Reading Challenge 2016 – 6 Month Update

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My offline Goodreads!

As it is now July, I thought I would post an update on my first six months of reading in 2016. To achieve my goal, ideally I would have completed twelve books at this point in the year, although I’m not too annoyed with myself. I think eight completed books and two currently reading is still a great mid-point, considering that the first six months of this challenge were also my last semester of university! Although I did not read books cover to cover for my dissertation, if I added together the total pages of chapters, extracts and journal articles that I did read, I would be well on my way to completing the challenge!

Here are the books I have read so far this year in the order at which I finished them:

  • The Chronicles of Narnia: The Silver Chair – C.S Lewis
  • The Chronicles of Narnia: The Last Battle – C.S Lewis
  • Career of Evil – Robert Galbraith
  • Call the Midwife – Jennifer Worth
  • Make Gentle the Light of the this World – Robert F. Kennedy
  • Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children – Ransom Riggs
  • A Gathering of Shadows – V. E. Schwab
  • Blacklands – Belinda Bauer

At the moment I am currently reading:

  • Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K Rowling
  • Tom’s Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce

In all honestly I should be at ten books by now, but for some reason I’m getting through Prisoner of Azkaban unusually slowly! But like I mentioned before, I’m not too dispirited because I worked hard this last semester, and will be graduating with an amazing grade as a result of that.

I only have a few books on my TBR at the moment, but I am moving home this week so I will have easier access to my collection. Any recommendations for things to read in the second half of my challenge would be appreciated, and happy reading!

Day Trips: Verulamium Park, St. Albans

Here are some photos from my visit to Verulamium Park in St. Albans. Unfortunately I didn’t get a chance to visit the museum, but I was able to soak up some of the city’s Roman history in the glorious May sunshine.

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My visit also reminded me of how great solo trips are. I love travelling with other people, and there’s nothing like experiencing a city or country with your friends, but I believe that solo trips are good for the soul.
You have to be decisive, motivated and have your research down (and be safe, as always), and it can give you a chance to see things or meet people that you might not have done had you been a duo or a group.

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Remains of the Roman City Wall can be found in the park. 

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The hypocaust and mosaic are a must see. It was uncovered in the 1930s, and is now enclosed by a fully accessible building. The hypocaust is a short walk from the museum.

I know St. Albans isn’t exactly a big, exciting travel adventure, bit it was a mini-adventure that quenched my wanderlust for now. It also served as a reminder of the long history that surrounds this area, and even though my speciality is not in ancient history or Roman Britain, it was great to get back into history and heritage mode after my end of exam break. (Also, local travel is great.)

Book Review: Call the Midwife by Jennifer Worth

 

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Call the Midwife is the first book in a series of memoirs by Jennifer Worth, a midwife working in London’s East End in the 1950s. The book has been adapted into a T.V programme by Heidi Thomas (currently filming its sixth season) which airs on the BBC.

 

Jennifer Worth was in her early twenties when she began working with Nonnatus House, a convent in Poplar, East London, to complete her training as a midwife. In her memoirs Jennifer details the stories of the people worked with and treated in her early career, covering tales of breeched births, eclampsia, prostitution, big families and language barriers (both Cockney and Spanish!)

I love the T.V series and thought it was finally time to give the source material a read. The book itself is well paced and easy to read, and although there is not much of a focus on ‘developing characters’, there are glimpses into the personality of each midwife, Nun, and patient. I’m unable to account for how much of my enjoyment of the book came from my engagement with the T.V programme, and the world and characters developed by the cast and the excellent writing of Heidi Thomas. However I can say that prior knowledge of the series did not detract from the book in anyway. The stories in the book mirror season one of the programme, which allowed me to feel some familiarity with the characters, and may have also contributed to the how quickly I was able to read the book.

By far the best thing about Call the Midwife is its insight into an infant NHS and the female perspective of poverty and social conditions of the 1950s. The National Health Service was rolled out in 1948, giving people access to aspects of health care that they previously were unable to afford. The women of Nonnatus House were at the forefront of caring for the community by working hard to treat everyone through both midwifery and district nursing. In particular, some of the more intrinsic challenges which the nurses face can be summed up in Jennifer’s encounter with an elderly patient who fears medical practitioners due to their pre-war experience of the workhouse and New Poor Law system.

The memoirs of Jennifer Worth show the merging of a new medical frontier with the practicalities of slum conditions and poverty through personal stories. Her writing portrays the anxieties and fears that I suspect are not so distance from those of expecting mothers today, and yet her descriptions of squalor, bomb sites, and condemned tenement buildings creates a world that is strikingly different to our own. The use of personal stories with elements that transcend history make this memoir an excellent read not only for those who love the T.V series, but also for those interested in the post-war period, the beginnings of the NHS, or the power of female relationships.

