At the heart of the changes: the Faculty of HistorySimon Lock

The University of Cambridge looks set to offer two new joint History Triposes, with Politics and Modern Languages, from October 2017.

In a first for the Faculty of History, the two new courses, History and Politics, and History and Modern Languages, would allow students to take undergraduate courses similar to the joint honours courses offered at other institutions.

According to a report submitted by the General Board of the Faculties, the new triposes would supplement the existing Human, Social and Political Sciences (HSPS) and Modern and Medieval Languages (MML) programmes, upon approval, which is expected to be given at a discussion at Regent House due to take place on 24th November.

The recommendations from the General Board, which consists of the Vice-Chancellor and other senior figures, were endorsed by the Faculty Boards of History and MML, as well as by the HSPS Tripos Management Committee. Both Professor Chris Young – the Deputy Head of the School of Arts and Humanities – and Dr Helen Thompson lent their support to the changes.

The plans come in the wake of proposals to create a new Archaeology Tripos by removing that subject from the HSPS Tripos, which was created following the merger of the Politics, Psychology and Sociology (PPS) and Archaeology & Anthropology Triposes in 2013.

These latest proposed Triposes would not remove current content from the HSPS or MML courses, and are intended to “enrich the intellectual environment of both Schools and enhance the number and quality of applicants.”

The new triposes are also intended to stem the decline in applicant numbers for History and MML. The report describes an expected intake of between 30 and 40 for the joint Politics tripos, and between 15 and 20 for the Modern Languages joint course.

While the existing History, HSPS and MML Triposes allow students to ‘borrow’ papers from other degree courses, the report notes: “It is difficult to convince potential applicants that ‘borrowing’ will give them the same intellectual experience as joint programmes offered by rival institutions.”

The report acknowledges that “competitor universities run very successful joint undergraduate programmes in History and Languages,” and argues that the lack of history joint tracks with languages or politics at Cambridge was encouraging talented students to look elsewhere, including Oxford and other red brick universities.

The report claimed that the History Tripos, while attracting “high quality applicants”, does not attract sufficient numbers, whereas HSPS, which enjoys “buoyant applicant numbers,” lacks “quality in depth”.

The stated aim of the new History and Politics Tripos is to “raise interest in the existing Historical Tripos” and “attract more high quality students” to the faculty, giving students more paper options from both the current History and HSPS courses.

However, students will be restricted to modern History papers at Part I of the History and Politics Tripos. The new tripos is also intended to tackle the problem of fewer students taking the Politics and International Relations track at Part II of the HSPS Tripos.

The History and Politics course would also contain a new “integrating” Evidence and Argument paper taught at Part IA, and a new “general themes and issues” paper offered at Part II. All other papers for the History and Politics Tripos consist of those currently offered in the History and HSPS Triposes, including the History of Political Thought papers shared between the two.

Over the past five years, the History Tripos has seen the number of applications decrease by over seven per cent, while the number of offers given out during that period has increased.

The report notes that the History Tripos has “not yet recovered” from a long-term decrease in application numbers, and it is hoped that the new course will recruit more state school applicants to the study of politics and international relations at Cambridge. The report adds that “[e]vidence from other universities indicates that joint programmes are highly attractive.”

Meanwhile, the History and Modern Languages Tripos would initially offer a small number of languages in its first year, and will also give greater access to relevant history courses.

In 2017, the course will offer papers in French, German and Spanish at post-A-level standard, and Russian available at both ab initio and post-A-level standards.

Italian is scheduled to be added with the second intake of students for the new Tripos in 2018, with plans in place to introduce further languages at a later stage. This is an attempt to compete with Oxford’s History and Modern Languages degree, which includes the same languages as well as Czech, Modern Greek and Portuguese.

Like the planned History and Politics Tripos, the university hopes to attract more talented students to study modern languages at Cambridge, while simultaneously opening up more Cambridge History papers to students from working class backgrounds.

The MML Tripos has seen an even larger fall in application numbers than History, with a decrease of more than a fifth over the last five years.

Reacting to the proposals of a new History and Politics joint track course, Peter Sloman, a lecturer at POLIS and graduate of Oxford’s History and Politics course, told Varsity: “I’m delighted that the plans for the new History and Politics Tripos have been approved by the General Board and that we’re on track to launch the new degree in October 2017.

“We think Cambridge is well placed to emulate the success of the History and Politics degree at Oxford, which has been running for more than fifteen years, and indeed we hope to go one better.

“The new Tripos will draw on the University’s longstanding strengths in modern British and European history, politics and international relations, and the history of political thought, but we also expect students to integrate material from across the two subjects so that the Tripos becomes more than the sum of its parts. We hope this exciting new degree will encourage more potential students to take a look at Cambridge.”

However, the changes raise further questions over the sustainability of HSPS, with the planned separation of an Archaeology Tripos also drawing students away from HSPS.

Although the new joint track courses will be granted further student spaces by the university on top of existing HSPS numbers, some have expressed concern that the new course may undermine the remaining HSPS courses, notably Sociology and Anthropology.

A second-year HSPS student from Emmanuel, currently taking the Politics and International Relations track, responded unfavourably to how the plans would affect his tripos.

“It’s a shame that the university has been so muddled of late with degrees in social science.

“With Archaeology breaking off and this new course strongly mirroring elements of HSPS, concern about its survival is definitely warranted.”