Courses

This page is intended for those not based at Cambridge who are thinking of studying political thought and intellectual history at the University.

The two main options are:

MPhil in Political Thought and Intellectual History (9-month master’s programme)

PhD in History or PhD in Politics and International Studies (POLIS)

Those interested in taking the MPhil should consult the official website indicated above. Anybody wishing to study for the PhD should begin by investigating websites of the Faculty of History and Department of Politics and International Studies. In addition, here’s a useful list of academics who teach and supervise in political thought and intellectual history at Cambridge.

However, it is important to stress that Political Thought and Intellectual History at Cambridge purposefully cuts across academic disciplines. There is significant interaction – both at graduate and departmental level – between the Faculties of History, Classics and HSPS (Human, Social, and Political Sciences). There is also interaction with the faculty of Philosophy on a more informal level. This makes for rich interaction between disciplines, and greatly improves the research process. Those thinking of applying for the PhD might therefore consider faculties other than History and Politics, even if they have a strong interest in political thought.

Below we have provided brief profiles of current Cambridge graduate students, to act as pointers for what can be expected


Callum Barrell: MPhil in Political Thought and Intellectual History


My main research interest is in the reception of direct democracy in European thought from the Enlightenment to the nineteenth century. This, in fact, is a product of Cambridge’s sheer intellectual diversity. As an undergraduate here, I became fascinated with classical Athenian democracy and now, during the course of the MPhil, also with a range of modern thinkers. This led me to connect the two: to ask how democratic and anti-democratic intellectuals engaged with the idea of an unmediated sovereign ‘demos’? How, if at all, did they reject the idea of self-representation? What were its ideological contours?

What I’ve valued most on the MPhil is the lack of prescriptive teaching. There’s no canon, no must-reads, and no don’t-reads. I’ve wandered off on my own and enjoyed getting lost. Although it is a taught course – there are seminars, and the odd lecture – I’ve had the time and encouragement to cultivate my own ideas and interests. Although it is difficult to escape the looming shadow that is the ‘Cambridge School’, I’ve not been constrained by methodological dictums or parameters. At the risk of sounding like a prospectus, it’s an enriching and rewarding course. I strongly recommend it!

Christina Groeger: MPhil in Political Thought and Intellectual History


I hail from Cambridge: the one across the pond, that is, where I grew up and attended Harvard University. After spending some time in Berlin as well as teaching history in a private American high school, I decided to return to school to continue studying history.

My interest in historical responses to totalitarianism has led me to pursue 20th century conceptions of democracy. I am particularly interested in ideas of democratic community in programmes of economic and educational reform, in both America and Europe. Thus far I am enjoying the freedom as well as the supportive community of the Political Thought and Intellectual History programme (and might actually like this Cambridge more than home). I am planning to continue graduate work in the UK or the United States, and hope teaching will be a large part of what I do in the future.

Diana Siclovan: PhD in 19th century German socialist political thought


I work on 19th century, predominantly German, intellectual history, and am supervised by Professor Christopher Clark and Professor Gareth Stedman Jones. I took my BA History at Cambridge, and in 2009/10 completed the MPhil in Political Thought and Intellectual History. My MPhil dissertation was entitled ‘The project of Vergesellschaftung: German socialists, 1843-1852’. It examined the thought of the so-called ‘true’ German socialist, known mostly through the fierce intellectual attack they suffered in Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels’ Communist Manifesto (1848).

My PhD research focuses on the transformation of socialist thought after the experience of the European revolutions of 1848. The underlying aim is to get away from the Marxist truism that has long informed historiography that a period of ‘utopian’ thinking eventually gave rise to the development of a ‘scientific’ theory of socialism and communism after 1848. One theme I’m particularly interested in is the changing attitude of socialists to the state and party politics in this period. My PhD will involve re-assessing the role of the often neglected Prussian theorist Lorenz von Stein in particular.

Paul Sagar: PhD in the political and moral thought of David Hume


As an undergraduate I studied Politics, Philosophy and Economics at Oxford. Before migrating to Cambridge I spent a year on the excellent Intellectual History and History of Political Thought MA programme run by Queen Mary, University of London, as well as a year doing soul-destroying things in the Houses of Parliament.

I’ve found the transition from contemporary analytic philosophy to a more historically focused approach both enjoyable and productive. Cambridge is an extremely welcoming and diverse place, and there’s little truth in the rumours of hermeneutic hegemony. A major advantage to studying here is the sheer number of graduate students working in connected and mutually complementary fields. There’s a real sense of intellectual liveliness and co-operation, which is both personally and professionally fulfilling.

I currently work on the foundations of David Hume’s political and moral theory in the Treatise of Human Nature, particularly the role of sociability and Hume’s connections to earlier traditions in the 18th century. My supervisor is Dr Istvan Hont.


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