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Practice English Speaking&Listening with: Studying History at University | Hannah Witton

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- What it's like studying history at uni,

scene one, take one.



- Hey guys, I'm here with Ellie today.

And so Ellie is a friend of mine from uni.

You may recognize Ellie from some of my other videos,

so you should watch them too, they're okay.

- Average to mediocre. (laughing)

- We both did history together, that is how we became

best friends forever and life partners and lovers and...

oh my God, your hand's really cool, I hate that.


- I often get a lot of questions from people saying

"I'm thinking about going to uni, what should I do?

"What's history like?

"What's University of Birmingham like?"

Which is where we went, and so thought we would just

make a general video talking about what it's like

to study history at uni.

If you're American, that's college.

I tweeted out what you wanted to know, and you guys

wanna know stuff, so that's good.

"Did you develop skim reading skills at or before uni?"

I did at.

- You scan a whole kind of two pages, and you pick out

a couple of things, I think I developed that more at uni

because you need it.

You're reading so much, you don't have time to read

an entire book.

- "How many texts per essay did you read?"

I would say like...

10 was good.

- I think I probably do more because I've read

quite a few articles as opposed to books.

I don't know, they're more specific.

- Books as well, you literally just read intro, conclusion

and then one relevant chapter.

"How do you respond to people who say things like

"'oh but isn't history already known?'"


- (makes explosion sound)


It's not about knowing facts.

- Yeah, it's not about facts.

History is constantly changing because we understand

events one way, and then something comes another way like

oh actually maybe it happened slightly differently.

- Why we think what happened, what happened in the way

it did, the way we see it.

- And how the people at the time understand what was

happening, not what we think of it, but what did they

think about it.

- And why did they think that about it.

- "What topics in history do you study?"

Ellie, what did you do?

- My favorite was probably to do with Orientism,

and interpretations of other countries and other cultures

and interactions between different cultures.

So that's what I did my dissertation on,

travelers to the Middle East, that kind of thing.

- Obviously you guys know that I studied

a lot of sexual history, me and Ellie did a module together

on the history of homosexuality which was fascinating.

Another one of my favorite modules was the Tudors

and a hundred objects, and it was like a cultural

and material history of the Tudors, and it was like

a lot of museum study stuff, combined with history

and material culture and it was fascinating,

because now every time I go to a museum

I'm like "Why did they place this there?

"And how did they choose this specific object,

"and why does this one have a caption,

"and this one doesn't?

"What are they trying to do here and what are they

"trying to make us think, what is the story that they're

"trying to tell, is there like a specific direction

"that you have to travel around the museum?

"Or is it like free-for-all?"

I'll usually not go to museums now, I'm like blah!

(making silly noises)

- Why!?

- "How bad is third year?"

- Not very.

- Third year was my best year.

- I had modules I really enjoyed and I think that made a...

and the tutors I had in third year were so brilliant.

- "Do you have post graduation depression when you realize

"that you wont be studying such an awesome subject anymore?"

- That is a very loaded question.

I think I didn't get like depressed about it,

but I definitely miss it, I really miss just learning

so many interesting new things.

- I feel a bit under stimulated sometimes.

I've not read it yet but I bought this,

"A Little Gay History."

Got pictures and everything.

- (giggling) It's got pictures!

- What's that?

Early desires, what is this?

(upbeat music)

- This is the oldest known representation of a couple

making love in the world.

- [Both] Ah!

- It was found in a cave in the Judean Dessert.

The pebble depicts a couple face to face.

- It's a couple having sex!

- One person has wrapped their arms around the shoulders

of their lover in an embrace.

See, now we've just learned something!

- That's what it's like being a history student!

- Yeah we see something, we're like "What is this?"


- "Is there a massive difference between studying at

"different unis or do they all offer similar things?"

They will offer different things depending on

what the tutors are.

- But I feel like every university offers so many modules,

that there will be something you like.

- You discover what you like.

The beautiful thing is that even though me and Ellie

went to the same university to do history, we have come out

with completely different history degrees and completely

different specialisms, which I think is cool.

No one has the same history degree.

"How does the courses work, is there a choice for example

"on what time period you want focused on?"

In our first year, we did a complete survey course.

- You'd go through a few hundred years in an hour

and then you'd feel a bit seasick.

- So we had two Medieval modules, two modern modules,

this is when I realized that I hated Medieval history.

- And both of us never went there again.

We think the point of it is to show you new things

that you haven't studied before.

- I came out with it, and I was like

"Oh my God, I have this timeline in my head."

Then in second and third year, it's like free-for-all,

you just pick the modules that you wanna study.

- If your laptop logs on fast enough.

- Oh my God, those are the most stressful days ever.

- It's like you're in line for a festival ticket, but worse

because it would decide your fate for an entire year.

And the places went like that.

- Yeah, on the popular modules, so there was a day

and a time that it went live, and you had to go online

and you had to click on the module that you wanted to do.

"I love history at A level, but I'm worried I'll take it to

"degree level and realize it's not my passion, help."

University history is very different to A level history

but for the better.

- But also actually, if you don't enjoy it you can always

change your degree.

- It's a lot more theory based.

- It's quite philosophical as well actually,

because you have to look at yourself and look at

what in your life has made you think and see things

the way you do.

- The type of history that we studied, really put emphasis

on removing yourself from your worldview--

- De-centering.

- Yeah, de-center yourself, and putting yourself into the

shoes of the people in the past that you're studying.

Not judging the people in the past like, "that's weird,

that's wrong, why did they do that?"

But being like "okay, what made them think and feel

"that kind of way?"

- But you can't kind of judge them, you just have to

look at it and try and understand why they did it

instead of being like

"Can't believe they did that."

