Saturday, 5 December 2015

Europe Box

A History Degree at the University of Auckland works on a pretty simple basis. That is, you apply to study a BA or whatever and then, if you're accepted, you start to plan your timetable. If you're clever, you'll be planning your timetable with respect to your degree plan. Now, that is generally advised to look something like the below:
Faculty of Arts: Planning Your BA Degree
If you're doing a conjoint it'll look a little bit more like this:
Degree Planner E-Book; Faculty of Arts
Now, a cynic might say that I am trying to suggest that it's dull or colourless to do a BA conjoint but I'm not, not really. (Although, the university may be. Hmm...) The point is, you've got to be a bit more careful about what you are doing, and even if you're just doing a straight BA you can't just choose history courses willy-nilly because you've got to consider what else it is that you may want to do. Yet, you also get an inkling of how the degree works. Rather than enrolling in a particular major and then the university tells you what to do and when, which would presumably lead to a more cohesive programme, you enrol in individual courses... which the university chooses to offer. And if you look at the requirements for a major in history you'll notice that unlike with, say, a statistics major there are no courses you have to take.

The Calendar
There are advantages and disadvantages to this system. For one, it means you get to have lots of flexibility, especially important for conjoint students, and personal choice: you really can tailor something specific to your own tastes. On the other hand, it isn't cohesive. For instance, you could study Global History (103) and Sexual Histories: Western Sexualities from Medieval to Modern Times (102) at stage one, and then move on to do French Revolution (224) and Early Modern Japan (242) at stage II before wrapping up with Medieval Mentalities (319), Nazis (317), African American Freedom Struggles (308) and Thinking History: Approaches to the Past (300) at stage three (although apart from History 300 any of the stage threes are also taught as stage twos). Woah. That is some variety. Yet, if one ends up studying something like that one doesn't really end up generating any particular knowledge in any are. Hey, maybe specialisation like that is more important later on. On the other hand, there are things like this:
Asian History Award
Awarded to the student in the current year who has demonstrated ‘the highest level of commitment to the study of Asian History’.
Haydon Prize
Awarded to the student who does the best work in a nominated course on British Imperial and Commonwealth History. Nominations from any stage.
Tony Cotton Prize (undergraduate)
Awarded to an undergraduate studying British history, preferably of the seventeenth century.
Those last two are areas that are of particular interest to me, which brings us to the concept of the Europe Box.

This past semester I had four courses based upon the advice of my friends about how best to approach taking Comlaw 101. One of those courses was History 217 which you may notice from above is about Nazi History, most correctly "Nazi Germany and its Legacies". Now, my school kinda taught this topic as well in the form of the "Rise and Fall of the NSDAP". However, that doesn't mean that I remembered all that much nor, indeed that too much felt like jogged memories rather than new learning (i.e. mostly it seemed to be new learning). The point is that I didn't really want to take History 217 given that. In fact, I'm not particularly keen on the topic more generally. WWII is of some interest to me, the Hitler Youth I am actually interested in and some aspects of the Holocaust, as something to study, appeal (which is why I found writing my first paragraph on what the Holocaust actually entails easier to write than the subsequent ones more directly related to the significance of the Wannsee Conference to the Holocaust) but otherwise? Nazi Germany was not my thing, and it still isn't. Yet, I was taking Nazi Germany.

The reasons why I took 217 are complex. In hindsight I could have taken Body and Blood (History 243) which is a medieval history course because that fit into my timetable too. I'm not sure why I didn't take it. Perhaps, quite reasonably, I decided that I wanted a bit more variety. I may not have considered it... I did consider the Japanese course but that one clashed. Maybe Body and Blood only stopped clashing after Economics 201's non-existent clinic disappeared from SSO: I don't know. All I really know is that when I sat there for the first lecture what was running through my mind was, "I am here for timetable reasons: just filling in the history courses". It is in this context that I created the idea of the Europe Box.

Most of the history courses I have done have been fairly lonely affairs. In History 219 there was one girl who I remembered from my History 106 tutorials and we talked a few times (but mainly just one fairly long conversation after the exam) but other than that there was no-one I knew. In History 106 there was one dude from my Business 101 group but we barely talked and a few I recognised from my History 103 tutorial, but only one of them I ever talked to... one of two people from History 103 that I talked to at the time (the other was a friend from school but we preferred to sit in very different places). There was one chap from debating nights who I realised was in History 106 as well. We'll name him, ah, John because through debating we began to talk more, and, indeed, we'd sit next to each other in History 217... where I was introduced to a friend of his, er, Anna and a friend of hers, um, Sarah.

