So far on HEHistoryHub, we’ve focused mainly on undergraduate history students, freshers in particular. But they’re not the only ones starting out on degrees at this time of year, of course. Universities also welcome their new postgraduate students at this time of year – those doing taught degrees (Masters, or MLitts if you’re in Scotland) as well as those doing research degrees. Studying at postgraduate level throws up a whole new set of challenges, so we’ll be looking at studying history at postgraduate level on HEHistoryHub too. Today, I’d just like to go over some of the main differences between undergraduate degrees and masters degrees, in particular the things that seem to throw new MA students for a bit of a loop.
As the wise man Forrest Gump once stated ‘life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re gonna get’ and as it is with life, so it is with reading lists.
Now in an ideal world, exactly what you need to read for each seminar would be clearly marked, possibly even rated so that you know what is key, what is recommended and what is there in case you happen to be awake at 3.47 the morning before class and can’t get back to sleep. Chances are that when you open your reading list at the start of the semester this is not what you’re going to find, because as we pointed out to you in our post on lectures, the thing you have to keep in mind is that all tutors will do things slightly differently, and probably have slightly different expectations of what they require from you in return.
At the very least a tutor will expect you to come to class having read a sample of the material that is available, to have thought about it (not just copied out chunks of it) and to be prepared to share your thoughts on the issues that were raised by what you read – these could be questions, problems, links between concepts, things that seem to contradict each other, what we can learn about the same topic by using a different source base and so on. Don’t worry, we’ll come back to this issue of how to prepare for your seminars another time. What we want to see from you in a seminar is that you have gained sufficient knowledge to be able to engage with the ideas that are central to the topic that is being discussed, and the gateway to obtaining this knowledge is your reading list.
In my previous post, I explained what a lecture is, why we still use lectures to teach history, and what you should expect when you turn up to class. In this post, I’ll go through some practical ways of getting the most from your lectures – whether you need to show up at all, how to prepare, what to do in the lecture theatre and how to stop everything leaving your head the minute the lecturer stops talking…
Your first choice is whether or not you’re going to turn up – if the lecture is at 9 am after the big student club night, on the far side of town/campus, it’s raining and you’re just not sure you’re that bothered. You’re not sure what the lecture’s on today. You can catch up from someone else or using VLE support…
Well, yes, you can, but there are several reasons for making the effort to go to that lecture:
Term’s probably underway or about to be underway for most history students now, so it is a good time to think about the ways in which you’re taught at university. For history students, lectures are probably the most obvious form of teaching you encounter. But what are they and why do we do them? Should we even be doing them, and should you be attending? In this post, I’ll try to break down the reasons for the lecture, then a follow-up post later in the week will look at some techniques for getting the most from lectures.
In my last post, I talked about some of the things you might want to consider when making your module selections but picking modules run by the History department is not your only option. Increasingly History departments are encouraging students to take a certain number of credits outside the department, on what are commonly called elective modules. Generally, this will be a range of modules from the humanities and social sciences that are seen as having intellectual merit and relevance to a History student. In some cases this may also include psychology and geography courses, as well as the more obvious candidates of politics, English, philosophy, theology, archaeology, and languages. The range of modules and the number of credits that you can elect to take outside of History will vary, but for most institutions this will be an option that is open to you every year. Those of you who are already on combined honours degrees may find that your choice is a bit more limited as you are already having to meet the requirements of two departments, but this shouldn’t preclude you from taking some credits externally.