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World History

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World History at Cambridge

The University of Cambridge has a long and distinguished tradition of researching, writing and teaching World History. The group has its origins in the research seminars organised by successive Vere Harmsworth Professors of Imperial and Naval History and Smuts Professors of Commonwealth History, and recent appointments, alongside postdoctoral and graduate work means that the tradition of World History at Cambridge is fresh, spirited and diverse.

Our work proceeds on two scales. First, it is characterised by a deep commitment to engagement with specific places and from the ground up. Our expertise is especially strong in South Asian, Southeast and East Asian, Pacific, Middle Eastern, African, and Latin American histories. Second, it compares and connects the history of regions and empires into global histories that consider convergence, divergence and enduring historical dynamics, from c. 1500 to the late twentieth century, including oceanic histories. World historians at Cambridge interrogate imperial intrusion, modernisation, resistance, nationalism and post-colonialism in multiple early modern and late modern contexts.

In order to analyse the experience of non-European peoples, understood in their own terms, and through their own sources, problems and historiography, we take it to be important to work in the relevant languages and to engage with scholars and universities in the wider world.

In methodological terms, our Faculty members interrogate World History from a range of perspectives. Some work within area studies and have strong links to the Latin American Studies Centre, the South Asian Studies Centre and the African Studies Centre. Others bring new areas and spaces to light. There is a concentration of expertise in histories of oceans, environments, religions, gender, ideas, sciences, migrations, economies and cultures.

This breadth is apparent in the large suite of undergraduate and graduate papers and options offered. First and second year students read ‘Empires and World History, c.1500-1914’ and ‘World History since 1900’. Large themes are taught in primary-source based papers: ‘The Bandung Moment’ (convened by Tim Harper); ‘World Environmental History’ (convened by Alison Bashford); ‘Religious Conversion and Colonialism’ (convened by Gabriela Ramos); ‘Comparative Histories of Race, Class and Culture: South Africa’ (convened by Ruth Watson); ‘The History of Collecting’ (co-convened by Sujit Sivasundaram). We also offer specialist courses for third year students on the history of Africa, the Indian Subcontinent, the Pacific and Indian Oceans, the Middle East, and Latin America, and Special Subject papers on ‘Missionary science, ethnic formation and the religious encounter in Belgian Congo, 1908-60’ (convened by David Maxwell) and ‘Indian Democracy: Ideas in Action c.1947-2007’ (convened by Shruti Kapila).

World History at Cambridge is a renowned centre for graduate studies. In 2015 the Cambridge MPhil in World History commenced, combining coursework, dissertation and language studies. Papers include ‘Comparative Empires’, ‘Global China’, ‘Global Intellectual History’ and ‘Global Early Modernities’. Many students continue into our PhD program. The World History Graduate Workshop, convened and attended by PhD students, is highly regarded for its longevity and significance: it has been a crucible for generations of new thinkers in the field, and is an enduring element of the World History program at Cambridge. Graduate students are drawn to Cambridge from across the world, and in turn have taken up academic positions in many continents. There is a range of seminars available: the World History seminar; the South Asian Seminar; the African History Seminar; and the Centre for Latin American Studies Seminar. In addition Faculty and students have organised numerous workshops and conferences at the Centre for Research in Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities and collaborate with other departments, including the Department of History and Philosophy of Science, Social Anthropology, Geography and Politics and International Studies. There is also a strong link with the Centre for History and Economics at Magdalene College.

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