What I wish I had known before studying History – OurWarwick
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What I wish I had known before studying History

Lucy McCormick
- History- History Society- Anything!
Find out more about me Contact Lucy

I’m a self-confessed nerd for my degree — I love studying History and encouraging other people to do the same. It’s interesting, exciting, and offers myriad new ways of looking at the world. Having just finished my Second Year, though, I know it comes with its challenges. It can be a demanding degree, in terms of the volume of reading to do each week, the tricky abstract concepts to wrap your head around, and the onus on independent study. Whether you’re starting History in September, thinking about putting History on your UCAS form, or even looking for a different perspective on uni life, I’d like to share what I wish I had known before studying History.

  1. There’s a lot of reading!

Before seminars each week (of which we have four — one for each module), we’re set a list of secondary and primary readings to do. We then use those readings as the basis for discussions in weekly seminars. The majority of this is reading academic articles written by historians, and typically follows on from whatever the lecture was on. I’ve found this to be the most time-consuming component of the degree, because I have to read them quite carefully to ensure I’ve understood the argument. I like to make rough notes as I go along so I don’t forget the main points when I’m in seminars, but that’s a personal choice and everyone I speak to has a different approach to this. When I started doing this reading in the first weeks of First Year, the readings seemed quite overwhelming; they took me a really long time and I found the whole process pretty challenging. It’s one of the biggest academic adjustments to make as you move from Sixth Form/college to uni, because learning had always been more directed and dependent upon teachers with slide shows. It now relied upon my researching what I needed to know and managing my own time. But, as with most Humanities/Arts degrees, the contact hours are quite low to accommodate for more independent work and affording you the flexibility to do the reading in your own way. As I got used to the reading week by week, I found that I worked through it more efficiently: I made my notes more concise, I got better at skim reading larger sections that were perhaps less relevant, and generally managing the workload. The reading is certainly manageable, but required me to take the time to think about how best to get it done more efficiently and fully understand it.

2. Look for new ways to learn

If you’re starting History in a few months time, this might be a good way to prepare and keep your brain ticking. I’ve found that having a wide contextual knowledge is really useful; being able to link what you’re learning about to stuff you’ve already come across makes for some very interesting seminar and essay points, and generally helps you to contextualise your learning. There are so many ways you can do this: popular history books are a great start, and often quite entertaining (maybe making for a good staycation read!); there’s a lot of podcasts out there, which are a good way to try to absorb some interesting historical knowledge into a busy schedule; and, of course, good old fashioned documentaries. There is definitely no pressure or expectation for you to do this, but from personal experience, I think this would have been a good way to prepare for uni.

3. Find a good way of organising your time

I’ve touched on this briefly, but History really depends on working independently. In First and Second Years, our contact hours comprised of four one-hour seminars and four one-hour lectures, so how you spent the rest of your time was really up to you. There are obviously lots of things you need to make sure you do: meet new people; go out with friends; cook for yourself; do cleaning and general chores; have downtime and relaxation; and then, uni work! It’s important that you find a way to balance all of these priorities, so having a good way of organising your time is really important. For some people, having to-do lists is the key, for others it might be a trusty academic planner, or maybe even a digital calendar. Whatever it is, I would really recommend finding a good way of managing your time when you start your degree — it definitely sets you up with some good habits!

If you’re starting History in the Autumn, get excited! You’re in for a great experience, and hopefully these tips will help you get started.

Lucy McCormick
- History- History Society- Anything!
Find out more about me Contact Lucy

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