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MPhil in Political Thought and Intellectual History


The MPhil in Political Thought and Intellectual History is aimed at students who have an interest in both the theory and history of political thought (including those wider intellectual idioms which provide the context for its development). It also welcomes students whose previous study had a more specialised historical or theoretical (or philosophical) bent, provided that while doing this course they are willing to engage themselves with both approaches to research.

This MPhil attracts students from all over the world, and its training provides an ideal foundation from which to proceed to doctoral research, not only in the United Kingdom, but in North American, European, Asian and Southern Hemisphere university systems.

The illustration represents the figure of ACADEMIA, is taken from the 1630 edition of Cesare Ripa’s famous Iconologia, which was first published in Rome in 1593. Initially Ripa's book included no illustrations and the first set of woodcuts were added in 1603. The 1630 version included yet more pictures, including that of ‘ACADEMIA’. In this case the iconography itself was also new; it was the contribution of the editor, Giovanni Zaratino Castellino.

The 1709 London edition gave the following brief summary of Castellino’s elucidation of the moral emblem of ‘ACADEMY’:  ‘A Lady of a manly heroic Aspect, having a Crown of Gold, a particolur’d Garment, a File in her right Hand, and a Garland in her left. Her masculine Countenance denotes solid and Profound Judgment; the Crown of pure Gold, the refining of Notions by Experiments; the various Colours, the variety of Sciences in an Academy; the File, the polishing of pieces, and freeing them from Superfluities; the Garland, Honour to those who excel’.

The motto around the file says ‘Detrahit Atque Polit’ (i.e. ‘It Removes and Polishes’). The garland at the left hand of ‘ACADEMIA’ is made up of laurel, ivy and myrtle, the plants of Apollo, Bacchus and Venus, and pomegranates, the symbol of a group brought together out of common preoccupations. Behind the throne of ‘ACADEMIA’ is seated a bearded ape, or baboon, the symbol of letters, the animal consecrated to Mercury, the inventor of arts and letters. The ape is also a symbol for the equinox, a measurement of time (the academician must measure the hours carefully, spending most of them in study), and for imitation (the beginning of learning, according to Aristotle).

To get a better sense of the kind of work done in the field of history of political thought, take a look at Interventions  a podcast series led by graduate students in the Faculty that introduces introduces intellectual historians from Cambridge and beyond to everyone with an interest in history and politics.