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Exam Board: CIE

What is the Pre-U about?

The Cambridge International Pre-U in History is a fantastic qualification that gives the department freedom to focus teaching on its area of expertise, while preparing you for university in a much better way than A levels allow. With the Pre-U there are no byzantine mark schemes waiting to trip you up; there are no hoops to jump arbitrarily through; there are no bizarre topic pairings to shoehorn an agenda into. It is just interesting history, expertly taught and fairly assessed. By and large, by the end of the two years you get the grade your hard work and intelligence deserves.

The course is designed to offer an in depth study to the building blocks of European civilization. In the Lower Sixth you will be taught simultaneously about British history from c.400 to c.800 and European history from c.1050 to c.1250

The British history aspect covers the decline of Roman rule in the 4th century, through the Anglo-Saxon migrations and coming of Christianity, to the onset of the Viking raids. During this period an embryonic version of England is formed and you will learn how this came to be and the ‘Dark Ages’ were a lot brighter than you thought.

The European history aspect covers a very familiar period that you may have studied before (The Battle of Hastings, Thomas Becket, Magna Carta etc) but from a very unfamiliar continental perspective and make you realise that England, if not quite a backwater, was certainly not at the centre of the medieval world.

In the Upper Sixth you will look in depth at the French Revolution, analysing source material to build a picture of one of the most important events in history, whose ripples are still felt and echoed in the world we live in.

During the Upper Sixth you will also complete your personal investigations, an extended essay exploring any topic you want. This is your chance to really sink your teeth into real history and prove your mettle as a bone fide historian.

What does the A level consist of? 

Paper 1a British History Outlines, c.300–c.1399

Section 1: c.300–c.690

  • Roman Britain in the fourth century
  • The evacuation of Roman Britain; the legacy of Roman Britain
  • Settlements of the fifth and sixth centuries
  • The kingdoms of East Anglia and Mercia
  • The kingdom of Northumbria; Celtic Christianity
  • The Roman mission; the consolidation of Christianity in England

Section 2: c.670–978

  • Northumbria in the later-seventh and eighth centuries
  • Mercia under Aethelbald and Offa
  • The Viking invasions, c.786–871
  • The reign of Alfred
  • The reigns of Edward the Elder, Aethelstan and Edgar
  • Church, society and government, c.899–c.978

Paper 2a European History Outlines, c.300–c.1461

Section 3: c.1085–c.1150

  • The Reform of the Papacy and the Investiture Contest, 1046–1085
  • Germany and its rulers, 911–1125
  • The early Capetian kings, 987–1108
  • The Normans in southern Italy and Sicily, 999–1198
  • The Byzantine Empire, 1057–1095
  • The First Crusade, 1095–1099
  • The Crusader States and the Second Crusade, 1099–1187

Section 4: c.1150–c.1250

  • Frederick Barbarossa, 1155–1190
  • The Capetian Kings: Louis VI, Louis VII, Philip II and Louis VIII
  • The Papacy of Innocent III
  • Emperor Frederick II
  • The Renaissance of the twelfth century
  • Developments in the Church: monks; friars; the Inquisition
  • Heresy and the response of the Church

Special Subject Paper

Paper 5f The French Revolution, 1774–1794

  • The reign of Louis XVI and the long-term causes of the French Revolution
  • The long-term weaknesses and tensions of Ancien Régime France: political, financial, economic and social
  • Attempts at reform and their failure, 1774–1789; the ideas of the Enlightenment
  • The revolution of 1787–1789
  • The weakening of the old order, 1787–1788
  • The Cahiers and the Estates General to June 1789
  • The development of the revolutionary events from June to October 1789
  • The period 1789–c.1792
  • The role of women in the French Revolution
  • The attempt to build a new system of government, 1789–1791
  • The failure of the Constitution of 1791 and the end of the monarchy
  • The Terror, 1793–1794
  • Counter revolution; war and The Terror in Paris and in the provinces
  • Thermidor and the fall of Robespierre

Do I need to have studied the subject at GCSE?

Ideally you should have achieved at least a grade 6 at GCSE to study the Pre-U. However we have accepted pupils you have not sat the GCSE, at the discretion of the Head of History.

Whom does the subject suit?

Everybody comes to history in the end, because everything you are interested in, or will be interested in in the future, has a history. Whether it be the history of sport, or cooking or fashion, history is everywhere. So you might as well fall in love with history now and save yourself a lot of catching-up and regret later in life. The Pre-U is a course that rewards those you go the extra mile, who are willing to chase up ideas in the library and follow strands of thought into new areas. If the thought of spending time reading non-fiction books for pleasure appalls you, then this is not the subject for you, however if you are intellectually curious then you will have a great two years.

What skills should I have?

Pre-U History is an essay subject, so having a gift for crafting prose is a definite benefit. It is also a subject that rewards knowledge- if you have a good memory then you will do well. History is also a subject that contains scope for creativity, often the best historians are those who think a little differently, you can introduce and debate a concept that others might not have considered. Ultimately it comes down to how good you are at arguing, if you can persuade others to your way of thinking by clever words and accurate facts, then you will succeed in this subject.

What might the subject lead to? (careers/university etc)

A career in ruins. First and foremost, studying history is about enlightenment and we are proud to teach in a school that emphasises the importance of a liberal education. Learning should always be done for the enjoyment of learning. In more mercenary terms, history is a key facilitating subject, highly respected by universities and employers. Any career that requires research, putting forward or weighing arguments, public speaking or writing will welcome a background in history. Historians find their way into all manner of jobs, from being researchers, journalists or authors, to being lawyers, investment bankers or prime ministers. Studying history makes you interesting, it gives you something to talk about when networking with important clients, it helps you build commonality with strangers, it provides myriad examples of soft skills that help you achieve your aims. In short, it makes you a better person.

What trips are involved?

In past years, pupils have visited Naples and had an overnight trip to explore the museums and galleries of London. The department is interested in planning a visit to the early gothic churches of northern France.

What else should I consider before choosing?

“I wish I had studied history at school”, is a phrase I have heard dozens, possibly hundreds of times. I have never heard the phrase, “I wish I had studied business”.

What books should I read?

The best introduction to the British history side of the course is the Warlord Chronicles by Bernard Cornwall- a series of novels that capture the sense of being between myth and history, between light and dark, between the known and unknown, that encapsulates Britain between 300 and 800.

France by John Julius Norwich is a very readable popular history of a country that crops up in numerous different ways throughout the course.

The definitive companion to the European history element is The Two Cities by Malcolm Barber.

Who will teach me?

The course has been selected to allow each teacher in the department to specialise in the areas of expertise they are most passionate about. Mr Bostwick teaches about early medieval Britain, Mr Ferrero teaches about high medieval Europe and Mr Fox teaches about the French Revolution.