…and I’m done!

Sat the exam yesterday, so aside from waiting for the results, A200 is now done! It feels quite strange, if I’m honest. For the past eighteen months I’ve been relentlessly studying for my degree, with modules frequently overlapping, causing something of a rearguard action to catch up before starting. But now, I have four months off before the next module begins – it’s been so long that I can’t remember what I used to do with myself to pass the time!

Unlike what appears to be the majority of my fellow students, I’ve really enjoyed A200. Granted, the module had its moments, largely where number-crunching was concerned, but on the whole the experience was really good. Perhaps the most enjoyable aspect of this is that it teaches you how to be a historian.

For me, history is far, far more than just a sequence of jolly good stories that took place between tens and thousands of years in the past. Most importantly, it teaches critical thinking, but as an academic subject, it also teaches you how to come to your own conclusions, how to see an argument from all sides, and how to find out stuff you need to know to make an informed decision. All stuff that’s really handy to know in the real-world.

For example, the second block in this module is on the European Reformation, so we learnt all about Luther’s Protestantism, Calvinism, and the English Reformation. The essay we then had to write asked us to discuss the extent to which John Calvin’s Reformation in Geneva could be considered ‘a French take-over’ (Calvin was, of course, French). To answer this, we had to look in depth at the state of things in Geneva in the mid-sixteenth century, and analyse primary sources as well as the subsequent historiography, and come to a decision whether it was a take-over or not. In doing so, we looked at the situation through the eyes of both Calvin and his Pastors, and the native Swiss, and weighed the evidence accordingly. This practice of seeing a situation through several sets of eyes, and scrutinising sources that survive from the time as well as historical interpretations of them, are all life-skills that, I believe, have helped to make me much more level-headed nowadays. Perhaps if more people studied the mechanics of history, we’d have much less violence in the world?

I freely admit, I’m not very good at sums. I was never very interested in maths at school, and am more inclined to run away from a string of numbers when I see such things nowadays. So when it came to the fourth block, on the transatlantic slave trade, I felt like the proverbial fish out of water. However, the block taught me a very valuable aspect of the historian’s craft, that of using all available data to come to an informed conclusion. Reams of data on the numbers of people taken across the sea were involved here, but it pointed out some very intriguing insights into this period of history, and has shown me just how important figures are when looking at the past.

My absolute favourite bits of this module, however, are a toss-up between blocks one and five. Block one dealt with England, France and Burgundy in the fifteenth century, which had me enraptured from the get-go. Burgundy! Wow. Essentially a study of state formation during the second-half of the Hundred Years War, it was really fascinating to learn so much about this time period. Particularly gratifying, for me, was an in-depth look at the Wars of the Roses. It’s always been such a shame, to me, that we don’t study this time period while in school, but then the influence of France, and the Continental emphasis on British history during these years would perhaps make the subject too unwieldy for year 8 pupils…

Block Five dealt with state formation during the nineteenth century, when all sorts of weird and wonderful things were going on throughout Europe. Starting with a re-evaluation of the Industrial Revolution, the block took in the French Revolution, the Revolutions of 1848, and the formation of Prussia/Germany and Italy. I know a thing or two about Italian unification from having had something of a love affair with the country since my mid-teens, so it was fairly straightforward stuff there. But it was all just so fabulous, I can’t begin to tell you how enraptured I was – particularly coming on the heels of all the misery of the slave trade in block four.

An honourable mention should also be made of Block Three, which was all about the Wars of the Three Kingdoms but began with a somewhat brief discussion of the Thirty Years War – this was a real eye-opener for me, and has become something of my favourite war, if one can be said to have such a thing! It certainly prompted the purchase of more books on that subject, anyway!

Yesterday’s exam, then, could probably have gone better. I revised for weeks, but in the event I revised almost all the wrong things! I think I managed to make a decent acquittal of myself in two of the questions, but I feel I definitely let myself down at the final hurdle, where I chose to discuss the role religion has played in causing and aggravating conflict throughout the years. By this point in the exam, I was experiencing serious hand-cramps from having been writing for about two hours straight, and I think that might have made me want to just get it over with. But we shall see. I think I get the results in August, so not long to wait. I hope that my results from each of the six essays will carry me sufficiently to have a respectable pass, but there is a little niggle at the back of my mind that keeps telling me “you could have done better…”

So anyway. Four months off! Brace yourselves…