The Undergraduate History Conference

Blog written by Sophie Rees

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Ruth McKechnie, winner of the Dean’s Prize

On Saturday 10 February, the University History Society hosted its fifth annual (and most-well attended to date) Undergraduate History Conference, held in the Medieval Old Class Library. The Conference is one of the Society’s flagship events, and one that we as a committee are immensely proud of. The first of its kind in the UK, the conference aims to enable undergraduate historians to engage independently and critically with historical topics that interest them. Year upon year, it provides a challenging but supportive environment in which to explore those interests, test ideas and develop professional and academic skills. It does not constrain students to a mark scheme, or award them points from 1-20. Instead, the conference nurtures independent academic thought, integral for the development of skills vital for dissertations and beyond.

This year’s theme, History and Memory, was well received by applicants and the wider community, and nurtured this sense of personal engagement. The tension between scholarly accounts of the past and collective memory in shaping a personal, political and national historical consciousness has often been perceived as obscuring ‘the facts’ from view. However, it is from the struggle between personal recollections and the official narrative that the patchwork of history slowly begins to be stitched together. Memory as a historical method can appear both useful and useless. It gives flavour to bland official narratives yet is hampered by its brevity and fractures. Yet, the comprehension of memory as a valuable historiographical tool is the key to ensuring that history is never forgotten.

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Attendees at the Undergraduate History Conference Dinner

The day started with a fascinating key note speech by Professor DeGroot, who gave an address entitled ‘The Burden of Memory and the Need to Forget’. Ranging from personal recollections to a national perception of Blackadder, DeGroot’s address neatly interlinked private and public understandings of memory, before contemplating on the triviality of both what we remember and what we choose to forget. This was followed by our five undergraduate speakers, who spoke on topics as varied as Stolpersteine to Polynesian sexuality. There was a great sense of audience engagement and a reciprocity of ideas, as spectator and speaker alike were drawn into interesting debate. This was accompanied by copious amounts of biscuits and cups of university branded tea (a particular favourite among students and staff alike), as we all mulled over the curious construction of historical memory. After the final speech, the committee adjourned to decide which participant would be voted best speaker, whilst Professor Colin Kidd led an open discussion on the central themes with students in the Undercroft.

This year’s recipient of the £100 Deans’ Prize is Ruth McKechnie, for her fascinating discussion of sectarian tension in ‘The Glasgow Conundrum: A discussion of how socio-cultural prejudices affect the perception of history’. We are so grateful to everyone who attended the event, with particular thanks to our five fabulous speakers: Ruth, Victoria, Philip, Zoe and Hayley. The History Society looks forward to our next undergraduate conference, where we hope to relocate to a larger venue and host even more insightful speakers.

About standrewshistory
With over forty fulltime members of staff researching and teaching on European, American and Asian history from the dawn of the Middle Ages to the present day, the School of History at the University of St Andrews has one of the finest faculty and diverse teaching programmes of any School of History in the English speaking world. The School boasts expertise in Mediaeval and Modern History, from Scotland to Byzantium and the Americas to South Asia. Thematic interests include religious history, urban history, transnationalism, historiography and nationalism. The School of History prides itself on small group teaching, allowing for in-depth study and supervision tailored to secure the best from each student. Cutting edge research combined with teaching excellence offer a dynamic and intellectually stimulating environment for the study of History.

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