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Faculty Teaching


The Faculty organises group events such as lectures, classes and seminars, and these serve various purposes: the communicating of basic information and broad interpretations of periods or themes; the reporting of findings from research carried out by the speaker, an associate or a student; the presenting of challenging new ideas which may act as a stimulus to discussion; the exchange of views and challenge to orthodoxies - and to new heresies - in seminars. The formats vary widely, and are expected to do so: some events may be primarily informative, others provocative, but all are intended to make you think seriously about history.

Lecture List

The Lecture List is the fullest guide to undergraduate teaching organised by the Faculty. It gives information about the title, organisers and time of all undergraduate lectures and classes. The later part lists lectures for graduate students. These do not directly concern you, but some welcome undergraduates as well as postgraduates. You should remember that the Lecture List is compiled during the summer preceding the academic year which it covers. Inevitably, some of the information is overtaken by events such as illness, lecturers’ need to reschedule lectures, etc. It is therefore important to check your emails and the Lecture List regularly for revisions, particularly at the start of each term.

Timetables are available on the Faculty website. They are also displayed on the main noticeboard and screens in the Faculty, and you can download a personalised timetable via the University timetable system. You will normally receive emails via Moodle concerning any changes, but you should always check the screen and noticeboard outside the Custodians’ Office in the Faculty Building: details of sudden cancellations or alterations are put up there. Most, but not all, history lectures take place in the History Faculty building. If you are in any doubt please go to the General Enquiries Office on the 4th floor.

The Lecturers

Most lecturers are in the employment of the University and/or Colleges, but a few are spending a limited term of one or two years in Cambridge, for example as Pitt Professor of American History, or have been invited from outside Cambridge to substitute for a lecturer on leave. The majority of the lecturers are highly experienced, but naturally there are always novices or near-novices who may or may not lecture better than their elders. While the lectures are primarily for the benefit of students, they are also intended to give your academics such as Junior Research Fellows a chance to gain experience. Please remember this - and bear in mind that lectures with rough edges can in the long run prove useful.

Part I Lectures

Many Part I lectures are intended to be introductory, to serve as guides to periods which you may be studying in British, European, World or American outline Papers. Or they will be offering the background and interpretations of texts set for Political Thought papers. These general lectures are intended to supply you with information and also with a broad interpretation of a period or theme, by means of an expert overview. They should fill in gaps between the topics you study for your supervisions. The views which you hear from a lecturer may differ from those expressed by your supervisor, especially when the topic is controversial. History is not a discipline which encourages a party-line. A good lecturer will make plain the origins and strengths of alternative interpretations, and if you feel he/she is skating over something it is open to you to ask a question. 

The teaching of nearly all Part I papers involves a series of “core” lectures which set out the general themes. Some lectures are more specialised, especially the short courses of up to four lectures. These are designed to shed light on one or two historical problems or themes. They may only relate to one or two potential questions in Tripos, but you may find that they provide unexpected sidelights on other topics, or simply that they are interesting. Often they present research that is as yet unpublished. 

It is difficult to generalise about lectures and lecture-attendance for Part I or for Part II: different people respond to and gain from the same lecture in different ways. There is no obligation to attend, or to keep attending after you have been to the first one or two lectures of a course (even if the lecturer is known to you). But do remember that the “heavy” or intellectually demanding lectures may be stretching you more than the “instant access” ones; lectures are not TV sound-bites, and although many good ones are entertaining, some, which can make you think long afterwards, are not. You should ask your Director of Studies about planning your lecture attendance across the year. 

Some lectures may only be given in a term before the ones when you are supervised for a Paper. Your supervisor will probably also have suggestions as to which lectures to attend for the Paper he/she is teaching you or try asking someone in the year above you. It is important, especially in the case of outline lecture courses, that you should at least sample them. And sampling means going to at least two weeks of them. Often it is only when revising that you realise the full value of a lecture course. Lecturers will often pause during a lecture for questions, or will leave time for questions at the end. Even if they do not, it is your right to put up your hand and ask a questions, whether for a date, or the spelling of a name, or a more general point. The Faculty recognises the value of dialogue in the learning process - although pressure of time may preclude an extended discussion in class. 

