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Option Courses

Option Courses

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 2018-19

Print Cultures in World History (Dr Ruth Watson)

Print Cultures

The nineteenth and twentieth centuries were witness to a proliferation of various forms of print and writing across the world, produced for eager, locally grown audiences. All sorts of texts, including serialised novels, newspapers, magazines, pamphlets, local histories, self-help booklets as well as creative and popular literature, became available for public consumption. Taking these printed and written sources as its starting point, this MPhil option course focuses mainly on African case studies, but also draws on comparative examples from the Arab world, India, and the United States. Offering a cultural history of colonialism and modernity, the course examines not only the creation of new print genres, but also investigates how these genres made possible new kinds of political and social community. Through the lens of print cultures, we address a number of key themes in world history, including power, nationalism, ethnicity, gender and consumption. Each weekly topic showcases different case studies, allowing us to analyse the innovative vocabularies and textual forms that readers and editors 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 print cultures in a comparative global framework and critically analyse the usefulness of concepts such as the ‘public sphere’ and ‘cosmopolitanism’.


The Caribbean in World History (Dr Hank Gonzalez)

The initial site of European overseas colonization, and the earliest destination for Africans in the transatlantic slave trade, the Caribbean region was the central nexus for the emergence of the modern world capitalist market.  As the earliest point of contact in the ‘Columbian exchange’ of crops, peoples, diseases, and animal species, the birthplace of the Atlantic sugar plantation complex, and the so-called ‘cockpit’ of strategic conflict between European powers, the Caribbean is a natural point of focus for scholars of political economy, race, colonialism, ecology, and culture. This course traces the strategic global conflicts and key economic processes that have tied the Caribbean region to Western Europe, West Africa, and North America.  Beginning with Spanish conquest and European inter-imperial conflict, this course covers the Haitian Revolution by which the initial site of European colonization gave rise to history’s first postcolonial nation.  The course goes on to cover the emergence of U.S. hegemony in the Caribbean basin, the development of Caribbean nationalism, the Cuban Revolution, and the rise of neoliberalism.  From Cuba’s Castroist dictatorship, to Haiti’s neoliberal ‘failed-state’, to the colonial holdovers of Puerto Rico, Guadeloupe and Martinique, Caribbean societies have followed very different trajectories notwithstanding their shared histories of colonization, slavery and sugar.


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 Subject Group. After an introductory session on conceptual definitions of empire, the course proceeds on a weekly basis with presentations by experts in their fields. These classes may include a focus on the Portuguese and Spanish empires as early modern European maritime formations; an examinations of the land-based Ottoman and Russian empires; the modern French and British Empires; the colonisation of Africa and Asia after c.1800; African empires, 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.


Global China (Dr Rachel Leow)

This option examines China as a global phenomenon through engaging with the question of the Chinese diaspora, focusing on Southeast Asia with sideway glances into North America and Europe. Both in scope and in magnitude, the movement of people from China into regions across the world remains among one of the great migrations of world history, and the relationship between China and its migrants one of continuing and evolving complexity, profoundly shaped by the course of world-historical events. Over the course of eight weeks we will critically situate the history of China and Chinese migration in a range of global problematics, including scale and periodization, diaspora, nationalism, gender, language, and class. Students are encouraged to read widely beyond the prescribed reading, and to bring perspectives from other aspects of the MPhil curriculum to bear on our exploration and discussion. In examining these themes, the central focus of this option will be to challenge students to rethink the dimensions of modern China and Chinese-ness as subjects of world-historical study, and to situate China within spheres of analysis different to, or alongside, those dictated by conventional narratives of the nation-state. The course thus aims to bring the study of China's modern history firmly into dialogue with methodologies and debates in global history.


Mobility, Circulation and Diaspora: Migration, Society and Politics in Modern South Asia (Dr David Washbrook and Dr Edward Anderson)

This course will explore the history of South Asian migration in modern times. Migration is one of the key forces that 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.


Elections, Polls and Policy in South Asia (Dr Patrick Clibbens)

This course will explore the politics of South Asia since Independence through a focus on elections, approached from the perspectives of contemporary history, anthropology, political science and political theory. We will discuss the establishment of electoral democracy in South Asia and the changing nature of South Asian elections and electoral campaigning. The course will explore debates about the relationship between public policy, electioneering and electoral success in South Asia’s diverse democracies.

India was one of the first countries of the global South to undertake opinion polls and polls are ubiquitous in Indian media today. This course will also investigate the institutional production of ‘public opinion’ and the concepts of ‘the public’ held by policymakers in South Asia, with the aim of understanding how these ideas have shaped South Asia’s complex political landscape.


 This information is provided for illustrative purposes only.