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Students are required to select two options, normally one in Michaelmas Term and one in Lent Term. All options are taught as two-hour weekly discussion seminars over eight weeks and attendance is compulsory.

For each option, students will be required to write a 3–4,000 words essay which will count towards 10% of the overall mark.

Please note that this list of options changes from year to year and options may not run depending on demand and staff availability.  

At the discretion of the MPhil Director and Course Convener, students may be able to take options from the Faculty's other MPhil courses in place of an option on their home MPhil, or they may be able to audit additional classes. 

  WH MPhil - Thinkers (Thumb)   WH MPhil - Late Development (thumb)   WH MPhil - Inequality (thumb)  

WH MPhil - Early Modernity (thumb)    WH MPhil - Empires (thumb)

Options for 2017-18

Michaelmas Term

Global Early Modernity? (Dr Helen Pfeifer et. al.)

WH MPhil - Early Modernity (small)

Flows of capital and of labor, exchange of ideas and commodities, destruction of environments, expansion of empire: is this the face of globalization in our own time, or in earlier centuries as well? This Mphil Option examines how and to what end historians can conceive of a ‘global early modernity’. It investigates the analytical frameworks and the historical processes that have made the period 1400-1800 appear to be a new, global age.

The course begins with a discussion of concepts, periodization, and geography. In weeks one and two, we will consider the histories of and assumptions behind the projects of ‘early modern’ and ‘global’ history, especially the influence of the social sciences. But we will also study how these concepts have changed as historians studying various parts of the world have adopted and adapted them. Have global frameworks helped us to ‘provincialize’ Europe, or have they allowed European expectations to colonize other historiographical fields?

Subsequent classes will address the political, economic, social, and cultural developments seen as foundational to global early modernity. How did early modern transformations differ from nineteenth- and twentieth-century ‘globalizations’? What role did empires play in forging early modern global connections? How did travel and exchange affect local systems of thought? As we examine these arenas, we will discuss various approaches to global history (comparative, connected, microhistorical, material, etc.), and the methodological challenges of each.

Class topics will include:

  • Early Modernity
  • From Archaic to Modern Globalization
  • Global Empire
  • Global Exchange
  • Global Knowledge
  • Global Religion
  • Global Environments
  • The Great Divergence 

Each week, students will read a combination of required and optional texts. While required readings will take students to many different parts of the world, optional readings allow them to focus on a particular region. Class participants will write weekly reading responses and a 2000-word final essay on a topic related to their research.

Michaelmas Term: 2 hour seminar per week x 8 weeks
Assessment: Essay, 3–4,000 words

Print Cultures in African History: Publics, Politics and Identities (Dr Ruth Watson)

Print Cultures

 From the late nineteenth century onwards, Africa was witness to a proliferation of various forms of print and writing, produced for eager, locally grown audiences. All sorts of texts, including serialised novels, newspapers, pamphlets, tracts, local histories, self-help booklets and vernacular literature became available for public consumption. Taking these printed and written sources as its starting point, this MPhil option course reclaims African print cultures as a domain of historical study. By exploring how various forms of textual production provided a space for innovation and creativity in colonial Africa, it offers a window into processes of rapid social and political change. We will interrogate the commonly assumed distinction between oral and written forms of cultural production by exploring the textual forms, new vocabularies, and political narratives that people in Africa constructed through their engagement with literacy and print. Significantly, this engagement was not only focused within and across local communities, it also occasionally reached out to transnational and global networks. To this end, we consider African print cultures in a comparative global framework and critically analyse the usefulness of theoretical tools developed with reference to historical contexts outside of Africa.

 Michaelmas Term: 2 hour seminar per week x 8 weeks
Assessment: Essay, 3–4,000 words

Lent Term

Empires in Comparative Perspective (Prof. Saul Dubow)

WH MPhil - Empires

An understanding of the historical formation of empires and their impact on the present is crucial to our comprehension of the contemporary world. In this course we shall examine a number of imperial formations, selected from around the world, with particular attention given to empires with broad regional and temporal spans. Comparisons will be drawn between different kinds of empires, their emergence, transformation, and demise. Political, intellectual, social and cultural perspectives on empire help to define the questions we shall formulate and address.

This course draws on the exceptional range and depth of expertise in the Cambridge World History Group. After an introductory session on conceptual definitions of empire, the course proceeds on a weekly basis with two presentations of twenty minutes each by experts in their fields. These classes may include particular focus on the Portuguese and Spanish empires as early modern European maritime formations; the land-based Ottoman and Russian empires; the modern French and British Empires; the colonisation of Africa and Asia after c.1800; settler colonialism, informal colonialism and company colonialism; contemporary American imperialism and China overseas. The course will thus offer students a means to understand rival and connected empires in comparative perspective. Analytical and conceptual problems are highlighted throughout. Students are encouraged to enter into debate with expert tutors; in this manner you will help to shape our collective exploration and understanding of the rich materials and complex problems and themes that constitute the subject matter of this course.

