Current affairs and studying History at Oxbridge

Opening a newspaper is a great way to prepare for any Oxbridge interview: fact. But for historians, current affairs are often seen as an unnecessary side-line to the real sources. Here’s how current affairs can actually increase your chances of gaining a place reading History at Oxbridge.

Author: Meltem Kamalvand

Table of Contents

Opening a newspaper is a great way to prepare for any Oxbridge interview: fact. But for historians, current affairs are often seen as an unnecessary side-line to the real sources. Here’s how current affairs can actually increase your chances of gaining a place reading History at Oxbridge.

For those who see their subject as the pursuit of all things past, current affairs are often seen as an unnecessary side-line to the real sources.

But if three years of studying History at university teaches you anything, it’s that history is never static. It is constantly being challenged and re-written through the lens of the present: ‘’Do the Ferguson riots in the US prove that the Civil Rights struggle never really ended…? Does the feminist movement today support the claim that feminism has always been an upper-class, white woman’s cause…? Does the conflict in Syria demonstrate that we haven’t learnt from the lessons of Iraq…?’’

So before you head blindly for a stack of books, here are five key reasons why a knowledge of current affairs might just help you shine at interview:

1.    New Developments:

Perhaps the most straightforward reason – new evidence and developments are constantly surfacing to re-inform our view of the past. From the discovery of Richard III’s body under a car park in Leicester, to the republication of Mein Kampf in Germany for the first time in 70 years, to the discovery of two hidden doors in Tutankhamun’s tomb; advances in the present are constantly spurring new areas of understanding and debate in the past.

2.    Interesting Connections and Authenticity:

Part of being a historian is being able to make interesting connections across time and space. Demonstrating this skill through the lens of current affairs is the ultimate tool, as it allows you to display a level of authenticity free from the burden of the work of historians past. If a piece of interesting news breaks the morning of your interview that relates to a period which you have studied, you may well be one of the first to comment on its historical implications. It is the most apt way of demonstrating your skills as a historian to prospective tutors from the recesses of your own mind, rather than from what you have read in the works of others.

3.    Breadth:

Following on from point 2, having an understanding of current affairs and their relation to the past aids you in developing an all-important breadth of historical understanding. This means showing that you are not just a medievalist, modernist, or somewhere in-between, but can pro-actively work across periods spanning right up to the present day. For example, being able to effectively demonstrate how the Magna Carta still underpins the British legal system today shows breadth, and will act as a key balancing force to the more detailed knowledge you will have acquired throughout your courses at A level.

4.    Encourages you to be off-the-wall:

The brain is a strange thing, and sometimes the things we have seen on the news stick in our subconscious and make for interesting connections to the things we’ve read, no matter how different on the surface. This demonstrates that all-elusive ‘flair’ that candidates so long to possess, and makes you memorable. ‘Remember that girl who successfully compared the fall of the Ottoman Empire to the Arab Spring?’ Of course they do. (Disclaimer: within reason, no one is advising a rant about the link between the Norman Conquest and present-day Mexican drug cartels).

5.    Grounds history in reality:

A time old question at interview is ‘why is the study of History still relevant?’ or ‘why is History important?’ Both for your prospective tutors and for you in your own mind, understanding how History can have a tangible impact on the world today demonstrates that you understand and believe in its worth, which is all you can really do when trying to persuade someone to give you a place at university. Away from the bubble of cosy libraries and wrinkled, time-worn books, you yourself can watch history in the making – so it wouldn’t hurt to look up once in a while and take it all in.

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