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History and Politics

The subject at Selwyn

History and Politics is an exciting degree which offers subjects from both the History and the Politics and International Relations courses, together with papers unique to this course which will allow students to explore the space between the two disciplines.  Students will also be able to build strengths in understanding the nature of evidence, methodology, and approaches in both History and Politics.  They will be able to choose from a wide range of topics in British, European, American and World history and politics. This degree balances a strong grounding in the two component subjects with the opportunity to explore the ways in which historical and political understanding together illuminate the modern world.

The College is located a two minute walk from both the History Faculty and the Department of Politics and International Studies (POLIS). Several Fellows have research and teaching interests in areas covered by this new course. The Master of the College, Roger Mosey, is a former editor of the Today Programme on Radio Four, Head of BBC Television News and Controller of Radio Five Live. We promote a lively interest in matters central to the course, not least through a range of visiting speakers from politics, journalism and the media.

Students on this course will be eligible for support from funds that assist the studies of students of HSPS and related courses and that support subject-related vacation travel, internships and projects.

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 and Politics are continually updated.  The Library also provides a pleasant study area in line with students’ needs.

The Teaching Fellows

Dr Tom Hopkins, Director of Studies in History and Politics, is a Fellow and College Lecturer in Politics and teaches for a variety of papers covering ‘The Modern State and its Alternatives’ and the history of political thought. Dr Mike Sewell specialises in modern American political history and the history of international relations and is Course Director for the highly successful part-time Masters degree in International Relations. Dr Lauren Wilcox is Director of the University of Cambridge Centre for Gender Studies. Her interests are in feminist, queer and trans theory and war, political violence, and security studies.  Dr David Smith specialises in seventeenth- and early eighteenth-century British and European history.

Qualities we are looking for

We are looking for ambitious and hard-working students who relish a challenge, seek to excel and love reading on academic topics.  We look for an ability to excel in arguing and writing about history and politics, and for a strong capacity to approach with problems in flexible ways.

Applicants will be expected to demonstrate an interest in both subjects and will be assessed on their potential to succeed in them. They need not have studied either or both of them formally, but will be expected to have read widely around them and to show an awareness of the relationships between the two disciplines as well as their differences. A lively academic interest in the underlying forces that shape politics and political history will be essential.

Written work

Applicants are asked to submit two recent and marked essays from their sixth-form studies. They should not be revised, still less specially prepared for the application to Selwyn. Nor should they be an entry for essay competitions or other such non-curricular activities. Nor should the essays be based on documents extracts or other stimulus materials. They may be a timed, exam conditions essay or an extract from a more extended piece. At least one of these pieces will be used as a basis for discussion at interview, so the essays should bon a subject which has especially interested and excited you, and which you would be happy to talk about at interview. We seek to challenge candidates by testing how far they can re-think their ideas in discussion, and gauge how they respond to new insights, go about tackling problems, or react to new ideas or questions.


You will have one subject interview which will focus on both History and Politics. As well as your submitted written work we will base some discussion on a stimulus passage that you will be asked to read immediately before the interview. We may also ask questions arising from contemporary events of relevance or from your application.

You will also have a shorter general interview.  This is intended to let us find out more about your motivation in applying for History and Politics at Cambridge.  It is intended to give us a fuller sense of your aptitude for your chosen course, the maturity of your approach towards academic work, and your historical and other interests.

The Ramsay-Murray Lecture

Trevor Phillips OBE
Trevor Phillips OBE

The College hosts the prestigious annual Ramsay-Murray Lecture. This is usually on a historical topic. Speakers have included Sir Keith Thomas, Sir Michael Howard, Paul Kennedy, Niall Ferguson, Sir Ian Kershaw, Sir David Cannadine, Quentin Skinner and Mark Mazower.  In 2020 Trevor Phillips spoke about “The New Normal: Diversity, Difference and Discord”. In 2021, Professor Rana Mitter spoke on Where China Goes Next.

February 2024

History and Politics on the Cambridge YouTube channel