skip to content

The modern University is a confederation of Schools, Faculties, Departments and Colleges. In the context of teaching and research, as of 2020 there are six Schools – Arts and Humanities; Biological Sciences; Clinical Medicine; Human and Social Sciences; Physical Sciences; Technology – which each form an administrative group of Faculties, other institutions and other centres of studies. Each School has a Council and is represented on the General Board of the Faculties, the central administrative body responsible for the University’s teaching and research programme. The Faculties organise teaching and research in individual subjects or groups of subjects, normally organised into sub-divisions called Departments.  

Some Faculties and Departments have brief histories online, see: 


School of Arts and Humanities  Department of Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic: 
  Faculty of Architecture and History of Art (formerly Architecture and Fine Arts): 
  Faculty of Divinity, with biographies of significant Professors: 
  Faculty of Music: 
  Faculty of Philosophy (formerly Moral Sciences): 
School of Human and Social Sciences  Institute of Criminology: 
  Faculty of Economics: 
   Department of Land Economy: 
  Faculty of Law: 
  Faculty of Law, Squire Law Library: 
  Department of Social Anthropology: 
School of Biological Sciences  Department of Biochemistry: 
  Department of Genetics: 
  Department of Pathology: 
  Department of Physiology, Development and Neuroscience (formerly, Anatomy and Physiology): 
  Department of Plant Sciences (formerly Botany): 
  Department of Psychology: 
  Department of Zoology: 
School of Clinical Medicine  Cambridge Institute for Medical Research: 
  Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (Addenbrooke’s Hospital): 
  School of Clinical Medicine: 
  Medical Research Council and MRC Biostatistics Unit: 
  MRC Cancer Unit (formerly MRC Cancer Cell Unit): 
  MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit (formerly the Applied Psychology Unit): 
  MRC Epidemiology Unit: 
  MRC Mitochondrial Biology Unit: 
  Department of Public Health and Primary Care, including Strangeways Research Laboratory: 
School of Physical Sciences  Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics: 
  Institute of Astronomy: 
  Cambridge Statistical Laboratory: 
  Department of Geography: 
  Faculty of Mathematics: 
  Department of Physics: the Cavendish Laboratory: 
School of Technology  Department of Chemical Engineering and Biotechnology: 
  Department of Computer Science and Technology: 
  Department of Engineering: 
  Judge Business School (formerly Judge Institute of Management Studies): 
  Institute for Manufacturing: 


Sources of information on the Triposes, the honours BA of the University of Cambridge 

The origins of the term Tripos are somewhat obscure. Until as recently as the middle of the 19th century, the only way to obtain an honours degree at Cambridge was through the Mathematical Tripos. Most students at Cambridge did not aim to achieve an honours degree; they studied for the ordinary degree (non-honours), a general degree with no particular specialisation in a subject. From the mid-19th century onwards, other Triposes were established. For an explanation of the Cambridge Tripos system as it exists today, see:  


