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Human, Social, and Political Sciences - HSPS Tripos



There are three terms in each academic year at Cambridge: Michaelmas, Lent, and Easter term. In Michaelmas and Lent term, students receive lectures and supervisions on topics within these papers, and write selected essays. In Easter term, students have revision lectures and supervisions, and prepare for exams.

You can generate your own schedule using the online timetable. To populate the timetable click on the link and sign in.  Select your area of study from the drop-down list at the top of the timetable page - e.g. 'Human, Social and Political Sciences' and then 'Politics'.  Select 'Part I' and the Part I Papers will appear at the left hand side of the screen.  You can then add these to your calendar.

Key Information

We strongly recommend that all new students begin by carefully reading the HSPS handbook, (updated each year in early October) which provides a useful overview of the tripos as a whole. After the handbook, the primary location for information and course material is the HSPS Part I moodle.

Teaching and Learning Statement and Lecture Recording Policies

You can read the HSPS Teaching and Learning Statement and Lecture Recording Policies here.

Trigger Point Warnings

You can read the HSPS Trigger Point Warning Policy here.

Examinations and Assessment

A summary of examination information including timetables and marking and classing criteria can be found on our exams webpage. Please note in 2023-24 all HSPS examinations will be open book online, apart from POL1 and POL2, which are being invigilated and held in person.

Student Representation

Part I student representatives are elected for the HSPS Tripos Management Committee (TMC) and the Faculty Board. The Part I student representative works together with the Part II representatives to provide a voice for students in Tripos-related matters. More information >

Paper Choices

In Part I, students take four introductory papers, which include:

  • The Modern State and its Alternatives (POL1)
  • International Conflict, Order, and Justice (POL2)
  • Social Anthropology: The Comparative Perspective (SAN1)
  • Introduction to Sociology: Modern Societies I (SOC1)

Alternatively, students can select three papers from the list above, and one paper from the list below:

  • World Archaeology (A1)
  • Introduction to the Cultures of Egypt and Mesopotamia (A3)
  • Humans in Biological Perspective (B1)
  • Social, Applied and Individual Differences (PBS2) - From 2024-25

You should discuss your paper choices with the Director of Studies (DoS) at your college. You can sign up for Part I papers after the HSPS Part I Induction Event, which is usually held on the first Wednesday of Michaelmas Full-Term.

Submit Paper Choices

Paper Guides

Use the accordion sections below to find out more about each paper, and download the corresponding paper guide.

POL1: The Modern State and its Alternatives

POL1: The Modern State and its Alternatives

POL1 seeks to understand the practical and imaginative foundations of modern politics and the reaction and resistance to them. The paper begins with the modern state, a historically contingent political phenomenon that nevertheless has become the predominant basis on which political authority and power are constructed across the world today. Where there is no modern state, there tends to be civil war or occupation by other states. Where modern states are ineffective, politics is unstable and sometimes violent, and governments struggle to manage the economy.

But the modern state also is a site of violence and an instrument of power that has been used at times to inflict vast suffering on those subject to its coercive capacity at home and imperial reach abroad. The question of how the exercise of power by the modern state over its subjects can be legitimated is a perpetual one in modern politics, and the answers to it have been deeply politically contested.

POL1 Paper Guide

POL2: International Conflict, Order and Justice

POL2: International Conflict, Order and Justice

This paper will introduce students to both the international politics of the modern era and the sub-discipline of International Relations. After completing the paper, students should have a foundation of knowledge about both the substance of historical and current international politics, and the scholarship and theories that have been developed to explain it. 

The broad approach in this paper is global and historical. Global because the paper tries to take a somewhat wider view than the traditional exclusive focus on Europe and the West. Historical because although much of the second half of the paper is concerned with contemporary topics in international politics, relative to most introductory International Relations papers, the coverage of this one begins earlier, around 1500. The rationale for this wider geographic and historical scope is that International Relations scholarship should be able to explain past as well as present conflict, order and conceptions of justice within but also beyond the West. The historical orientation of the paper also fits with the general teaching orientation in POLIS, which often takes a historical perspective.  

Given this wider scope, however, the paper is inevitably selective rather than exhaustive in its coverage. Being an introduction, the paper is meant to whet students’ appetites and help them decide, as they advance to Part II of the Tripos, what they wish to focus on – such as, for instance, international organizations, international law, gender, race, development, political theory, international sociology, international political economy, or a specific geographical region. 

