Two Decades: Only a Brief Period of History?

If you read the title of this post and were expecting a long philosophical debate on the meaning of time, you’re slightly in luck. I’m turning twenty soon and it’s prompted me to think about how we perceive certain amounts of time. For example, to me a decade is a relatively short amount of time, but when I think that ten years ago I was still in primary school determined to be a surgeon (more on that later) a decade seems infinitely longer. When considering my favourite period of history, early twentieth century Russia, even then two decades seems relatively short despite the fact that there were three revolutions in the space of twelve years, and a civil war on top of that. So what’s the purpose of this post you ask? Well it’s mostly for myself to recollect how I’ve changed over the most important ten years of my life, and give you, the reader, a fair few laughs at my various ‘career ventures’, but to prompt other historians who may be reading this to consider our different perceptions on periods of time. Who knows, I may be alone in perceiving a decade in history as shorter than a decade of my own life, but there’s no harm in pondering.

So, to the point, where was I ten years ago? I had just finished my last year of primary school, and despite the fact I was excelling in literacy (really I’ve lived most of my life with my nose in a book, to which I have to thank my mother for funding my bookworming) I was determined to become a surgeon. Whether this stemmed from the fact I’d had an amazing surgeon when I’d been in hospital or my mother was an excellent nurse I don’t know, but in my ten year old brain I failed to account for one thing in my ‘life goal’ to be a surgeon. I am incredibly squeamish. I don’t mean in the sense of seeing the inner workings of a body, I feel most of us don’t jump in excitement when we see surgery scenes, but a strong case of I can barely think about what happens to my brain if I shake my head (perhaps this is why I rarely say no?). Now this obsession of mine to be a surgeon carried on for a good few years, even to the extent I attended a STEM summer school in year eight where I received some of the strangest comments in my life. For one, that my heart sits at the perfect degree to the left in my chest (which was worked out through graphs; this still baffles me as to how), and I have a very small lung capacity (1.4L I believe, which is disappointing). Obviously at some point I saw sense, as this blog is the blogginghistorian not the bloggingsqueamishsurgeon, however I cannot remember exactly when this was. Don’t be disappointed though, this wasn’t my last foray into the sciences; really, why did no-one tell me to stop?

What fantastic career did I aspire to after my dabble with surgery then? Journalism. I can honestly say I have not completely lost my attraction to journalism, evidenced by the fact I’m writing this blog and would like to publish research in the future. However, I did not venture as far into preparing for a career as a journalist as I did for being a surgeon. I submitted a short story to the Readers Digest, for which I apologise to whatever poor soul read the most awful short story I’d ever written, but I wish I had done more, like write for the student paper. The point of mentioning my dabble with journalism is to highlight the importance of self-confidence and believing in your own skills. If I had the confidence I have in myself now, I could have very different aspirations than I do now. For example, I may be working towards writing for a history magazine rather than endeavouring towards eventually studying for a PhD. Saying that, I am going to investigate the History Student Times or other written publications at my university as I’d like to challenge myself to write more. As for you, the reader, I would encourage you to push yourself to try and achieve your goals, even if you doubt your own skills, because as my mother would say; the worst that happens is it doesn’t work out, but you can say you tried and not live with the regret.

Now, I can sense you wondering what other foray into the sciences did I undertake? Well wonder no more, as despite my fascination with history and love for the subject, I dreamed of becoming a biochemist. Looking back I have no idea where this aspiration came from, all I can guess is that I was interested in the clever intricacies of the human body (ironic yes, considering I was and still am squeamish) and biochemistry sounded mysterious and fascinating. Anyway, this prompted me to first attempted the ‘Triple Science’ GCSE, in which I learnt A-level science during my a-levels, which went about as well as can be expected. I understood very little of the physics, could not balance equations for chemistry (which I still can’t do), and whilst I loved the biology, it did not love me. So I ended up dropping the triple science and studying the standard core and additional science GCSE’s, in which I gained B’s. However, I decided to take both Biology and Chemistry as two of my AS-levels, which was both one of the best and the worst decisions of my life. To clear that up, this was not a good decision as I still could not understand the chemistry, and whilst I understood the biology I was neither adept at the experiments nor explaining the ‘why’ of processes in exams. I can sense you’re wondering why was this ever a good decision then? Well, prepare to be surprised.

