Sunday, 18 January 2015

A Very Good Course - History 106

History 106: Europe Transformed (Pre-modern to the Present)

This is sort of like a course review. Mostly it's my way of dealing with the fact that more than a month after the arrival of my scanned exam scripts for my other semester two 2014 courses I am still waiting for some version (whether scan or photocopy) of my History 106 exam to turn up. My reasons for this are twofold. Firstly, I want to know exactly what I got, same as with any other course. Secondly, I want to know what I wrote because I can't really remember. Ignoring the almost philosophical question that second point raises (i.e. "So what did I actually learn then?), it's really beginning to frustrate me. This is especially true given that, otherwise, of the nine courses I have done, it's one of the best (if not so).

The Course

History 106 is pretty much what its title says it is. In the course, one looks at the various transformations Europe has undergone since circa 1450 to now. These transformations are considered thematically (a sign of a good history course) under five broad themes: conflict, political authority, gender, Europe and the rest of the world, and the lives of ordinary Europeans. In this sense, it handles the more traditional subject of European history in a modern way.

As with History 103 (Global History), the lecturers open with a brief spiel on the nature of the tutorials. Their point is that the tutorials are the heart of the course. In some sense, they're not really. Lectures are fast and furious. If you want to your lectures densely packed with information, my two course experience of history says, "Take a history course, doesn't matter which". The tutorials consist of a knowledgeable tutor who helps coax relatively awkward discussions out of a classroom sized pool of people, based mostly on set primary source readings. For me, these are duller than the secondary sources of History 103 and it was more effort to read them. I also didn't feel as if we were ever actually put in a situation where we actually had to consider them differently to the secondary sources of history 103 (and, full disclaimer, that feels a lot like an intro to history course in hindsight).

Because the period of 1450-now is so huge, each lecture takes on (basically) a single topic, which is done in a fair amount of depth. However, the lecture format means the wider context usually can't be discovered so easily. Luckily, there are some very good additional (and optional) readings available for those that want them (although this view is based on only having read a few of them). These readings are not required to do well on the four multi-choice, online CECIL tests. That just requires reading over tutorial notes and worksheets, the lecture hand-outs and the lecture notes themselves. The essay (the other coursework assessment) is much more complex than this. It requires reading half a dozen densely packed and narrowly focussed scholarly works (all pre-set, except for one that's a choice of three) set in a broader, multi-lecture relevant topic. That requires far more work than the one in History 103 and I wish I spent more time on it because at 68% I did very badly (B-), even receiving a comment along the lines of "narrow focus". That poor mark just serves to increase the frustration with not knowing exactly how well I did in the exam, as it meant getting the overall course mark I did (i.e. A-) required a pretty good exam result. This brings us to...

The Exam

In two hours one must write two essays. One essay will draw on content from the entire course. This means the themes. The second essay will draw on content from the end of the course. The questions are remarkably similar (arguably too similar) from semester to semester, so I imagine it couldn't be too difficult to find examples that people have written (if you know where to look or if people actually post them online). The point is that the similarity of the questions means examining past exams (hilarious, I know) doesn't really help one gain any particular insight into how to actually approach answering the questions. Basically, it's next to impossible to glean any insight into the deeper nature of many questions: what angle does "why?" mean? (It makes sense to me.) This also makes studying for the exam more difficult than it need be. The second part of the exam is easy enough to study for, though. Just go through the last few lectures and get the relevant material from there.

Now, we're back at this post's purpose...

What On Earth Did I Write?

I will now try to reconstruct the idea of my answers based on three key things. Firstly, my memory. Secondly, the revision that I did. Thirdly. how I think I think.


Well, I am pretty sure that I answered the political authority question and the Colonisation question (why spend so much effort and then get rid of them?) for parts A and B respectively. Okay, so my memory is not very helpful. However, I do remember not having a real idea of the angle (I wrote about this already), so I guess I can keep that in mind for the third part of my reconstruction.


Well, I've got a whiteboard full of notes from when I went through the entire course and took down information relevant to the "Europe and the Wider World" theme (incidentally, this is my recommended study method: comb through your notes with an eye for things relevant to a chosen theme). I also did a more primitive and somewhat less exhaustive version of this for political authority. This would suggest my memory's wrong but then you've got my "Broad Map"

Core Transformations in Political Authority

  • Start
    • Inseparability of Religious and Political Power, monarchical, from God.
    • to Absolutist Rulers, seek dominance of state, dominate religion.
    • to 1789, French Revolution, equality, democracy and merit
    • to Totalitarian states
    • to Democratic regimes operating in broadly linked systems.
  • End
  • Have to justify why these are the most important transformations...
    • I'm not sure what this really means in the scheme of things.

Ultimately. I have six and a half pages of refill (single sided; they're really four double sided pages) on this theme. I then have a few additional notes expanding on the whiteboard for the other theme. A couple of sides of refill are on the two world wars (the question is considering whether they're better thought of as one).

How I Think:

Well, I clearly had prepared for two different topics in the case of bad questions for each one. Political Authority and Europe and the Wider World, for part A, and largely recycled the second thematic research topic for the colonisation question, plus the additional World Wars stuff for part B. I was struggling with how to answer the questions but I don't seem to have drawn up any rough plans for the Wider World topic. This would suggest my memory is correct. However, colonisation appeals to me (much of my 103 work related to imperialism and/or industrialisation) so I imagine that I really wouldn't have wanted to waste the work there.

The Proposed Reconstruction:

I think I ran out of time to cover the EU and post-war Europe stuff in the sort of depth that I wanted. Otherwise, I think I ran with that question as above. That is, my evidence related more to the justification of calling each transformation I identified as part of the most significant.ones with respect to political authority. I think I probably distinguished between the Great Chain of Being and Divine Right style kings by the more defender of the faith mentality of the former. I know that I would have included, as we were very strongly advised to do, stuff from the tutorial readings as well.

In terms of the second topic on empires... I'm really not sure. Right now, I would argue that a combination of emotional, political, economic and strategic reasons led to the acquisition of empires by European powers... placed in a context of longer term competition. These empires were let go less out of choice and more out of necessity. Changing political scenes (Cold War, dominance of the "anti-imperialist" USA), failure of the European powers in the two world wars (even those that won), and changing society... the two world wars, I am sure, would've featured strongly.

It's going to be interesting to see just how right my reconstructions are. Even if I don't find out until March.

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