Top Tips for the Part-Time History Postgrad

Once or twice a week I’ve been leaving my desk in the middle of day to swap meetings for manuscripts, reports for the Reformation.


John Amabilino (MA Early Modern History) discusses the pleasures and difficulties of part-time postgraduate study.

For almost two years I’ve been combining a career in communications with early modern history. Once or twice a week I’ve been leaving my desk in the middle of day to swap meetings for manuscripts, reports for the Reformation. How has this worked out? And could part-time study work for you too?


My part-time MA degree in Early Modern History at KCL has made me think differently about my day-to-day life. It’s also allowed me to pursue the niche historical interests which I’ve harboured since undergraduate days, read more widely, and meet fascinating people. Returning to serious study after a gap of several years has been a fantastic experience – but it’s not something to be done without some serious planning.


So what should you consider when applying?


  1. Plan and apply early: you generally apply for MA courses directly through your chosen institution – this is certainly the case at KCL. Don’t let reassuringly distant application deadlines lull you into applying late though. I actually delayed applying for a year because I’d missed various deadlines for funding support which closed around 6 months before my chosen MA was due to begin. Think seriously about your application during Christmas of the year you want to apply, and plan to apply 4-6 months in advance. Besides anticipating possible funding deadlines and helping to ensure a place on your course, this will also help you:
    1. Pull together a decent application – remember you’ll probably need supporting references and sample writing too
    2. Save towards fees/application costs/materials
    3. Make arrangements in good time with your employer



  1. Respect your employer: your wages will probably make study possible. As far as my experience goes, I’ve worked full-time in office-based jobs while studying with two different employers, private and public sector. Both have been busy career roles, so lots of notice for planning was essential. Some things to consider:
    1. I already worked flexible hours, so I made sure to check workplace policies on special and study leave. I found that my current role only allowed study leave for vocational study, but that I could apply for up to 10 days special unpaid leave.
    2. Remember that returning to study is not a one-way street: does your choice of MA bring benefits to your employer too? E.g. a highly qualified workforce, staff motivation &c.


What to consider when your studies start:


  1. Enjoy it: you may be studying towards a career change, or to broaden your intellectual horizons, and it’s crucial you give your MA the time it needs. You’ll encounter staid and badly written monographs aplenty and the novelty of being back at school quickly wanes. However, enjoying your course will make the reading and writing more worthwhile, you’ll absorb more, and working into the evening will not seem a chore. If all this fails, remember that you’re investing in yourself and have the rare opportunity to study a subject you love in a world class institution.



  1. Think of annual leave as study time: as an employed postgraduate, time is your most precious commodity. While your full-time peers may agonise over train fares to archives or the understandable urge to blow the rent money on a nice edition of Umberto Eco’s essays, you are likely to be battling for adequate study/writing time.
    1. Plan your time in advance –using a digital calendar like Google Calendar or academic Outlook can remove the risk (and angst) of double-booking. Be pragmatic – you’ll be surprised how many of your full time counterparts complain of ‘not having enough time’.
    2. Think of your annual leave simply as time to study – after the novelty of studying wears off this can be especially tough, but it’s worth the effort when you get your essay feedback
    3. Plan downtime – I’m not very good at this, but it’s crucial that you also plan time to do something neither work nor study-related.



  1. Identify ‘humps’: Your end of term essay is likely to demand the greatest concerted writing and reading time. Plan your leave well in advance around these periods of pressure, and start discussing with your course tutor what you’d like to write on around half way through term so there’s no last-minute surprises. Your dissertation is also something you’ll need to consider well in advance – I counted up free days that I had well in advance and planned around this number.


Make the most of your resources - know your London libraries!

Make the most of your resources – know your London libraries!

  1. Know your resources: KCL is not alone in providing access to superb online resources, and offering library hours which cater easily to the part-time student’s needs. Plan to research all available resources and facilities before embarking on your course. This is particularly important for those who have not studied for some time – available resources have multiplied exponentially in the last 10 years or so, and tablet computers make article reading ‘on-the-go’ a doddle. While this could just as easily apply to any student, it’s surprising how many of your peers won’t know they can access x resource or y reference library with their Student ID and password. All of JSTOR and EEBO await, and as a part-time history student these and similar resources will be invaluable. If inductions to libraries etc. are in the middle of the working day, then email the librarian and ask for an evening or weekend session.
    1. If you don’t live near to college, consider whether remote document supply services, like those operated by the British Library and the National Archives could be helpful. I’ve also found the London Library helpful in borrowing unusual titles, though bear in mind that all of these services entail a (potentially significant) cost.


