The History Society Undergraduate Conference 2019

Blog written by Ruth McKechnie

This year, the History Society’s Annual Undergraduate Conference returned for its fifth year. Once again, talented and inquisitive undergraduate historians showcased their research and presented their own unique take on the theme of ‘History and the People’. This year’s participants considered a wide range of topics and interpretations, from Soviet warfare to the commemoration of anniversaries today. Speakers Jacob Baxter, Fiona Banham and Benjamin Claremont are all currently in their fourth year, while Grant Wong is only in the second year of his studies. These students were joined by Professor Ali Ansari of the Middle Eastern History department and Dr Sarah Frank of Modern History.

Professor Ansari presented a thought-provoking exploration of how history relates to the formation of public policy, and he outlined some of the challenges he himself has faced within the public sphere. Dr Frank gave a paper on the experiences and popular images of prisoners of war, with particular emphasis on colonial German captives during the Second World War. However, the true highlight of the day were the undergraduate speakers. Each student gave an insight into an area of history that resonated with them.

Jacob Baxter, presenting ‘The Anniversary Today; Possibilities, Pitfalls and the People’, provided a striking consideration of the impacts that anniversaries can have upon historical engagement with the public. He skilfully brought St Andrews and the commemoration of the University’s 400th year to the forefront of this paper. Following this, Grant Wong gave a truly educational foray into the lives of re-enactors, and the length to which they will go to prefect their craft in his paper ‘A Search for Purpose: The Power of Performance in Civil War Re-enactment.’ Special attention was devoted to the role of women and minority groups within this practice.  ‘Children of the Holocaust in Popular and Collective Memory’, delivered by Fiona Banham, was a poignant and thoroughly considered insight into how the images and insights of children impact the public perception of the Holocaust. This paper received much praise and prompted more than a few tears from the audience. Benjamin Claremont’s presentation of ‘Losing the Forest for the Trees: Military Myopia in the Western Popular Understanding of Soviet Warfare’  focused on the impact of misinformation surrounding historical phenomena. Using exceptional example, he explored how myths can seep into common consciousness through platforms such as YouTube and popular media.

After the papers were delivered, the Deans Prize was won by  Jacob Baxter and his thoroughly delightful presentation. The conference was closed by a roundtable discussion, in which presenters, committee members and members of the audience participated in a lively debate. This final event marked the end of a day jam-packed with truly excellent work and thought-provoking ideas, which will hopefully facilitate further discussion. The History Society wishes to say a big thank you to all who made such a great day possible, with a special thanks to keynote speakers, student presenters and the School of History. Each of the papers presented will soon be available in History Society Undergraduate Conference Journal, and I would thoroughly recommend reading these spectacular examples of student research.

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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