Past History Papers: 1980s and 1990s

Manon Williams
Thursday 29 July 2021

As we explore past exam papers throughout the twentieth century, it is clear they have been getting more and more similar to the examinations that history students at St Andrews sit today. The papers from 1905 were very different in format and content, the papers from the 1950s were starting to offer hints of the variety of information we know today, and the papers from the 1970s presented a huge leap from the 1950s before. As I move to looking at past papers from the 1980s and 1990s this pattern holds up, and they are virtually indistinguishable from current exam papers.

We once again see a range of focused honours modules being offered to students, correlating to a further increase in the number of history students and staff members. It is the 1980s that we see the first explicit mentions of different types of history with the modules ‘Scottish Economic and Social History’ and ‘Race and Nationality’. Having classes on social history and analysis of history from a racial framework shows a willingness to explore new schools of history which were becoming more popular and respected within the discipline as a whole. Furthermore, we also see the first classes that would have likely offered a gendered framework in this decade with the Modern History modules ‘The Reign of Mary Tudor’ and ‘Family and Community in Early Modern England’. A class on the first female English monarch will have almost definitely included some discussion of the role of gender in her reign, and a class on family and community would have probably discussed gendered roles within the community. While there not yet any explicit mention of Women’s and Gender History there was likely at least some mention of those themes within these classes.

There was a further range of modules offered in Medieval History, including: ‘The Age of Alfred’, ‘Richard III’, ‘Europe in the Early Renaissance c. 1250-4000’, ‘The Islamic World: 600-1500’, ‘Heretics and Social Outcasts c. 1000-1350’, ‘The Byzantine World’ and ‘English and Welsh Monasticism’. There is evidence of further geographical diversity with the presence of classes on the Byzantine Empire and the Islamic World, improving the progress made in the 1970s. Although the majority of these papers were still fairly heavy on the traditional political, ecclesiastical, and military history, there were a great deal of modules on social and cultural history, as well as a few on less conventional subjects.

The same is true of the papers from the 1990s, the number of modules and specific questions on less traditional history was on the rise, and the papers are extremely similar to papers history students sit today. One of biggest changes is that the papers started to have module codes as they do today, for example, ‘SC2002: Scotland 1830-1990 – Industry and Ethos’. The classes offered in Modern History are delving more into late modern political history, with modules like ‘MO3953: Watergate’ and ‘MO5951: The Kennedy Years’. These modules are on extremely niche topics, indicating that there now truly was a great range of history professors with their own areas of specialty, and a bigger demand for a wealth of modules for honours students to take.

There were also a range of classes in Medieval History, including ‘SC3023: Scottish History: Independence and Nationhood’ and ‘ME2001: the British Isles: 900-1300’. One of the most interesting medieval history classes on offer was ‘ME3006: Women in Medieval England’, the first explicit mention of Gender and Women’s History we have seen so far. Due to the lack of records from the early years of the 1990s I was unable to find out if this was the first class on Gender History offered by the university, but, given that it is the only class on Gender History recorded in the years that I did look at it is likely that it was one of the first. This paper discussed many of the themes still included in history modules today: Women’s role in the community, women’s relationships with religion, attitudes towards women in society.

These papers from the 1980s and 1990s have built on the ones before them, sharing similarities to the past papers from the decades in the preceding and succeeding years. From the sparse papers of the 1904-5 session that focused almost exclusively on modern political history, to the range of history modules on offer today, we can see that the experience of studying history at the University of St Andrews has changed immensely. The discipline has gotten more nuanced and analytical; the papers from 1905 asked students to briefly explain or describe events, whereas papers from the last few years require students to answer with long form essays that tie together a range of sources and factors. The biggest change has been in the range of information on offer to learn about. Today, honours history students have over fifty modules to choose from, covering almost every time period and area in the world. It is clear that the experience of studying history at St Andrews has not only become more organised and varied, it also become more inclusive.



  • 1995 – ‘ME3006: Women in Medieval England’ Examination Paper – ms38977/6/1/1/1/10.
  • 1995 – ‘MO3953: Watergate’ Examination Paper – ms38977/6/1/1/1/10.


This post was written in 2021 by Amanda Stewart, who is going into her third year of studying History at the University of St Andrews.

This post is part of a collection examining the establishment of the History degree at St Andrews, looking at the increasing number of staff and students and the gender balance of those graduating with a degree in history. You can also learn about the progression of the history degree in the twentieth century or the or the first joint honours in History. To learn more about the past paper exams from key decades throughout the twentieth century, follow these links: 1905 Past Paper, 1950s Past Paper, and 1970s Past Paper, and the style and format of past papers.

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