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Favourite Character: Sister Evangelina
This was difficult, because not only are the characters in Worth’s memoir depictions of real people, I also had to distance myself from the characters in the T.V series. Sister Evangelina is a perfect example of the ‘people are complex’ mantra. She has many sides to her personality, and we learn that although the midwives feel that she has no sense of humour, that doesn’t mean that her patients don’t find her hilarious. She is the character that represents class differences, a working class Nun contrasted against her middle class Sisters, but allied with the hardships of those in the community she cares for.

Favourite Line: ‘Like most women of her generation, Flo was an experienced amateur midwife.’

Anything else?
The Cockney Dialect appendix is a great insight into the mechanics of 1950s cockney slang and speech patterns, as well as the origins of the speech. According to this appendix, certain elements of cockney syntax and grammar can be traced back to the Tudors!

To Masters Degree, Or Not To Masters Degree?

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While this is definitely me studying, it’s most definitely not my university.

I love my university. I love the people, my course, the campus, and the experiences it has given me. But the history department here is small, and the university itself is very enterprise orientated. So where does that leave me in terms of further study?

#SmallUniProblems

When I say our history department is small, I mean that the staff fit into two fairly average sized offices, and that I have come into contact with pretty much all of them throughout my university career. That doesn’t mean we’re all best pals or anything, it’s just small, and because it’s so small it’s very student orientated. My lecturers know who they’re teaching, the biggest module I’m in this semester contains around 40 people – but split (unevenly) over two classes, meaning that my class is still small. Therefore my university history undergraduate experience has been very personal and I’ve felt supported at every step. The discussions are informal and the doors are always open, and yet it’s never felt like the university you see on the big screen, or what you imagine you’re filling out your UCAS application. For my masters I am thinking of applying to much bigger universities, with large faculties and more than six modules on offer each semester. This has left me wondering how I would manage the transition, not only from undergraduate to postgraduate, but also from student focused to an academics lead institution.

Life after graduation?

This brings me on to my seconds point. My current university is very career orientated, taking on the task of preparing its students for the ‘real world’, and this works for them. In terms of humanities graduates, over 90% are employed within a year of finishing their degrees, and in our second and third years we have compulsory modules on graduate and employability skills. Now this is very useful, and I’m not for one moment saying that it’s not. I like being able to pop into the careers office for a chat about my CV or help with an application, and this kind of support is what makes students from all the different schools employable. Where I feel it falls down is the promotion of further study as a valid pathway after graduation.

Apart from a few fantastically helpful people, postgraduate study (that is not a PGCE) has never been presented as a proper option. It’s been on the outside of our corporate based careers fairs, and for the two compulsory career conferences I’ve had to attend for humanities, those representing postgraduate study have failed to attend for various reasons.
I know that if you want something bad enough, you’ll find a way to make it happen. I also know that postgraduate degrees in this country aren’t cheap, but this is why I wish the promotion would have been there. So prospective students could discuss options for funding and financial support, and pick the brains of postgrads who have gone on to take a number of different courses at different universities.

At this moment passion is my driving force, and I am being helped by some amazing individuals so who knows where I’ll be this time next year. All I know is that I have loved (and continue to love) my undergraduate experience, I would have just liked a little less of the ‘you-will-graduate-and-be-a-successful-high-flying-business-person’ approach, and more of a ‘look at all these options you could be considering!’
But then again, I’m coming to the end of my last semester as an undergraduate.
Maybe all of this is just an existential crisis?

 

 

 

 

 

This is purely based of my own experience and an afternoon of thinking a little too hard.
Is your university particularly employment/academics leaning?
How have your options been presented to you, if it all?  

Stepping Outside That Comfort Zone

On Tuesday this week my university held its annual History  Undergraduate Dissertation Conference. It was a lovely day in which we could show off our projects to our course mates. postgraduates and members of staff in an informal setting. To add some excitement to the proceedings there were three forms in which we could present our research, a poster, 3 minute soapbox or 10 minute presentation, the best of each category winning a prize at the end of the day.

I really enjoyed hearing about everyone’s projects. It’s amazing that within a group of 27 students interests can be so varied, covering everything from modern political history to early modern medicine, from Victorian funerals to 1960s popular culture. There was also a mix of geographical locations being studied. Often I feel that at undergraduate level we are limited by our access to predominately British sources, but thanks to the digitizing of sources from other countries and different approaches/perspectives this is changing.

