Exam Reflection 2013/14

I have literally just finished my second year examinations and, as one does, feel compelled to reflect on each of them; assessing what went right, what went wrong, and what I hope my mark will be for each exam and each module as a whole. For those of you new to this blog I am a second year undergraduate studying a History degree at the University of Exeter, a University renowned across the UK for its high standards. I did a fair bit of coursework for each module before its respective exam and I will therefore include those marks before I delve into each module, I will include the percentage of how much each piece of coursework constitutes towards the final mark of the module. In all instances the examination counts for roughly half of the module. I did three exams in the space of a week, and here they are.

HIH2002: Uses of the Past
Critical Source Commentary: 67% (15%)
Group Wiki: 76% (25%)
Group Poster: 68% (15%)
Pre-Exam Average: 70% (First Class)

Question 3: With detailed reference to ONE case study, discuss the significance of ONE cultural artefact and its preservation for the identity of any given social group or community.

This question caught my eye as soon as I saw it and before I knew it I had what I thought was the perfect case study: The ANZAC Slouch Hat. What made this cultural artefact such a good case study was its origin story and what it means to Australians to this day. My answer contextualized its origins as an unassuming piece of headgear and its correlation to the Gallipoli Campaign of 1914-15, an event seen as the ‘baptism of fire’ for both Australia and New Zealand as countries separate from The British Empire, thus covering the identity requirement of the question. I then went on to explain the values and means of preservation behind the hat, and this is where it got interesting. I realized that preserving a hat that can easily be mass produced isn’t much to write about, but what IS interesting to write about is the preservation of what the hat represents on a metaphysical level. Therefore I wrote about the first instances of ‘ANZAC Pilgrims’, as documented by Lieutenant Cyril Hughes of the Imperial War Graves Commission in 1920, travelling to the Gallipoli Peninsula wearing the hat as a sign of commemoration. I also wrote about the way the hat is sometimes worn during ANZAC Day (25th April annually) parades and ceremonies. Ultimately, this hat symbolizes values that some Australians and New Zealanders believe now separate themselves from their parent country of Great Britain, a post-colonial national identity if you would.

Question 11: What can the use of the past tell us about the broader values or concerns of a society? Discuss with reference to at least TWO case studies.

Given that I had to write about two case studies for this one I knew I had to dedicate more time to it. Although the examples I used would probably not have to be as detailed as my first answer I simply do not do “simple”.  The two case studies I settled on were the ‘use and abuse’ of history in American politics and the ‘preservation of religious history’ in the Yasukuni Shrine. I started with the American example by quoting two particularly infamous pieces of dialogue from Michelle Bachmann and John McCain: “The founding fathers worked tirelessly to end slavery” and “The constitution established the United States as a Christian nation” respectively. Of course, both of these statements are complete fallacies and I made sure to identify why briefly. I explained that although they are completely wrong they are still uses of the past and have been used to address societal concerns: Racial tensions in Bachmann’s case and the decline of Christianity in McCain’s case. I also wrote about the use of the past among American grass-roots movements such as the Tea Party. The Tea Party, a modern movement that owes its namesake to an 18th century revolutionary movement, attempts to affect or delay policy change if they feel it clashes with values they feel have been established from history: namely the 4th, 5th, and 6th amendments of the United States Constitution. I ended this case study with the conclusion that both American political elites and grass-roots commit a logical fallacy in their use of the past as what defines “culture” and “cultural values” will ultimately be ambiguous as long as multiculturalism, and consequently the electorate, expands.

My second case study I fear I didn’t explain overly well. I wrote about how the Yasukuni Shrine was founded in 1869 by the 122nd Emperor of Japan: Meiji. Meiji established the shrine in the midst of his modernization reforms aimed at bringing Japan into the industrial world, a series of reforms collectively known as ‘The Meiji Restoration’. Yasukuni is a memorial shrine to those who have died in the service of the Emperor in accordance with Shintoism, however that is not Yasukuni’s sole purpose. The shrine was founded in the midst of social upheaval for a reason, to ensure Japanese society that their cultural values would not be swept away by modernization – addressing a societal concern. The modern context of this case study is the unfortunate controversy that has surrounded Yasukuni since World War II. 12 “Class A” war criminals are enshrined at Yasukuni, something that has caused huge controversy in south-east Asia. I debated whether or not this was an example of ‘victors justice’ and made a counter-argument defending the shrine on a religious and societal level. I made sure to mention that despite all the controversy Japanese governments and society refuse to yield to international pressure over the shrine, clearly indicating societal concerns over a loss of religious identity.

