When deciding on my modules for study abroad, there was a lot more freedom in choosing a variety of different topics. This is largely due to a cultural difference, because in the UK where students do one set degree pathway here in the Netherlands there are a variety of modules. It's kind of like pick n' mix - you have to get approval for the ones you choose from your teachers back in your home university, but you also get the opportunity to pick out some of your old favourites which you might not have come across for awhile so long, of course, as they remain fairly relevant and you can back up your choice.
For me, this meant choosing a lot of historical modules. I studied history up to A level, and part of the reason I decided to study literature at university is because it encompasses so much of history (with the addition of many other topics, from music to art). Yet I've always been curious about what it would have been like to study a history degree, which is why I am very glad to have the opportunity to be practically studying a history degree full time here in Amsterdam. My modules for this half of the semester focus in on the history of biography, grammar and of Dutch culture itself whereas next semester I will switch to a further two modules on the history of capitalism + consumerism, as well as Jewish culture in Amsterdam. All of these modules with their historical focus offer an insight into the world I cannot gain through literature alone and, whilst it is hard work to adjust to the differences and work pace, I enjoy very much getting back to grips with timelines and flash cards.
|My grandma is a big inspiration to me - Image copyright CLSS 2017|
A small project we had to work on for this week was a poster collecting information on a member of our family. I immediately thought of my grandma as, despite every member of my family proving inspirational to me, the world has changed so much during her life time and I was eager to see the contrast between when she was young in comparison to the present day. My grandma (Christine Jane Stevenson) was born in 1948 in the same small town that me and my family have always lived in. Throughout her life she has had many adventures, from travelling and being a part of the Hippie movement to getting to know the musicians who made up The Temptations and The Drifters.
At 18 months old, my grandma caught polio. Due to the war only having ended a few years prior, the polio vaccine was not yet widespread so the illness itself still proved fatal in killing hundreds every year. My grandma was very lucky and was able to beat the illness; One of her earliest memories is of being aided in breathing by an old mechanical device called the iron lung. Because polio is a disease which attacks the nervous system, part of her body is still partially frozen so to speak (she does not have full strength in one arm for example) but with the assistance of a physio school until the age of 5 she was able to make a strong recovery and return to a normal state led school. My grand dad showed me once a reference from her head teacher stating that 'Christine has never once used her disability as an excuse'.
So my grandma comes from a time when the world was different. She was born when rations were just coming to an end, she was brought up playing rounders and learning how to sew, she was part of the hippie movement and she was a military wife. But to me, she is grandma. She is the woman who taught me that everything from a disability to a nut allergy is not a hindrance but is in fact a blessing in disguise, so long as we look at them that way and don't allow our eyes to get too misted over. And she is the person I aspire to be in every way because she is the most intelligent, and yet most humble, human being I know. I am incredibly fortunate to have someone in my life to look up to in such a way and who can tell me first hand through her stories what life was like in a history that isn't mine.
|Getting to grips with some dates - Image copyright CLSS 2017|
History is all around us and is not just limited to the text books that line the library shelves or the facts your teachers provide in class. Nor is it limited to the far distant past, when dinosaurs wandered the earth or pharaohs carved and chiselled their ideas on to stone. Whilst yes, that is history also, it is not the only form. As with every subject, sometimes just talking to the people around you about what their lives have been like is enough to begin writing a biography because we all have one; We are all history makers with our own stories. This is the most valuable piece of information that I have learnt from my lessons in historical modules so far. Everything is interconnected and that is what makes history; People, that's what makes history.