On the Thursday before I teach my every-other-weekly undergraduate seminars, I have a neat, and very academic routine. After going to one of the two weekly lectures I have to attend as a TA, I move to the PhD lounge with my fellow TAs and inevitably we discuss the course, teaching, the practices of history and related topics. To put it another way, we talk shop. This past week was a bit of a special occasion, as it was my first opportunity to provide a lecture for students. I’ve done quite a few conference presentations – although they were never longer than twenty five minutes. Prior to Thursday, I had done only one hour-long presentation which was not even a month before. And to top things off, I had never done such a length presentation on something that wasn’t my PhD research.
Despite some nerves and crowd control issues at the start, I thought the lecture went pretty well. I began with a short discussion of medieval maritime warfare, then digressed into a discussion of how, and why historians use labels. This related to the study of the Military Revolution, and my next point that in the early modern period that Army and Navy did not have their current connotations. I then compared the Mediterranean tradition of warfare of sea (in the case of Lepanto) with the North Atlantic/North Sea tradition (the 1588 Armada/Battle of Gravelines). I then ended my lecture with a discussion of 17th warfare at sea, from the emergence of the Dutch Republic as a maritime power (Mare Liberum) to the Wars of the Three Kingdoms and the Anglo-Dutch Wars (Mare Clausum). I spoke pretty much for an hour straight – and it was unlike any environment or audience I’ve ever spoken to. A few times I asked for audience participation, for example raise your hand if you’ve heard of the Mary Rose. Each time I did, the entire class jumped as if the questions were totally unexpected and awful. The most surprising thing was at the end of the hour, there was not a single question. I inundated the students with dates, numbers, detail and information and yet there was not a single question. I’ve never done anything like that and not had any questions at the end. I did get many kind comments- especially from the students in my seminar the next morning. If you know me, you know that I’m not satisfied with just one chance to lecture and so I’ve already arranged with my supervisor that I’ll get to essentially present the same topic – albeit more focused to our second-year Aspects of Seapower course next semester.
A few weeks ago, I wrote about the differences between Canadian and UK University history education in this blog, and this experience once again highlighted the differences between what I’m used to at home, and the education system here. I firmly hold the opinion that in Canada, students learn much more during their BA. This is opinion is an a extrapolation of what I’ve experienced so far as a TA from sitting in classes and leading seminars, but also speaking to other TAs, Grad students and people who have completed their BA here. As I learned on Thursday after my lecture, at King’s at least the lecture is the venue for a lecturer to present their opinion on a topic. To me, this is very strange as there really hasn’t been any equivalent practice where I have experience at Canadian history undergrad programs. Of course, lecturers do make their opinions clear. I put forth my lecture in the style that I’m used to – that is to say that the lecture is the primary method for the transmission of information to students. This is a practice that I’ve been used to since highschool; you go into class, sit down, and then write/type furiously for an hour. I would guess that I would describe the Canadian practice as much more structured. I think this is also reflected in the Canadian use of textbooks for history courses with the proscription of very specific readings in line with the topics for the lecture. I would argue this is especially important in first and second year history courses where you need to build up the students historical knowledge so they have the information on hand to start doing the more complex analyses expected in third and fourth year courses.Of course, my comparisons are being thrown another loop because I’m not just teaching history courses, I’m teaching those courses within a War Studies department that doesn’t train undergraduates for a single discipline in the way that a standalone history department does, but my thoughts on the BA War Studies program are for another day.
I’m quite sure that what I’ve experienced is not true for the entire UK education system and I’d love to hear more – so if you have comments/criticisms/concerns I can be found on Twitter or you can send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thursday was also important because I received the Zoom H2 Handy Recorder that I’ll be using to record podcasts. I have set up two recording sessions before mid-December, so the first two “Making History” Podcasts will be likely be available on this site prior to Christmas. As planned, the first discussion will be on the topic of “Simplicity and Complexity” and will feature Dr James Davey of the National Maritime Museum and Katherine Parker a PhD student in the University of Pittsburgh History Department. The second podcast will be on the topic of “Practical Experience and the Study of History” and will feature Len Barnett (MA King’s College London) and Dr Faye Kert of the Canadian Nautical Research Society.
In addition, the decision has been made to also record and make public certain lectures, seminars and similar events. The first such podcast will be of portions of 2013 Alan Villiers Memorial Lecture proceedings. Speaking of which, the lecture is this Wednesday and I encourage those who can to attend.
If people are interested in having their maritime or naval history seminar or lecture recorded for podcast release (and you’re in London) please email me at the address I mentioned above.
I am writing a guest blog post for JD Davies’ blog Gentlemen and Tarpaulins, and will talk about my research and in particular the development of the language that I use in my work. This will be published in the next few weeks. It’s an honour for David to ask me to contribute to his site.