History Personal Statement
Submitted by Sarah
History gives us warnings and encouragement. It allows us to celebrate progress and to acknowledge our regress. Every current event is a faint echo of an historical one; and the increasing occurrence of actions reflecting those once labelled “never again” highlight to me how essential the study of history is. The foundation of my interest is an innate desire to make sense of the world around me and to understand how it has come to be in the position that it is today.
Every aspect of the study of history appeals to me: from researching, interpreting texts, and analysing the arguments of historians to forming and communicating my own judgement – and I have already begun to develop the skills for this. I have a particular interest in the history of societies and of ‘ordinary people’, as distinct from the ‘Great Man’ theory. For example, my interpretation of the collapse of the USSR would emphasise the people’s disillusionment with the communist regime, and the rise of nationalism, over the personal influence of Gorbachev or Yeltsin.
To become a Holocaust Educational Trust Ambassador, I had to participate in seminars, undertake independent research and present assemblies to over 1,000 people to mark Holocaust Memorial Day. The chance to debate different responses to the Holocaust, to communicate but also build upon my own ideas, was incredibly compelling. My research in preparation for the assemblies enabled me to take my own approach to the subject, questioning the role of the German people, and required me to engage with contemporary and modern sources. In the assemblies I aimed to make the audience consider whether the German people were perpetrators or bystanders and to relate this to our own response to today’s changing political climate – using our knowledge of history to avoid regression. This is something I have begun to further investigate for my coursework in History A Level, reading the differing views of Kershaw, Browning and Goldhagen as to the willingness of the German peoples’ participation. My view tends to Browning’s view of the German people not as willing executioners but motivated by an obedience to authority and selfish fear of consequence.
Religious Studies A Level has allowed me to further develop my analytical skills and my confidence in debate and discussion. Whilst RE does have a focus on ‘great men’, it gives me a valuable insight into the development of ideas over time. I also have an interest in the philosophical theory of existentialism which sees individuals as free agents and the determiners of their own growth – something which relates to my approach to history: viewing ordinary people as engines of social change. English Literature A Level is also complementary to the study of history: each text must be analysed in its context – considering the influence different historical events have had on them. In my own time I have been eager to maintain and build upon a knowledge of French acquired during my GCSE studies, in addition to completing online courses in Polish and German, to strengthen my connection with the world and my ability to understand it.
In the summer, I completed an internship at Herbert Smith Freehills LLP where I completed research tasks, reports and presentations, testing my ability to work both independently and as part of a team. I was involved in a presentation regarding the future of property law after Grenfell; demonstrating how the dynamics in society still echo historical class tensions, but also that we are a part of modern history, and it is our responsibility to learn from such mistakes. As I transition to the next level of education and further engage with the world around me, I feel a responsibility to deepen my understanding of history, not only for the sake of intellectual fulfilment, but to help me to navigate the challenging landscape which lies ahead and to identify my place in it.