David Robinson

Student spotlight details

David studied local history online while balancing other commitments, before progressing on to a DPhil.

'While I work in finance for a living, and am involved in the work of a charitable foundation supporting education, healthcare and environmental causes, I have always had a fascination with history. The experience of daily life in distant times was something that always captured my imagination. What was it like to be in a war, in a village in the middle ages? How did that experience change? I was also intrigued by the question of what ‘social contract’ existed between the rulers and the governed. The Advanced Diploma in Local History (Online), offered a way to answer such questions. I was also very much attracted to the special teaching model of the Oxford course, which kept class sizes to a manageable level allowing each student to have regular contact with the outstanding historians acting as our tutors. As someone who travels a good deal, the online format was perfect.

'The most challenging aspect of the course was the database module. However, it was also the most rewarding as it gave me insights into how useful database methodologies can be in our discipline (and indeed in other analytic work). We all found the module tough. Also challenging was the need to summarise and absorb huge amounts of reading. The technical side of historical writing including expressing one’s self concisely, making the content readable, formatting footnotes and correct attribution were very demanding, but ultimately worthwhile.

'Truthfully, it was all enjoyable and rewarding even when I felt under pressure. I used to look forward to weekly online chats as they were always filled with vigorous and lively exchanges. We had a quite exceptionally wonderful tutor Fiona McCall who always did her best for us and was brilliant – a combination of tough-love, compassion and absolute mastery of our historical discipline. I will be always indebted to her for what she did for me. The course Director Jonathan Healey is a wonderful person and brilliant historian. Jonathan was always there to help when needed and worked harder than anyone I know, answering emails to give advice and guidance to often rather stressed students. The Director of Studies, Mark Smith, was also very understanding, especially when many of us faced personal problems which meant assignments could not be submitted exactly on time. I think my fellow students shared that view. For me, doing the course was genuinely a life-changing experience.

'The course content proved far more wide ranging and in-depth than I thought it would be. I have learned skills and techniques of analysis that will stay with me for the rest of my life and are invaluable not only in historical research but also in my work. I have developed a new level of rigour and critical thinking which makes me far more effective. After the course, I see historical developments through a completely different prism. In particular, I have a new understanding of the history of area in which I live, Devon, which is now the subject of my DPhil thesis. It has revealed a world I never imagined existed. The course has also made me far more aware of the historical backdrop of issues which now confront us in political life. For example, gender comes up again and again and I was astonished to find how attitudes and behaviour varied in different economic and social contexts. In my own area of East Devon, for example, women were far more powerful and influential in the Early Modern period on account of their economic power than many people believe.

'I have since progressed to a DPhil in English Local History and am thrilled to have been given this opportunity.

'If you have any interest in history and your local area, if you want to learn something challenging and new, please take this course. It is an absolutely wonderful course; a deeply rewarding experience.'

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