First Year of History

I finally received my exam results yesterday and now I can officially say I’ve passed first year! As I begin to look ahead to my second year of studying history I have a few reflections on how first year went…

My experience of learning history before university was pretty limited in terms of topics and periods. We didn’t study a big variety of historical eras/events, and, widely speaking, my historical knowledge was distinctly average unless it was Modern Germany or the Tudors! This meant that before coming to uni I was excited about being able to study history in more depth and range, but also a little bit worried that my knowledge was nowhere near good enough to be a history student!! However, it didn’t take long to establish that I wasn’t the only one with gaps in my knowledge – in my first medieval seminar it became very clear none of us knew what we were talking about, except for one person who’d studied the Crusades at A-Level, so I shouldn’t have worried! You come to university to learn, so you’re not expected to have all the answers already.

lecture theatre

When applying for history at university there were so many different courses to choose from. Something I really liked about UEA’s history course was that the first year modules are fixed, so you don’t have to pick your own options for the whole of first year. At first I wasn’t sure about this because it meant the first year wasn’t flexible, but then I realised it actually made a lot of sense for me. Having not covered much range of history at school, I wasn’t really sure what periods of history I would most enjoy studying. Therefore being able to study widely in first year seemed like a great idea. In my first semester at UEA the modules were Medieval, Early Modern and Modern which provided a great overview of a huge range of history. I learnt so much and challenged some of my own preconceptions about what eras of history I liked best. Being able to study a wide section of history helped give me a better idea of what modules to choose for my second year.

In the second semester the topics were Witchcraft, ‘History, Controversy and Debate’ (looking at different approaches to history and why we should study history), and Age of Extremes (which covered Europe 1918-2001). These modules were more focused on specific periods or topics, which was nice after the range of the first semester’s modules. I struggled with the Age of Extremes module because I’m generally not a big fan of modern history. I also felt at a bit of a disadvantage because I had never studied a lot of the content we covered, whereas many of my coursemates had (turns out Modern Russia was a very popular topic for A-Level at everyone else’s sixth form!). However I still got through and it even ended up being one of my best marks, which was satisfying because I felt like I worked harder for it than I did for some of my other modules.

revise

In terms of assessed work, most of my marks came from essays throughout the year and then I had two exams at the end of the year for Witchcraft and ‘History, Controversy and Debate’. For the essays, you choose your own essay title from a list of options. This was nice because it allowed you to focus on specific topics that interested you, making the task of essay writing a tiny bit more bearable. The essays were challenging, and some of mine were sent in dangerously close to deadlines, but overall I had no big problems with them. Although writing a university level essay is really daunting, you get great support from seminar tutors throughout the year, who were always on hand to answer any questions or look over essay plans.First year doesn’t count towards your overall degree for history, you just need to get 40% or over to pass the year. This took off some of the pressure which was great, especially for exams, which are always scary!

My first year wasn’t always plain sailing – it’s definitely a big step up from A-Levels, and it’s easy to feel overwhelmed when you’re staring at a pile of books and realising you somehow how to construct an answer to an essay question from this reading. Despite these inevitable challenges, I’m so glad I chose to study history. I’ve really loved the course and I feel like I’ve learned so much in the space of a year. I’m excited to get started with the modules I’ve chosen for next year, which will hopefully allow me to explore topics I enjoy in more detail.

Berlin

One of the societies I’m part of at UEA is the History Society. They organise all kinds of socials and events, from film nights to nights out, and an annual Spring Ball which is coming up in April. Back in January I got the opportunity to go to Berlin with the History Society which was a brilliant start to the year!

The trip was only around £160, which covered flights and accommodation, as well as the cost of various activities that were planned for the week. I’d never been to Berlin before, so the opportunity to go at such a good price was one I couldn’t turn down!

We stayed in Berlin from Monday to Friday, giving us 3 full days there. On the first day we went on a walking tour of the city, which was a brilliant way to see all the sights and learn about some of the history (it was a history soc trip after all!). The only downside was the temperature, as walking around isn’t quite as fun when it’s minus 10 and you are beginning to worry that losing limbs to frostbite could be a serious issue. But at least the freezing temperature meant we got snow, so everything looked extra magical! In the evening we got to go on a guided tour of the Reichstag, home of German Parliament. There was also the chance to see Berlin at night from the glass dome on top of the Reichstag, which has to be one of the best views of the city.

For our second day a trip had been organised to go to Stasi Prison, but my friend Jessie and I decided to use the day to properly explore Berlin instead. The great thing about the trip was you could pick and choose what activities you wanted to do to get the most out of your time in Berlin. We revisited some of the places we’d seen briefly on the walking tour, and spent the afternoon in the DDR Museum, which was all about life in East Germany after the war, where we also made the most of the warm environment and free wifi!

For our third, and last full day in Berlin, we travelled to Sachsenhausen concentration camp, which was just over an hours train ride from our Hostel. It was an extremely bleak place to visit, but it was moving and thought-provoking, both on a historical and personal level. Then on the last day, before leaving for the airport, we squeezed in a visit to the East Side Gallery, a section of the Berlin Wall just round the corner from where we were staying.

The chance to experience the culture and history of Berlin and meet new people through the history society was fantastic. If you’re heading off to uni in September definitely look into what societies you can join, they offer some of the best opportunities that’ll you’ll get from your time at university. I loved the trip to Berlin, and can’t wait to see where the History Society will organise for a trip next year.