I hope you’ve found this useful – best of luck with any part-time study you choose to pursue, and please feel free to leave questions or comments below.

Visions of Europe and the Brexit Debate

Historians of King’s College London debated the referendum on Wednesday, June 8, 2016, 4:30-6:00 PM.

EU flag

In the run-up to the referendum on Britain’s continued membership in the European Union, there has been no shortage of public debate about the possible consequences of the vote, including many forums sponsored by London’s universities.  The History Department at King’s wanted to make its own distinctive contribution to these discussions, playing to the strengths of the discipline.  The head of department, Adam Sutcliffe, therefore asked two colleagues, Jim Bjork and Anne Goldgar, to take the lead in organizing a forum that would take a step back from the immediate In/Out question and provide some broader and deeper context.  Under the title ‘Visions of Europe and the Brexit debate’, four historians were asked to discuss how understandings of Europe have evolved over time:  What ostensibly held Europe together?  What have been seen as Europe’s outer limits?  Two of the speakers (Richard Vinen and Jim Bjork) work primarily on the twentieth century, while the other two (Serena Ferente and Toby Green), as well as the chair, Anne Goldgar, specialize in earlier periods (late medieval to early modern).


The panel of historians included (from left to right) Professor Anne Goldgar, Dr Jim Bjork, Professor Richard Vinen, Dr Serena Ferente, and Dr Toby Green.

The panel of historians included (from left to right) Professor Anne Goldgar, Dr Jim Bjork, Professor Richard Vinen, Dr Serena Ferente, and Dr Toby Green.

A common theme of all of the talks was mutability in understandings of Europe and attitudes toward Europe.  The first speaker, Richard Vinen, focused on the evolution of British politicians’ views of European integration since the Second World War.  He noted that enthusiasm for British engagement in this project tended to be stronger on the Right than on the Left at the time of Britain’s accession to the European Economic Community in the 1970s, but then, as now, the attitudes of many individual politicians shifted with changing circumstances.   The next talk, by Serena Ferente, turned to the very different context of continental Europe in the fifteenth century.  She described how one familiar way of defining Europe—as a community united by Christianity—was consciously promoted by Pope Pius II in response to a contemporary challenge from the Ottoman Turks.  Dr. Ferente argued that such programmatic definitions should be seen as attempts to impose order on the continent’s underlying cultural and political pluralism and its frequent demographic disruptions, then, as now, manifested in flows of refugees from conflict zones.   Toby Green’s contribution also highlighted the historical contingency of definitions of Europe, in particular in relation to Africa.   Connections between Iberia and North Africa had been especially strong in the late medieval period, blurring the distinction between the two continents.  And in the twentieth century, attempts to disentangle (European) metropole and (African) colony in the process of de-colonization had also generated much debate and ambivalence.  Many residents of Cape Verde, for example, sought to remain part of Portugal and thus, by extension, part of Europe.  In the final set of remarks, Jim Bjork argued that uncertainty about Europe’s frontiers was paralleled by uncertainty about the continent’s centre.   Early and late modern commentators had noted the paradox of Europe’s geographic centre being marked by a sense of helplessness in the face of bids for hegemony arising on the continent’s margins (Spain, France, Britain, Russia).  This had given rise to rival twentieth-century visions of ‘Central Europe’ as either serving as the core of a robust new imperial power or, alternately, as modelling pluralistic co-existence among small nations, suggesting very different visions for the potential organization of the continent as a whole.


The initial presentations were followed by a half hour of questions and comments from the audience, composed of about 25 members of academic staff, postgraduate and undergraduate students.  In addition to following up on particular points made by individual speakers, several interventions from the audience understandably circled back to the issue of what implications these broader historical perspectives might have for the upcoming referendum.  It seemed fair to say that all speakers were sceptical of the view, advanced by at least some advocates of Britain’s exit from the EU, that the long-term histories of Britain and continental Europe ran on separate or divergent tracks.  The diversity and mutability of historical visions of Europe meant that there was no fundamental incompatibility with various visions of Britain.   But it was noted that the panel’s recurring references to contingency and flux in Europe’s past did also help to explain a widespread sense of uncertainty and anxiety about Europe’s possible futures.