Now, over the course of the semester John and I, as one would imagine, had several conversations... often related directly to the course at hand (i.e. History 217). In one of those conversations I mentioned that I felt a little trapped in a Europe Box. That is to say, I felt that I wasn't enjoying the course as much as I should have been because I was a bit tired of a largely European history programme. After all, had I not wanted to do that Japanese course? It was a perfectly reasonable conclusion. John, however, decided that he was perfectly comfortable being in the Europe Box. I said to that, "Well, normally I would be too, I just feel like I haven;t had enough variety" or something like that anyway. This was't our only conversation about the Europe Box and, indeed, John is comfortable enough with the idea that I wonder if, perhaps, it was he who named it that, not I (contrary to the above statement).

The last time John and I discussed the Europe Box/found it relevant to our conversation was immediately following our exam for History 217.,, where we discussed which history courses we'd take for the 2016 Academic Year. By this time my perspective on the issue of the Europe Box had evolved somewhat. That is to say, I decided that the problem was temporal rather than geographic. Thus, one finds me sitting here trying to figure out what exactly I will take next year but with History 354 and 368 as lock ins. That is to say, "Barbarians: Antiquity to Vikings" and "Norman Conquests, Norman Voices". In other words, I have sort of accidentally ended up studying medieval history. On the other hand, if Settler Societies was taught, and maybe some other ones, I'd jump at the chance to take them. Or, at least, I would if I could.

As degrees go, the BA is pretty fluid. That is, you have a lot of freedom about when you're going to do things and why you are going to take them. You also have a lot of choice about what you can do... statistics and maths are, for instance, BA majors alongside things like English or German. A BA/BCom, in contrast, is more restricted. Sure, you can take more courses and have access to more general education schedules but you also have to do all of the BCom core courses even in a conjoint. In other words, you need to do those and whatever your major requirements are. It is also more difficult finding out what exactly you need to have done and when in a conjoint programme so you're hit by a double whammy. One, you've got to manage taking courses from difficult faculties (both of which could have core courses). Two, you've got to do that in an environment with less guidance. But what about the student centres? Yeah...

I have been to the various student centres a couple of times. Once I went to make sure if the below timetable had been done right. You can imagine it, can't you? There you are some fresh new university student moving from a very full looking timetable to one with basically nothing in it. It looks like you've made a mistake but really it's just because you've got weird courses. No tutorials for Business 101 and only the one lecture, plus just the two lectures for History 103 (albeit with one tutorial) in the context of clustering... creating large gaps which would ultimately be used to complete readings in. The Arts Student Centre was helpful that time, "Yes, Harry, your timetable should look that way." The other two times I have been, once a couple of days ago and after semester two last year? Not so helpful.
My 2014 Semester One Timetable
My situation is probably a perfect storm of changing majors, former major courses counting as BA and BCom papers, former major courses being able to count as part of two existing majors (from both components of the conjoint) and my regrettable tendency for a particular kind of doubt.* As such, when I told the Business dude to not count the maths papers as BCom ones, that probably meant the Arts chick (a coincidence) thought that they were intended to count as stats papers. Trouble is that Maths 150 is required for a major in economics... but not in the same way as if you do it in Arts. Net result? Now I am not sure if the Business dude's statement of, "All you need is another stage three economics, any stage three business paper and a GenEd and you're sweet" is correct or not. The following response when I sent AskAuckland a question about this suggests maybe it's all good:
"Usually if a BCom core course is needed for the BA major then it we can approve for it to be used in the BA side and the space left in the BCom side must be filled with another Business course.  But you need to visit us to check where the courses will be counted."
If the above is true then I shouldn't really worry because the Business dude filled in a degree planner for me (which did not have any Maths 150s) in it. That is, the space left in the BCom side will already have been filled in. Yet, that plan had Maths 250 counting as the eternally confusing "Any course from any programme" option, while the BA people counted that as a Stats course too. Argh!

Ultimately, it is not the Europe Box that is troubling me: it is the requirements of my degree programme. I need to do Stats 125 to be able to have a major in Statistics and, personally, I'd like some other theoretical courses to go along with it. However, I think the best I will manage is Stats 125 and Stats 210... 125 in semester one 2017, 210 the one after. I have contemplated doing things differently but I think it works best if I do History 300 this year... as the Arts Student Centres' Degree Planners' any BA course from any subject component, in a five course semester. The thing is, I have options when it comes to my statistics and economics courses. Aside from wanting to do 343 and 331, what I should really be doing is looking at what is useful given that I'm considering courses that I merely don't like rather than dislike. Trouble is, I have no idea what is useful because I don't know what I want to do. So, that's my point here... degree planning isn't as simple as a nice little idea like being trapped in a Europe Box.

*Let's put it this way... I have a fear of turning up to the wrong place.

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