Student spotlight details
After a varied career in industry, Kevin embraced the challenge of studying History at postgraduate level.
‘I came to the Postgraduate Certificate in Historical Studies course having had a varied career in industry, firstly working for a major oil company in the 1980s and then, after cross-training in computing, for a variety of financial market companies where I specialised in building computerised trading systems for the derivatives markets. I really enjoyed the challenges and intensity of working in the financial markets and did everything from programming through to managing large software development teams. My last role was as Head of Technology for a new derivatives market that was being established in London.
‘While my previous degrees were science based (a B.Sc. (Hons) in Geology and an M.St. in Computer Science) I had always been an avid reader of history and had harboured the ambition to pursue the subject academically. Home commitments meant that a part-time course was the best approach and when I saw an advert for the PCHS it looked exactly what I was looking for. An attractive feature of the course was the range of material covered. It was also clear that it would provide me with the opportunity to develop my writing skills, an area I felt that needed attention after many years of writing code and technical reports. It also helped that I only lived about an hour from Oxford!
‘As I’d expected I did find the writing a challenge at first, although things improved over time, and I was a lot happier with my rate of output by the time I came to write the later essays. It also became apparent that I was spending a lot more time than I’d anticipated reading and preparing for the weekends, although that obviously had its positive side as well.
‘I really enjoyed the way that the PCHS course is built around residential weekends. One of the best parts of the course for me was meeting the other students, who came from a wide variety of backgrounds. Each residential weekend had its own core topic and was interesting in its own way, although if I had to pick one it would be ‘Memory and Conflict’, which caused me to re-asses my understanding of the way in which historical memory is formed and sustained. The entire course though builds towards the dissertation and happily I was able to identify a research topic I found interesting but which has been relatively neglected: the fate of British Indian troops captured by the Japanese at the fall of Singapore in 1942. The fact that many of them switched sides and fought alongside the Japanese against British forces provided me with the subject of my dissertation: ‘Waging War Against the King: Recruitment and Motivation of the Indian National Army’. It was the experience of doing the research for this subject, using primary sources at the British Library, which was one of the most rewarding parts of the course.
‘I passed the PCHS with Distinction in 2014 and decided to carry on with research and writing on an independent basis. My PCHS dissertation was published in a slightly modified form as a paper on the website of the ‘British Empire At War Research Group’. In the meantime I continued my research and had a paper accepted for publication by the peer-reviewed ‘British Journal for Military History’. Entitled ‘Renegades in Malaya: Indian volunteers of the Japanese F. Kikan’, it examines events during the Malayan campaign in early 1942, and is scheduled for publication later in 2016. I had first heard of the possibility of the new MSt in Historical Studies while on my PCHS course and was delighted when I was accepted on the first course which is due to start in October 2016. I’m very much looking forward to the course and being at New College for the year.
‘One of the attractions of the PCHS is that it is a broadly based course covering a great deal of ground. As nearly everything was new to me I found that I needed to do a lot of background reading to get the most out of the subject areas. That isn’t a bad thing, but you should be prepared for it. I would also say that it is never too early to start thinking about your dissertation subject. You’ll spend a lot of time working on the dissertation, so it makes sense to ensure it’s a subject you’re really interested in. And finally, don’t forget that you have access to the wider Oxford research community, with all its many seminars and lectures. That’s obviously easier to take advantage of if you live relatively close to Oxford as I do, but it’s well worth keeping in mind.’