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Department of Politics and International Studies (POLIS)

How it works

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.  These two options are detailed below.


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 joint Politics and Social Anthropology.


History and Politics

History and Politics is a Joint Honours degree. It offers subjects from our highly-regarded 'History and Politics' and 'International Relations' courses, together with bespoke papers which 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.


Human, Social and Political Sciences (HSPS)

History and Politics

First year: Four papers

Information on Paper Choices can be found on the HSPS website.

Four Papers chosen from the following:

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


First year: Four Papers

In Year 1, you choose a History Outline paper from a wide range of options, typically including papers on British, European, American, African, and Asian history.

You also take two Politics papers:

Plus a core interdisciplinary paper in Evidence and Argument.

Second year: Four papers


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

Second year: Four Papers

In Year 2, students choose one paper in each of the following categories:

  • a paper in International Organisation or Comparative Politics
  • a paper in the History of Political Thought
  • a further History Topic paper from a variety of options, reflecting the diverse research interests within the History Faculty

For the fourth paper, you write a long essay of up to 5,000 words on a question drawn from a wide range of subjects in History and Politics.

Third year

In Part IIB Politics and International Relations, you may choose to offer four papers, or three papers and a dissertation.

The one requirement is to take POL 9 and at least one other paper in the subject.

Other choices are to extend your knowledge of the history of political thought, or study the politics of a particular area such as Europe or Africa. 

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

An optional dissertation on any topic.

Third Year

You choose three papers from a wide range of possible combinations, including third-year Politics and International Relations papers (shared with HSPS) and History Special Subjects and Specified Subjects. The papers available each year may vary and numbers are restricted on some papers. Alternatively, you can replace one of these three papers with a dissertation of 10,000 words on a topic of your choice within the scope of the course.

All students also take a core paper called Theory and Practice in History and Politics, which engages with key issues such as democracy, inequality, and war in the light of work throughout the degree course.


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