Hopeful Exam Mark: 65%

HIH2207B: History of Science in Society
Essay: 71% (30%)
Presentation: 68% (20%)
Pre-Exam Average: 69% (Extremely High 2:1)

Question 2: Explain Thomas Kuhn’s theory of ‘paradigm shifts’ with reference to a specific example from the history of science.

I won’t lie, when I saw this question on the booklet when I turned the page over to begin my exam I smiled quite broadly. The key to this answer was remembering the title of the book Kuhn’s theory first appeared in: ‘The Structure of Scientific Revolutions’ (1962). Right off the bat, by omission of that title, I had my field established. Another crucial piece of information comes from the title of his work though. Notice the pluralism in that title? “Revolutions”, implying more than one scientific revolution. The truth is in fact that there was not one monotheistic “Scientific Revolution” and that the term is best used as an umbrella starting point in any serious study. However, that is not what this question was asking for and would require an entire book to explain. Suffice to say that I was not looking at the “Scientific Revolution” as a whole, rather at a specific event within it. Kuhn’s theory proposes that each scientific discipline is made up of a matrix of axioms, metaphysical I know but bear with me. Over time this matrix, or ‘paradigm’, encounters anomalies that existing axioms, or ‘beliefs’, cannot explain – resulting in a crisis within the discipline. New axioms are formulated through experimental science until they explain the anomaly, a new paradigm is formed, and the discipline continues until a new anomaly is discovered which repeats this process. I ended up using two examples from the history of science, examples found within a few decades of each other. Initially I had only planned to write about one example as the question indicated but since I had time on my side I decided to write about two as my second example wouldn’t take long to cover and I felt it was relevant. The first example I used was the transition, or ‘shift’, between the Aristotelian World View and the Copernican World View. In terms of astronomy this shift concerns the transition from the Geocentric Model to the Heliocentric Model; a perfect example. The second example I used was the shift between Aristotelian ‘Syllogism’ and the Baconian “Scientific” Method.

Question 10: Assess the role of science in the two World Wars, and discuss the consequences that this has had for the moral status of science.

This was an interesting question that initially I hadn’t planned to look for on the exam paper if it came up. However, since my preferred field of Eugenics didn’t appear on the paper I referred to science in the modern wars, which was my fall-back option during revision. The problem I faced with this question was that I couldn’t think of a single historian to reference, but that’s not too big an issue considering the dissection of Kuhn I performed in my previous answer. At risk of sounding arrogant, this question was very self-explanatory. The most obvious role science played in the two world wars was ushering in entirely new means of conducting warfare: armored warfare (tanks), chemical warfare (mustard gas), aerial warfare (fighter planes), civilian terror (bombers, ballistic rockets, submarines), and last but certainly not least the ushering in of the Atomic Age. I accidentally kept referring to the Atomic Age as the ‘Nuclear Age’ but in hindsight it’s practically the same thing. Technological advancement is only one side of this coin though, as a number of scientific institutions cropped up in the run-up to the First World War (Kaiser Wilhelm Institute, Ministry of Defense) and even more appeared during and after the Second World War (Atomic Energy Commission). Technological advances during the two World Wars opened up the ‘home front’ and brought civilians who had previously been relatively free from the desolation of war into the ‘thick-of-it’, for that science has suffered a moral defeat. Another and even greater modern defeat comes from the dawn of the Atomic Age. I mentioned and referenced Robert Oppenheimer, director the Manhattan Project, who famously said after the Nuclear bombing of Japan “I have become death, the destroyer of worlds”; indicating a profound sadness at the ends his work had been put towards. I also wrote about the advances in molecular biology and human genetics only made possible through advances made during the wars. Ultimately, I came to the conclusion that science occupies a “grey area” with regards to morality as it has proven it can achieve incredible things but can be used to terrible effect.

