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The Teaching System

Teaching responsibilities are divided between the Faculty and the colleges. The Faculty devises the courses, sets the examinations and provides lectures to cover course content. These lectures are available to everyone, on an annual cycle. The colleges arrange supervisions for the courses; these are weekly one-hour discussions for which each student writes an essay. There are also group discussions in Faculty and college classes.

There are three major strengths of this system:

  • The individual attention that undergraduates receive. Supervisions are arranged by the college Director of Studies in History. He or she is a History undergraduate's most important contact, and will assign to each of them a specialist supervisor for each paper. In nearly all cases, undergraduates have supervisions for one paper in each term, and so change supervisors each term. Supervisions take place weekly, usually on a one-to-one or one-to-two basis. They offer teaching that is very flexibly suited to individual needs and closely monitored by the college.
  • The intensity of study. The greatest difference between studying History at Cambridge and at many other universities is the amount of written work expected of undergraduates. Each week in term, supervisors set a booklist and essay title. The discipline of researching and writing a cogently argued essay each week is both an opportunity and a challenge: it is an opportunity because it rapidly develops skills of argument, criticism and presentation, and a challenge because it requires considerable motivation and the ability to work on one's own.
  • The quality and range of teaching on offer. In the first two years of the single honours degree, it is possible to study any period of European history from the Greeks to the present, any period of British history from the end of the Roman occupation, global and imperial history from 1500 to the present day, North American history since 1500, and the history of political thought from Plato to Marx. In the third year, it is possible to choose from well over thirty specialised options from within these same time-spans, and to write a dissertation on a topic of your own choosing.

We are able to offer such a broad range of modules thanks to the size and varied interests of our teaching staff. There are over fifty permanent lecturing staff in the Faculty, and they work alongside many college teaching and research Fellows and several notable visiting scholars from abroad. A list of Faculty and college lecturing staff can be found here. The Faculty has an internationally distinguished reputation for research; it has been awarded the highest possible ratings in all the Research Assessment Exercises conducted to date by university funding bodies. It also possesses an 'Excellent' rating for its teaching, awarded by the Higher Education Funding Council of England's Quality Assessment team. All Faculty staff teach undergraduates, and the purpose of the many classes and seminars organised in and around the Faculty is to allow students to engage in discussion with senior historians as intellectual equals.