pillars of fire

Group Research. Oh, Group Research, if I had a penny for every time I complained about it I could afford to put myself through law school without a TC. Well. Alright, maybe if I had a tenner each time.

Group Research is a bad idea. Leave aside that the organisation and communication are, as usual from the history department, a bit* disjointed and shambolic. Leave aside that we had limited guidance because our highly competent and willing tutor wasn’t allowed to see us regularly. The module is worth 20 credits (ie, 1/6th of the year, the year itself being worth 25% of the degree.) 50% of the marks are from a 2500 word essay (which we’ll come to), 50% are from the group presentation. This means that, fundamentally, 10 credits of my degree are relying on other people. And not to lapse into lame misanthropic wank which so disrupts the standard lame self-deprecating wank, but I don’t trust other people to do my degree for me.

Last week was the culmination; essays were due in on Tuesday (except, as we most of us learned after handing in slightly rushed essays on Tuesday, they were actually due in on Wednesday. Oh, History office. Oh, you.) I did my essay, which was (like dissprep before it) marred by nobody being perfectly sure what the hell to do having been told fifteen things going in different directions. In the end I just worked to Stuart’s pretty-good-actually email spec, more or less finished the day before, and reworked it in the bog standard all-nighter that’s become basically habit. Then presentations, in morning/evening sessions, with each group required to go to one session presenting, one session assessing and one session as “audience” (for which read: meat in the room.) We were assessing on Wednesday morning, presenting first thing on Thursday.

Seeing other teams’ work was, surprisingly, a confidence booster. There was one featuring a friend from Practising History last year, which was very competently done despite the subject being the sort of tedious parish history nobody could really give a damn about, a couple middle of the road things, and one which had a rather clever presentation on the screen but was let down by a group who said so little of substance in such a mumble (and did such a terrible job of answering questions afterwards) I was convinced they were reading wiki printouts after a night of heavy drinking. It became swiftly obvious that nobody on either side of it cared much about the actual content. But some of the stuff we saw was basically media studies; not to be a history snob (HEAVEN FORFEND) but it felt good to have a presentation based on actual facts which we’d discovered from actual archives and primary sources, rather than watching a couple of movies and issuing sweeping statements of questionable integrity.

Sam Lear tells me that his default question after a presentation was “tell me why this is important/historically relevant”, which is the best damn question you can ask, really, though it also got him a rep as a total dick.**

Despite excusing myself from an amusing Northern Soc karaoke night (which I attended with some trepidation, worrying that as a southerner they might only want me as a blood sacrifice and/or ingredient for pies; totally wrongly, Northern Soc are lovely folks) in order to get pre-presentation sleep this, too, ended up as an all-nighter. For no actual reason: I designed and printed a couple of handouts (one map with the Messines-Wytschaetes Ridge as placed against, one with a 9000hoursinMSPaint diagram of the British Army chain of command (for non-war plebs), rewrote my script and fiddled a bit with the presentation. None of this took much time at all. But it seems I can’t live without fatigue, insomnia and a good hard tea/adrenaline kick before a piece of work. The actual day of the presentation came up, sunny and bright, and I was buzzing like a hummingbird.

We started presenting at 10. Thirty minutes later, we sat outside, grinning stupidly in the comedown, and one of the professors assessing came and shook our hands to congratulate us on what he reckoned was good work well done. The first presentation of the day, I’m convinced, gets marked most leniently (such was certainly the way when we were marking). Afterwards, we all went to Joe’s for a hideously early pint and discussed music and methods of execution.

I’m convinced that there’s no way that could have gone better, and that we probably deserve whatever mark we get from it; mostly I’m just glad it’s over with. But I can’t deny it’s been pretty interesting as a module, and some real CV-boosting nonsense along the way. Challenges! Teamwork! Productivity!

Group Research: it sucked hard until twenty hours before crunch, but when I’m all withered and ancient, looking back on uni through the rosy tint of distant hindsight, I think I’ll remember it kindly.

* Where “a bit” = “completely.”
** He tried it on us; another member of the team said something nice and common-sense-y while I was still mouthing “how fucking dare you”, then I recovered and said something disjointed about challenging popular perceptions.


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