Choosing your own course of study
The Institute of History has preserved the old-fashioned custom of studying. Not acquiring education, not “making use of an educational service”, but, in fact, studying. What does it mean? Just that students, under the guidance of their teachers, are to learn to be independent in pursuing knowledge. In order for students to become independent, they cannot be just numbers on the attendance register for their professors. The principle – which the IH staff always staunchly defend – is that students must have direct contact with their lecturers at all stages of the education process – from introductory classes in their first year to MA seminars in their last year. Students who come to us to study history can rest assured that during classes conducted for small groups they will be able to get to know the discipline inside out and, perhaps even more importantly, to get to know the people who make it. However, this teacher-pupil relation – or sometimes, if you are lucky, master-pupil relation – poses considerable demands to both sides. It is difficult to swan through a history course unnoticed (although students have been claiming for generations, that if you pass the ancient history exam, you will probably make it to the end – the question is in what style you will do it). No less a challenge is posed by this model to lecturers – at the Institute of History they cannot simply read out the same lectures for years.
Moreover, so far history has been able to resist the current fashion for uniformisation of content taught to students. From their very first year students themselves shape their study programme: within their curriculum they choose classes they want to attend. Workshop-based classes as well as lectures are monographic, in line with the direction of research carried out by a given member of our academic staff. This creates a great variety of topics, e.g. during obligatory classes in the history of the 19th century, students may be learning about tsarist Russia or colonial Africa. This formula assumes that students will be independent, both when choosing their classes and when preparing for them. Rumour has it that you have to read a lot, if you study history. True, you do have to read a lot, but not (as a rule) to learn something by heart, but to understand. What happens during the classes is by definition not a passive reconstruction of the content that you have read, but an opportunity to analyse it critically, to engage in a polemic, a dispute; sometimes it becomes a starting point for further independent study.