Human, Social and Political Sciences

What makes the Cambridge course in Human, Social and Political Sciences (HSPS) so special?

If you want to study Politics, or Sociology, or Anthropology, or Archaeology at Cambridge, this is the course for you. It offers several popular subject combinations, as well as specialist options, including Assyriology and Egyptology.

The flexibility of the course allows you to explore a variety of subjects, many of which may be new to you (such as Biological Anthropology or International Relations), before pursuing advanced study in one or two specific subjects in your second and third years. Alternatively, if you already know the subject(s) in which you want to specialise, you can tailor the course to suit your interests right from the start, while retaining the option to take individual papers in other subjects as well. You’ll graduate from Cambridge having specialised in one or two subjects, but will also have the advantage of a broad background across the human, social and political sciences. HSPS at Cambridge thus provides an opportunity to study a variety of issues concerning modern and ancient societies from different perspectives.

Politics and International Relations engages with the nature of the political world within countries and between them. It asks questions about how and why national and international politics have developed as they have, and how people have imagined that they might be changed. It explores issues from human rights and democracy, to financial crisis and international conflict.

Sociology focuses on the nature of modern societies, how they’re organised and how they’re changing. It examines social institutions and the changing forms of power and inequality among other topics, and develops theories and conducts empirical research in order to deepen understanding of the processes that shape social life.

Social Anthropology uses studies of long-term first-hand fieldwork to understand the diversity of today’s human societies: from the lives of indigenous peoples – their cultures and their relation to nation states and the global economy – to the social and cultural life of people in the largest cities on the planet.

Biological Anthropology examines human diversity in terms of biological and evolutionary principles and methods. It explores the place of humans in nature, the pattern of our evolution, the genetics of humans and their significance, and how individuals and populations interact with their environment today. The subject studies behaviour, ecology, genetics and fossils to understand humanity.

Archaeology is the study of past human societies through their material remains and environment. It deals with the millennia during which humans developed their patterns of behaviour. It aims to reconstruct the nature and development of particular societies and explain the variations that occur among past societies.

Assyriology is the study of the languages (Akkadian and Sumerian), literature, history and archaeology of ancient Mesopotamia – the location of the world’s first urban and literate society and some of the earliest empires.

Egyptology is the study of the languages, literature, history, archaeology and religion of Pharaonic Egypt. You study written sources, architecture, art and material culture.

Why choose Newnham for HSPS?

Newnham’s pioneering work in the development of women’s education began in 1869, with a series of lectures set up by Henry Sidgwick. Women were formally admitted to full membership of the University in 1948, and Newnham’s continued academic success is reflected in the number of students who gain University prizes and Research Fellowships, and the wide variety of their chosen careers. Newnham students have a record of exceptionally high performance in subject areas within the HSPS Tripos. Support facilities at the College are very good, including a particularly well-stocked library. Newnham has a strong international character, and welcomes both mature students and students with disabilities. Its liberal and independent atmosphere makes it a good place to be a part of and to work in.

How many students take HSPS at Newnham and what options do they choose?

Newnham admits an average of eight to ten students each year to read HSPS, giving students a solid peer group in each year of the course. The course is taken over three years consisting of Part I, Part IIA and Part IIB.

In the first year (Part I) students take four papers, which can be freely chosen from the full range available: Politics, International Relations, Sociology, Social Anthropology, Biological Anthropology, Archaeology (Development of Human Society), Archaeology in Action, Cultures of Egypt and Mesopotamia, Egyptian Language, Akkadian language, Psychology. Students will be guided by their Director of Studies in their choice of appropriate paper combinations.

In Part II (taken over the second and third years) students focus either on a particular disciplinary track (in Politics and International Relations; Sociology; Social Anthropology; Biological Anthropology or Archaeology, which includes Egyptology and Assyriology), or can choose to combine two subjects: possible combinations are Politics and Sociology; Sociology and Social Anthropology; Social and Biological Anthropology; Archaeology and Social Anthropology; Archaeology and Biological Anthropology; Assyriology and Egyptology.

Can you tell me more about the HSPS Fellows at Newnham?

Newnham’s Directors of Studies in HSPS for 2018-19 will be:

Dr Manali Desai (Sociology), Dr Augusta McMahon (Archaeology), Dr Yael Navaro (Social Anthropology), Dr Ruth Scurr (Politics).

Other HSPS Fellows/Senior Members of the College are:

  • Dr Sam Lucy (Later Roman and Anglo-Saxon archaeology, especially funerary archaeology), Admissions Tutor
  • Dr August McMahon (archaeology and history of Mesopotamia, material culture especially ceramics, complex society and urbanism, site and artefact biographies)
  • Dr Yael Navaro (anthropology of politics, postwar societies, subjectivity, the Middle East, Southeastern Europe)

Newnham Bye-Fellow in HSPS:

  • Dr Ruth Charles (Palaeolithic archaeology)

What jobs do Newnham HSPS students go on to do?

A degree in Human, Social and Political Sciences offers a variety of rewarding career opportunities. It provides a greater range of openings than many qualifications in the arts or humanities, while not restricting the range of vocational choice as some degrees in the natural sciences may do. The Tripos also qualifies people for a variety of posts which exist for social scientists on the staffs of central and local authorities both in Britain and abroad. Numerous research institutes, EU and international organisations now seek qualified social science graduates who have detailed knowledge of contemporary issues with reference to more than one country. Some of those who have read the Tripos proceed to graduate work in the subjects covered, but the majority of HSPS graduates work in journalism and the media, development agencies, posts in museums, the National Trust or English Heritage, as well as careers in law, the Foreign Office, the civil service, teaching or publishing.