The AS-levels I took that included the Chemistry and Biology? I ‘failed’ that academic year, receiving much lower grades than I’d been expecting, which as you can imagine was quite a shock to the system. However, if I had not failed that year I would not be the person I am today. It forced me to reconsider my goals, which led to multiple actions. I resat my AS-levels completely, despite my academic institution offering me the option to simply progress on to the A2 year (I had received two C’s and so they personally could not see the point in me resitting the entire year), and moved to a different educational institution. For these new AS-levels, I chose the more suitable subjects of History, English Literature, Government & Politics, and Sociology, as compared to my previous decision to study History, Economics, Biology, and Chemistry, which led me to fully explore History as a career option. Despite my new institution not having the best reputation, and I myself was wary of studying there (it was my mother who encouraged me to see if I could gain a place), the two years I spent there were more enjoyable than my entire six years at my previous institution. The tutors were far more engaging, my love of literature was renewed, and my fabulous history tutor encouraged me to pursue history as a degree and career option, who never grew tired of marking my practice essays and ‘redos’. Sadly he left after my first year, and so I’ve been unable to track him down to say thank you for his support (Hugh Clayden, you’re fab!).

Being faced with what felt like a colossal failure at the time also forced me to build up a stronger sense of my own self-confidence, and it developed my resilience when faced with unexpected situations. It’s my go to example for that all important interview question; give me a time you hit an obstacle and what you did to overcome it. Aside from the obvious benefits to myself, it’s also what I tell prospective students when they worry they may fail their exams or might not reach their potential first time around. I think it can be reassuring to hear that it’s not the end of the world, and whilst I had my supportive mother helping me through the process of re-evaluating my goals, not everyone has that voice of reason to help them through the self-doubt. My advice for anyone out there currently awaiting their exam results, or simply just doubting their current abilities, is that it’s absolutely fine to take longer to reach that ‘golden destination’. You will still reach that destination, but the scenic route will develop you as a person and who knows what you’ll see along the way?

So, now to sum up the past ten years of my life. I’ve finished primary school, completely gone through high school, completed and failed one set of AS-levels, fully completed two years of A-levels with good grades, and finished my first year of university. I’ve gone from aspiring to be a surgeon, dabbling in journalism, back to the sciences in wanting to be a biochemist, to where I am now. That is, I’m aiming to eventually study for a PhD and join the glorious ranks of Russian History researchers. I mean, what’s not to love about Russian history when one of the potential reasons the Red Army won was they had access to tea, compared to the White Army who had the beer and wine. Neither was ill, but one group were enjoying themselves a heck of a lot more; which group that was really depends on your drink of choice!

Looking to the future, I can honestly say I’m not quite sure where I’ll be when I celebrate the ending of another decade or what I’ll have experienced on the journey there. I could delve back into the sciences (only kidding, I don’t think my mother could take another round of ‘I could work with the human body, really!’). I could have received my PhD and be tutoring at my university, as they’ll have to pry me away from the university as I love every aspect. I may encounter some hardships along the way, there’s the possibility I may not be successful in gaining PhD funding and have to alter my plans, but I know I will enjoy the journey and whatever happens, I’ll be proud of myself at the end of it.

My advice for you, as the reader, is to do the same. Push yourself out of your comfort zone, enjoy what’s around you before it passes you by, and whatever happens be confident in your skills and believe in your own abilities!

 

 

The Perks of Being a UGRL Scholar

This week marks my second week working on the Object Trajectories UGRLS project, so I felt it would be good to write a post about the perks of being a UGRL scholar. Besides the most obvious perk of engaging with live research as a first year, I’ve also had the opportunity to attend several residentials and received some amazing documents from my project supervisor. As part of my induction to the Brotherton Library Special Collections I also got to see one of Shakespeare’s first folios, and the first published book of the Brontës’ poems, which made me go a bit nerdy literary historian for a few minutes. This post may not be particularly interesting to some, it’s more for myself to keep track of what I’ve been doing as part of the ‘museum of me’ as one wise facilitator told me. Although it does include some images of historical goodies, so there is that enticing aspect.

 

So, what have I done so far? Firstly I’ll cover the two residentials that I’ve been lucky enough to go on, one called the Weetwood residential which was all about improving your skills, and another called Selside, which is all physical activity but very confidence boosting. The Weetwood residential focused on making the most of your scholarship, engaging with academics (the dreaded networking), and improving vital skills such as presentation and project management skills. As anyone who knows me will tell you, I’m not the most outwardly confident person so being able to improve on my ‘networking’ skills in a comfortable environment with other scholars was amazing. The residential was held at Weetwood Hall, a four star hotel so easily the fanciest hotel I’ve ever stayed in, and included a drinks reception and evening meal. As a non-drinker, hearing the words ‘drinks reception’ fills me with dread, as does the prospect of cranberry juice (why do people assume non-drinkers are obsessed with cranberry juice, it really baffles me), but it was a great opportunity to meet other scholars. Hearing some of the other scholars projects was incredibly interesting, especially as I was meeting people from the sciences who normally I never meet. Perhaps the best bit of the residential was being seated next to a fellow History student, who is the most enthusiastic person about coins I’ve ever met (although I have seen the coins, they’re beautiful), where we proceeded to talk History for who knows how many hours. So enough rambling about Weetwood, I’ve included some photographs below but unfortunately I didn’t take too many (whoops!)

