The glorious Mr. Segall asked: why did you study history at university? Or, why did you focus on your focus?
I don't really remember my exact reasons for why I chose to study history at uni. I do remember combing through the prospectuses in the little resources cubby hole of a room the in the sixth form centre at school. I was looking for unis that fell a certain distance away from home. Close enough to get home to the then boyfriend, far away enough from home to feel like I was going to be living my own life.
I wasn't doing the most sensible A levels. History, french, art and dance. The careers advice at my school wasn't great, I didn't really know what I wanted to do with my life, and so I just picked the things I liked best. I had a whale of a time studying them too. Art in particular felt like the last chance to do something I love at a very high level and I suppose picking History for university was partly like that too. When else was I going to have access to printing presses and acid for etching?
I've just re-read some of my blog entries from 2004, when I was waiting to hear from universities about places and it's slightly scary how different I am 7 years on. In part, age 17, I picked history because it was the only nearly sensible and useful subject out of my A levels. I did consider french for a while, but in all honesty, my french was never as good as my history, and I don't like to do things I think I will fail at.
I also think I picked it because I loved it. I loved reading about why things are the way they are and drawing parallels to the present. I loved escaping to another place and immersing myself in that world. There were a few essays I wrote in sixth form where we learnt about referencing and I enjoyed the landscape of interconnected footnotes that bring even more knowledge as you read.
When I arrived at university, I was convinced I was going to be a modern historian as that's what I'd enjoyed at school, and where all the important work would be being done. However, my plans were scuppered when one of the modern courses, I think Victorian Childhood, was over subscribed and I ended up on Early Jewish Magic.
And that was that, I was hooked. It was only pre 200AD or Jewish history courses for me. Compared to my courses on The First World War and the Russian Revolution it was gripping.The anthropology, the history of religion, of ethics, of magic, of Hebrew, of Jewish culture. It was a new and entirely alien world to explore. I loved it.
I liked having a focus that was different from most of my fellow history students. It meant less fighting over book, more contact time with staff and a feeling of uncovering secrets. I also liked the multidisciplanry opportunities it offered. I wrote about feminism, hasidic women in New York, magic bowls, blogging, and modern politics all within the context of Jewish history.
The specifics haven't proved useful in the job market, but the skills have. The most useful? Being able to argue a point well, being able to pull together useful research and being able to manipulate search engines to find the exact results needed.