Because we do things that in a hundred years time

they'll look back and be like

"Why did they do that?"

But right now we think this is...

- This is right, and this is true, this is real.

- But there's no such thing.

- Be prepared for just having the whole world like

crumble at your feet if you study history.

- And around you and including you, and then you've gotta

kind of glue it all together.

- And then you rebuild yourself.

- Like literally gluing dust together.

- "Do you think there are biased representations

"in historical writing in terms of gender, racial,

"and cultural stereotypes?"

- [Both] Yes!

- There is no such thing as un-biased history.

- Like you can try, you can try, you can try,

but I don't think you'll ever get to the point where

you can say "this is 100 percent objective."

- Would you say that you found it more interesting

"studying modern history or earlier periods?"

- Modern.

- What are your favorite centuries?

19th and the 16th.

- I kind of like 19th and 17th.

I enjoyed Medieval history, but it's very different

to modern history because the written sources

are completely different, the way people write about it

is completely different.

And all of the names are the same, it's really confusing.

- All of the different Targaryan kings,

like Aegon, Aron, Aerys,

like, Raegar, Aeron, Aemon,

like that's Medieval history, what are all these names?

- Game of Thrones really happened, it's Medieval history!


- It's true, the wall is Hadrian's Wall, and beyond

the wall is Scotland.

- "Any tips on studying at Birmingham would be fab,

"and because I've found an unconditional offer to go there."


- Congrats.

- Do not walk under the clock tower when it rings,

because it's bad luck and you'll fail your degree.

University of Birmingham superstitions.

- We're not superstitious at all!

- I've never walked under it, even it's not ringing

I don't walk under it, but it rings four times an hour

because it rings at o'clock--

- Quarter past, half past, quarter to.

- So just don't.

- The Cadbury research library.

- (gasps) Yes, it's like all of the archives that University

of Birmingham owns.

So our friend George was doing an internship

with the library, and he was like searching some stuff

and he saw something that was like Havelock Ellis.

And he texted me being like "Aren't you studying

"Havelock Ellis, isn't he like a sexologist or something?"

So I was studying Ellis for my dissertation, and it turned

out that at the University of Birmingham,

we have Ellis's diaries.


- Handy.

- "How much is it like history class in high school?"

- [Both] Not.

- Next.


- Do you know how I see the progression of history,

as in how it's taught?

So in high school you learn like, oh this happened

this happened, here's some dates and names,

you learn it, you write about it, then sixth form,

you do about historians, and you say "this historian said

"this, but this historian said this,"

and you kind of make arguments, and then University is

all about what do you think?

Yeah these historians say this, yeah they use this

information, but what information are you gonna use

to make your point?

- Yup, yeah!

You're the historian now, what do you think?

- Yeah, you have to pretend to be an adult.

- "Why should I study history other than enjoyment,

"what kind of jobs can you get through that degree?"

- YouTuber!

- I feel like with a history degree, a lot of people say

this, and it sounds really cheesy, but I feel like

you actually can get quite a range of jobs because

you do have quite a few trasnferable skills.

Publishing, teaching, research, writing,

or you can get a master's then a PhD and just become

a history lecturer.

- Become a historian.

- Become a historian for life, being a historian

is a profession.

- "How much do you plan essays, I usually do very minimal

plan and it seems to pay off but I feel like this changes

at a higher level."

- I feel like planning loads helps.

In our exams you have about an hour per essay-ish.

- But you spend like 15 minutes planning.

- It makes your argument so much more succinct.

- But also like for course work essays,

I plan a lot, I plan like every point that I'm gonna make

in each paragraph.

Planning documents I had for my dissertation was ridiculous,

I had this huge Word document with just all of my notes,

it was searchable, so I could be like

"I need to find something about homosexuality,"

so I'd just type in "homosexuality" and I'm like

"okay, there are all the points for homosexuality."

- Control F saved my life.

- Control F!

- Praise the control F!

I had a notebook that I carried around with me

and everytime I thought of something cool, I'd write it

down and that was my plan.

- Make friends with your tutors as well,

because they're good fun.

They say to you like "Email me anytime."

- They have so much information in their brains as well.

- Yeah, talk to them a lot.

- It's incredible.

- What we were saying about studying history at uni

basically like blowing your mind a little bit

and making you question everything,

we did this module, a compulsory module in second

year, called "History in Theory and Practice,"

which is basically how we study history, why we study

history, what is history, how should we study history?

It amazing.

- It was so brilliant.

- We had a whole module and lecture on "what is time?"

- We concluded that it was...

- [Both] "Timey wimey wibbley wobbley stuff."

- I quoted John Green in my exam for that module.

I remember sitting in David's office when we were

talking about History in Theory and Practice,

and I started coming up with this random stuff

about how The Little Mermaid is really post-modern.

She's using a fork as a hairbrush, and that's her truth.

Like the fork is being used as a hairbrush,

it's functionality is a hairbrush, it brushes her hair,

so that's what it is, until someone comes along

and says to her "Actually no, that's not a hairbrush,

"you use it to eat food."

So that truth then dies, and a new truth is born

and it's like...

- And then Hannah curled up in a ball and cried

for about seven days.

- Thank you guys for watching, please give the video

thumbs up if you liked it, and let us know in the comments

if you have anymore tips or info on studying history at uni.

Follow Ellie on Twitter because she's--

- I haven't tweeted much recently.

- But when you do it's very funny.

And she often tweets really interesting history,

political stuff.

I hope this has been somewhat useful and I'll see you

guys soon, bye!

Say bye.

(soft music)

The Description of Studying History at University | Hannah Witton