MPhil in Modern British History

Crowds gather on King’s Parade to hear the 1897 vote to admit women to the University


The MPhil in Modern British History offers students an exciting and intellectually stimulating course, combining research skills and in-depth understanding of the development and latest innovations within modern British history. At its core, the MPhil provides the opportunity to shape your own intellectual trajectory and questions through undertaking your dissertation in consultation leading historians in the field. The tailored, individual and closely supervised dissertation work is complemented by the importance placed in the course of group work and the creation of a supportive intellectual community. You'll emerge with excellent skills for undertaking advanced research, and a degree that will be highly valued in institutions across the world. The advanced research and writing skills gained will also be of immediate use in a wide variety of occupations.

British History at the University of Cambridge combines the study of the individual polities and nations of England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland with the study of their interactions with one another, with the European Continent and the British Empire. It draws on established strengths across the Faculty in political thought, political history, economic history, social and cultural history and global history to consider Britain’s modern experience in the light of these broader geographical and analytical perspectives.

The MPhil in Modern British History offers taught courses and a dissertation over a 9-month programme.  Students take three courses in the first two terms – a mandatory core course focusing on historiographical debates and thematic approaches, and two optional courses, including several comparative options.

The 15–20,000 word dissertation is the centrepiece of the course, and will be planned and undertaken through close work with your supervisor. Regular supervisions will enable the identification of key questions and ideas to address, as well as archival sources and a sense of the wider significance of your research. The supervisor will be chosen prior to admission according to your research interests, and will assist you throughout the course to make the most of the very full intellectual resources that Cambridge can offer.

Follow the MPhil in Modern British History on Twitter to find out more about our exciting work and what our students are up to: @CamModBrit

At a glance

All students will submit a thesis of 15,000–20,000 words, worth 70 per cent toward the final degree.

Students also produce three 3,000-4,000-word essays, two in Michaelmas term and another in Lent term; each essay is worth 10% of the final degree grade.

All students admitted to the MPhil in Modern British History will be assigned a supervisor to work with them throughout the course, but crucially on the dissertation. Students will meet regularly with their supervisor throughout the course.

Students can expect to receive:

  • regular oral feedback from their supervisor, as well as termly online feedback reports;
  • written feedback on essays and assessments and an opportunity to present their work;
  • oral feedback from peers during graduate workshops and seminars;
  • written and oral feedback on dissertation proposal essay to be discussed with their supervisor; and
  • formal written feedback from two examiners after examination of a dissertation.

If you have any questions, drop us a line on

Victoria Bevan
Victoria Phillips
MPhil student in modern British history
The MPhil provided a unique scholarly environment which allowed access to weekly research seminars within the Faculty and inspired my own research interests.

Aims of the Course

  • Offers students who have completed degrees in which History is the main or at least a substantial component the opportunity to consolidate their knowledge of modern British history. It is particularly appropriate for those who may wish to continue on to a PhD, at Cambridge or elsewhere, in modern British history.  It is also well-suited for those who seek simply to explore modern British history at a deeper level, and to develop generic independent research skills drawing on the unique resources that a specialism in modern British history offers.
  • Immerses students in an extremely rich and plural historiographical landscape. Formerly rooted in the nineteenth-century quest for a national political history, and for long fixated on Whig narratives of the rise of liberty and democracy, modern British history has more recently diversified along the lines of identity categories such as class, race, and gender, but also novel analytical perspectives privileging religion and spirituality, the role of ideas and new educational movements, migrations and transnational exchanges, new understandings of selfhood, the body and emotions.
  • Draws on the unique range of expertise available at the University of Cambridge, with dozens of postdoctoral scholars available to advise and supervise research.
  • Trains students in the use of the printed, manuscript, visual and oral sources for the study of British history, drawing on the collections of the University Library, the Churchill Archives Centre (which holds the private papers of 600 key individuals in modern British history including Winston Churchill, Enoch Powell and Margaret Thatcher), 9 world-class museums and over 100 other libraries and archives in Cambridge.
  • Provides an opportunity for students to undertake, at postgraduate level, researching and writing a piece of original historical research under close supervision by an acknowledged expert. For many students, this will provide the gateway to publication.
  • Exposes students to the full range of intellectual and professional experiences that can be provided by Cambridge’s very extensive historical community, including over thirty specialist research seminars that meet weekly or fortnightly, plus interdisciplinary forums such as CRASSH (the university’s centre for humanities and social science research). There are further tailor-made opportunities for outreach and dissemination of academic research, including work in digital humanities and multi-media.

