Human, Social and Political Sciences (HSPS)
The BA degree in Human, Social and Political Sciences (HSPS) offers the opportunity to study a range of social science subjects in the first year, and to specialise in one or two disciplines in the second and third years. Students also have the option to maintain a multidisciplinary approach throughout the three years of the degree. Subjects included in the degree are Politics, International Relations, Sociology, Social Anthropology, Biological Anthropology, Archaeology, Assyriology and Egyptology (see central website for details). The great thing about this flexible course is that it allows you either to continue exploring a number of subjects throughout the three years, or to focus on what you already know you like - the choice is up to you. HSPS at Cambridge attracts a broad and diverse range of students: from those interested in contemporary global social, cultural and political questions, to those fascinated by the development of past societies and by material culture, as well as those interested in human biology, evolution and primate behaviour.
Within its wide variety, the course also offers students plenty of scope for developing personal interests in particular issues and places, especially through designing and carrying out independent research projects of their choice through final-year dissertations. Recent Murray Edwards College students have investigated political festivals in Cuba, food culture in Japan, witchcraft beliefs in the U.S.A., prehistoric pottery in Sardinia, homeless hostels in Paris, disease control in China, class discourse in Swedish politics, women's experiences of democratization in Cameroon, and attitudes of the extreme right in Britain, among others.
MEC students are also very active within the Faculty and the wider University community. For instance, our students have recently served as president of the Archaeology Society and as editor of the Social Anthropology Department student journal Imponderabilia, and they have also been engaged in various roles at the Cambridge Union Society. Following graduation in disciplines now included in HSPS, MEC students have gone on to work in international aid organisations, the Civil Service, media and journalism, heritage and museums, nature conservation, politics, film, social work, teaching, social policy, the law and other professions; a good number of them have continued to graduate-level study in Cambridge and elsewhere.
Each subject within this course teaches the main issues and debates of the chosen discipline, as well as offering options driven by the research interests of lecturers. In this way, ideas and issues at the very forefront of each field are covered. All disciplines are taught through lectures, ‘supervisions' (in which students are taught in pairs or at most in groups of three) and, especially in Part II, seminar classes.
All subjects require students to read widely and to regularly write essays; in addition, Archaeology and Biological Anthropology have some practical classes. Students draw on the resources of a very well-stocked Faculty Library, as well as the University Library and the Murray Edwards Library, which has an excellent and constantly updated collection of texts for this degree. The Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, with its changing exhibitions and rich permanent collections, is also a stimulating 'study aid' for some of the subjects in the Tripos.
HSPS at Murray Edwards:
There is a very strong HSPS presence at Murray Edwards College, with between six and eight students admitted each year. The College has two Fellows (senior members of College) who act as Directors of Studies for the course: Dr Paola Filippucci is a social anthropologist currently working on war memory and commemoration in present-day Europe, and Dr Evaleila Pesaran is a political scientist specialising in the contemporary politics of the Middle East. They both guide and assist Murray Edwards students through their degree and teach them in their subjects. They also organise supervisions for other subjects with colleagues from other colleges and from the various Divisions of the Faculty.
What we are looking for:
The standard offer for HSPS at Murray Edwards is AAA*. Outstanding applicants with equivalent qualifications from outside the GCSE/A-level system will also be readily considered. Because many of the subjects in the HSPS Tripos are not commonly taught at A-level, students apply to the College with a wide range of subjects, both arts- and science-based. No specific subjects are required but at least one essay-based subject is preferred; a combination of arts and science subjects is welcome though not essential. History, sociology and geography are common, while those with some science (e.g. biology) may find it easier to tackle parts of the biological anthropology course.
However, what the course primarily requires, and what we look for in selecting candidates for admission, is a keen curiosity about political, social and cultural issues now and/or in the past, and a willingness to think critically and creatively about society, politics and culture. At interview this may be demonstrated by independent reading in one or more areas of the subject; by an interest in current affairs; and/or by having or planning subject-related practical experience (for instance, working with your local MP; getting involved with international or local aid organisations; volunteering on archaeological excavations; visiting archaeological sites or museums; carrying out voluntary work in museums or heritage sites; working in conservation or community-based projects in the UK or abroad).
The selection process:
All applications are evaluated by the Directors of Studies in the College. Applicants called for interview are usually asked to send copies of two essays of their choice from among those already submitted to teachers. These essays are read by the Directors of Studies. Candidates usually have two interviews, a subject-based one and a general one. The subject-based interview, conducted by the Directors of Studies, will be partly based on the candidate's school subjects and partly assessed through some more general questions to ascertain her interest in and motivation for the study of politics, human culture and society past and present. The candidate will also be asked to summarise and/or answer questions on a brief subject-related text that she will be given to read just before the interview.
What MEC students say:
'I came in wanting to study politics, but quickly fell in love with anthropology, which seemed well suited to trying to understand society. With the other anthropologists and archaeologists in our year we have lounged in the hammam of the great mosque in Paris, drinking mint tea, travelled to Cuba to try and gate crash Fidel Castro's birthday party, and edited a student journal, Imponderabilia, which is now on the reading list for A-Level anthropology! Murray Edwards is a great place to study anthropology, we have a number of amazing female anthropologists as 'ancestors', and the college runs a student-focused seminar group to make sure you are getting the most out of your degree.' Alice
'I have absolutely loved studying politics and sociology at Murray Edwards College. The college provides an incredibly supportive and friendly community in which to thrive, and I have found everybody, both staff and students, a pleasure to lean and work alongside. What I have particularly enjoyed about studying politics and sociology at Murray Edwards is finding my own voice - you are constantly encouraged to develop your own thoughts, voice your opinions and become an independent thinker, and this is something which has helped me a tremendous amount in my degree. I have also relished the opportunity to study a very broad range of subjects and topics; something which the college has been very supportive of. Overall, my experience at Murray Edwards has been fantastic - it is a brilliant environment in which to study politics and sociology.' Megan
Updated March 2012