Education


How to Fail Your History Degree

A historian told me this anecdote.

Some years ago, the history department at a certain university was about to award a degree to the most knowledgeable student they had ever known. His examination papers easily warranted a prestigious First Class degree. Before such a degree was awarded, it was the custom to interview the candidate in person, this interview being known as a 'Viva'.

The young man came in. The panel of professors and lecturers greeted him warmly. His papers were so impressive that they hardly knew what to ask him. But just to pass the time, one of the panel genially suggested: "Suppose you were in the year 1540, and you undertook a journey from Bristol to, let us say, London. Tell us about the journey, and what you might have seen along the way."

The young man stared at them. He looked completely flumoxed. "I mean quite simply," the questioner helpfully added, "what sort of conditions there might have been in Bristol, what the countryside would have been like, what other kinds of people, perhaps, you might have met on the road." Still the young man was silent. Others members of the panel tried to come to his aid. Then they began to probe.

And gradually it became clear that this young man, though he'd mastered the most astonishing amount of information, had no picture of the past. It had never come alive, as a living reality, in his mind. He seemed to know everything, but in fact he knew nothing at all. They didn't award him a First.

Now if only he'd been made to write a short story...

Did You Know?
A new French Underground Resistance. There is a group in Paris called "Les UX" that spends most of its time saving parts of the city that the government has failed to look after. Its members frequently use the huge maze of secret tunnels under the old city, breaking into historical sites and monuments to repair them. It also holds cultural events - art and movie shows for instance - in the underground passages. Its membership is a closely guarded secret, but is rumoured to include senior figures in the French establishment!




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