MPhil in Modern European History

Members of the MPhil in Modern European History 2021-22 cohort outside the House of European History, Brussels

Members of the MPhil in Modern European History 2021-22 cohort outside the House of European History, Brussels.


The MPhil in Modern European History is a taught postgraduate course with a substantial research component, which runs for nine months covering the three terms (Michaelmas, Lent and Easter) of the Cambridge academic year. It is designed both for students who want to enhance their understanding of the social, cultural, political and economic history of modern Europe, and for those who want to pursue further primary research. It provides intensive research training for those who wish to go on to prepare a doctoral dissertation, but it is also a freestanding postgraduate degree course in its own right.

The course covers Europe from roughly the middle of the eighteenth century to the present. The principal countries studied are France, Germany, Russia, Italy and Spain. It offers an introduction to key themes and selected topics in Modern European History, as well as intensive methodological and historiographical training. Particular attention is paid to the production of an independently conceived, lengthy piece of original research.

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 European 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

Liya Wizevich
MPhil student in modern European history
The MPhil in Modern European History at Cambridge has been both a rewarding, and a challenging academic experience. I was well supported by the faculty, my wonderful advisor, and the other students on the course.

Aims of the Course

The course is designed for those who have completed degrees in which historical analysis formed a substantial (or indeed the main) component and who want to consolidate their knowledge of Modern European history. It is particularly appropriate for those who may wish to continue on to a PhD, at Cambridge or elsewhere, in this field. It is also well-suited for those who seek simply to deepen their grasp of Modern European history. It is expected that this will be the normal means by which those without an appropriate Master’s degree from elsewhere will prepare for the PhD degree in Modern European history at Cambridge.

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

  • A deeper understanding of their chosen area of modern European history and the critical debates within it;
  • A conceptual and technical understanding that enables the evaluation of current research and methodologies;
  • The technical skills necessary to pursue primary research in their chosen area; and
  • The ability to situate their own research within current and past methodological and interpretative developments in the field.

The Course

Core Course: Controversies in Modern European History

This course is intended to provide students with an overview of some of the classic debates in modern European history, focusing on particular subjects and sources of controversy. Each session in this course, taken by all students, will be chaired by a course coordinator. In addition, the particular controversy to be discussed in each session will be introduced by a specialist in the field.

These discussion leaders will vary according to availability as will the choice of material to be discussed under each general heading, and the order in which the topics are taught. Topics may include the French bourgeoisie, secularisation, gender in history, the Spanish Civil War, The Great Terror under Stalin, and others.

Option Courses for 2023-24

Cities, Lewis Mumford wrote in The Culture of Cities (1938), are “a point of maximum concentration for the power and culture of a community.” Cities serve not only as centres of regional and national communities but also as nodal points of long-distance connections, speeding up and slowing down what moves through them and the lives of those who reside within their walls.

Cities and Urbanism in Europe, c.1800-1914 aims to acquaint students with the history of cities and of urban development in the long-nineteenth century, focusing especially on Europe. It introduces urban history and theory and explores how our thinking about cities has evolved over time. The course is organised thematically and follows a chronological order. Topics will be examined using a relational approach, enabling and encouraging analysis across time and space to reveal transhistorical continuities. While focussing on Europe, we will think critically about the history of urbanisation more broadly, building a more diverse set of perspectives and experiences. In Cities and Urbanism in Europe, c.1800-1914 we explore how far the development of cityscapes was affected and shaped by conditions of state growth and transformation, and by global connectedness. Focussing on the nineteenth century, we explore the effects of asymmetrical power relations that produced segmented and unequal cityscapes.

We examine the growth of urbanism in terms of the social, economic, political and cultural conditions of the time and in the context of the changing spatial and temporal dimensions of political power and culture. Themes explored include the process and causes of urbanisation, the changing populations of the cities (including religious and ethnic minorities, migrant and worker communities); analysis of the physical city (its urban form and spatial topography, landmarks and architectural monuments); the distinctive identities of capital cities; and debates on urban planning and historical preservation. The course also emphasises an intersectional approach to think about cities and change, reflecting and developing analyses that consider various and overlapping aspects of social identity, such as race, class, age, gender, ethnicity, and health. We consider how social, cultural, economic, political, environmental, and technological forces reshaped cities and challenged or reinforced social structures, including segregation, environmental injustice, health precarity, and housing differentiation.

Weekly readings address several European, and non-European cities, and one class takes the example of Berlin to help illustrate the emergence and transition of 19th-century urban structures. Focussing on Berlin we examine urban design principles which helped to underpin morphological aspects of street networks, public space systems and the development of housing block patterns. Through this analysis of European planning paradigms and urban planning models in late 19th-century Berlin we can sketch comparisons with other cities and reflect on the contribution of small-scale urban development in creating new urban identities around squares and districts.

This course is structured as a series of eight classes with in-class discussion addressing key themes which emerge from the recommended readings for each week in an interdisciplinary perspective, engage critically with the history of cities. Students should complete the recommended readings for a given class. It is hoped that students will come to recognise and reflect on the historical continuity and recreation of social structures in how cities were shaped and reshaped and to learn about key urban challenges, issues, and opportunities in Europe in the period c.1800-1914.

This option is shared with the MPhil in Modern British History.

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.

