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?
In the United States, the current 50-star flag was designed by then 17 year old Robert G. Heft as part of a school project. For his effort, he received a grade of B-. When his design was chosen and adopted by presidential proclamation, his teacher changed his grade to an A!