 

Weetwood: Partial Exterior of Hotel

Photograph of the exterior of the Hotel, particularly the outside dining area and some guest room windows.

Weetwood: Conference Centre

Photograph of the exterior of the conference centre, including a section of the hotel itself.

 

As for the Selside residential, all of the activities were based outdoors, which as I’m not a particularly active person I was dreading this residential. However, the first advantage to this was my small group of 6 (including me) were all scholars from the same faculty, and so we already knew each other briefly. I decided to throw myself into it, and anything I felt uncomfortable at I would quietly excuse myself. Did I do this, you ask? I did the exact opposite. I went ghyll scrambling, to which I have to congratulate the facilitators as I was undoubtedly the most awkward person there, taking the muddy, hillier routes to avoid the water, and they never once made me feel I was being a pain. The highlight for me, without even having to think about it, was the caving; seeing as I’m petrified of pitch black darkness, water, and I’m claustrophobic this was a massive shock to everyone who knows me. There was something about standing in the coldest, freshest water I’ve seen outside of Scotland’s Lochs, admiring the various rock formations and stalactites. Even though I only briefly attempted what can only be described as a ‘crawling space’, the experience of being underground was amazing and the biggest rush of adrenaline I’ve ever had. Now, you’re probably reading this thinking ‘did anything not go to plan?’, and you’d be correct to question the positives. I did get incredibly sunburnt on my face (only the left side, which was an attractive opposite to the midge bites covering the right hand side) despite applying SPF 50 to my skin and my legs proceeded to ache for the next few weeks; this was great considering I then worked two University Open Days in a row. Below are some pictures I took of the surroundings, which were amazing, even though the sheep were incredibly vocal.

Selside Building

Photograph of the building the group resided in during the residential.

Selside Surroundings

Photograph of the surroundings of the Selside building.

Selside Countryside

Photograph of the countryside surrounding Selside.

Selside Limestone Rocks

Photograph of the limestone rocks surrounding the building.

Selside Limestone Rocks (2)

Photograph of the limestone rocks surrounding the building.

Selside: 'The Drying Rocks'

Photograph of the limestone rocks used to dry all wet clothing.

 

This post has ended up being longer than I expected it to be, so I’ll keep the next section short and sweet. My amazing project supervisor (honestly I lucked out, he’s already organised for me to go to the British Library in London and sent me on an archival skills training course) gave me some documents from the early twentieth century that were created and circulated by Phillips of Hitchin, which I’ve included pictures of below. Phillips of Hitchin were antique dealers, but they also were not dissimilar to interior designers, as can be seen in the fact they reproduced wallpaper designs for customers.

 

 

Below are some websites that can be used to either look more at the antique trade in general, or if you’re interested in Phillips of Hitchin keep an eye out on the blog.

http://csaam.leeds.ac.uk/ – General website for the Centre for the Study of the Art and Antiques Market

https://antiquetrade.leeds.ac.uk/ – Interactive map resource detailing antique dealers in Britain during the twentieth century

http://www.antiquedealers.leeds.ac.uk/ – Blog for a research project investigating the history of the antiques trade in Britain in the 20th century, including the Phillips of Hitchin research.

 

I’ll likely post again about UGRLS, purely because it’s such a great scheme and I like to shoot from the rooftops about it, but not for a while yet so that’s the end of my general nerdiness for both the scheme and the project I’m part of! I’ll catch you all again next week for another exciting instalment in the life of this history student

Retrospective Reflections: The Battlefields of World War One

Taking a backwards step, both personally and in time, I felt it would be a good idea to expand upon why I chose to study a History degree in the first place. Whilst my basic passion for History has always been there (a cliché, I know), much to the annoyance of my year seven History teacher when I spent far too long in an arrowslit at Skipton Castle, undoubtedly it has been the excursions I was lucky enough to go on that have furthered that passion.

For this post, I’ll be focusing on a school trip to France I went on in year 10 as part of my World War One GCSE studies.  There’s no arguing that being confronted with the sheer human cost of such a conflict triggered something in me; this being that I was determined to learn more about this and play my part in keeping the memories of those who died alive. From simply standing in one of the largest graveyards I’d ever seen, to being confronted with the devastating impact the artillery had upon the landscape that still exists, the extent of the First World War was inescapable.

Below are some photographs I took during the trip, to which I have included a paragraph further explaining the pictures content and the impact that such scenes and objects had upon me.

