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Applying to Cambridge to study Politics and International Relations

Studying Politics at Cambridge - what is it like?

In this podcast, Prof Helen Thompson speaks to three final year students - Micha Eversley, Rebecca Verlander and Charles Bonfils-Duclos - about their experiences of Cambridge and studying politics. 


Watch Professor David Runciman's first lecture of Michaelmas term 2016

In this film, David Runciman gives his first lecture of the academic year. This gives a small taste of what it is like to attend lectures at The Department of Politics and International Studies.

Politics and International Relations at Cambridge

There are two ways to study Politics and International Relations at Cambridge. You can either apply through the Human, Social and Political Sciences course or the History and Politics course.

Human, Social and Political Sciences (HSPS) 

In the first year students can spend up to 50 per cent of their time on Politics and International Relations. In the second and third years, students, if they wish, can concentrate exclusively on Politics and International Relations. Students in the second and third-years can also do joint Politics and Sociology or Politics and Social Anthropology.

History and Politics 

History and Politics is an exciting new joint Honours degree which will run for the first time in 2017. It offers subjects from our highly regarded History and Politics and International Relations courses, together with bespoke papers which will allow students to explore the space between the two disciplines.

Politics and International Relations at Cambridge rests on the conviction that the political and international worlds need to be understood together and historically. We seek to explain how the political and international worlds in which we live came to be. In the first year, we look at the foundations of modern politics and international relations. In politics we examine the nature of the state and democracy, and consider how far there are alternatives in the modern world to these practices and the political ideas and arguments that lie behind them. In international relations we explore politics beyond the state, focusing on topics ranging from the world economy, to war and  peace, to climate change and protest, all from a globally oriented and historically informed perspective.


History and Politics

First year: Four papers

Four Papers chosen from the following:


International Relations I 

Plus two options from Sociology, Social Anthropology, Psychology, Biological Anthropology and Archaeology

First year: Four Papers

Four papers from the following:

Evidence and Argument

Analysis of Politics

International Relations

A paper in British Political History (1688 - 1886 or since 1880) or European History (1715 - 1890 or since 1890)

Second year: Four papers

History of Political Thought

International Relations II

Comparative Politics

Either an optional essay paper in Politics and
International Relations or Statistics or a paper in another subject.

Second year: Four Papers

A paper in the History of Political Thought (either covering the period from the Greeks up to 1700 or the 18th and 19th centuries)

A paper on either Comparative Politics or International Relations

A further History paper, covering World History, American History, or British Social and Economic History

A long essay paper, a historical project, or a paper on Statistics and Methods

Third year

EITHER a dissertation and three papers OR four papers

A general paper in Politics and International Relations

Two or three papers from:

Conflict and Peace-building, the politics of the Middle East, the comparative politics of Britain and Europe, political thought, the politics of Asia, the politics of Africa, politics and gender, China in the international order, the idea of a European Union.

Students can also opt to replace one of these papers with another subject.

An optional dissertation on any topic. Students who do this take two papers from the list above (otherwise students take three).

Third Year

A paper in General Themes and Issues, which considers general issues in history and politics and the relationship between the two disciplines

Three other papers from a wide range of options:

History Specified Subjects, which currently include papers on the transformation of the Roman world, modern India and the American experience in Vietnam, 1941-75

Specialised papers in Politics and International Relations, for instance on the politics of a particular region such as Europe or the Middle East, the politics of gender, or the politics of conflict and peacebuilding

Further papers in the History of Political Thought

A 10-15,000-word research dissertation


What our students say

Eleni Courea, Politics and International Relations, 2013-2016 

If, like me, you're interested in the social sciences but have fumbled around trying to find your passion, you'll gain a lot from studying HSPS. I was accepted to study Geography at Cambridge in 2013, but switched into HSPS at the end of my first year having cultivated a strong interest in politics. I soon became immersed in the history of political thought, and ended up specialising in areas which, months earlier, I didn't know existed – I wrote my final-year dissertation on the role of war in the political thought of two Scottish Enlightenment thinkers, David Hume and Adam Ferguson.

Studying the history of political thought at Cambridge has been an enormous privilege – I’ve been taught by world experts in a way that has deepened my understanding of the history and force behind the political ideals that we cherish today. Marrying this with a study of contemporary political practice – by electing, over the course of two years, to take papers like Ethics in World Politics, Conflict & Peacebuilding, even Statistics & Methods – has made my course hugely rewarding and uniquely interesting. In particular, it has taught me to think critically, to examine problems from a fresh perspective and to question the assumptions behind contemporary policy documents and political rhetoric. 

Having just graduated in June 2016, I’ll be spending the summer in Cambridge interning for a startup – Africa’s Voices – which was spun out of the Centre of Governance and Human Rights (CGHR), itself launched by POLIS. Afterwards I’m hoping to find a job in London, working as a journalist or policy researcher. 

James Wand, Politics and Sociology, Part IIA

Politics at Cambridge goes deeper than voting systems, voter turnout and voting behaviour; it explores further the ideas of community and control, sovereignty and the state. Politics at Cambridge couples contemporary events and issues with a firm grasp of the history of key political themes and the individuals who have shaped our lives. From the birth of the nation-state to the ideology of a decaying society and culture, Politics poses challenging questions about what constitutes our civilization. Taught through lectures and supervisions, the course encourages critical thinking and the ability to challenge assumptions, whilst at the same time allowing students to bring to fruition their own ideas. Indeed, this ability to challenge historical concepts in a modern way reveals just how broad, relevant and interesting the subject is. If you’re an individual who has an opinion, outlook, and love for understanding the world around you, how it’s moulded and how it can be changed then there is no more obvious route than studying politics in Cambridge.

Luke Vaz, Politics and International Relations, 2013-2016 

Studying as broad and as topical a degree as HSPS has resulted in an enriching experience at university. Despite initially knowing little in depth about anthropology and international relations, the interdisciplinary nature of the course means they all inter-relate and connect allowing for issues to be thought about laterally rather than strictly in the confines of their discipline. Not only are you showed how to use political philosophers and worldwide examples to voice a point evidentially, but you are taught how to think and evaluate issues rationally, from Socrates to Syria. HSPS is the course everyone wishes they had applied to - as its broad appeal marries the ability to specialise in a region, philosophy or thinker that you find interesting. Not only this, but you leave the degree with a palpably improved global understanding.

After graduating, I hope either to begin a law conversion course in London, take a gap year and do an internship in international politics as part of the UN, or stay here for a fourth year! The multi-topical nature of the course allows for many different paths to be taken, as the argumentative and critical aspects lend greatly to any career imaginable.

Sophie Gammage, Politics and International Relations, 2013-2016 

If breadth of study is something that appeals, I would recommend wholeheartedly taking on the (enormously rewarding) challenge of HSPS at Cambridge. I’ve always been interested in politics and international relations - the area in which I now specialise - but the most appealing thing about this course for me was the fact that it enabled me to take papers in anthropology, sociology and history additionally across my first and second years. These extra areas of study were not only fascinating (as well as entirely novel in some cases) but also incredibly useful; as my degree has progressed I’ve found myself incorporating a myriad of different elements that I had picked up from them along the way, and my work has undoubtedly become more conceptually sophisticated as a result. 


More student feedback

Further information

If you are interested in applying for this course please visit our webpage which answers the Frequently Asked Questions and HSPS website or the History and Politics website