The German Democratic Republic (GDR) leads a peculiar existence: it was the “second dictatorship” in twentieth-century Germany, but aspired to offer a socialist and anti-fascist alternative in the Cold War. In its 40 years of existence, this “other Germany” was often overshadowed by its bigger West German competitor, the Federal Republic (FRG), but it also became a global player on its own right, forging relations with Soviet Union, Vietnam, Cuba as well as other states in the Global South. While the socialist party regime abruptly came down with the Berlin Wall, Reunification left many wounds unhealed, foreshadowing the rise of far-right parties across Eastern Europe and renewed conflicts in the former Soviet empire. Even today, politicians, scholars as well as everyday Germans are still coming to terms with legacies of the GDR as they continue to debate the country’s identity, memory, and still incomplete transitions.

This paper examines the history of the GDR between global frontlines, national conflicts and local settings. You will examine competing historical interpretations over various aspects of GDR history, such as: Did the GDR offer a real, anti-fascist alternative to Western liberal capitalism? How did the relationship between the party leadership and East German society develop over time – especially considering different social groups as well as opposing individuals? How did contemporaries perceive the gaps between socialist ideals and experienced contradictions before and after 1989/90? Finally, how can studying the GDR critically modify our standing assumptions about German and European history?

The first part of the paper examines the political and economic history of the GDR after 1945 up to its demise in 1989/90. The second part situates the GDR in regional and global contexts by considering various themes (ideology, everyday life or gender). The third part will trace the complex “afterlives” of the GDR in politics, history and memory, leading up to current debates about frictions between East and West – in Germany as well as in Europe. The paper focuses the GDR’s history on three levels: Firstly, in its local and everyday dimensions; secondly, in its national interconnections with the West Germany; and thirdly, in its transnational contexts, especially in relation to Central European states, the Soviet empire, and the Global South.

To examine East German history in its global, national and every-day contexts, this paper will introduce a variety of primary and secondary sources. You will work with state archives (party congresses, secret service reports), individual (petitions, letters, diaries), media (press, films) and artistic provenance (literature, theatre), among others. The class will engage intensively with (translated) primary sources to discuss and challenge the literature. Supervisions and examinations on a broad variety of topics will be offered according to the given rules.  

Between 1500 and 1900, the daily life of Europeans was profoundly transformed. New techniques, new goods, both industrial and colonial, changes in diets, and shifts in the sectoral distribution of the labour force, progressively improved the living standards of a large share of the population, while contributing to exploit distant lands and enslaving people. This very long process, which culminated in the advent of the Industrial Revolution, first in Britain and then elsewhere on the Continent, was neither linear nor homogeneous. War, famine, and epidemics frequently reversed any progress made, and progress, when it happened, did not spread equally across space and among social groups. New gradients of development emerged both among European countries – the Low Countries and England forging ahead of the rest – and within European societies, marked by rising inequality.

Measuring how this disparity affected the lives of Europeans poses a real historical and methodological challenge. What do we know about past living standards, and how can we measure them? What sources can be analysed to offer a new perspective on comparative living standards? These are the questions that this MPhil option addresses.

This course will take the long view to analyse how material culture, understood here to encompass most aspects of people’s lives, such as work, food, mobility, apparel, and entertainment, can help refine the chronology and geography of four centuries of uneven economic development in Europe.

In these classes, we will use both visual and textual sources to reconstruct the material world and the lived environment of Europeans, including the entire Google Arts image library, as well as memoirs and diaries by foreign travellers, describing the places they went through and people they met along the way. We will follow the linguistic expertise and areas of interest of students, and building on these, will contribute to the development of the first systematic catalogue of travelogues for this period. The course will also integrate tools and methods from the digital humanities to introduce students to the analysis of large corpora, but no previous experience is required.

In the first term, students on the course will be offered an intensive training programme consisting of classes, seminars, workshops, individual and group assignments. Each student will take a compulsory core course on major historiographical controversies, drawing on specialist lecturers and key readings.

Spanning the first two terms, the course provides a foundational understanding of central themes in Modern European History. Students will take one of their two Option courses from a range that varies each year, evolving with the research interests of Faculty members currently teaching on the MPhil. There will be a choice of two taught in the Michaelmas term, and two in Lent.

Assessment in Michaelmas Term will be based on two essays (from the Core Course, and the first Option Course), worth 10% of the final result each.

Students will also begin their research for the dissertation in Michaelmas Term and, under the guidance of their supervisor, start by identifying sources and archives and providing a literature review.

Applying to the course

To apply to the MPhil in Modern European 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. The research proposal should demonstrate the relevance of the proposed dissertation project for an understanding of European History. A proven command of the language relevant to the European region under investigation will usually be expected.

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 European 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 European History - Research Proposal 1

Modern European History - Research Proposal 2


Assessment & Dissertation

The Cambridge MPhil consists of two parts: Part I and Part II. Both parts must be passed in order to pass the MPhil.

Part I

Each Option requires an essay of no more than 4,000 words (or equivalent in case of an Option from an external MPhil, in accordance with its arrangements) which will count for 10% of the final mark. Together the Core course and Options form Part I and will count for 30% of the final degree mark. Satisfactory performance (at least a Pass mark of 60%) across all three essay-based components will be a necessary condition for proceeding to the dissertation element of the degree.

Part II

The dissertation will count for 70% of the final mark. The Easter Term will be devoted to the production of a dissertation, which must be between 15,000 and 20,000 words long. In consultation with the supervisor, both dissertation topic and title must be submitted for approval by the MPhil Sub-Committee towards the end of January. The dissertation is expected to rest largely on original source material and to show evidence of the mastery of the appropriate research techniques.

All parts of the MPhil assessment must be passed in order for the degree to be obtained.

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

All work (course-work and dissertation) will be assessed by two examiners, who will report independently. The supervisor cannot act as an examiner for the dissertation. If the examiners consider it necessary, in cases where the student is at the borderline of a Pass grade, they may conduct an oral examination on the MPhil dissertation. 

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.