 By the end of the programme, students will have acquired:

  • a firm grasp of the historiographical debates in Modern British History;
  • research skills relevant to the specific area in which they will have written a dissertation;
  • the ability to situate their own research findings within the context of previous and current interpretative scholarly debates in the field.

The Course

Course Outline and Schedule

There are five components to the MPhil in Modern British History:

  1. Core course
  2. Research challenge workshop
  3. First option
  4. Second option
  5. Dissertation

Core Course: Debates in Modern British History

The core course is designed to introduce students to some of the major historiographical questions that have shaped the study of modern British history. Each class will invite you to think about important themes, classic texts, and the current state of the field. The course will present you with a range of different methods and approaches to studying the past, and will help you to contextualise your own specialist research in broader historiographical contexts. A subject specialist will lead each seminar, and students will be expected to read the assigned texts and contribute actively to the seminar discussions.

Topics for 2023-24

  • The making and unmaking of the British union since c. 1700
  • The first industrial nation
  • The death of Christian Britain?
  • Black British History
  • Liberalism and its Limits
  • Gender and sexuality
  • Britain since the 1970s
  • Student Conference

Core Course: Research Challenge in Modern British History

This programme of workshops in the Michaelmas and Lent Terms, plus a Lent Term project, aims to introduce and develop some of the key skills of historical research. Through seminars and group work, all MPhil participants will explore the ways in which modern British historians might identify and use sources of diverse range of types, as well as reflecting on what makes for excellent historical writing and analysis. The Lent Term project will further encourage the group to reflect on the ways in which historical research might engage and be communicated to different audiences.

This element of the course is not for credit, though attendance and completion of the preparatory tasks assigned for each session is compulsory.

Topics for 2023-24:

  • Historical Analysis
  • Effective Academic Writing
  • Deconstructing the Archive
  • Women’s Television History in the Connected Histories of the BBC
  • Lent Term project: Exhibiting the Past

Option courses in 2023-34

This MPhil option explores the rich, tragic and fascinating history of modern Ireland. For over 120 years ‘John Bull’s Other Island’ was part of the United Kingdom, but even partition and the creation of two states in 1921-22 (one of which remains within the UK) was not the end of the complicated Anglo-Irish relationship, or Ireland’s legacy within the former British World. This MPhil option explores some of the contradictions of Irish history through a series of case studies which span the period roughly from the 1840s until the early 2000s. Who or what was responsible for the devastating consequences of the Great Irish Famine? Were the Irish colonised or colonisers? Why have women been so threatening - and for so long - to the moral code of community and nation? How should we interpret Irish responses to the First World War in light of what we know about the Irish Revolution? Through seminar discussions and presentations, students will have the opportunity to explore a range of historiographical, critical and methodological approaches to thinking about and writing Irish history; in the final class, students can present their assessed work ahead of submission.

This option will be shared with the MPhil Modern European History

This MPhil course introduces students to the historiography of the British empire through the lens of two closely interconnected historical themes: labour and environment. British imperialism was characterised by its control of large global labour forces: even after the abolition of slavery, the empire relied heavily on different forms of coerced work, including indentured labour. Demands for labour, in many cases, also incentivised the migration of large numbers of workers across different imperial territories, resulting in fundamental changes to colonial populations as well as to their governance structures. In addition, and intertwined with the study of labour, were the important repercussions of imperial rule and labour regimes for the physical environments of imperial Britain. The extraction of resources and the cultivation of large plantations, for example - producing sugar, tea, rubber, tin, coal, and other raw materials crucial to imperial economies - relied heavily on the twinned domination of peoples and nature. How environments, at home and abroad, were conceived had significant implications for their use and has shaped the landscapes and livelihoods we live with today. This course, then, plumbs the depths of British imperial historiography, hinging on key historical debates revolving around the relationship between labour, land and environment in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

Britain in the nineteenth century was a society transformed by astonishing population growth, spectacular urbanisation, unprecedented migration and the development of mass print culture. At the same time, older political, intellectual and religious structures were recast in new moulds as Britain moved towards mass enfranchisement and religious equality. Simultaneously, the British struggled to manage the forces unleashed by new global rivalries and interdependencies. At times the pace of change seemed overwhelming, and it demanded new institutions, new ways of living and new ways of thinking about the self. Historians of ‘modern’ Britain might understandably point to those changes as signs of ‘modernity’. And yet in the twentieth century ‘modernity’ came to be defined as a rejection of nineteenth-century responses to each of these developments. Twentieth-century observers associated ‘modernity’ with a turn against nineteenth-century politics, social policies, religion, literature, and architecture – all were condemned as non-modern and were pejoratively labelled ‘Victorian’. So what do we mean when we speak of ‘modern’ Britain? Is ‘modernity’ a meaningful concept? This course examines a number of areas in which nineteenth-century Britons were conscious of breaking with the past as they remade their society, and thereby seeks to explore what it meant (and means) to be Victorian. 