POL2 Paper Guide

SAN1: Social Anthropology - The Comparative Perspective

SAN1: Social Anthropology - The Comparative Perspective

In SAN1, you will learn how anthropologists study, analyse, and theorise about the immense variety of forms of social life they have found across the world: how such taken-for-granted categories as gender, family, sexuality, economy, and the state are subject to radical cultural variation, and how everyday matters such as food, clothing, work, and trade may be bound up with religious and other symbolic meanings.

You will also learn about the main kinds of social theory developed by anthropologists in response to the challenge of understanding this diversity, and about the distinctive forms of ethnographic field research anthropologists use in order to gain close, first-hand knowledge of the societies they study.

SAN1 Paper Guide

SOC1: Introduction to Sociology

SOC1: Introduction to Sociology

The course introduces students to the discipline of sociology in two parts. In Michaelmas, students are acquainted with core sociological concepts (such as class, bureaucracy, solidarity, power, and social change) through a critical engagement with the ideas of four central figures in modern sociological thought: Karl Marx, Max Weber, Emile Durkheim and W.E.B. Du Bois. Towards the end of Michaelmas and throughout Lent, we build on the foundations laid by the classical theorists and develop a systematic analysis of key aspects of modern societies including the modern state and the rise of nationalism; citizenship and the welfare state; the media and public life; class and inequality; gender and sexual divisions; race and ethnicity; power relations; revolution and war; ideology and intellectuals. We conclude with a broader reflection on the changing nature of society in our contemporary age. 

SOC1 Paper Guide

A1: World Archaeology

A1: World Archaeology

A1 provides a general introduction to archaeology. Using case studies from across the globe, students are introduced to key thresholds in the human past, including: the origins of the human species, the emergence of culture, the domestication of plants and animals, and the development of social inequalities and leadership. Further themes include the analysis of archaic states and early empires, in addition to the impact of writing systems and the appearance of cities.

Students will learn methods and techniques (how archaeologists recover information and artefacts) as well as theory (used to explain how and why change occurs in human societies). Students will gain an understanding of the diverse approaches used to think about the past, from ecological and evolutionary models, to current social theories and the post-colonial critique. The place of archaeological heritage in the modern world is also discussed. This paper is taught through a combination of lectures and practical sessions that give students opportunities to study artefacts from the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology.

A3: Introduction to the Cultures of Egypt and Mesopotamia

A3: Introduction to the Cultures of Egypt and Mesopotamia

A3 aims to provide a broad survey of the archaeology and history of ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia and to introduce the student to key themes and approaches in the study of these two regions. The paper provides outline histories of the regions and introduces the geography, archaeology, society, literature, belief systems and mortuary practices of these areas in the past.

The integration of archaeological, textual and artistic evidence as complementary sources for interpreting historical cultures is emphasised throughout. There will be two lectures per week, one on ancient Egypt and one on Mesopotamia, plus four seminars in which the two regions are compared.

B1: Humans in Biological Perspective

B1: Humans in Biological Perspective

Biological Anthropology takes a comparative approach to exploring human evolution and adaptation: comparisons between humans and other animals to understand human uniqueness and biological variation; comparisons across time to unravel the evolutionary history of hominins over the last 6–8 million years; investigating variation in human development and health, exploring the mechanisms that generate population differences today and in the past; and looking at individual behaviour in terms of evolution and adaptation and its underlying cognitive basis.

In this paper, students will gain a strong foundation in the field of Biological Anthropology, the processes and patterns of evolution, the way humans fit into the overall pattern of biodiversity, the way in which humans reproduce and grow in an ecological and social environment, and the challenges of living in different environments. Focus is on both the past and how we became human, and the present, with the biological challenges, such as health and disease, humans face today.

B1 Paper Guide

PBS1: Introduction to Psychology

PBS1: Introduction to Psychology

This course aims to introduce a variety of theoretical and methodological approaches to the study of Psychology. Through studying this course, students will develop their understanding of how the different approaches address specific topics within psychology. Topics are selected such that students without prior training in psychology will not be disadvantaged. After a brief introduction to the history of psychology, and its various sub-disciplines, a series of four broad topics will be explored. Each topic will be covered over seven lectures, with research and ideas from different theoretical viewpoints being discussed and compared in an additional panel session at the end of each topic. 

PBS1 Paper Guide