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A day in the life: History

Joe Spencer (2012) describes ‘a fairly standard day for a third year historian’.

8am First alarm goes off.

8.10am Second alarm goes off.

8.20am Third alarm goes off.

9.10am Oh dear! I rush to and from the shower, mercifully free as all the science students in my house have already gone to lectures. Shave, get dressed, fling books into bag.

9.30am I walk from my house on Fitzwilliam Street to College for breakfast. This takes 5 minutes, 3 when I’m in a rush and there aren’t too many tourists clogging up the pavement.


9.35am Breakfast is two rashers of bacon, a fried tomato, some scrambled eggs, and a black coffee. I’m a creature of habit, and this rarely varies. Breakfast has a 40% discount on College cards.

9.40am There often seem to be many rowers in breakfast after an outing. Their discussion of river conditions is illuminating.

9.50am Brisk walk to the Sidgwick site, I just about make it in time for the 10.05am start to the lecture. For some reason History lecturers aren’t allowed to start until five minutes past the hour.

11am The lecture, on the development of nationalism during the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, was very interesting. I highly recommend Part II of the Historical Tripos, the paper choices are very good. After the lecture I head down to the Seeley library, a library that was designed a bit like Jeremy Bentham’s panopticon prison concept. It isn’t as nice as the College library, but it always has the books I need.

11pm Two and a half hours steady reading of a book called A Political Economy of the Middle East. A History degree involves a lot of reading.

1.30pm Lunch – a jacket potato with beans, from the Arc Café on the Sidgwick site. About £2–3, alas a full meal from the cafe is about £5 and often disappoints me.

2pm Optional lecture! Historical Argument and Practice, known universally as HAP, is a compulsory third-year paper in which you have three hours to write one question on an area of Historical Argument and Practice, for example transnational history or Marxist history. As a consequence of this, not all the lectures are relevant to everyone all the time, so you can pick and choose.

3pm I walk back to the comfort of Pembroke.

3.15pm Arrive back in College and check my pigeon hole. A postcard has arrived from my grandparents. They seem to be in Torquay a lot! I have a bit of a chat to the porters, who are always friendly but often frustrated with something and eager to talk about it.

3.20pm Pembroke library – the tables on the top floor are perfect for spreading out your work.


4.30pm JP break with some library friends. A cup of tea, or if I’m feeling daring, a half-pint of Diet Coke.

4.45pm Back to the library!

6pm Trough, which is usually very good. Occasionally I want a break from College food and so head to Nanna Mexico, which has a Monday student deal, or the Golden Horse, a Chinese takeout where all items on the menu are £5.

7pm Back to the library! If there is a football match on I might go and watch that at 7.45pm, if not I work through to 9.30pm. The Middle East is insufferably complex and my eyes begin to tire. I increasingly procrastinate on my phone. Whoever made the Hermes Cambridge mail system compatible with MacMail has a lot to answer for!

9.30pm To the bar for a well earned ‘quiet drink’. There are usually quite a few people to chat to. If I’m not feeling like a drink then I might go to the gym in the basement below Foundress that can be accessed 24/7.


11pm Back to my house. I surf the net for a little while, perhaps watching something on iPlayer.

00.15pm Bed


For more information about the History tripos at Cambridge, see the Faculty website.




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