MPhil in Modern European History

people standing in front of a building


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 2020-21

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.

Introductory reading

  • Martin Klimke/Joachim Scharloth (eds.), 1968 in Europe. A History of Protest and Activism, 1956 – 1977, New York, 2008
  • Mark Kulansky, 1968. The Year that rocked the World, London, 2005
  • Eric Hobsbawm, The Age of Extremes. The Short 20th Century 1914 – 1991, London, 1995
  • Axel Schildt/Detlef Siegfried (eds.), Between Marx and Coca-Cola. Youth Cultures in Changing
  • European Societies, 1960 – 1980, New York, 2006
  • Richard Wolin, Wind from the East. French Intellectuals, the Cultural Revolution and the Legacy of the 1960s, Princeton, 2010
  • Jeremi Suri, The Global Revolutions of 1968, New York, 2007
  • Mark Kulansky, 1968. The Year that rocked the World, London, 2005
  • Nick Thomas, Protest Movements in 1960s West Germany, Oxford, 2003
  • Detlef Junker et. al. (eds.), 1968: The World Transformed, Cambridge, 1998
  • Kristin Ross, May 68 and its Afterlives, Chicago, 2002
  • Robert Lumley, States of Emergency: Cultures of Revolt in Italy from 1968 to 1978, London, 1990
  • Arthur Marwick, The Sixties, London, 2012 [1998])
  • Robert Gildea et. al., Europe’s 1968. Voices of Revolt, Oxford, 2013
  • Ben Mercer, Student Revolt in 1968 (Cambridge: CUP, 2019)
  • Gerd-Rainer Horn, The Spirit of ‘68: Rebellion in Western Europe and Northern America, 1956 – 1976, Oxford/New York, 2007
  • Timothy Scott Brown, West-Germany and the Global Sixties: The Anti-Authoritarian Revolt, 1962 – 1978, Cambridge, 2013
  • Timothy Scott Brown and Andrew Lison (eds.), The Global Sixties in Sound and Vision: Media,
  • Counterculture, Revolt, Basingstoke, 2014
  • Sarah Colvin and Katharina Karcher (eds.), Gender, Emancipation, and Political Violence: Rethinking the Legacy of 1968, London, 2018

This module explores national, transnational, and international perspectives on the history of migration and displacement in Central Europe during the twentieth century. From the collapse of the European land empires after World War I through the creation and destruction of the Nazi empire, the Cold War, and into the post-socialist present, the movement and management of populations has been connected to questions of statehood, sovereignty, citizenship, and statelessness. Drawing on political, social, and cultural history, the module considers the experiences of migrants, refugees, travellers, and traffickers not as marginal, but rather as central to our understanding of modern Central European history. The course is taught by means of eight two-hour seminars, which will consist of an introduction, student presentations on selected readings, and group discussion.

Introductory reading

  • Tara Zahra, The Great Departure. Mass Migration and the Making of the Free World (New York: Norton, 2016)
  • Michael Marrus, The Unwanted: European Refugees in the Twentieth Century (Oxford University Press: New York and Oxford, 1985)
  • Anika Walke, Jan Musekamp, Nicole Svobodny, eds., Migration and Mobility in the Modern Age: Refugees, Travelers, and Traffickers in Europe and Eurasia (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2016)
  • Yuri Slezkine, The Jewish Century (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2006)
  • Peter Gatrell, The Making of the Modern Refugee (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013)

Do the people living along the shores of the Mediterranean Sea have more in common with each other than with those living inland in Africa, Asia, and Europe? Since Fernand Braudel (1949), some historians have argued that we need to move away from a focus on land and place the sea at the
centre of our historiographical practice. Yet this project is not without controversy – some have argued that writing Mediterranean history erases the very important differences and inequalities between people of the northern and southern shores. Even the most ardent partisans of Mediterranean history would argue that this unified space stopped to exist in the modern era, when the forces of nationalism, capitalism, and globalization destroyed the life that the people around the sea once shared.
Taking as its focus the rupture of the 19th century, this MPhil option will explore these historiographical debates through a variety of different themes. Recent years have seen a flurry of exciting works in the field of Mediterranean history that have revisited the Mediterranean as a category of historical analysis. By looking at a region that is often portrayed as a contact zone between different cultures, we will develop a critical look at the division between ‘European’ and ‘World’ history. As such, the course will be helpful not only to students interested in Southern Europe, North Africa and the Middle East, but to any students interested in transnational history and in problems of scale, as debates over the Mediterranean have influenced the history of other maritime spaces.
Each two-hour session will draw on select historiographical case-studies from around the Mediterranean basin, accompanied by student presentations on supplementary readings. This combination will give students a broad view of the space around the sea, moving from the straits of Gibraltar to the Suez Canal, stopping in cities, from Tunis to Salonica, on islands, in straits, on ships and into people’s homes. The final session will allow students to present their work in progress on their essays and to open up discussion on contemporary dynamics in both academic and geopolitical constructions of the Mediterranean.

