay should not be written especially for the occasion.  You should also send in one essay written on any subject in the post A-Level language you are applying for.  Candidates for a language from scratch do not need to submit this language essay.


You will have two subject interviews, one in each subject. Your submitted History essay will be used during your interview as a basis for discussion. You may also have a shorter, general academic interview.

June 2024