The course at Cambridge covers every period of history from the most ancient to the most modern and ranges geographically from Britain, Ireland and the continent of Europe to America, Africa and Asia. Cambridge has long enjoyed a distinguished reputation in the field of political history and it has also played a leading role in the development of social and economic history. More recently it has become a major centre for the study of intellectual history. The undergraduate course is divided into two parts and is designed to make the most of this large reservoir of expertise and to enable students to develop their own special interests as they move through each of the three years.
Throughout the course there is ample scope to pursue your personal interests and to engage with different historical approaches. Specialist papers allow you to work with a variety of source materials.
There is no single combination of subjects that is especially good for students wishing to study History. It is highly desirable, but not essential, that you be taking History A level (or equivalent). Successful applicants take all sorts of subjects from Mathematics and the sciences, to arts and social sciences. All of these teach skills that can be useful to the undergraduate historian. It may be useful to have a second essay-based subject alongside History. No subject is absolutely undesirable.
See also Entrance requirements for additional advice about general requirements for entry, qualifications and offers.
What we are looking for:
We want to admit students who enjoy reading, writing and thinking about the past in all its forms; who are willing and able to undertake independent study; who would enjoy working alone and with their peers; and who relish the opportunity to engage in discussion and debate.
You need to be able to present your ideas clearly, sharply and accurately, and above all to be able to write analytically. We are not looking for the ‘finished article’, but for people who have the ability and desire to learn.
Candidates invited to interview will be asked in advance to submit two marked essays or other written work. This should be in a related discipline which the candidate is studying/ has studied. Candidates will also be asked to sit an essay based test before interview. At interview, engagement with and enthusiasm for the subject will be explored by the course Director of Studies and Admissions Tutor.
The best preparation for applying to Wolfson, and for interview, is to read as widely as you can. This can be both in History and in related fields such as literature and current affairs. There are no ‘set texts’ that we prescribe, but try and extend your reading around what you may have studied at school, and look beyond it to other periods and places. Follow your own interests and develop them. An enthusiasm for the subject is vital to studying History at university, and, when you apply for a place, reading is the best way of demonstrating this.
Director of Studies: Dr Emily Ward
Sheryl Wombell, 2013 graduate 1st class
Cambridge's History Faculty has a reputation for being among the very best in the world in terms of its research and teaching, and from my perspective as a recent graduate, it certainly has not disappointed. Most of the History course here revolves around weekly essays followed by one-to-one supervisions with experts in the particular papers you choose to focus on, who may be based anywhere within the university - you are not tied to your college for teaching. There is enormous flexibility in the choices you can make, from the broad period often right down to the individual topics you wish to pursue. In my final year, for instance, my papers ranged from seventeenth century British economic and social history, to fin de siècle Russia, right through to Indian and Pacific Ocean islands in the long nineteenth century! You have so many opportunities to pursue the areas which intrigue you, and to develop new interests throughout the three years of Tripos. Beyond the compulsory elements of the course, research groups and societies around Cambridge offer a rich array of talks and seminars, often introducing cutting-edge historical research, at which undergraduates are welcome. These not only complement the Tripos, but also add to the broader sense that Cambridge is a stimulating, thriving place for historical scholarship.
Wolfson offers the ideal environment to make the most of Cambridge's strengths in History. Situated in the west of Cambridge, it is very close to the History Faculty, where most lectures take place, as well as many useful departmental libraries on the Sidgwick Site (most of which extend borrowing rights to history undergraduates). Also close by is the University Library, which holds copies of just about everything you're likely to need during your three years here. Wolfson's own Lee Library offers a constantly-expanding selection of core texts, and is always open to suggestions for new acquisitions. In short, all the resources you need (and more besides) are within easy reach. Wolfson also offers a friendly and supportive community in which to live and study. The undergraduates here achieve excellent results, but there is also a very welcome sense that the college offers a much more balanced approach than purely focusing on Tripos results, to match our needs as individuals and as mature students.
With all the resources, expertise and encouragement Wolfson offered, I was able to achieve first class results in my final examinations. Just as important to me, however, are the thorough grounding I have gained here and the experience of world-leading scholarship, which together have prepared and inspired me to go on to pursue academic study at postgraduate level.
Marie-Louise Van Spyk. Third year History BA
Wolfson College is one of the most relaxed, welcoming and diverse colleges in Cambridge. I was home-educated throughout secondary school before attending sixth form at a state school. Like many, I was certainly apprehensive before arriving. Now in the third year of my degree, I have absolutely loved my time here and as such, it is a real pleasure to welcome our freshers to what will be some of the best years of their lives. Wolfson has grown to feel like home, with beautiful gardens, comfortable accommodation and good kitchens. The Staff at Wolfson are consistently friendly and happy to help, and the academic and pastoral mentors become your surrogate family. However, it is the people who really make the college stand out. Students here come from such a wide range of backgrounds, both academic and cultural, and come in all ages, shapes and sizes. Mealtime conversations are never dull! As a first-time undergraduate, I was also surprised by the number of fun young people here, misled by the appellation ‘mature college’. I have certainly made many friends for life, not to mention meeting my boyfriend of two years.
Studying at Cambridge can seem overwhelmingly daunting. However I have found the work-load manageable, leaving enough time to be involved in societies and just chill out each week. The benefit of supervisions is that you cover so much historical ground during your degree. You will also find that your ability to write, to think and to discuss improves considerably. It almost goes without saying what a privilege it is to be lectured and supervised by so many distinguished academics and authors at the History faculty, albeit a bit surreal at times! The lectures are truly excellent and it is such a pleasure to spend all day immersing yourself in your chosen historical periods. We were told at the faculty’s welcome session that for the next three years we had a license to obsess about history – it is a wonderful opportunity, and I would honestly chose this all over again. Take it if you can.