Electives and Other Options

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.

The decision to take an elective can be a tough one, particularly if you’ve only got control over a fraction of your modules in the first year. Bear in mind though that the number of core elements is likely to decrease as your degree progresses but also that you are taking modules that will count towards your degree if you do this in your second and third year. It can be a bit of a balancing act as not doing one kind of module in History in year two may mean you can’t do something else in year three. Be sure to have an awareness of how this decision may impact upon what you do in subsequent semesters.

In the first year though this is something that isn’t really a concern because for most of you the marks from this year will not be counted in your final degree classification. This means that you can be even more adventurous in what you do but at the same time it can lay the foundations to giving you even more options in the future. Choosing to take a language module, either in something new or building on your A-Level knowledge, may give you more options when it comes to dissertation topics as you can access non-English sources or taking something in Film Studies could open up a whole new way of approaching a period that you’re really interested in. Give some thought to what is available to you, what it could add to your degree and whether this is an option you want to try out in your first year or perhaps come back to at a later point. This is something that only you can decide: some students will take electives every year and some take none at all, it is entirely up to you.

Even if you decide not to take an elective module, then you will still have plenty of opportunities for honing your skills and expanding your knowledge base, although some of these may involve you having to put your hand in your pocket. Most universities will have a language centre that will run classes in the evening, which is a great way to develop your linguistic skills without necessarily making it an official part of your degree. Prices and length of courses will vary but you should be able to take courses that range from absolute beginners to post-A Level, allowing you to build on pre-existing knowledge or to try something completely new. Some institutions may also offer courses specifically aimed at historians, which will be less about buying a train ticket to Dieppe and more about reading primary material and the very specific vocabulary that that can involve. Any budding medievalist out there should seriously consider trying to develop skills in both relevant languages, most obviously Latin, and also palaeography (the art of trying to read ye olde handwriting). Again, these may be available directly through the department or they may come in the form of extra-curricular courses. Universities with a particular strength in medieval studies may also offer a more varied range of pre-modern language courses if you have any burning desire to brush up on your Old Norse or Middle English.

Be sure to investigate these kinds of options carefully before making any decisions regarding taking electives: would an evening language course meet your needs? If so, how might that free up other options for you? Look at modules offered in the second and third year that could potentially be of interest to you – do they have a language requirement that you currently don’t meet? Is your desire to do that particular subject strong enough for you to act on rectifying that now? Obviously there is more to electives than simply doing a language, but if this is your primary interest, then be aware that there are other options available to you.

As I tried to emphasise in my last post about module options, your first year in particular should be about trying new things and for some of you that may involve dipping your toe into the waters of another discipline. While you definitely don’t need a clear road map of your entire degree, it can be useful even at this early stage to think about what interests you, a rough direction that you might wish to take in your studies, or even what career you hope to enter in to at the end of it all, and in some cases your portfolio may be strengthened by taking a module outside of History. This is all well and good and this kind of forward thinking is commendable, but don’t overlook the fact that taking a course because it sounds fascinating is just as valid a reason as any!

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