Hopeful Exam Mark: 70%

HIH2230A: Life and Death of Multinational Empires, 1848 – 1948
Essay: 58% (30%)
Presentation: 63% (20%)
Pre-Exam Average: 60% (Low 2:1)

Question 3: In what ways did modernization transform politics and everyday life in Central European cities?

As you can tell from the above marks this was not my best module. The fact that I had this module during my first term, a good four months ago, meant that a lot of my knowledge on it was long gone. I just wasn’t very confident going into this exam hall and would have been quite grateful to escape this exam with a 2:2 mark. The basic premise of this answer is that it concerns the relationship modernity has with the advent of ‘mass politics’. Increased literacy rates made possible by advances in the printing press opened the field of politics to the grass roots and made it so politics was no longer solely a pass-time of the bourgeoisie. The increased scale of the electorate brought some unpleasantness however. Mass politics brought to the forefront historic deep-seated class, ethnic, and racial tensions – turning them into policies adopted and propagated by radical popular movements (Nazism, Fascism). I mentioned that some of the most modernized cities in Central Europe, cities such as Berlin, Prague, Rome, and Warsaw either became the birthplaces of radical mass political movements or the site of heinous pogroms. Another point I raised was the ‘Ghettoisation’ of ethnic minorities or ‘others’ in many Central European cities, I walked through the old Jewish Ghetto in Rome only a few years ago… I should know. My answer then went off on a bit of a tangent I fear might lose me a few marks. As I wrote about mass politics I ended up discussing the origins of the Holocaust and how it could have not happened, according to Michael Marrus’s ‘The Holocaust in History’ (1987), without the advent of mass politics and modernity. I ended up discussing individual Holocausts rather than there being a singular movement, which is what Daniel Stone argues in his ‘Histories of the Holocaust’ (2010), which although arguably true isn’t what the question asked for even if I may have made a logical connection using the work of two historians.

Question 8: Why was the Soviet Union an ‘affirmative action empire’?

This was similar to a question I answered in my History of Science exam. The question practically gave me the answer by omission. ‘Affirmative Action Empire’ is a 2001 book written by Dr. Terry Martin in which he discusses the policies of the Soviet Union with regards to nationality. I started this answer by contextualizing it properly between 1920 and 1939 and by explaining the state of Russia before and after the fall of Tsar Nicholas II. I argued that Soviet Russia sought to bring its neighboring countries under its influence through use of, to reference Dr. Martin again, “The Piedmont Principle”. The Piedmont Principle was the belief that cross-border ethnic ties between Russia, Moldova, and Ukraine could be manipulated to extend Soviet influence and eventually incorporate nations into the ‘Soviet Union’. The Piedmont Principle was put to good effect in Moldova but got nowhere in the Ukraine, which forced Stalin to enact the Holodomor to crush Ukrainian nationalism which was resisting cultural assimilation. At this point I brought in the view of another noted historian Robert Conquest to better explain the Holodomor, a good move I think. I then went back to my point about nationalism and why it was so dangerous to the Soviet Union’s aspirations. Karl Marx himself wrote in Das Kapital that “nationalism is a tool of the bourgeoisie” and that nationalism can be used to usurp notions of uniformity and multiculturalism (side note: it can, and does). I then ended my answer by writing that Vladimir Lenin professed that the true form of communism is “socialism in one country”, which basically means that he intended for the Soviet Union to be a collective of people no longer separated by the divisions of class or nationality – in effect making a multinational empire.

Hopeful Exam Mark: 55%


Phew, I really needed to get that off my mind.

I’ll get back to my usual fare in the coming weeks!



One comment

  1. Reblogged this on MI Hygienist NZ – Speaking for Myself and Oral Health and commented:
    Very well reflected Dale

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