Are there any A-level subjects which are particularly useful?

There are no prerequisite A-level subjects to study HSPS, applicants come from diverse backgrounds with A-levels (or equivalent) in arts, sciences or combinations of both. The majority of our conditional offers are set at A*AA. Applicants for Assyriology and Egyptology are encouraged to study an ancient or modern language at A-Level.

Can I take a gap year?

We are happy to offer deferred places to applicants who have plans for a year out. Gap year projects in the past have included taking a job to build up financial resources, working or travelling abroad to improve language skills and experience another culture. Most gap year students feel they have benefited from the experience, and have no trouble getting back into the swing of academic work once they arrive; maintaining some sort of a connection with your subject is always encouraged, even if only through reading.

How should I prepare for interview at Newnham?

All applicants in Human, Social & Political Sciences are required to take a pre-interview written assessment, at an authorised centre (normally this will be your school/college). You have to register for the assessment by 15 October, separately from your UCAS application.

Read around the subject; take note of current stories in the press; organise some museum or archaeological experience, such as volunteering on a dig. Some suggestions for preliminary reading are given below:

Archaeology
Greene, K: Archaeology: an Introduction (Routledge, 5th edition, 2010)
Carver, M: Archaeological Investigation (Routledge, 2009)
Jones, M Feast: Why Humans Share Food (OUP, 2007)
Renfrew, C & P Bahn: Archaeology: Theories, Methods and Practice (Thames and Hudson, 6th edition, 2012)
Scarre, C: The Human Past (Thames and Hudson, 3rd edition 2013)

Biological Anthropology
Cartwright, J: Evolution and Human Behaviour (MacMillan Press, 2000)
Boyd, R. & J Silk: How Humans Evolved (W.W. Norton, 5th edition, 2009).
Ridley, M: Nature via Nurture (Fourth Estate, 2003)

Social Anthropology
Lila Abu-Lughod: Veiled Sentiments: Honour and Poetry in a Bedouin Society.
Henrietta Moore: Feminism and Anthropology
Kath Weston: Families We Choose: Lesbians, Gays, Kinship
Sherry Ortner: Anthropology and Social Theory: Culture, Power and the Acting Subject
Jean Comaroff: Body of Power, Spirit of Resistance: the Culture and History of a South African People
Michael Taussig: The Devil and Commodity Fetishism in South America
Lisa Rofel: Desiring China: Experiments in Neoliberalism
Veena Das: Critical Events: An Anthropological Perspective on Contemporary India

Sociology
Abercrombie, N: Sociology: a short introduction (Cambridge: Polity, 2004)
Alexander, J C and K Thompson: A Contemporary Introduction to Sociology, Culture and Society in Transition (Boulder: Paradigm, 2008)
Bourdieu, P: Sociology in Question (London: Sage 1993)
Giddens, A: Sociology (Cambridge: Polity, 5th edition, 2006)
Hughes, J A, W W Sharrock, P J Martin: Understanding Classical Sociology (London: Sage, 2003)
Macionis, J J and K Plummer: Sociology (London: Pearson/Prentice Hall, 4th edition, 2008)
Matthewman, S, C West-Matthewman and B Curtis: Being Sociological (London: Palgrave, 2007)

Politics & International Relations
Crick, Bernard: Democracy: a very short introduction (Oxford: OUP, 2002)
Dunn, John: Western Political Theory in the Face of the Future (Cambridge: CUP, revised edition, 1992)
Geuss, Raymond: History and Illusion (Cambridge: CUP, 2000)
Runciman, David: The Politics of Good Intentions: History, Fear and
Hypocrisy in the New World Order (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2006)
Brito Vieira, Monica and David Runciman: Representation (Cambridge: Polity, 2008)

Egyptology
Bard, K: Introduction to the Archaeology of Ancient Egypt (Malden MA: Blackwell, 2008)
James, T G H: Pharaoh’s People: Scenes from Life in Imperial Egypt (London: Bodley Head, 1984)
Lichtheim, M: Ancient Egyptian Literature; a book of readings I-III (Berkeley. Los Angeles, London: University of California Press 1973, 1976, 1980)
Manley, B: The Penguin Historical Atlas of Ancient Egypt (London: Penguin 1996)
Quirke, S: Ancient Egyptian Religion (London: British Museum Press 1992)
Robins, G: The Art of Ancient Egypt (London: British Museum Press 1997)
Shaw, I (ed): The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt (Oxford: Oxford University Press 2000

Assyriology
Crawford, H: Sumer and the Sumerians (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004)
Matthews, R: Archaeology of Mesopotamia: Theories and Approaches (London: Routledge, 2003)
Oates, J: Babylon (London, Thames & Hudson, 2005)
Postgate, N: Early Mesopotamia: Society and Economy at the Dawn of History (London: Routledge, 1994)
van de Mieroop, M A: History of the Ancient Near East, ca. 3000-323 BC (Oxford: Blackwell, 2007)

Where can I find out more?

A description of the structure of the Tripos and further useful information for prospective applicants can be found on the Faculty website and there is also information on the University prospectus pages.

The Sociology Subject Overview and Politics Subject Overview on the ‘My HE+’ website also provides information and resources for exploring your subject.

Back to course list