This MPhil option invites students to examine modern Britain both through and from the Caribbean. Moving chronologically from emancipation to the present day, and from the islands to the British Isles, the paper explores how Caribbean populations have sought to invest their claim to Britishness with meaning, and how this status has been variously proffered, withheld, and denied. This period has seen the region produce some of modern Britain’s most perceptive theorists and critics. Through their writing on trade, labour, political reform, migration, and so on, we will explore how the boundaries of the British nation and state have been contested over the past two centuries. 

More broadly, the paper offers the chance to think critically about the historiography of modern Britain. The Caribbean has featured prominently in recent moves to bring questions of race and empire to the forefront of modern British history. How, then, has work by Caribbean thinkers helped to shape these developments? And what might we learn from the ways in which the region has been made visible and, at other times, invisible in the literature? This, then, is not just a paper for those interested in Black British and Caribbean history, but rather for anyone interested in race, empire, and global approaches to writing modern British history. 


Core Course: Debates in Modern British History (weekly class x 8 weeks)

Option 1: (weekly seminar x 8 weeks)

Dissertation research and supervision

Applying to the course

To apply to the MPhil in Modern British History, you will need to consult the relevant pages on the Postgraduate Admissions website (click below).

Since applications are considered on a rolling basis, you are strongly advised to apply as early in the cycle as possible.

On the Postgraduate Admissions website, you will find an overview of the course structure and requirements, a funding calculator and a link to the online Applicant Portal. Your application will need to include two academic references, a transcript, a CV/ resume, evidence of competence in English, a personal development questionnaire, two samples of work and a research proposal.

Research proposals are 600–1,000 words in length and should include the following: a simple and descriptive title for the proposed research; a rationale for the research; a brief historiographic context; and an indication of the sources likely to be used. The document should be entitled ‘Statement of Intended Research’. Applicants are encouraged to nominate a preferred supervisor, and are invited to contact members of the Faculty in advance of submitting their application to discuss their project (see our Academic Directory:

Below are some anonymised examples of research proposals, submitted by successful applicants to the MPhil in Modern British History. You may use these to inform the structure of your submission. Please note that they are purely for guidance and not a strict representation of what is required.

Modern British History - Research Proposal 1

Modern British History - Research Proposal 2

Modern British History - Research Proposal 3

Modern British History - Research Proposal 4


Assessment & Dissertation

Part I

Each of three modules in Michaelmas and Lent  (one Compulsory Core, and two Options) will require a 3,000-4,000 words essay (or equivalent).  Each will count toward 10% of the final degree mark, for a total of 30%.  Taken together, these are Part I, and students must receive passing marks in order to move to Part II.

The Research Challenge is compulsory but does not count towards the overall mark.

Students will also prepare a 2,000 word dissertation proposal essay due in the Lent Term. This essay will be unassessed but students will meet with their supervisor to discuss the essay and get feedback.

Part II

The Dissertation or Thesis is Part II of the course.  Each student on the MPhil will prepare a thesis of 15,000-20,000 words.The thesis will be due in early-June and will count for 70% of the final degree mark.

An oral examination will only be required in cases where one of the marks is a marginal fail.

The Dissertation, or thesis, is the largest element of the course, worth 70% of the final mark.

Students are admitted to the University on the basis of the research proposal, and each student will be assigned a Supervisor who will support the preparation of a piece of original academic research. Candidates must demonstrate that they can present a coherent historical argument based upon a secure knowledge and understanding of primary sources, and they will be expected to place their research findings within the existing historiography of the field within which their subject lies.

All students should be warned that thesis supervisors are concerned to advise students in their studies, not to direct them. Students must accept responsibility for their own research activity and candidacy for a degree. Postgraduate work demands a high degree of self-discipline and organisation. Students are expected to take full responsibility for producing the required course work and thesis to the deadlines specified under the timetable for submission.