A backbone to springboard your career as a historian
Recently, whilst conducting a mock interview for a History candidate I asked him “has religious fervour increased or decreased over time?”
A sufficiently broad historical question – inviting a discussion of secularisation thesis for clued-up candidates or otherwise an important discussion of a major historical theme – I had no doubt a lively discussion would follow.
Indeed, the candidate produced a well-thought out answer arguing that in many parts of the world, religious fervour still underpins the judicial, political, and social structure of societies. He commented on the use of the word ‘fervour’ and its negative connotations in a post 9/11 world terrified by religious extremism, arguing that perhaps society has then, become more religiously fervent over time.
However, his argument quickly unravelled when he proceeded to look for evidence to show that pre-20th century society, by contrast, was not as religiously fervent. Punching in the dark, he concluded that other than probably the Catholics, there were not really any religious denominations (within Christianity anyway) that had overly fervent religious practices or which resorted to the kind of religious extremism we understand today.
Refraining from listing the Protestant Wars of religion, the burning of Marian martyrs, the rise of Puritanism and more, I gently probed the issue further. Given that the candidate was through and through a modern historian, I didn’t expect huge levels of detail, but I did expect him to know what the Reformation was.
Any discussion of Christianity will always come back to or at least make reference to the Reformation – perhaps the most ground-breaking event in western religious history and arguably in European History more generally – an event which clearly depicts the intense religious fervour of early modern European society.
However, no luck, and it soon became clear that the candidate did not know even the most basic, one-line Wikipedia summary, of what the Reformation was.
The moral of the story? Be broad in your historical understanding. You do not have to be an expert, but you do need to be aware of the key events that defined the world as we know it.
So here is a round-up of the top 15 MUST know events for any History interview, to make sure you’re never caught out during the abstract segment of the interview.
The list is by no means conclusive, but a good backbone/ springboard to start off your career as a well-rounded historian!
1. The fall of Rome
2. The birth of the major world religions
3. The Crusades
4. The Renaissance
5. The Reformation
6. The discovery of the Americas
7. The American Revolution
8. The French Revolution
9. The Enlightenment
10. The Industrial Revolution
11. The World Wars
12. The Cold War
13. The Israel-Palestine conflict
14. The Iraq War