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“Hey, you’re a History student right? What happened in 1312?”
Yes, I am a History student. No, I cannot answer that question.
Contrary to popular belief, History students don’t know everything that happened in the history of ever. Believe it or not, there’s a lot of past – an infinite amount – and we’ve probably only studied 1% of it, if that.
Think of it this way: Up until GCSEs, History lessons barely scratched the surface of the most well known eras. You learn a little bit about the Romans, a bit about the Vikings, some Ancient Egyptian stuff here and there and then suddenly you fast forward several hundred years to World War I and II. We probably found out more about the Romans from blockbuster films.
At A Level, other events in modern history will be covered; probably the Russian Revolution or the Cold War.
If you’re lucky enough, you might get the option to span out from your typical mid 20th century syllabus into something like the Tudors or another modern dictatorship other than Stalin and Hitler.
It’s very selective.
Once study starts at university, we’re bombarded by whole genres of History we had no clue about before. We’ve only got to pick a small selection over three years and even then they’re usually quite specific. So, by the time we do know what happened in 1312, we’ll be too lazy to keep that pointless bit of information in our brains. Some of us are too lazy to go to all four hours of our contact time, do you really expect us to try harder than that?
We don’t all want to be teachers.
One of the questions I am so often asked after revealing my degree is ‘Oh, so do you want to be a History teacher?’.
In my experience, most History students are not studying History vocationally. We don’t all want to be teachers or History teachers and most of us are not interested in carrying on to become academics and professors of History.
Studying History actually opens up a broad range of career options including Journalism and Law. The subject gives you invaluable skills that can be adapted for a huge range of careers.
We’re not only interested in kings and battles.
History isn’t just cool battles and the Tudor regime. Many of us study topics such as commerce and migration, economic history or the emergence of Pakistan.
Our lack of contact hours doesn’t not mean we have a lightweight degree.
Most of our degree involves a ton of self-motivation, personal research and essay writing. This means that a lot of it can’t be taught in lectures. History isn’t a practical degree either, meaning we can’t exactly spend our time in labs. The library is the laboratory of our minds.
We don’t all like castles.
Sam Dedman, ex-academic president of History said “I enjoy a good castle as much as the next guy, but it’s not my period of History”.
I am personally a big fan of castles, and they are my period of History. However, we learn next to nothing about them. In comparison to everything else going on during the periods we study, the study of castles is the least of our priorities.
Have I cleared that all up? I hope so. Please stop asking us what happened 400 years ago.