Although I’m enjoying my research and love talking the ears off those who ask about my dissertation topic, the conference was daunting to me. I’m not a public speaker. Sure I can dream about giving that perfect lecture one day, strolling about in front of a project screen with a clicker in my hand, but the reality is much different. Red face, shaky hands and wavering voice.

Why then, did I choose to present my work as a ten minute presentation?

My reasoning was simple, I’m proud of what I’m doing and I felt a ten minute presentation was the best way to showcase my work. I knew that no matter how much I prepared (and believe me, I was sooo prepared), I would face the same problems I always do when it comes to public speaking. But I needed to know that I could do it.  

To push me even further out of my comfort zone, shortly before my allocated time slot my supervisor made a terrifying suggestion. I should step out from behind the desk during the presentation, to engage the audience and remove the barrier between me and the rest of the room. Now I don’t know about anyone else, but a barrier between myself and the audience is a great thing. It helps to hide vulnerability and provides a sturdy object to hold for fear of passing out (over exaggeration).

But to my surprise, I stood away from the desk. I may have had a hand on the edge of it for the majority of the time, but I did it and survived. It wasn’t a brilliantly polished presentation, I stumbled over my words a few times, and the wavering voice, shaking hands and red face were ever present, but afterwards they were joined by a sense of achievement. Regardless of whether I won or not, the level of personal achievement that day was so huge that I would go home happy.

Now as it turns out, I did win! My presentation on County Meath shared the top spot with another about regulation of men in the EIC, and I couldn’t have been more proud. In fact, I’m still riding the high, which is why I have been able to write such a self indulgent post.
I promise normal service will resume tomorrow!

But if I ever need a nudge to do anything challenging, different or new again, I can always look back to the conference and at what can happen if I just take that little step away from the desk.

 

 

2015 Reading Challenge – Round Up

Ok, so I didn’t do as well as I’d hoped but I enjoyed taking part in this personalised challenge and that’s what really counts, right?

For 2016 I am aiming to read 25 books and I’ll definitely be using the bingo chart to help diversify my reading choices. So without further ado, here are the squares I managed to cross off my chart in 2015.

Continue reading

Project For Awesome 2015 – Holidays and Giving

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For me, like many others, the holiday season is a time for giving.
I always donate a portion of my Christmas cash to charities here in the UK, and it would feel like my holiday season is incomplete without this donation. That’s why this year more than ever I am thankful for the Project For Awesome.

We are nearing what is likely to be one of the most stressful periods of my ‘adult’ life so far: the end of first semester of final year.
Unlike last year in Montreal, the first semester at Herts doesn’t end until the 4th of January. This means that all final assignments are carried over the Christmas holiday, and third year assignments + holiday commitments = STRESS.

I was afraid that all the stress would detract from my usual ‘giving vibe’ and not allow me to have time for research into charities, but that is where P4A 2015 comes in.
Confession time: Despite being part of the Nerdfighter Community for many years, I have never before donated to the Project For Awesome. I have used social media and watched the live stream, but due to many reasons (some of which I’ll admit were excuses) I haven’t been able to donate.

But this year I have the ability to do so.

This year I can participate in a community of charitable people helping to raise money for charities that a community collectively decided upon, and it takes up only 48 hours of my time. Money goes to some of the most deserving charities, and some smaller charities with limited reach get access to funds the would otherwise not have access to.
The Project For Awesome makes supporting charities easy and simple, and everyone has a great 48 hours.

I will still be making my usual donation of Christmas cash (this year to Clic Sargent), but I’m grateful for being able to be involved in something so cool before the Christmas hols officially begin.

A great discussion could be had on the motives behind giving to charity, and whether it’s ok to feel good about charitable acts. Whether that feeling should be motivation alone, or should the primary motive be helping decent, ground up charities? I don’t have a definitive answer, but I do think it is important to give as much as we can and in an informed manner.

With that, I’m off to continue writing an assignment.

Happy Project for Awesome!

Links:
Project For Awesome 2015 – Watch, vote and donate!
http://www.projectforawesome.com/

Some of Favourite Videos:

Médecins sans Frontiérs
http://www.projectforawesome.com/watch?v=Edhw7TMCaM8

Great Ormond Street Hospital
http://www.projectforawesome.com/watch?v=9NNjEEWO0Dk

Vision Aid Overseas
http://www.projectforawesome.com/watch?v=n9JMSpaSJMM

One Girl
http://www.projectforawesome.com/watch?v=ya5P1a-QHs8