One of the things we are keen to stress on HE History Hub is where history at university differs from history at school. A good example of this is how your history department is staffed, and how it fits in with the wider university. Because teaching is only part of what goes on at a university, there are loads of bits of the university machine that you might not get to experience first-hand. If you’re in a medium to large sized department, you probably won’t be taught by anything like all of the staff on the books. Nonetheless, getting to know who is who is a good way of settling in, discovering your new surroundings, and broadening your understanding of history. Most departments will have a section of their website dedicated to their staff, their research interests and teaching – take the time to browse this before you arrive, so you have some idea of who does what.
In her last post, Sara discussed some of the ways in which the type of history you will be confronted with at university differs to that you were familiar with at school; this week I want to look at some of the ways these differences manifest themselves in the range of modules you will have to select from over the next three or four years. After the practicalities of actually arriving and registering at your university, one of the first things you will have to do in the department is select your modules for the coming year. Some of you may have no fixed idea of what it is that you want to do, while others may have their heart set on a particular module, but I would hope that the range of modules, their scope and their format played at least some role in you selecting the university that you are now at, even if the nightlife potential or being close enough to home to ensure a steady supply of clean socks without traipsing to the laundrette may also have been a factor. Here I want to discuss some of the things you might want to consider when making this important selection as well as some of the aspects of your degree which are set in stone; we will look at what you can gain by taking courses outside of your department in a later post on electives. Here, let’s start with those modules over which you have no real say – the core modules.
Hooray! The results are in, your place is confirmed & you are OFF TO UNIVERSITY! To do history! Yaaayyyy!
The next few weeks will probably pass by in a rush of setting up student bank accounts, arranging logistics with parents or whoever is dropping you off, making sure your accommodation is sorted, going through whatever online hoops your institution of choice has mandated for you – tedious, boring, once-done-never-repeated chores. It’s dull but essential stuff. Hopefully, you will also get to have a bunch of parties as your school pals all disperse in their different directions, into work or to different universities. You probably won’t get much of a chance to think about your degree until well into freshers’ week at the very earliest. Even then, it may well be a few weeks into term before you realise that this is not the history you’re used to. And suddenly, excitement turns to bewilderment, or even panic.
In this post, I’d like to go through some of the main differences between the history you’ll have learnt at school, and the history you will encounter at university. I’m going to talk about the subjects, the approaches and the structures, all of which will be notably different to what you’ve experienced before. I am basing this on my own experiences as a tutor of first years – on what students have said to me over the years, and what I’ve observed in the classroom. I’m also an A Level marker, so I’ve got a good idea about the kinds of history you’ve been doing up to this point. And I’ve talked to a number of secondary school history teachers and students at all levels about their experiences and worries about starting a degree. This isn’t meant to be exhaustive, and of course everyone’s experiences are a bit different, but there are some themes which crop up repeatedly.