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?
Lost Island. About 1,000 feet south of the Rockaway shores, off the coast of Queens in New York City, a one mile long island which I make mention of in NEW YORK – called Hog Island - had by the late nineteenth century became a favourite getaway “back room business” gathering spot for some of the city’s most powerful Tamany Hall politicians, and even attracted beach resort businesses and developers. But following the infamous Hurricane of 1893, which made landfall in New York City in August of that year, the island all but disappeared under the sea, and was lost entirely by 1902. Almost a century later, following two particularly devastating storms, hundreds of artifacts from the late nineteenth century washed up on the shores of southern Long Island, believed to have come from Hog Island.