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Ancient and Medieval History

Subject Group

Convenor : Dr Nora Berend

 

Web Officer : Dr Chris Briggs

See also the Medieval Studies at Cambridge website


Research

Cambridge has one of the largest concentrations of ancient and medieval historians in the world, and a similarly large number of staff in the associated disciplines of archaeology, Classics, literature, and art history. We have a very long-standing M.Phil. programme in Medieval History, with a strong track record of launching people into doctoral study and an academic career thereafter. The research expertise of the staff in this subject group covers not only western Europe in the early and later middle ages, but ancient Greece and Rome, Byzantium, and Central and Eastern Europe. (For more information about research in Classics, click here.) The faculty members have wide and varied interests, but share some overlapping areas of thematic strength, including the intersection of medieval law and society, cross-cultural intercommunication and exchange, the medieval peasantry, religious authority, the beliefs of the masses, intellectual culture, and gender. There has been an established professorship of medieval history since 1937, now held by Professor John H. Arnold (following the retirement of Professor Rosamond McKitterick in 2016).

At Cambridge we have access to a huge array of resources to support research into medieval topics. The colleges hold a large number of medieval manuscripts of many different kinds, and the University Library has both its own manuscript collection and an unparalleled collection of rare books. The library also houses important medieval documents (such as the Ely Diocesan Archives), as does the city's Record Office. There is a dedicated palaeography scholar who teaches on the M.Phil. and generously supports other scholars, and a dedicated Latin specialist. The Fitzwilliam Museum is home not only to medieval art and coins but also medieval objects from armour to reliquaries, and to yet more medieval manuscripts. Access to London, and via Stansted Airport to the continent, provide a route to even wider resources for the medieval past.

 

Undergraduate study

Within the Cambridge History Tripos, students are introduced to medieval history by being given a wide choice of survey courses in Part I of the degree. In Part II, we offer various more focussed and thematic 'Specified' and 'Special Subject' papers on topics such as The Black Death, The Angevin Empire, The Middle Ages on Film, and Heresy, Inquisition and Society. Medievalists contribute also to several 'Themes and Sources' papers including Money and Society, Royal and Princely Courts, and Religious Conversion and Colonialism.

Undergraduate students can choose to take a Dissertation in their final year, and there are ample resources to pursue a medieval topic (usually via sources in modern translation, but with the possibility of using medieval primary materials directly).

 

Postgraduate study

We offer a full-time M.Phil. programme in Medieval History, one of the first to have been offered by the Faculty. It has recently been restructured, and aims to allow students a balance between intensive and well-supported skills training (in Latin and palaeography primarily, but with the possibility also of pursuing further language training), a thorough grounding in the debates and methods of the field, and the chance to explore a particular theme in depth. The Faculty staff closely involved in the M.Phil. have expertise that ranges from the early to the late middle ages, and from Byzantium and eastern Europe to western Europe and England. Potential supervisors can be drawn from the even larger body of medieval specialists across the university.

The M.Phil. culminates in a dissertation of 15-20,000 words. Students will be given support to make use of original primary sources in their dissertation topic, whether drawing upon the extensive possibilities held directly within Cambridge, or accessing materials from elsewhere in Europe. Students graduating from the M.Phil. have a very strong track record of moving on to further doctoral research.

 

Research culture

The medievalist community at Cambridge is extensive, and there are a number of vibrant research seminars held within and between faculties, where graduate students, postgraduates and early career scholars play a key role. Conferences are held regularly, and it is possible for postgraduates to propose themes for workshops or small conferences.

 

Medieval colleagues are also involved in the following cross-period seminars:

 

 


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