History and Modern Languages

What makes the Cambridge course in History and Modern Languages so special?

The new joint degree in History and Modern Languages combines the best of both subjects. It offers the opportunity to develop near native-speaker skills in a foreign language while studying a range of papers relating to the culture and history of the relevant language area; options in some languages also include film and contemporary politics. Students will also develop analytical skills in History through a wide range of topics in British, European, American and World history, as well as the history of political thought. There will be opportunities to work with historical sources in foreign languages. As for other language students, those who take this course will spend their third year studying or working abroad, thereby immersing themselves in the language, culture, history and politics of a foreign country.

As of 2019 entry, the languages available for study will be:

  • French (post A Level)
  • German (from scratch or post-A Level)
  • Spanish (from scratch or post-A Level)
  • Italian (from scratch or post-A Level)
  • Portuguese (from scratch)
  • Russian (from scratch or post-A Level)

Both faculties are regarded worldwide as leaders in their respective fields. The History Faculty is one of the largest in the United Kingdom and is consistently ranked as the best in research and teaching assessments. It has internationally recognised experts in all relevant fields of study. The Modern Languages Faculty is the largest in the United Kingdom and also consistently rated as one of the best. It offers an unrivalled range of courses taught by leading scholars. The library resources in Cambridge, which support teaching and research in both Faculties, are world-class; the University also has extensive collections of films in all relevant languages.

Why choose Newnham for History and Modern Languages?

Newnham students benefit from the excellent resources provided by the College as well as the University. The College runs an unusually well-stocked undergraduate library, including one of the largest modern languages collections in Cambridge. We also have periodicals and newspapers in the major European languages, and a group study room that can be used for audio-visual materials. Newnham is also just across the road from both the History and MML Faculties, on Sidgwick site. The Computer Assisted Learning Facility (CALL) and Faculty libraries are also based there, and the Language Centre and the University Library (a copyright library) are only ten minutes away. You’ll be the envy of all your fellow students …

Newnham also offers generous travel and book grants and we can provide help with organising language-related travel, often through ex-students living abroad.

How many places are available for History and Modern Languages at Newnham?

We expect to offer up to four places for History and Modern Languages in 2019.

How will I be taught at Newnham?

In History, the main teaching consists of weekly supervisions, on one paper per term, arranged by the Director of Studies. Lectures are a vital part of a student’s learning, and attendance at them is strongly encouraged.

In MML, lectures and language classes will be organised by the Faculty, but in addition students are usually taught in pairs for essay-based supervisions. Supervisions are organised by the Directors of Studies in Newnham. We currently have teaching staff in French, German, Russian, and Spanish, so we can do much teaching in-house. We are keen to ensure that whatever combination of languages and courses our students choose, they always receive world-class tuition by specialists in their field, so we have a lot of reciprocal teaching arrangements in place with colleagues at other Colleges.

Can you tell me more about the History and Modern Languages Fellows?
  • Dr Janine Maegraith (Director of Studies, Part I) is a historian of early modern central Europe focusing on social history, consumption, and gender differences in legal cultures.
  • Dr Gabriela Ramos (Director of Studies, Part II) is a historian of Latin America, specialising in the cultural, religious, and social history of the Andes.
  • Dr Duncan Needham (Special Supervisor) is an economic and political historian, specialising in twentieth-century Britain.
  • Dr Kate Fleet (Director of the Skilliter Centre) specialises in Ottoman economic and social history, and the economic history of the eastern Mediterranean in the early modern period.
  • Dr Elise Burton (Research Fellow) researches Middle Eastern Studies and Integrative Biology specialising in evolutionary genetics.
  • Dr Cécile Bushidi (Research Fellow) is a historian of Africa, focusing on debates on Africa’s transition from colonialism to independence and the role of performance in shaping discourse on identity politics.
  • Dr Gill Sutherland (Fellow Emerita) currently specialises in the social and political history of education, and the position of women, mainly in the British Isles after 1750.

You can find more information on special supervisors in History here.

