Echoes of events long gone can often overturn our own preconceptions and guide our decisions for the future. That history is now a poor relation in schools is disturbing. How can a society understand itself without knowing where it has already been?
Over the years, I’ve realised the historians worth listening to most are those who also write in a clear, accessible and informative style, something I’ve always tried to emulate. In addition, I’ve always tied to consider topics in new light and only presented my arguments after weighing the evidence. But while the rules of history are to be respected, sometimes it can be good to break a few. However, I have only ever done this to illuminate or emphasise an argument still further. The use of relevant sources, a firm understanding of the historiography and a willingness to be persuaded otherwise will always remain the most powerful weapons in a historian's armoury.
The skills of being a historian take time to master, understand and appreciate; any good historian worth his or her salt will readily admit that the learning process is ongoing one. As for myself, many of the pieces of this puzzle fell into place when I undertook an MA at Birkbeck in social and cultural history. The course was modular and we had the opportunity to engage in robust debate during seminars. Instead of exams, we were asked to formulate a question on a topic that tied in with each module and then write an essay of around 5,000 words. We also undertook a major dissertation. I have presented most of the work here, although not in its original form as I subsequently tightened up much of the word flow and edited numerous paragraphs that were not precise enough for my liking in their original form.
I will not pretend to be an authority upon the topics presented. However, I feel that my work was well researched and, importantly, remains fresh. If you are a casual reader, please do not let the academic angle put you off: I have tried to maintain a clear and engaging style and I'm sure there's much in here that you will find of interest.
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