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. 

The languages available for study are:

  • 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 (http://www.hist.cam.ac.uk/) 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 (http://www.mml.cam.ac.uk/) is the largest in the United Kingdom and also consistently rated as 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 the 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. 

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

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

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 are organised by the Faculty. Attendance at language classes is required, and attendance at lectures is strongly encouraged. In addition students are usually taught in pairs for essay-based supervisions and for oral language classes. 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?

For information on the current teaching staff and Fellows for History and Modern Languages, please visit our teaching webpages. Look at the sections for History and for Modern and Medieval Languages for the full lists.

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 plan 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 can I prepare?

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. You will have an interview on your chosen language, whether you will be studying it from scratch or post A-level.  

Applicants will also be asked to submit two pieces of written school work . If you are applying to study a language ab initio, you should submit two pieces of History work. If you are applying to study a language you have studied to A Level or equivalent, please submit one piece of written work from History and one from the language you have applied to study. We recommend that you keep copies of this work and re-read them along with your personal statement as they may be referred to at interview.  More information regarding written work requirements can be found at: https://newn.cam.ac.uk/admissions/undergraduates/how-to-apply/ 

Is there an Admissions Assessment for History and Modern Languages?

Yes – applicants are required to take a Cambridge College registered written assessment in Modern Languages.   

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, but we are looking for genuine enthusiasm and engagement with the culture of the language you are planning to study.  

For information about the format of the assessment, with sample papers, here: https://www.mml.cam.ac.uk/applying/how#written 

Applicants for History and Modern Languages may also be required to sit an assessment in History. More details will be available in summer 2024.

Where can I find out more?

Further information on this course is available on the University website or on the Faculty of MML page. 

The History Subject Overview and Modern 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 best is 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. You can consult the Faculty’s Part I papers here for the paper’s reading lists https://www.hist.cam.ac.uk/undergraduate/hist-tripos/part-i/part-i-papers-current. 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. It is useful to gain some insight into how languages work by reading a book 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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