The life of a Cambridge history undergrad
History, like life, is tough
First and foremost, you wake up, but not in the usual way.
Here there are no alarm clocks. Instead, from 6am, everyday, the university employs some knobhead to mow the lawn, a means the chancellor says of “ensuring that everyone is up nice and early’’.
In order to aid waking up, there are also regular fire alarm test which are sure to get you ready for work. And in a new development, the university has recently invested in curtains made of a wholly useless material so as to ensure maximum light penetration. If all of that fails, as it does regularly, you hope that your medical and veterinary friends will cry loud enough as they clamber around getting themselves ready for that compulsory, early morning lecture.
Once the yawns have subsided and the realisation of the day ahead has sunk in (you have to understand and write a report about the whole world a century ago, even though you don’t know anything and haven’t got past the first item of the reading list), breakfast, alongside the mandatory review of social media, ensues. Instagram first, and in order to remember exactly when and where you are in time friends post images of the river cam with punts and kings college chapel. Essential viewing.
Then there is (or in many cases there is not) the famous cycle to lectures. Travelling varies from college to college but no matter where you come from, the travel time finds itself cut down each time you do it, from 20 minutes at the start of term to 10 minutes, 5 minutes, 2 minutes, zero minutes, back into bed. Whenever it is done it will doubtless cause immense sweating but this is not all bad – it doubles up as exercise which, when you think about it, gets more proactive the less time there is given for it.
Then there are the lectures, if of course you go to any. Here you sit potentially for hours on end as your lecturer strides about contemplating the rise and fall of the Roman Empire while you sit there wondering what to have for lunch or whether you’re going to get round to sorting out those nagging things like student finance or your college bill. Lectures are like mini meditation sessions where you have a complete mandate to zone out because you are there, and being there is good enough. Well done.
If you have a supervision it will hit like a tonne of bricks. These vary in intensity from subject to subject but are of course most intense for history students who single-handedly carry the torch of hard work for Cambridge. For us, they’re always one-on-one. There is nowhere to hide. Luckily it’s not all bad though – realising you know very little about a given topic in front of a world class expert makes you incredibly good at question dodging. Once I managed to sustain conversation about Trump’s election for so long that there was very little time left to discuss the work. Genius. Another time I discussed the quality of one of the historian’s writing style for so long that before you knew it, ‘we’ve only got 5 minutes left, what would you like to write next time’ was coming from my supervisor’s mouth.
Following the sigh of relief which accompanies your exit from the supervision room you may consider heading to the library and beginning work on your next essay, or as is nearly always the case, you will spend an hour or two messing around until dinner. Dinner is tasty-ish, but timing is everything. Too early and you have to stand awkwardly in a queue. Sometimes you will go to formal where you get to listen to Latin being spoken by your mistress or master. You wonder why this is still done. But you accept it as tradition and let the thought float away like all of the others.
After dinner you may go to the library, or as is more commonly the case, you’ll wait until someone asks you whether you would like to go out, in which case you say yes, and therefore work is once more put off until the following day. If you go out, well done, this means you’ll be able to dance to the entire Disney collection and drink diluted berry juice with a hint of vodka – impressive.
Or, if you make a mistake and go to the library you’ll get through five pages of reading, your back will hurt and you’ll wonder whether it was ever worth doing History in the first place.
You’ll then go to sleep and repeat cycle.