Sunday, 3 January 2016

I didn't get where I am today ...

I wouldn't be where I am today without the support and encouragement of two wonderful teachers who inspired and nurtured my love of history at a young age. When I was around seven years old Mrs Hustwick at Woodside First School in Bradford taught her class two periods in history that changed my perspective on the world: The English Civil War (which motivated us to leave Star Wars alone for a while and play instead Cavaliers and Roundheads in the school playground); and the Russian Revolution. We learned how something called the CCCP believed in another something called Marxism, how an Emperor was killed by Lenin (with Charles I, I see now regicide was a common theme of these early years), and we made Borscht soup. From that time on, I became fascinated - obsessed almost - with Russia and the history of the Russian Revolution.

Fast forward to my final year at Woodside Middle School where, at 12 years old, I was taught by Mrs Tones who  knew I was infatuated with history and especially the Russian Revolution (I can still hear her groaning when my question in the school general knowledge quiz asked about the last Tsar). As soon as Mrs Tones told us that we had to research and write a project on an aspect of 20th Century history, I knew what I wanted to do.  However, Mrs Tones advised me against focusing exclusively on the Russian Revolution, so after some negotiation I decided to devote my attention to a sweeping history of Wars and Revolutions in the 20th Century.

Having moved house in the last month, I unearthed the project. It looks a little battered now, but I am still immensely proud of it, and especially the A++ and two Merit Awards Mrs Tones gave me for what she called "Work above and beyond the call of duty". I look back today at the naivety of my narrative (devoid of any analysis whatsoever): a whole paragraph on the Second World War - the same amount of space devoted to the Spanish Civil War, the Hungarian Uprising and the Troubles in Ulster. The Russian Revolution got three pages (one on Lenin, another on Russia Before the Revolution, and a third on the Revolution itself). Even the Vietnam War merited two pages (plus the inclusion of quizzes I cut out of my weekly Battle comic). The project ended with an index and a bibliography. 

So it is with a middle aged gaze - a heady mixture of pleasure and tender melancholy - that I look back and recognise this as the first tentative steps on my academic journey. Little did I know at 12 years old  that I would one day teach the Chinese Revolution at University level, or that the Hungarian Uprising, the Suez Crisis and the Vietnam War would each be chapters in my PhD thesis and first book.

So in sincere gratitude to Mrs Hustwick and Mrs Tones, and in appreciation for their work as teachers, I reproduce some of the pages here (including my terrible portraits of the main protagonists in the history). Thank you both for encouraging me, tolerating my 
idiosyncrasies, and helping me to begin my  travel along a very exciting and rewarding path. You represent both everything that was splendid about the Woodside Schools, and all that is noble in teaching. 


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