Lent Term: 2 hour seminar per week x 8 weeks
Assessment:  Essay: 3–4,000 words

Global Thinkers (Dr Shruti Kapila)

In the words of Hannah Arendt, the ‘Third world’ is not a place but an ideology. This course will examine the place of ideas and ideologies in the making of the global twentieth century. The emphasis of this option will be primarily on ideological innovators from the global South who re-conceptualized the nature of modern politics. Themes will include the critique of colonialism, democracy, violence, internationalism, and radical social change. Figures such as Gandhi, Mao, Castro, Fanon, Khomeini and Mandela will be discussed alongside nationalist ideologues such as Nasser, Nehru, Sukarno, and Nkrumah. The aim will  be to explore the ways in which these figures assimilated but ultimately departed from the universal languages of modern politics ranging from communism and capitalism, to liberalism, humanitarianism and justice. In shifting the focus to the ‘third world’ thinkers or the global south, this course will reconstruct and appraise the radical transformation of world politics.

Lent Term: 2 hour seminar per week x 8 weeks
Assessment:  Essay: 3–4,000 words

Mobility, Circulation and Diaspora: Migration, Society and Politics in Modern South Asia (Dr Joya Chatterji)

This course will explore the history of South Asian migration in modern times. Migration is one of the key forces which has shaped contemporary South Asia and its relations with the wider world. It has had, and continues to have, huge implications for the regions where migrants have settled, for migrants themselves as well as for their descendants, and for the places and the people they have left behind. Diasporas have transformed the social and cultural fabric of the places where migrants have clustered, altering their patterns of consumption and encouraging the emergence of new notions of identity among migrants as well as their ‘hosts’. South Asian migrants have frequently sought to intervene in the politics of their homelands, and their ‘long-distance’ patriotisms have often played a crucial role in these politics. The main intellectual currents of twentieth century cannot be understood without an analysis of the contributions of ‘intellectuals in exile’. Equally, diasporas everywhere have raised vexed questions of policy, and many governments (not only those in the western world) have responded by making it more and more hard for South Asians to move across borders.

The course explores patterns of mobility and circulation within and from early modern South Asia. It considers how the establishment of British imperial control impacted upon old networks of mobility while stimulating new streams, and new forms, of migration. The consequences of partition, which sparked off the largest migrations in recorded history, will be discussed and analysed. ‘Post-colonial’ migration has led to the formation of visible and influential communities of South Asians in many parts of the western world, but has also led to ever more systematic efforts to stem further migration, and both processes will be considered. The course will encourage discussion and analysis about the forms of hybrid culture and ‘transnational’ belonging and that are believed to characterise South Asian diasporic lifestyles in the 21st century.

 Social movements, dissent and belonging in Colonial and Postcolonial South Asia (Dr Leigh Denault and Dr Edward Anderson)

Hijra Protest in Islamabad, 2008

India is often referred to as ‘the world’s largest democracy’ and ‘a model example of how stable democracy works’. However, this elides the numerous and pervasive tensions, fractures, struggles and internal security threats across the country. Historically, both colonial and anti- colonial nationalist narratives tended to ‘collectivise’ experiences in ways which hid the variety of individual experiences of oppression and dissent. Without acknowledging marginal voices, and the creativity and diversity of Indian responses to colonial and postcolonial regimes, hierarchies and power asymmetries, we cannot begin to understand Indian politics, society, and culture.

This multidisciplinary course introduces some of the key social and political protest movements of colonial and postcolonial India, and the broader debates surrounding them. Students will critically analyse various strands of dissent in India – from challenges to patriarchy and upper- caste hegemony, to movements against secularism and liberal democracy itself. Many of these narratives of dissent have shaped and re-shaped the very fabric of Indian democracy and mainstream politics; others operate on parallel planes and have simmered beneath the surface. Studying these movements, and their protagonists and methods, require us to rethink the multiple meanings of freedom, of rights, and of democracy for India’s colonial subjects and postcolonial citizens. Has the ‘idea of India’ lost its legitimacy? What might protest and identity movements tell us about the nature, and future, of India’s democracy? The course also encourages students to explore innovative research methodologies and source material to elucidate these topics, including literary sources, autobiographies, oral histories, and visual media.

A film and discussion series will run alongside this course to complement the topics, with screenings on Monday evenings, corresponding to that week’s class.