Computer Science Tripos  Blog post: ‘The Computer Science Tripos is 45 years old this month’ (Oct. 2016):  Via the UL Special Collections blog. 
Economics Tripos  Alfred Marshall, Introduction to the Tripos in Economics: and associated branches of political science (Cambridge, 1906):  Available online, via the Internet Archive. 
  K. Tribe, ‘The Cambridge Economics Tripos 1903-55 and the training of economists’, The Manchester School 68.2 (2000), pp. 222-248:  Available online, via Wiley Online Library (institutional or library access; other access options available). 
Geographical Tripos  D.R. Stoddart, ‘A hundred years of Geography at Cambridge’, The Geographical Journal 155.1 (1989), pp. 24-32:  Available online, via JSTOR. 
Historical Tripos  J.O. McLachlan, ‘The origin and early developments of the Cambridge Historical Tripos’, Cambridge Historical Journal 9.1 (1947), pp. 78-105:  Available online, via JSTOR. 
  G. Kitson Clark, ‘A hundred years of the teaching of History at Cambridge, 1873-1973', The Historical Journal 16.3 (1973), pp. 535-553:  Available online, via JSTOR. 
Mathematical Tripos  W.W. Rouse Ball, A history of the study of Mathematics at Cambridge (Cambridge, 1889):  Available online, via the Internet Archive. 
  D. O. Forfar, ‘What became of the Senior Wranglers?’, amended version of article first published in Mathematical Spectrum 29.1 (1996):  Available online, via Clerk Maxwell Foundation. 
  J. Gascoigne, ‘Mathematics and meritocracy: the emergence of the Cambridge Mathematical Tripos’, Social Studies of Science 14.4 (1984), pp. 547-584:  Available online, via JSTOR. 
  H.W. Becher, ‘William Whewell and Cambridge Mathematics’, Historical Studies in the Physical Sciences 11.1 (1980), pp. 1-48:  Available online, via JSTOR. 
Modern and Medieval Languages (MML) Tripos ‘The organisation of the study of Modern Languages in the University of Cambridge’, The Modern Quarterly of Language and Literature 1.4 (1899), pp. 322-326:  Available online, via JSTOR. 
Natural Sciences Tripos  M.L. Richmond, ‘”A lab of one’s own”: the Balfour Biological Laboratory for women at Cambridge University, 1884-1914', Isis 88.3 (1997), pp. 422-455:  Available online, via JSTOR. 
  D.B. Wilson, ‘Experimentalists among the mathematicians: Physics in the Cambridge Natural Sciences Tripos, 1851-1900', Historical Studies in the Physical Sciences 12.2 (1982), pp. 325-371:  Available online, via JSTOR. 
  G.K. Roberts, ‘The liberally-educated chemist: Chemistry in the Cambridge Natural Sciences Tripos, 1851-1914', Historical Studies in the Physical Sciences 11.1 (1980), pp. 157-183:  Available online, via JSTOR. 
  H.J. Blackman, ‘The Natural Sciences and the development of animal morphology in late-Victorian Cambridge’, Journal of the History of Biology 40.1 (2007), pp. 71-108:  Available online, via JSTOR. 
  J.A. Bennet, ‘Museums and the establishment of the History of Science at Oxford and Cambridge’, The British Journal for the History of Science 30.1 (1997), pp. 29-46:  Available online, via JSTOR. 


Syllabus and curriculum


Medieval/early-modern period 


In the medieval and early-modern period, there was no University syllabus in the sense in which we understand the term today, that is as a single formal document outlining in detail the contents of a specific course or study subject. The medieval statutes of the University are vague on the substance of the curriculum. Sources for understanding what was taught and how teaching was undertaken include tutors’ manuals and published accounts by individuals associated with the University 


For an extract from the account of Matthew Stokys, Esquire Bedell in the mid-16th century, on the process by which students determined (the ancient form of examination for the BA degree), and for some description of lectures, degrees, the trivium and quadrivium (courses for the BA and MA), see George Peacock, Observations on the statutes of the University of Cambridge (London, 1841) available online via the Internet Archive 


For information on a typical 18th century four-year course of study for the BA as well as rules of conduct, see the pamphlet produced by Daniel Waterland, a tutor of Magdalene College: Daniel Waterland, Advice to a young student. With a method of study for the first four years (1730first edition): available online via Eighteenth Century Collections Online (institutional access required), with subsequent editions available via the same platform. Also available as an e-book via Google Books. 


For secondary sources on the medieval and early-modern curriculum, see William Costello SJ, The scholastic curriculum at early seventeenth-century Cambridge (Harvard, 1958), via De Gruyter/Harvard University Press (institutional access only) and J. Hannam, Teaching natural philosophy and mathematics at Oxford and Cambridge 1500-1570 (PhD.31139, 2008), available online via Apollo. 


Modern period 


From the mid-19th century onwards with the establishment of other Triposes, see: 

  • The student’s guide to the University of Cambridge (Cambridge, 1862 and later editions): 1866 (2nd edition), 1880 (4th edition) and 1893 (5th edition) available online, via the Internet Archive.  
  • A.P. Humphry, The student’s handbook to the University of Cambridge, for the use of persons intending to enter at the University (Cambridge, 1877). 1877 (first edition) available online via the Hathi Trust. 


For the structure and content of each tripos, see Statutes and Ordinances. 


For lecture lists, see Cambridge University ReporterAvailable online from the academic year 1997/8 to the present. Lecture lists are published in special issues of the Reporter at the start of each term, giving details of all proposed lectures, arranged by Faculty or Department, for the upcoming termThere are also details of proposed public lectures, free to all members of the University.  


For a historical overview of graduation at Cambridge and the degree certificate, see: ‘Proof of a Cambridge degree, ancient and modern’ (June 2016) via the University Library’s Special Collections blog. 


For the history of the PhD and research studentssee: Elisabeth Leedham-Green, ‘The arrival of research degrees in Cambridge’ (Darwin College Research Report, 2011). Available via Darwin College. See also two blog-posts from the University Library’s Special Collections blog on the Board of Graduate Studies (formerly Board of Research Studies), 1920-55, and on the establishment of the Cambridge PhD.