Note-taking at lectures becomes easier with practice and depends on what you are getting out of a particular course. If the factual material is fairly familiar or easily accessible in a textbook there is little point in writing down the data provided in the lecture. Try to identify the main themes and arguments in the lecture, rather than writing down all that is said. Headings and sub-headings make a big difference, when you come to revise from your notes. And if the themes remain obscure to you, you can ask the lecturer at the end.

Part I Classes: Themes and Sources

The Themes and Sources paper is taught almost exclusively by means of the classes organised by the Faculty. It is therefore essential that you attend all the classes and that you try to prepare for them as carefully as possible. Attendance will be taken at each class. Unless a medical or other serious personal reason for absence is presented at the time with supporting evidence if required, students who fail to demonstrate reasonable attendance at Themes and Sources classes will be considered to have forfeited their entitlement to a Themes and Sources supervision arranged by the Faculty. 

Students often ask about the time they should devote to Themes and Sources preparation alongside their other papers. Reading speeds vary, and your rate is likely to accelerate as you become more familiar with the subject-matter, but around four hours’ reading for each class is a reasonable norm. More detailed guidelines about Themes and Sources will be issued to you and information will be available on the website in advance of a Faculty presentation about the options in mid-October. 

Long Essay questions will be distributed toward the end of May. During the classes, the teachers will introduce the Long Essay exercise and give general guidance about research and writing. You will also be given a single, 30-45 minute supervision, to be arranged by the class teachers, on your choice of topic for the Long Essay, including recommended reading. It is essential to give thought to your choice of topic in advance in order to make the most of this supervision. The Faculty Board prohibits any further supervision on the preparation of the Long Essay, whether from a class teacher, supervisor or Director of Studies. 

The formats in which the Long Essays are set vary somewhat between options: you may find it useful to consult past examination papers and if still in doubt, ask your Option Convenor. The basic requirement for all the Long Essays is that you should show accurate knowledge of the subject that you are discussing, awareness of the different interpretations which may be placed on the evidence, and judgement in setting out your own arguments and conclusions. The 5,000-word maximum for the Long Essay may not sound too demanding, but you are strongly advised to write at least a first draft during the Long Vacation: the following Michaelmas Term will bring many other tasks.

Part II Lectures and Classes

These are more tightly geared to Tripos Papers than are the Part I lectures, and students miss them at their peril. Lectures and Classes are the only form of teaching provided for the Special Subjects, so you will largely be working on your own, preparing for the weekly classes. The Special Subject and Specified Papers available in the following academic year are announced on the website at the very end of the Lent term. It is important that you find out as much as possible about these, so that you can make an informed choice when asked to list your preferences in Easter term. Each of the lecturers giving a Special Subject will hold an introductory session early in the Easter Term. You will also gain an idea of what is expected from the reading-lists for Part II papers, available on the website. Also, try asking students already taking a paper, and consult your Director of Studies. The Academic Secretary is responsible for the process of assigning students to Part II papers; all Special Subjects and some Specified Papers have limited class sizes, so bear in mind that you may not always get your first choice.

Graduate Seminars and Public Lectures

Graduate seminars are chiefly meant for announcing research findings, and senior members and research students give papers at them, but many welcome undergraduates. It is difficult to predict, even from a title, whether you will find a paper interesting or useful, but discussions afterwards often throw up new insights or a fresh approach to a topic. It is well worth sampling a few seminars. Likewise with the Public Lectures which the Faculty or other Cambridge institutions lay on, for example, the Seeley, the Ellen McArthur, the Birkbeck and the Trevelyan lectures. They are not all offered every year but the University and/or the Faculty website will tell you what is available.