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Early Modern History

Subject Group

Convenor : Dr William O'Reilly

Web officer :


Research

Cambridge has long been a leading centre for the study of early modern history. Members of our subject group continue to lead the way in defining and extending the contours of early modern history. Our own interests range widely: they encompass Britain, Europe, and the wider world, and they embrace the many different ways in which the discipline of history is now studied. A shared commitment to exploring the early modern world in all its diversity, complexity, and interconnectedness complements the vigour and enthusiasm with which we individually pursue specific problems.

Class in the Wren Library 2013 Part II 'Uses of the visual in early modern Germany'
Our spirited sense of early modern history finds expression in a dedicated culture of teaching and research: a range of challenging undergraduate courses, a rich and exciting master’s programme, an eclectic and imaginative menu of research seminars, and several collaborative research projects. These activities reflect the ethos of our subject group.  Each of us specializes in a particular field, and also contributes to the collective enterprise of early modern history. We warmly welcome postgraduate and undergraduate students joining us in this shared endeavour.

The interests of some of Cambridge’s early modernists are described on our personal webpages, to which there are links at the bottom of this page. These interests complement and reinforce each other. We range from the mid fifteenth century to the end of the eighteenth century. Many of us focus on one country or region: some concentrate on Britain and Ireland, others on mainland Europe (especially Austro-Hungary, Germany, and Italy), others on the wider world (especially the Atlantic, North America, and the Ottoman Empire). Nevertheless our approaches transect geographical and territorial boundaries. Between us, we work on the histories of belief, education, and religion; commerce, culture, and materiality; economy, finance, and society; empire, ethnicity, and migration; gender, poverty, and sexuality; ideas, law, and politics; nature, scholarship, and science; and even of history itself.

Undergraduate study

Class in the Fitzwilliam Museum, 2013 for Prof. Rublack's Part II course, 'Uses of the Visual in early modern Germany'
Class in the Fitzwilliam Museum 2013 for Part II 'Uses of the visual in early modern Germany'

Study of the early modern period can be a substantial element of the undergraduate history degree, the Historical Tripos. In the first and second years of study (Part I), students may choose papers that explore early modern Britain and Ireland, North America, the wider world, and western political thought. In the third year of study (Part II), more focused and thematic papers reflect the current research interests of individual members of our subject group. Students at this stage also have the opportunity to write a dissertation on an early modern topic, for which they receive regular one-to-one supervision.

In 2014–15, third-year undergraduates are taking papers on early modern material culture, food and drink, miracles in Renaissance Italy, visual culture in Reformation Germany, religious persecution and toleration in Britain, and the reign of Henry VIII. New courses are continually being developed to ensure that what we research is also what we teach. Regular renewal of our courses means that the undergraduate teaching of early modern history at Cambridge remains at the forefront of disciplinary understanding.

Postgraduate study

Cambridge is an exceptional place to study early modern history as a postgraduate. We provide extensive training in historical research, expert supervision in particular fields of early modern history, and an extensive programme of research seminars.

We offer a one-year master’s degree, the MPhil in Early Modern History. The course begins with an intensive term of classes and workshops, designed to equip students with a strong understanding of the methodological, practical, and theoretical considerations that researching early modern history entails. Training in palaeography and in foreign languages is provided, where required. Thereafter, students work with the close support of a supervisor on a discrete research topic of their own devising, on which they write an extended 25,000-word dissertation.

A rewarding experience in its own right, the MPhil also prepares some students to continue to doctoral research. Postgraduates with master’s degrees from other universities also join us to study for a doctorate. Our PhD degree may be studied full-time or part-time. Supervisors who are knowledgeable and experienced in the relevant field provide intensive individual guidance. We see postgraduate study both as enriching for the individual – something that brings immense personal satisfaction – and as invigorating the field of early modern history in general. As well as being an end in itself, postgraduate study leads some to successful careers as early modern historians: our graduates hold academic positions in many universities in Britain and beyond.

Research culture

Building on a long tradition of influential and outstanding research in the field within the Faculty, we lead an innovative research culture that has many dimensions. Early modern history at Cambridge involves more than studying for a degree: it means membership of an intellectual community of like-minded people. We are fortunate to have a rich range of research seminars, to which the participation of postgraduate students is integral. These seminars bring leading early modernists from around the country and around the world to Cambridge. They also provide plentiful opportunities for enjoyable, relaxed discussion between postgraduates, members of the Faculty, and visiting speakers.

Seminar series covering early modern history meet regularly. These include:

Other history seminars also host papers of interest to early modernists. Furthermore, the Faculty supports student-run graduate workshops. In addition, several other university departments organize seminars and graduate workshops that are of interest to early modernists.

Early modern historians also participate in a number of collaborative research centres, projects, and networks. These include:

These projects help the subject group to maintain strong ties between history and other disciplines and between Cambridge and other universities.

Register of Cambridge's early modernists

Cambridge historians are part of a larger community of early modernists at the University. These are listed on the register of early modernists, which is open to anyone with an interest in any aspect of the period c.1450 to c.1800. The register provides details of names, e-mail contact details, college and/or faculty affiliation, general areas of interest, and particular research interests of its members. It is not comprehensive, since only those individuals who have submitted details are included. (Those wishing to participate or to amend their details should contact


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