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Blackadder meets Joan of Arc – a day at the Faculty of History, Cambridge

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History students, Luci Reyes, Callum Fairhurst and Rossie Bell attended a  masterclass for sixth formers at the Faculty of History, Cambridge University in the summer.  The trip was organised by Suzanne Daley, one of Long Road’s History teachers. The following is Luci’s account of the day:

“Cambridge University has a highly esteemed, worldwide reputation, and on walking into the Seeley Library at the Faculty of History, I could see that it had rubbed off on some of the students, who had travelled far that morning, wearing their suits and ties or smart dresses. We were introduced to the day by Dr Joel Isaac, Lecturer in the History of Modern Political Thought,  who outlined the day’s aim, to give sixth formers an insight into studying History at university, especially at Cambridge. Then Professor David Reynolds, the Chair of the Faculty, spoke to us about the wonders of Cambridge, pointing out its architecture.

The day consisted of three lectures.  The first was ‘Beyond Blackadder: The Long Shadow of the Great War, 1914-2014’ by Professor David Reynolds.  An expert in the inter-war years, he explained how we view World War One through the prism of World War Two.   Describing the politics of the post-war years on the European continent and in Britain, Professor Reynolds ended on how the legacy of the two World Wars has affected Britain’s present relationship with the European Union.

We then went to lunch at Trinity College, which gave its Director of Studies for History and four undergraduates the opportunity to convince us that Trinity is the best college at which to study History, compared to any other college or university, whilst pointing out quirky  traditions, such as  ‘don’t walk on the grass’ unless you are a fellow.  We left with the clear message “Come to Cambridge but especially Trinity.”

The second lecture focused on Joan of Arc and was given by Dr Julie Barrau, an expert on the medieval period. Through sources and discussion, Barrau highlighted the length and importance of this period of history and how it affects later history, even today, through the story of Joan of Arc, who was an influential character trying to free France from English rule.  Her message to us was that the medieval period was not necessarily the dark ages.

Our final lecture was on the history of political thought and why it matters by Dr Joel Isaac. This lecture was different from the others. It really showed the thinking that a university student has to go through when tackling concepts of ideologies and theories of ‘the mighty dead’ in order to relate their ideas to today’s world.   In that hour, I understood that, unlike A level History, an undergraduate cannot rely on a text book alone for ideas but must be prepared to research, identify and question a wide range of sources to demonstrate independent thinking.

At the end of the day, I came away with the following thoughts.  From my experience of visiting the Faculty and listening to lectures, in order to prepare yourself for university, regardless of whether it is Cambridge or not, you need to start reading books on the topics that interest you and that relate to the course for which you are applying. Even better, ask during open days about any recommended books written by lecturers of that university to boost your personal statement. Finally, research as much about the course and university in terms of course content and admissions information so you are not caught out!”