  • Dr Jenny Mander, Director of Studies and Lecturer in French, researches and teaches eighteenth-century French thought and literature and modern critical theory. She is currently working on eighteenth-century colonialism and involved in a critical edition of the Histoire des deux Indes.
  • Dr Sheila Watts, Director of Studies and Lecturer in German, works on the linguistics of German, particularly with reference to language variation and change. She is currently working on building a corpus of texts in Middle Low German.
  • Professor Katarzyna Jaszczolt, Newnham’s Director of Studies in Linguistics and Professor of Linguistics and Philosophy of Language in the University, has a special interest in ambiguities, semantics/ pragmatics interface, saying/implicating distinction, propositional attitude constructions, and Discourse Representation Theory.
  • Ms Erica Segre, College Lecturer in Spanish, specialises in nineteenth-century Latin-American literature and thought, and nineteenth- and twentieth-century visual culture in Latin America, especially Mexico.
  • Ms Silvia González-Jové, Special Supervisor in Spanish, has an MA in Applied Linguistics and is interested in language teaching in theory and practice.
  • Dr Elena Filimonova, Special Supervisor in Russian; her research interests include linguistic typology, and children’s bi- and multi-lingualism involving Russian.
  • Dr Lucia Ruprecht, Special Supervisor in German, is interested in performance aesthetics and currently works on charisma and virtuosity around 1900.
  • French lectrice: A student from the École Nationale Supérieure in Lyon, the Lectrice is responsible for oral and other aspects of language tuition. She also acts as a focus for additional French cultural activities in College and gives advice about getting to France etc.
Are there any A-level subjects that are particularly useful?

You can apply with a variety of relevant examination qualifications, and these do not necessarily have to include both languages and history; we will expect you to demonstrate an interest in both subjects and we will assess you on your potential to succeed in them. A-Level/IB Higher level (or equivalent) is required for the languages to be studied post-A level; and evidence of language ability for the languages studied from scratch.

Can I take a gap year?

Of course! Gap years are a great way of learning languages and can be particularly useful if you are planning to take up a language from scratch: we do expect you to travel to a country where one of the languages you are planning to study is spoken. As long as you don’t want to spend your whole year on a beach, we are very happy to offer deferred places and can give advice on organising the year. Even if you are not taking a gap year, we would encourage you to travel during the summer before coming up to Cambridge and to go on language courses if at all possible.

What does the application process involve and how should I prepare?

All applicants are required to take the pre-interview written assessment for History at an authorised centre local to them (for a lot of applicants, this will be their school/college).
You will normally have two interviews, one in each subject. Be prepared to discuss your relevant interests and potential directions you may wish to follow. When you apply, we will ask you to submit two examples of recent work, which will be available to interviewers.

Applicants for post-A-level languages will also take a written language assessment in College while at interview, based on a short text in English that we will supply. This hour-long assessment is designed to assess writing skills in a foreign language, the ability to understand an intellectual argument, and to write in English. No special preparation or prior knowledge is required. For applicants to study a language from scratch, the hour-long assessment will assess aptitude for language learning and ability to understand an intellectual argument, writing in English. No special preparation or prior knowledge is required.

Where can I find out more?

Further Information on this course is available on the University website.

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

Recommended reading

Reading is fundamental to historical study and it is best you make your own informed decisions on which books to read and explore the breadth of the subject. You can begin with overviews to different approaches such as Ulinka Rublack (ed.), A Concise Companion to History, Oxford 2011 or David Cannadine (ed.), What is History Now, Basingstoke, 2000. Or you can read general histories.

For primary and secondary source exercises, sample lectures, and interviews with historians reflecting on their work see the Faculty website. You can consult the Faculty’s Part I papers for the paper’s reading lists. They also contain references to handbooks which often have recommended reading sections.

For the modern language side, post A-level students should aim to read a short novel or two, a play and perhaps even some poetry in your chosen language areas either in the original or, if need be, in translation. You might also like to read an introductory book on the study of language such as David Crystal’s Introducing Linguistics. Reading foreign newspapers or magazines and watching films would also be very useful. If you intend to take a language from scratch you should aim to acquaint yourself with the culture of that language through reading works in translation, watching films and following news and current affairs.

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