Convenor : Dr Carl Watkins
Web Officer : Dr Chris Briggs
See also the Medieval Studies at Cambridge website
Cambridge has one of the largest concentrations of ancient and medieval historians in the world, and a similarly large number of staff in the associated disciplines of archaeology, Classics, literature, and art history. We have a very long-standing M.Phil. programme in Medieval History, with a strong track record of launching people into doctoral study and an academic career thereafter. The research expertise of the staff in this subject group covers not only western Europe in the early and later middle ages, but ancient Greece and Rome, Byzantium, and Central and Eastern Europe. (For more information about research in Classics, click here.) The faculty members have wide and varied interests, but share some overlapping areas of thematic strength, including the intersection of medieval law and society, cross-cultural intercommunication and exchange, the medieval peasantry, religious authority, the beliefs of the masses, intellectual culture, and gender. There has been an established professorship of medieval history since 1937, now held by Professor John H. Arnold (following the retirement of Professor Rosamond McKitterick in 2016).
At Cambridge we have access to a huge array of resources to support research into medieval topics. The colleges hold a large number of medieval manuscripts of many different kinds, and the University Library has both its own manuscript collection and an unparalleled collection of rare books. The library also houses important medieval documents (such as the Ely Diocesan Archives), as does the city's Record Office. There is a dedicated palaeography scholar who teaches on the M.Phil. and generously supports other scholars, and a dedicated Latin specialist. The Fitzwilliam Museum is home not only to medieval art and coins but also medieval objects from armour to reliquaries, and to yet more medieval manuscripts. Access to London, and via Stansted Airport to the continent, provide a route to even wider resources for the medieval past.
Within the Cambridge History Tripos, students are introduced to medieval history by being given a wide choice of survey courses in Part I of the degree. In Part II, we offer various more focussed and thematic 'Specified' and 'Special Subject' papers on topics such as The Black Death, The Angevin Empire, The Middle Ages on Film, and Heresy, Inquisition and Society. Medievalists contribute also to several 'Themes and Sources' papers including Money and Society, Royal and Princely Courts, and Religious Conversion and Colonialism.
Undergraduate students can choose to take a Dissertation in their final year, and there are ample resources to pursue a medieval topic (usually via sources in modern translation, but with the possibility of using medieval primary materials directly).
We offer a full-time M.Phil. programme in Medieval History, one of the first to have been offered by the Faculty. It has recently been restructured, and aims to allow students a balance between intensive and well-supported skills training (in Latin and palaeography primarily, but with the possibility also of pursuing further language training), a thorough grounding in the debates and methods of the field, and the chance to explore a particular theme in depth. The Faculty staff closely involved in the M.Phil. have expertise that ranges from the early to the late middle ages, and from Byzantium and eastern Europe to western Europe and England. Potential supervisors can be drawn from the even larger body of medieval specialists across the university.
The M.Phil. culminates in a dissertation of 15-20,000 words. Students will be given support to make use of original primary sources in their dissertation topic, whether drawing upon the extensive possibilities held directly within Cambridge, or accessing materials from elsewhere in Europe. Students graduating from the M.Phil. have a very strong track record of moving on to further doctoral research.
The medievalist community at Cambridge is extensive, and there are a number of vibrant research seminars held within and between faculties, where graduate students, postgraduates and early career scholars play a key role. Conferences are held regularly, and it is possible for postgraduates to propose themes for workshops or small conferences.
Medieval colleagues are also involved in the following cross-period seminars:
People specializing in this area
The evolution of relations between the Mughals and the Rajputs during the reign of Akbar can be placed within more than one historical context. They can be seen in terms of the expansion of Mughal territorial control and State power, the... more
The evolution of relations between the Mughals and the Rajputs during the reign of Akbar can be placed within more than one historical context. They can be seen in terms of the expansion of Mughal territorial control and State power, the evolution of Akbari religious policy, and the mutual need for some kind of a political accomodation on the part of both the Rajputs and the Mughals. It is also possible to look at the obverse of this, as Norman Ziegler has done, and look at the constitution of Rajput identity in the context of Mughal suzerainty. However, on the whole, historiographical focus on this has not been adequate. The study of Mughal-Rajput relations is particularly important because it illustrates, among other things, the incorporation of a distinct – though not homogeneous – cultural group within the larger matrix of Mughal state power, and this involved many different levels of control and accomodation. The identity of the Rajputs is by no means unambiguous, barring the fact of geographical location – in and around Rajputana. The question of the origins of the Rajput principalities and families has remained a matter of controversy. Among recent explorations of Rajput identity is an extremely rich study by Kolff, who points to certain otherwise neglected features of the evolution of Rajput identity, as it came to be understood in the Mughal period. Kolff locates the origins of this in the transition made by pastoralist bands of fighters to a measure of landed status between the thirteenth and the fifteenth centuries. Ties of solidarity were constructed between these kin groups, and they came to occupy the titlèRajput' (literally`son of a king'). The emphasis on genealogy as a form of legitimation in the Mughal state, argues Kolff, provided a context for the construction of elaborate, caste-based (specifically kshatriya) origin myths, replacing the open-status and socially mobile nature of Rajput hierarchies. Unilineal kin bodies came to be recognized as the sole constituents of Rajput social identity. However, Kolff argues that a variety of North Indian peasant groups and tribal elites, often constituting a mobile pastoralist soldiery, kept alive the traditions of the older Rajput character. Using North Indian folk poetry and ballads as a source, Kolff highlights the importance of military service (naukari) as one of the loci of Rajput identity, and thus places this history within the wider context of the evolution of the military labour market in North India. Certain geo-political factors spurred the Mughal rulers to seek lasting arrangements with the Rajputs. First, Rajputana was strategically located: if not controlled from the Centre, it might make the Mughal state vulnerable to attacks both from the North West Frontier and from Malwa. Second, the areas towards the north and south of Rajputana were fertile, and potentially a source of substantial revenue. This area was criss-crossed by important trade routes running between Gujarat and the north Indian plain. Finally, Rajputana also contained a number of formidable forts, legendary for their capacity to withstand sieges, such as Chittor and Ranthambhor. According to many historians, including J.F Richards, the (generally) accomodative and