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?
Hard to believe, but this month of April is the 50th anniversary of the 'official' break-up of the Beatles. This author was a very timid young student at Cambridge then. But the far more worldly and talented guy who had the room across the corridor from me had a lovely girlfriend who worked for John Lennon; and one day they scooped me up and took me to Lennon's house at Ascot. The white house with the white piano. Lennon himself wasn't there, but all the same . . . Fifty years later, that day is still so vivid