The expectation and reality of doing a history degree

Definitely going to end up on Uni Chal

So you’ve got in to study history have you? Firstly welcome to the 10th most popular degree course in the UK. Secondly, it may be not quite what you expected.

Not all your standard preconceptions about a History degree and not all of them are quite right.

Expectation: You’ll become a history buff

You genuinely believe that you will be able to answer every single history question on University Challenge, Pointless and Pub Quizzes.

The French Revolution actually makes more sense after a couple

Reality: You’re still no expert

Unfortunately, that’s really not how a history degree works. You get a brief overview of the events you’re studying, but with four modules a year and on average around 200 years maximum being covered, your knowledge becomes narrow and detailed.

Think on in if you think you can retain all that crap in order to get a question right on Eggheads, as studying history works on what you could  call a revolving door policy.

When there’s an essay, exam or even a seminar, you will briefly learn what is needed to be known; once it finished the brain will purge itself of the knowledge, although beer no doubt helps with that. Within three hours of completion you might as well be asking me to explain quantum physics….

Expectation: History would be full of dudes

Don’t ask why, but History seems to be thought of as a male dominated degree.

They all look like this though.

They all look like this though.

Reality: Beauty in diversity

Although at Warwick, most of the History lecturers are male, there’s pretty much a 50/50 gender split amongst undergraduates, and in some seminars, girls are the majority.

Great if you’re a girl and worried you won’t have any girlfriends on your course or if you just generally prefer the company of the fairer sex. Unfortunately lads, it means you’ll have one less excuse when your gran asks why you still haven’t got a girlfriend.

Expectation: Your book shelf will ooze intelligence

What with all this new found knowledge, that rickety old thing in the corner will be weighed down with such historic greats as Plutarch, Thomas More and a touch of Simon Schama.

Reality: You’ll spunk your loan on booze

Books cost money you know… money which could be spent on beer and pizza. The library generally has a decent stock of the most important books and there’s a load of online resources.

Anyone can look like they do History

Anyone can look like they do History

The only books you should bother to buy should be textbooks – itself a rarity in History degrees, but every now and then you’ll get a golden ticket book that the lecturer says has everything you need for the module in it, and at £15 for a second hand copy, you may as well.

As for the wonderfully old fashioned books to look impressive on your shelf? History just doesn’t work like that. Views are constantly changing and more evidence is constantly being uncovered, so if you have any books published over 40 years ago they’re probably out of date.

As for the apartment smelling of rich mahogany, I live with 11 other people and my room smells like guy sweat, aftershave and energy drink. Form an orderly queue ladies.

Expectation: I’ll prepare for every seminar

You’ll think for Christ’s sake I’m a scholar now, following the noble tradition of historians which stretches back to Herodotus, I am here to learn and that’s what I’ll damn well do.


Reality: You’ll end up circling

Reading the social history of popular culture in the Renaissance… or circling… well, to be honest, skim reading is always easier when you’re a bit pissed.

No matter how much you love your degree (and I would say history is something I am fairly passionate about) a night out with friends is always going to be better than an evening reading in your room. You will find yourself developing the useful knack for bullshitting through seminars after failing to attend the lecture and reading the course materials.

You might as well enjoy your History degree while you can though, let’s face it, if you wanted a job afterwards you’d have done engineering.