College in the UK, Part 4 — Exploring Your Options
My experience of studying history at university has involved hours of lectures and seminars, whole days in the library, whole nights of social life, dozens of friendships and thousands of words of writing–and it’s not even finished yet. So, for that reason, having been asked to write a little bit about my experience of history at UCL, I really don’t know where to start.
As a historian, my instinct is naturally to begin by putting my account in context. At the moment of these reflections, I was studying for a master’s degree in European history at UCL. Previously, I took a three-year undergraduate degree in history at UCL, which I finished in June 2008. Between the two courses, I lived in London for a year, working in the UK Civil Service.
As this site is aimed at high school students, I’ll concentrate on my undergraduate degree. Some of my friends on the course found their niche very quickly and stayed in it for three years, studying the same period or region throughout. I favoured a more diverse approach. So, in my first year apart from the core course, I studied Early Medieval Europe, and Europe from 1870 to 1945. In second year, I branched out further. I took courses in politics, culture and society in Latin America since 1930, and the city of Rome from 300 to 1000 AD. I also wrote a 5,000-word essay about the Scottish community in Argentina during the first half of the 20th century, and the ways in which this community saw its identity (Scottish, British or Argentine?) I also took a course in race, class and culture in modern Southern Africa at the School of Oriental and African Studies in the University of London. Finally, I took a French course at UCL’s language centre.
In third year, I took a class titled, “Voyages and the Imagination in the Middle Ages,” which was basically about the way that Medieval Europeans pictured the world and the people that lived in it. Most of all, this meant reading Medieval accounts of voyages, from the Irish and Icelandic sagas to Marco Polo’s account of his travels to China. In conjunction with this course, I wrote a dissertation on “Mountains in the Medieval Imagination.” Branching out further, I took a course at UCL’s Architecture and Urban Studies department titled, “Cities and Social Change.” This was about various issues and challenges facing British cities since 1945 and was more of a sociology course than a history course.
So, it should be clear that a three-year degree focused on one subject from the start (unlike in the U.S.) need not be narrow or restrictive. I didn’t feel that I was unduly restrained by studying history. History is a broad discipline, a ‘big tent’ which encompasses a wide variety of methods and approaches to the past. It’s also a lot more interesting at university than in high school. Obviously, bear in mind that I came back to university to continue studying history at postgraduate level, so I would say that, but still, I just can’t imagine studying anything else.
I couldn’t finish without mentioning the fact that the “L” in UCL stands for London. This is definitely a good thing. London is brilliant, basically. There is always something to do, whatever your tastes, and always somewhere new to explore. Although it’s an expensive city, there are plenty of ways to live cheaply, and all of the major national museums are free.
MA student, European History
University College London
“College in the UK” is a series of op-ed articles written by guest contributors about academics, social life and what is unique about colleges and universities in the United Kingdom compared to American schools. As part of the first installment of this occasional special series, we invited contributions from university professors and students at UCL (University College London). The 2011 UCAS application deadline, which includes applications to UCL, is January 15th.