One Historian’s Existential Crisis

A month ago, I began my MA History course at the University of Southampton. Moving on from the University of Birmingham was not an easy decision for me. Birmingham had taught me so much throughout the last 3 years, and I had been utterly inspired by students and teachers during my time there. However, after a month at Southampton, I can say with confidence that it was the right decision. The History department at Southampton has, so far, been extremely welcoming and encouraging to me, and I have complete freedom to research and write on topics that truly interest me. Though I miss Birmingham terribly, Southampton is a wonderful new opportunity for me.

There are many things that make me excited for my Masters. As I’ve mentioned, there is much more freedom than with undergrad; I am able to pick any area I like to research within each module, and I have final say on all my assessment topics, which I thoroughly appreciate. There is also a new degree of respect between you and your professors which I would say is lacking in an undergrad degree, already I feel like there is a good rapport between me and my seminar leaders, which obviously makes everything easier. However, the Masters course can also be incredibly daunting. There is a new sense of independence, and more importantly individuality, that makes me feel a bit uneasy.

Fundamentally, I know that to be a successful historian, you need to have individual ideas. Ideas that have the ability to change historiography and inspire others. I’ve always known that. But that doesn’t make it any less scary. I know what I’m interested in, what I want to research and what I want to teach others, but I’m not sure if that is enough. And it’s not just in a Masters, this is going to be an issue for the rest of my life. I desperately want to go into a history-related career, whether that involves a PhD, or teaching, or public history, or journalism, I am always going to have to bring something to the table that makes me unique.

I have never suffered from imposter syndrome (when an individual doubts their accomplishments and fears being exposed as a “fraud”), if anything I’ve always been overly confident in my abilities. But I feel it creeping in more and more as I get older. I think part of it, is that most of my interests are centred around women. I know, any research I complete will have a heavy focus on Feminist theory, and gender history, because that is what I am most passionate about. And whilst I feel this is a worthwhile direction, a lot of times I worry I am not up to the job. A fair bit of my time, both in and out of university, is spent reading about remarkable women, and tracking their achievements. Recently it’s been AOC, Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Emilia Bassano, Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey, JANE FONDA, to name just a few. The same thought always crosses my mind: I could never do what they do. Genuinely. Women are superheroes and I’m not sure I am up to the task of telling their stories. I’m aware hardly any of these women are historical figures, they are merely women who inspire me personally. But they are all contributing to a new conversation, one that is championing women and putting their narratives first. I want to be a part of this narrative, and the only skill I have to contribute is my writing, but if I don’t have something worthwhile to say, I feel that I am doing the movement a disservice.

My hope for this year is to find my niche, to discover a way in which I can contribute to discussions about women and their place in history. It feels overwhelming to think about the future, and how my career is going to take shape. I’m not sure if I want to do a PhD, if I want to teach history in schools, or if I want to be a historical journalist – but that’s okay. At the end of the day, what matters is that I am able to put my degree(s) to some use, that I am able to educate a wider audience on the topics I am passionate about. I am a proud feminist and I want to write about women in history, how they were disadvantaged and how they fought back. And maybe to one day I will inspire other girls, like they inspire me.

3 thoughts on “One Historian’s Existential Crisis

  1. I loved studying for my undergrad and MA as a mature student. I also wanted to tell stories of women and promote women’s and gender history. Sadly, I found the job search really didn’t suit me and found continuing to work in the field I’d already trained in more beneficial at the moment – but given half a chance I’d become a student again. I’d love to do a PhD but I can only look at that as an option once I retire.
    I really enjoyed the process of dissertation writing with my degrees, that in-depth look at a subject – will you do a dissertation? Have you chosen a subject?

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    1. Hi Ruby, I’m so glad you share the same interests, hopefully one day you’ll be able to do your PhD! I do have to do a dissertation for my masters yes, at the moment I’m struggling to decide between two very different topics. One focuses on medical diagnosis on men and women in the early modern period and how gender affected these diagnosis (mainly looking at hysteria and hypochondria) which is similar to my undergrad degree, OR I am thinking of going down a very public history route and doing something on how women’s stories are being told to the public through film/theatre/music. Both focus on women but are completely different! What did you do you dissertation on?

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      1. My undergrad was on criminal poisonings in the 19C that were tried at the Old Bailey – asking the question was it a gender specific crime? And the the Master’s was on the Philanthropic Society and its response to child poverty and child criminals in the late 18-early 19C. I did enjoy the criminal focus, before I went to uni (aged 40) I did think about studying criminology, of course, I was dim and didn’t research thoroughly – I didn’t realise that I could have done a combined degree.

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