5 Must-Reads: Piracy in the Early Modern Atlantic

Old_book_bindingsIn the first installment of our new series (5 Must-Reads), Rebecca Simon, PhD Candidate (KCL), chooses 5 books that sparked her interest in the topic of early modern Atlantic Piracy.

I research how the public executions of pirates impacted British Atlantic maritime polices and Atlantic polite society between 1670 – 1830. This area of research involves close study of legal history, print culture, polite society and religious history throughout British America. The books I’ve chosen are ones that either sparked my interest in the subject and/or had the most impact on my research.

 * * *

Marcus Rediker, Villains of All Nations: Atlantic Pirates in the Golden Age (Boston, 2004).

This is the first book I ever read about the history of piracy, so of course it has to be first on the list. I began studying early modern piracy and the Atlantic world during my MA because I always had a fascination with both early modern British and Colonial American history. Luckily, the history department at California State University Northridge had just started a new area of focus in Atlantic history around the time I started my MA, which allowed me to study the wider impact of early modern exploration. I chose to focus on piracy after reading Villains of All Nations because this book showed me how pirates were a common problem between the Americas and Britain. Piracy was the perfect subject for me to simultaneously research early modern British and Colonial American society. This book is a social history of pirates and examines how British authorities used a dialectic of terror to crack down on piracy in the early modern Atlantic. This book is highly readable and I’d definitely recommend it to both academic and popular audiences.

Bloody pirates

Robert C. Ritchie, Captain Kidd and the War Against the Pirates (Cambridge, 1986).

This book has to be, in my opinion, the best book written about the history of piracy. Ritchie takes the history of Captain William Kidd as a case study to examine how the explosion of Atlantic piracy at the turn of the eighteenth century changed British Admiralty administration and responses toward piracy. By tracing Kidd’s activities in the East and West Indies, Ritchie explores how laws directed at piracy changed to allow the Admiralty Court (the British maritime ruling body) full jurisdiction to prosecute piracy throughout the British Atlantic in any manner they saw fit. This book is a must if someone wants both a biography of a notorious pirate and a detailed history of how British authorities came to stamp out Atlantic piracy.


Alison Games, Migrations and Origins of the English Atlantic World (Cambridge, 2001).

This is the book that introduced me to the history of the Atlantic World. Games examined the 1635 London port register and traced over 7000 English migrants to the American colonies and how people settled in the Chesapeake, New England, the West Indies and Bermuda. This is a fascinating history of the colonial development of the Americas as Games argues that one of the major struggles English settlers had was recreating English society in the colonies. This is an argument that has influenced much of my own research when I look at the legal developments throughout the colonies as colonists had to try and execute pirates with the laws of England as if they were in England. Like recreating society, this was not always possible because of the vast differences in settlements, geography and new hazards of life.

Bartholomew_RobertsLauren Benton, A Search for Sovereignty: Law and Geography in European Empires, 1400 – 1900 (Cambridge, 2009).

Benton argues that Europeans imagined imperial spaces as networks of corridors and enclaves and that they constructed their ideas of sovereignty in ways that merged ideas about geography and the law. She examines the struggles European imperialists encountered – treason, convict transportation, piracy – and how they created irregular spaces of law. What makes this book particularly interesting is the way Benton examines physical spaces – mountains, rivers, oceans – to illustrate the challenges of how different European powers attempted to establish their sovereignty. The land had physical challenges in unfamiliar terrain while oceans had no physical borders to control. This book has been very influential to my research when I discuss how the British authorities established their sovereignty in the Americas through the eradication of piracy because pirates lived outside the law and were, as a result, extremely difficult to control.


Samuel Walker, Popular Justice: A History of American Criminal Justice (Oxford, 1979).

I read this book while working on a research project about crime in Colonial North America during my MA.  Walker’s survey on the history of the American justice system changed the way I saw criminal and legal history. Before reading this book, I had a very narrow view of legal history and assumed it meant close examinations and memorisations of torts and Acts, which bored me in school. However, Walker traces the Quaker, Puritan and Anglican settlements in North America and how these different communities shaped their laws around their religious beliefs and home cultures. He also examines how early Americans experimented with different European laws as they figured out how to justify their prosecution of crime. This book showed me that legal history is much more nuanced and interesting than I had previously thought because it demonstrated just how much impact early modern British and European societies had on the early American criminal justice system. Walker’s examinations helped shaped the foundation of my own research.