MPhil in Modern European History

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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 go on 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.

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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
  • 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 2018-19

This course will examine the dramatic events of 1968 in Europe – a year of social and political revolts, generational conflicts, and cultural activism – as well as their long-term consequences. The central focus of the course lies on Western Europe (France, West Germany, Italy) as well as on the theoretical, political and cultural backgrounds of the respective movements. The two-hour seminars will discuss primary and secondary texts as well as other sources and will also include student presentations on selected readings.

In their combination of intensity and geographical extent, the 1848 revolutions were unique – at least in European history.  Neither the great French Revolution of 1789, nor the July Revolution of 1830, nor the Paris Commune of 1870, nor the Russian revolutions of 1905 and 1917 sparked a comparable trans-continental cascade.  1989 looks like a better comparator, but there is still controversy as to whether these uprisings can be characterised as ‘revolutions’, and in any case their impact was limited to the Warsaw Pact states.  In 1848, by contrast, parallel political tumults broke out across the entire continent, from Switzerland and Portugal to Wallachia and Moldavia, from Norway and Sweden to Palermo.  This was the only truly European revolution that there has ever been.

This MPhil option revisits some of the central questions historians have asked about this continental upheaval: how do we account for the simultaneity of the revolts?  Why was their rapid ascendancy followed by such a swift and effective counter-revolution?  But we will also be looking at areas that are less well covered in the existing literature.  We will look closely at the forms of connectivity that made the cascade of revolutions possible.  The course will shift the focus of attention away from the classic theatres of revolt, such as Paris, Berlin, and Rome towards less well-known peripheral locations such as the Ionian Islands, Greece, and Wallachia and Moldavia (modern Romania).  We will examine the very substantial flows of refugees triggered by the unrest, especially in the eastern Mediterranean, and the new policing techniques used to pursue and observe them.  We will consider the impact of the revolutions on European politics in the post-revolutionary era and on European political thought.  Finally, we will shift the boundaries of the analysis beyond Europe to those places in the wider world (e.g. Australia, Ceylon, the Caribbean, Latin America and the United States) where the impact of these revolutions was also felt.

Since the reforms of Peter the Great, the relationship between Russia and the West has been a constant point of reference in Russian politics, society and culture. It was closely linked to the development of and the struggle about a Russian national identity and it had profound effects on the modernization of the country (or the lack thereof). Starting with Peter’s reign and his introduction of Western ways, this course Option will examine European influences in Russia until the Revolution of 1917 by focusing on such diverse issues as architecture, philosophy and ideology, literature, art, music and mass culture. It will consider political reforms, revolutionary and reactionary movements, social transformation, imperial symbolism, national stereotypes and nationalism. By implication, any study of foreign influences will also highlight native peculiarities. This course therefore provides a solid base for further study of imperial Russian history. Very good reading knowledge of either Russian or French or German is highly recommended for this course.

This option addresses two interrelated themes – how Europe was shaped by the superpowers during Cold War and how Europeans shaped the Cold War – over the half-century from 1941 to 1991.

Major topics will include: the emergence of bipolarity, the German question, European integration, the Atlantic Alliance, Détente, the Eastern European revolutions, and the Soviet collapse. The central focus will be inter-state relations and their domestic ramifications. Attention will be given to the changing political economy, both within states and in the world at large, and to the tensions between and within alliance blocs.  The course will also explore the role of political leaders within the larger structures of international relations and the influence of ideology on both states and leaders.

There are four components to the MPhil in Modern European History:

  • Core Course
  • First option
  • Second option
  • Dissertation

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 also choose two Options from a range of courses provided each year, evolving with the research interests of Faculty members currently teaching on the MPhil. Two of these will be taught in the Michaelmas term, and two will take place in Lent.

Assessment will be based on three essays (from the Core Course, and the two Option Courses) worth 30% of the final result, and the dissertation which will account for 70%.

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.

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 external Option, 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 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. It does not necessarily have to be publishable.

All work (course-work and dissertation) will be assessed by two examiners, one of whom may be an external examiner, who will report independently. The supervisor cannot act as an examiner for the dissertation. If the examiners consider it necessary, they may conduct an oral examination on the MPhil dissertation. 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.

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.