A Young Victim of WW1

A photograph of the headstone of Valentine Joe Strudwick, who was killed at the age of 15.

I can say with absolute certainty this is the war grave that will remain in my memory for the rest of my life. Valentine Joe Strudwick was only fifteen when he was killed in the line of duty, the same age I was upon visiting his grave. Being confronted with the grave of someone my own age, who had died fighting for what he believed in, generated within me a wave of great sorrow, which I’m sure most readers of this will also be experiencing. Further to this, the coins clearly visible on the headstone resonated with me, as it showed that even in the twenty-first century, nearly a hundred years after the First World War, people were still commemorating those who died and keeping their memory alive. This still stays with me today, encouraging me to learn about the human aspects of war, to ensure the memories of those who fight on our behalf are not forgotten.

 

Damage caused by Mines to the Landscape

A photograph highlighting the damage mines caused during World War One. Each hole in the ground is where one mine exploded.

Lochnagar Crater

A photograph highlighting the crater caused when a mine planted by the British exploded here.

Damaged Tree

A photograph highlighting the damage shells caused. Also includes small wooden crosses to represent soldiers who died during the war.

The above images highlight the impact that artillery, such as mines and shells, had upon the landscape which is still visible today. This deepened my understanding of the conditions endured by those fighting in the war; the idea of existing (their standard of living could hardly be called living) in the cold and damp conditions of the trenches, listening to the likely invisible shells striking the ground, and hoping that those firing could not find your position. In other words, being surrounded by disease and poor conditions, waiting to die by the hand of an enemy you could not see. Perhaps what is even more terrifying, is that within the French countryside in areas such as this, there are still unexploded mines that have not yet been found.

 

Men and Medals

A photograph that includes a picture of men who fought in the war and various medals.

Whilst I cannot say exactly what these medals were awarded for, they still remain in my memory for one distinct reason; they have a sentimental value to them that gives these objects a deeper meaning. Perhaps it is the not knowing that makes them interesting to me, that I can imagine the acts of bravery that may have been committed for this medal to be awarded to someone, or that these could very well have been awarded to a dead man. Either way, they represent one of the many ways we continue to preserve the memory and achievements of those who fought in the war, and may we always continue to do this.

 

Inside the Trenches

A photograph of the view inside a trench. Note: the original trench was not concrete, this was purely for preservation purposes.

Whilst this image does not seem particularly poignant, at the time and reflecting now this preserved trench instilled one of the greatest senses of terror I have experienced. The idea that the ground of this trench was once laden with water, with soldiers adorning every spare area of space and barbed wire decorating the top like a parody of a crown, created a fear in me that still affects me now whilst writing this. Furthermore, considering I stand at a very small 5″3, the inability to see beyond the walls was an incredibly trapping feeling.

 

War Graves

A photograph of gravestones at a First World War cemetery.

Thiepval War Graves

A photograph of some of the headstones at the Thiepval Memorial.

Tyne Cot Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery and Memorial to the Missing

A photograph of some of the graves at Tyne Cot cemetery, highlighting the human cost of World War One.

I feel it best to end this blog post with the above images, highlighting just some of the graves I saw at the small number of cemeteries I visited as part of the trip. The stark white headstone or the simple wooden cross are perhaps the most thought of image when thinking about the First World War, and perhaps for good reason should we ever begin to forget the great human cost of the war. The thought of so many people dying far too young in such a small space of time, and those who still suffered for many years following the war with varying physical and mental health conditions, continues to motivate me to further my education of the subject so that I may attempt to continue to keep the memories of those who fought alive.

I shall therefore end this post asking you, as the reader, to do what you can to retain the memory of those who fought, lest we forget.

The Journey Begins.

To introduce myself, I’m Liv and I currently study BA (Hons) International History and Politics at the University of Leeds. I’ve just finished first year with a 2:1 grade, having studied areas such as the Cold War in Asia, the JFK Assassination, and post-colonial Africa among other subjects. I’m also an Undergraduate Research and Leadership Scholar (UGRLS), meaning for summer 2017 and 2018 I’ll be joining a live research project and have the opportunity to undertake some research of my own. I’ll also be receiving training in leadership, public engagement, and project management as well as training in other key areas.

This blog will be part self-reflective, looking back on my experiences of first year and what I’ve learned, partly a way for me to create a detailed record of all training and opportunities I receive, and also how I will document my University journey.

So for those who may be reading, key features to look forward to include: How self-teaching myself to read and write Russian is progressing, further detail on the modules I’ll be studying next year (spoiler alert: there’ll be relations between the Great Powers 1919-1945), and what research I’ll be doing over the next few years.

I’ll be aiming to update this blog once a week, so pop in next week for an update on UGRLS!