History Personal Statement (Oxbridge)
Whether considering the real world applications of Bentham's utilitarianism in Religious Studies, analysing the context of a changing Victorian society in English Literature, or debating the evolving ideology of the Labour Party in Politics, there is one common thread connecting what I enjoy most about my studies: history.
In February 2014 I had the opportunity to visit Auschwitz-Birkenau with the Holocaust Educational Trust after a competitive application process. I had hoped that the visit would help me see the individuality of each victim, but learnt that it is also important to consider the humanity of the perpetrators.
My experience led me to consider whether historians have an ethical responsibility to focus on areas of history that some would perhaps rather forget. With this in mind, when reading E. H. Carr I was particularly struck by the importance he placed on passing moral judgement on institutions in society, as opposed to individuals.
I was intrigued by the idea of the historian as moral judge, and researched the contrasting views of Lord Acton in order to give me a more comprehensive understanding of the debate - ultimately, I found Carr's argument to align more closely with my own opinion.
In class discussion we often engaged with ideas about what might have happened had Trotsky or another prominent Bolshevik come to power in the USSR rather than Stalin. This lead me to read Niall Ferguson's 'Virtual History' and consider whether our predisposition to counterfactualism is an academically worthwhile pursuit in the study of History.
While I agreed that asking how events could have unfolded differently helps us identify crucial turning points in history, I realised when applying this argument to areas of history I was familiar with that the reductio ad absurdum of this means virtually any event could be ascribed historical significance.
I therefore disagree with Ferguson, and believe counterfactualism should, for the most part, remain in the domain of historical fiction. Studying politics has helped me understand the necessity of a thorough understanding of current affairs, which often leads me to read far outside my A Level history course, as I believe an understanding of historical context is vital in order to be able to engage with debate about what is happening in the present.
The crisis in Gaza has been dominating headlines recently, and I was aware I knew very little about the origins of the conflict. This drove me to read several books on the subject, such as Ahron Bregman's 'Cursed Victory', in order to examine the history between Israel and Palestine.
The greatest skill I acquired was learning to remain as objective as possible and not allowing my knowledge of later events to colour my interpretation of the conflict's earlier history. I found the topic complex and challenging, and was made aware that there were periods of history that I have yet to explore in depth.
I look forward to broadening the scope of my historical understanding, and believe this self-motivated thirst for knowledge is an invaluable quality in an aspiring historian. Outside my studies, I run my school's debating society. This has developed my ability to think on the spot and quickly form counter arguments to defend my stance.
However, I also realised the importance of being open to a change of opinion when presented with convincing evidence. Running the society, along with my other extra-curricular commitments, including Feminist Society and English Enrichment Club, has helped me to organise my time effectively and I am used to working hard and being self-motivated.
I would relish the intellectual challenge of studying History at university and look forward to the opportunity to stretch myself in this academically rigorous discipline.
It looks like a massive block of text because I didn't have enough lines to leave gaps between paragraphs, but don't worry about that unis are used to it. also there's a typo in there somewhere that i missed when i submitted it so it doesn't have to be absolutely perfect haha