English Literature and History personal Statement
At the war cemeteries of El Alamein in Egypt, I spent an hour or two combing through the British Commonwealth cemetery for Royal Dragoons from my Grandpa’s division and found myself struggling, from the sheer number of headstones, to choose between condemning our capacity for violence and admiring the extent of our sacrifice. Our history presents us with candid and often provocative realities about ourselves and this, more than anything, is what attracts me to it. Literature, on the other hand, unearths the significance beneath these realities, documents the growth and development of humanity up close and captures distant times with stunning detail. The values and fears of ancient Greeks are preserved in the work of Sophocles, while the feminist sentiment that would grow to spark the suffragette movement is evident in the work of the Bronte sisters. History and literature may address different aspects of our progression but they are, essentially, two sides of the same story. I’ve chosen these subjects not just for their ability to entertain or inspire, but because they can make sense of what it means to be human.
Academic history and English have taught me most of what I know, but the ability to use and process that knowledge has come from beyond the classroom. When I was twelve, for example, I embarked on an investigation into the Norman Conquest that ended, after six months of research, in a pilgrimage to Hastings. I’ve grown up expressing myself through writing and losing myself through reading, so I’m aware of the sometimes exhausting conviction that goes into the production of literature. I enjoy debating, which demands the ability to think quickly, form cogent arguments, and explore information for pertinent details. It’s this argumentative streak that, when making a case for what I consider the cause of a historic event or the message in a great piece of literature, allows me to approach such questions with passion and determination. Viewing these subjects in a personally relevant context, however, has impacted my appreciation for them the most.
For the ten years that I’ve lived abroad, history and literature have bridged the gaps between myself and those I’ve lived with. In Trinidad, local literature showed me a side of its people that I never would have seen beneath their infamously festive lifestyle. Through the work of V.S. Naipaul, I learned of the constant difficulties these people faced and came to admire their extraordinary optimism. Egypt was especially cryptic because of the foreign language and conservatism of its people – the extent of which I struggled to grasp until its centuries of Islamic history made clear why this particular society continues to maintain such strong ties to its religion. But it was the work of Naguib Mahfouz and Hala el Badry, whose novels address the rigid dynamics of Egyptian society, that revealed the traditions and ideals entailed by such religious inclination. These experiences have helped me to make the most of my time abroad. More importantly, however, they’ve shown me how much there is to learn from what we’ve lived and written. History and literature can detail not only how we have changed with time, but what has remained the same throughout. It’s this revelation of eternal human characteristics, and all the things they can teach us about ourselves, that has drawn me most strongly to a degree in English and history.
Living abroad has exposed me to the problems created by racism, sexism and extremism, so I see the absolute value in being able to communicate and relate to different types of people. Whether through public relations, public health or journalism, I want to be involved in the spread of progressive ideas. Great literature can raise questions, destroy preconceptions, bridge cultural gaps and even inspire revolutionary movement. Learning about writers and leaders who have used their language so advantageously in the past will, I hope, teach me how to do the same.
This personal statement was written by Violetlynnv for application in 2011.
Violetlynnv's university choices
The University of Aberdeen
University of Dundee
The University of Edinburgh
University of St Andrews
Green: offer made
Red: no offer made
The thirteenth and eventually final draft of the statement. Had to leave out a lot of details that I wish I could have kept. It has gotten me an unconditional offer from the University of Glasgow, so I'm hoping it fares just as well for Edinburgh and St Andrews!
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