Introductory reading

  • Fernand Braudel, The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of Philip II (1972-73)
  • Peregrine Horden and Nicolas Purcell, The Corrupting Sea: A Study of Mediterranean History (Blackwell, 2000)
  • David Abulafia, The Great Sea: A Human history of the Mediterranean (Penguin, 2012)
  • Peregrine Horden and Sharon Kinoshita (ed.), A Companion to Mediterranean History (Blackwell, 2014)
  • William V. Harris (ed.), Rethinking the Mediterranean (Oxford, 2005)
  • Franco Cassano, Southern Thought and Other Essays on the Mediterranean (New York: Fordham University Press, 2012)
  • Roberto Dainotto, Europe (in Theory) (Duke University Press, 2007)
  • Joanna Innes and Mark Philp, Re-Imagining Democracy in the Mediterranean, 1750-1860 (Oxford University Press, 2018

Time lies at the heart of historians’ subject matter, but its workings often go unnoticed. It is all too easy to assume that time, like space, is a mere dimension in which the events of the past unfolded, a helpful framework within which to measure change. And yet, the means of reckoning time, its perception, and its influence on individuals and societies have changed throughout the course of history. Across the ages and in different settings, people have sought to measure time for a variety of reasons, whether by dividing the day into the ‘hours’ that structured the spiritual life of medieval
Benedictine monks, or by delineating the national time zones which, since 1884, have facilitated the coordination of trade and communication across the globe. The power that derives from the control of time-keeping has long been recognised—from an early stage, church bells marked the divisions of the day for rural communities; monarchs later challenged the hegemony of church time by establishing astronomical clocks in their capital cities; later, nineteenth-century factory owners enforced strict routines among their employees to guarantee the efficiency of production so essential to industrial capitalism. For centuries, moreover, the experience of time itself — temporality — has been the subject of reflection and concern. As early as the 4th century AD, St Augustine ruminated on the relationship between past, present and future in the context of a declining Western Roman Empire; a millennium and a half later, in a world shaken by the seemingly unstoppable acceleration of modernity, the philosopher Henri Bergson sought to understand how humans became conscious of ‘duration’—to this day, individuals across the world struggle to manage the pressures exerted upon ‘our time’. Throughout history, indeed, social, economic, political and cultural developments have been held together by the matrix of time.
This course explores some of the major works that have shaped the study of time and
temporality, how their ideas have been applied, challenged and developed in concrete case studies, and the ways in which accounting for the temporal dimension of history can transform our understanding of the past. The first two sessions will consider how scholars have approached the question of time in history, how change and continuity have been conceptualised, and the narratives that dominate interpretations of time in different periods—the transitions between religious, capitalist and industrial temporalities, for instance. The following six sessions will explore the different historiographical themes that can be illuminated through a study of time and temporality, from the question of power in state and society, to the role of technology in transforming economies and cultures, and the very notion of ‘modernity’ itself. Each theme will be explored using examples drawn from a range of periods and places, from the manufacturing of clocks in nineteenth-century Japan to the reconceptualization of time in Nazi Germany, allowing for as broad a discussion as

Introductory reading

  • Lynn Hunt, Measuring Time, Making History (CEU Press, 2008).
  • Leofranc Holford-Strevens, The History of Time: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford, 2005).
  • Helga Nowotny, Time, the Modern and Postmodern Experience, trans. Neville Plaice (Malden/Cambridge, 1995)
  • Susan Schulten, ‘Emma Willard’s Maps of Time’ in The Public Domain Review:

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.

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.