Studying History at Swansea: Martin Johnes Explains What Is on Offer

By Johnes, Martin | History Review, September 2007 | Go to article overview

Studying History at Swansea: Martin Johnes Explains What Is on Offer


Johnes, Martin, History Review


The City

Swansea bears the marks of a colourful history. It's a Welsh city that probably derives its name from a Norse settler. The natural beauty of its coastline stands alongside a landscape shaped by the industrial revolution. During its development, it gained a reputation as a centre for leisure, and, today, its sports, its golden beaches and its pubs and clubs galore all mean that Swansea continues to attract visitors from near and far. But it was a place of hard work too: a home to dockers, miners and metal workers and their terraced houses still creep up the hillsides that overlook the bay. These industries meant Swansea was a target for Nazi bombs and its centre was nearly entirely destroyed during raids in 1941. Swansea was rebuilt but the urban landscape that Dylan Thomas grew up in was very different to one that Catherine Zeta Jones knew 60 years later.

The Campus

The university itself was founded in 1920 and boasts a spectacular seaside campus with sweeping views across Swansea Bay and the beautiful Gower peninsula. There is probably no other university in the country where students can pop down in between lectures for a walk along five miles of golden sands. The campus itself is a mix of the modern and the traditional and includes the historic Singleton Abbey, once the focal point of the estate of nineteenth-century copper magnates. The estate's magnificent parklands flank the campus, meaning the university is literally sandwiched between the blue of the sea and the green of the park. Most students live in the neighbouring residential areas, which are in easy walking distance of both the city centre and the university.

The Department

Swansea is an excellent place to study as well as live. Its History Department is one of the UK's largest and admits around 250 new undergraduates every year. The student body is made up of people from all parts of the UK along with a growing cohort of international students from European and North American universities. The teaching staff is similarly diverse and includes academics from Canada, Germany, the USA and the UK. With 23 full-time lecturers, the department is able to offer a rich and varied menu of historical subjects that matches its diverse character. All the staff have published widely in their fields and many have written groundbreaking books that are internationally recognised.

History Courses

In their first year students are encouraged to approach history in different ways to their A levels. They grapple with big historical themes and think about trends and processes spanning long time periods and large geographical areas. There are modules on medieval, early modern and modern global and European history and a course on 'making history' that gets students thinking about how the past is studied, written about and represented. It culminates with a project where students compare academic understandings of a theme or event of their choice with how it is represented in popular history, whether that's a Hollywood movie or a local museum. First years also study a second subject to broaden their horizons. Some choose something completely different like Film Studies or a language; others prefer something more historical such as Ancient History, American Studies or the popular option of War and Society.

In the second year modules become more focused on specific times, places and themes, but the choice is very varied and includes Communist Russia, America as a British colony, European fascism, modern Wales, the medieval castle and the making of the middle ages. There are also many options that are offered to both History and War and Society students, including 'War and British society 1688-1815', 'the Desert campaign 1940-42' and 'Science, war and society'. …

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