All posts by DrCEMcCallum

Doing It For the First Time: A Beginner’s Guide to Research Pt. II

Well, it’s hard to believe but the summer is officially over and now begins the chaos of the start of term. In the midst of moving house, catching up with friends and generally getting back in to the swing of things, it is easy for an ongoing project like a dissertation to be pushed to the side-lines but at HE History Hub we’re here to make sure you keep it front and centre.

In earlier posts we have looked at some of the things to bear in mind when embarking on a dissertation and some of the practicalities of getting to the material that makes a dissertation possible. In this post I want to think more broadly about managing a project like this, both in terms of the data you’ve collected and in terms of time. Continue reading Doing It For the First Time: A Beginner’s Guide to Research Pt. II


Doing It for the First Time: A Beginner’s Guide to Primary Research Pt. 1

Well the summer vacation is nearly upon us and for those of you just finishing your second year thoughts will be turning to dissertations and the work that you have to do over the coming months. Beyond actually deciding what you’re going to spend the next academic year working on and the idea of having to write ten thousand words on one single topic,  probably the most daunting prospect is having to face doing a significant amount of primary research. Most of you will have done a far amount of research already – every time you write an essay or prepare a presentation there will be some degree of research involved –  but it has probably been guided by your tutor to some extent and based either on online resources or what is held in your own institution’s library. Depending on what you’ve chosen to work on for your dissertation, chances are you’re now going to have to go further afield in the coming months to other libraries and archives in order to track down the sources you require and do so entirely of your own volition.

Continue reading Doing It for the First Time: A Beginner’s Guide to Primary Research Pt. 1

The Seven Deadly Sins for Students*

*Ok, well not deadly and strictly speaking not sins but definitely seven things you should try to avoid doing.


It’s almost the end of the year, so what better time is there for us here at the Hub to reflect on some of the most common student queries and missteps we have encountered over the past few months in an effort to stop you bringing those bad habits back with you in September.  How many of these have you been guilty of this year?!

Continue reading The Seven Deadly Sins for Students*

Taking Charge: How to Deal with Running a Seminar

After a few weeks away, HE History Hub is back and this week we’re going to be thinking about student-led seminars. With increasing emphasis today being on ensuring that students leave university with a useable skill-set as well as knowledge, chances are that at some point you are going to be asked to run at least part of a seminar. This is can be a really daunting task: you have probably given little thought to what it is that your tutor does to prepare a seminar and now all of a sudden you’re faced with filling a big chunk of time and taking responsibility for leading your classmates through a particular topic, all the while knowing that you’re being judged on how well you do this by both your tutor and your peers. Once the initial panic subsides a little, you’ll find that the best approach is to work systematically through the various stages of what you’re being asked to do and, while this will differ from class to class, what follows should be broadly applicable to most scenarios.

Continue reading Taking Charge: How to Deal with Running a Seminar

Should the History Lecture be History?

Tell me and I’ll forget; show me and I may remember; involve me and I’ll understand Confucius

There is no doubt that the traditional lecture is under fire, and many would argue that it is with good cause.  Outmoded and didactic, the lecture is something of an educational dinosaur, appearing as a format that is contrary to contemporary thought on optimum ways of learning and seemingly undermining many universities’ aspirations when it comes to research-led teaching. But for all the criticism that exists surrounding the lecture format, it persists – why is this the case, and how far do we need to change the traditional lecture to meet the needs of our students in the twenty-first century?

Continue reading Should the History Lecture be History?

Why a History Seminar is Not Like Twilight.

For those of you who have just started at university, the last few weeks have probably been a bit of a whirlwind, and just when you’ve got to a point when you’re settling in, finding your way around your new town or campus and have figured out where the best place is to get a fulfilling (if not particularly nutritious) snack for your post-night out walk home, we expect you to begin doing some work. As a History student, the bulk of your teaching will be done through seminars and as this type of class will form the backbone of your entire degree, getting your head around both how they are meant to function and how you can best prepare for them is crucial.

As Sara pointed out in our last post on what exactly a seminar is, there are really no hard or fast rules and you will come across a wide variety of different styles of seminar teaching during your degree. Some tutors use group work extensively, some will make use of various technologies, some love student presentations, some may be more old school and run each session as a two hour discussion of the major issues; chances are that within each module you will encounter slightly different formats as the tutor tailors what you do to the subject and tries to make sessions remain fresh. However, whatever the style of the seminar, the substance remains the same – we are looking for a willingness to participate, to share your ideas and interpretations, to listen with respect to other people’s contributions and to discuss points of disagreement with consideration for your classmates’ own points of view. Like most things in life, the more you put into your seminars, the more reward you will gain from them – coming to class to sit there and hope that you will be able to make up for your own lack of preparation through the hard work of others, or the knowledge of your tutor is bad form.  You mustn’t just sit there lapping up the insights of others, you must be willing to contribute some of your own!

Continue reading Why a History Seminar is Not Like Twilight.

How to Dissect Your Reading List AKA What You Should be Reading for Your Seminars.

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.

Continue reading How to Dissect Your Reading List AKA What You Should be Reading for Your Seminars.

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.

Continue reading Electives and Other Options

Pick and Mix: Thinking About Modules

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.

Continue reading Pick and Mix: Thinking About Modules