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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, 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.

Lecture Recording Policy

You can read the HSPS Tripos Lecture Recording Policy 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.

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)
  • Introduction to Psychology (PBS1)

You should discuss your paper choices with the Director of Studies (DoS) at your college.

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

POL2 introduces students to politics beyond the state. This paper seeks to understand the contemporary international political world as the product of intersecting forms of power, each of which has a distinct history and may require a distinct theoretical approach.

The dominant traditions in the study of international politics in the West since the Second World War have emphasized the power of and relations among states – their conflicts and efforts at coordination. But, as new global political realities have emerged, new theoretical approaches have entered the debates on international politics to interpret these new realities and re-interpret dominant histories of international order.

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

In SOC1, students are introduced to the discipline of sociology in two parts. In the Michaelmas term, students are thoroughly acquainted with core sociological concepts and concerns (e.g. class, bureaucracy, social solidarity, social change) through a critical engagement with the ideas of four central figures in the history of modern sociological thought: Karl Marx, Max Weber, Emile Durkheim and W.E.B. Du Bois.

Towards the end of Michaelmas term and throughout Lent, students build on the foundations laid by the classical theorists and develop a systematic analysis of key institutions and aspects of modern societies. These including the following: 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. The paper concludes with a broader reflection on the changing nature of modern societies in our contemporary global 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

PBS1 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 introductory lecture on the history of psychology and its various sub-disciplines, a series of broad topics will be explored, including IQ, personality, gender, emotion, social cognition, decision making, and mental health. Each topic will present research and ideas from different theoretical and methodological viewpoints.