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Transkills: supporting transition to University


Understand what Part I is all about: it rewards discursive essays which address major questions in history such as:

  • What were the causes of Magna Carta?
  • Why did the British withdraw from Africa in the 20th century?
  • What ideas informed Gladstone’s premiership?
  • What impact did the plague have on 14th century England?
  • What informed US foreign policy in the 1940s and 1950s?

The subtext

Because most questions deal with major themes there is always a subtext, what the question is REALLY driving at

  • The subtext is often HISTORIOGRAPHICAL: the question is really asking you to assess the historiography or whether you agree with a particular interpretation
  • It requires you to survey the scene and take a view
  • Sometimes the subtext is CONCEPTUAL: where perhaps the historiography is less established, you have to present different interpretations of the evidence

Ask yourself which questions lie at the heart of the essay question. Here is an example:

Do the extant sources permit any firm conclusions on whether England was overpopulated in c.1300? (2008)

  • Has a historian argued that England was overpopulated in 1300? Yes- Postan.
  • Have historians disagreed with Postan? Yes; and some have argued that England was not overpopulated.
  • What do you think? Can you make sense of this and take a logical view? Is it really possible to know from the sources we have?

Your job in Tripos

Your job in Tripos is therefore to evaluate different views, take a view yourself, and explain it to your reader. The skills required of you now are also valued highly in many employment contexts:

  • The ability to make sense of several different arguments
  • The ability to sift through large amounts of information in order to take a view on these arguments
  • The provision of a solution to the problem; in this case, an answer to the question