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Historical Argument and Practice

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 The HAP convenor for 2019-20 is 


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This paper provides an opportunity for candidates to reflect on broad issues of historical argument and practice. It encourages students to raise and discuss fundamental questions that relate their specialist knowledge to more general themes of historical inquiry and explanation.

The focus of HAP is on understanding the conceptual, historiographical and methodological dimensions of historical argument and practice. It is a summative paper, that requires candidates to forge connections between different aspects of their historical knowledge, for example by critically evaluating the merits of different approaches in relation to the more specific and empirical material that they have encountered elsewhere in their study of the past.


HAP is a compulsory element of Part II History and typically counts for 20% of the final degree. It is also a necessary requirement of those students who appear on the successful list of candidates for the Prelim to Part I.

HAP is assessed by means of a three-hour examination, in which candidates are required to answer only one question. Both the Prelims and Part II exam paper normally consist of around 30 questions arising out of topics covered in the lecture series, though they invariably differ in the level of sophistication and range demanded of the student. The Part II exam paper will require a greater capacity from students to recognize the contested nature of historical practice, while the Prelims paper permits a more basic historiographical approach to a given topic. However, both papers are designed to encourage broad discussion of issues derived from, and relevant to the full range of papers offered by the Faculty. Candidates are also encouraged to draw upon their wider reading.

The best way of viewing the Prelim paper is as a dry-run for Part II: an early opportunity to experiment with making the sorts of broader connections and comparisons that are not always possible in the context of the other more specialized Part I papers.

Students should begin to consider issues relating to HAP from their first year of study and continue to develop their ideas as they move through their various Part I and Part II papers. Although there is no formal exam of HAP in Part I, second-years are encouraged to keep thinking about HAP and to make a point of attending at least 8 lectures during the course of the year.

Past papers are available here [Cambridge only].


In deciding which lectures to attend in which year, all students are advised to consult with their Directors of Studies. The programme of lectures, which is open to History undergraduates in all years, comprises two sets of one-hour lectures and panel discussions across Michaelmas and Lent, given by members of the Faculty’s teaching staff:

  • Series 1, Introduction to Historiography, gives an overview of the history of history-writing from antiquity to the present, and of key methods and approaches in historiography.
  • Series 2, Concepts and Problems, introduces students to some of the most important concepts historians work with, and how they are used and disputed in current historical practice.

In addition, a series of classes, led by graduate students and open to Part II undergraduates (only), will cover the same themes explored in the ‘Concepts and Problems’ lectures (see further information for Part II students).

The HAP convenor will give an initial introduction to the nature of HAP and the content of the programme at the beginning of Michaelmas term, and there will be one further class in the Easter Term, also given by the convenor, which will focus on tackling the exam. Colleges also provide a range of teaching for HAP, and it always advisable for students to discuss their preparation for this paper with their Directors of Studies.

Repetition and overlap

Students are firmly discouraged from simply repeating the content of the lectures or summarising material and ideas taken from the reading list; their aim should be to think about the issues and problems raised by the HAP lecturers in the context of their own studies.

It is in the nature of HAP that students will draw on their other papers and may write HAP answers that overlap to some degree with work completed for these. But they should avoid the substantial repetition or wholesale ‘dumping’ of material deployed in other exams, including (in Part II) the dissertation and Special Subject Long Essay. Arguments and evidence used in other papers should be put to new purposes in HAP. 


Further information for Part II students


Graduate led classes will cover the same themes explored in the ‘Concepts and Problems’ lectures. The purpose of the classes is to give Part II students the opportunity to follow up the ideas aired in the lectures, to supplement the lecture with some reading, and to participate actively in discussion. The classes will last about 90 minutes and will be capped at 20 undergraduates (parallel sessions will be run for popular topics).

The classes will proceed during Lent in a sequence that follows the themes in the ‘Concepts and Problems’ lecture series. Classes are not mandatory, but students are strongly encouraged to attend classes for up to three Concepts and Problems lectures. Information will be circulated during Michaelmas, and registration for these classes will open in the latter part of Michaelmas term. 


It is recognised that few students will have the time or inclination to attend all the HAP lectures available in their Part II year. Many students in this cohort will have had the chance to attend lectures on the history of historiography during Part I of their degree, and may consider this element of the course the most expendable; others may welcome the renewed opportunity to attend a lecture on – say – Ancient or Marxist historiography – conscious now of its relevance to their studies. In more general terms, it is hoped that students – with the assistance and guidance of their Director of Studies – will tailor a programme of lectures in order to nurture and develop their particular interests.


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