Tuesday, April 15, 2008

When History came to life

I took a history module this semester. More out of compulsion than anything else. I needed to fulfill my modular credits requirement. So I randomly picked a module which was all about colonies, empires and imperialism. Yeah. Captures your attention, doesn't it. Captured mine too :|

Well, turns out that I really enjoyed the module! Hell, I sucked big time at writing term papers, but it was fun through and through! I decided to blog about it. But I won't go on about the module itself. I want to talk about the people in the module. Characters in my story, if you will. And I have chosen 5 such characters. Talking about them should basically cover all the points I want to highlight that made this module so darn enjoyable.

Before I start, I want to point out that the module was divided into 3 sections - the rise of empires, their consolidation and the fall of empires. Each dealt with by a different professor and a different case study.

The Iberian Prof
No, I don't think he is from the Iberian peninsula. For those who don't know, the Iberian peninsula is basically Spain + Portugal. He talked about the rise of the Iberian powers, the start of "Empire". A man with a booming voice, who never used the microphone, who always wore sober coloured Hawaiian shirts (oxymoronic, I know), who could not lecture if he didn't pace around the dias, who thought the administration people had lost their minds to give such a small class an absurdly huge lecture theatre, who couldn't make up his mind whether in such a small class in a big theatre, the back seats were preferable (for the excellent view of the powerpoint slides) or the front seats (where the view might not be as good but the sound would be fantastic).

The Japanese Ang mo
For a caucasian dude, he speaks Japanese and Chinese really well and can read the scripts too! Humourous sarcasm could be considered to be his "style". This guy has travelled A LOT! Seriously... around China, Japan, Korea, Vietnam... you name it! He's spent serious amounts of time living on the streets (literally!), going from village to village in China and conducting his research. And his lecture slides pretty much speak for how much he loves his field. He uploaded a paper that was published in a journal, that he had written, and told us, "Though it is not in the list of compulsory readings for my part of the course, it is HIGHLY RECOMMENDED! I wrote the paper! So HINT HINT! Its HIGHLY RECOMMENDED, if you know what I mean". He dealt with the Japanese empire and its consolidation. All my ideas on Japanese Imperialism were replaced and after working on his term paper, researching Japanese history, I was left with a deep sense of appreciation for the poor chaps up north. I don't mean that I support the brutalities that came as a part and parcel of their empire, such as the Nanjing Massacre (not for the faint hearted!), but after listening to his lectures, you sort of get the Japanese point of view too. My favourite lecturer in the course. He also announced the format of the exam today, in his usual style - "The exam will have 4 questions. One of them is compulsory. From the other three, you get to choose one... get it? THREE questions to choose from... how many professors are there in this module?.... THREE professors.... So what you do you think the three questions will be about? I leave it to you to figure it out. And oh... there is ONE compulsory question but THREE professors... so what could that question be about? You know what? I'll leak out the question... its about.... *dramatic pause*.... EMPIRES! So take careful note of that!"

The Ottoman specialist
More specifically, the specialist in non-Muslim Ottomans. When he introduced himself as the guy who would deal with the non-Muslim aspect of the Ottoman empire, I thought to myself, "Pffft! Non-Muslim Ottomans! What an oxymoron! His research must be the easiest ever. COZ THEY ARE MINORITY!". Erm... turns out I was too quick to judge. He was not just the lecturer who taught the fall of the Ottomans, he was also the tutor for my tutorial group. And boy is he chatty! He is a vast reservoir of knowledge, if you know how to tap into it. We watched about 3 movies in his tutorials and had fun discussions! I used to call him "The terrier" when I first saw him coz his french beard made him look like one. But not anymore! Being our tutor, he is the one who corrects our term papers, even though he wasn't the one who set the questions. And he is liberal with his comments. "Snarky comments" as he calls them. A fun guy who pretty much removed all the crap I had in my head about the Ottoman empire and replaced it with new ideas... The Ottomans weren't just a bunch of savage turks. They started off as strong leaders, huge army and good administrators, an Empire where Christians and Muslims fought side-by-side, supporting each other, where it was not uncommon for Christians and Muslims to embrace each other as brothers (Of course, later on, the empire went to hell along with the inter-communal unity). But he taught me the good side of it all.

The Nerd
Oh my! No description of this module will be complete without "The Nerd". He is basically this Chinese dude who gets on the nerves of the Japanese Ang Mo. The nerd struts into class about 2 minutes before the lecture starts. He enters from the back door and struts all the way to the front row and always sits in the third row from the front. Before the lecture starts, he will turn, look all around the lecture theatre and give the "I am the smart history expert and the rest of you are poor ignorant fools" look. He never takes down notes during lecture and sits as though he is monitoring the lecturer and making sure the right things are taught. He often interrupts the lecturer (much to the lecturer's annoyance). And during the break, he likes to show off to the professors. I think the Iberian guy humours him only coz he is amused by this boy while the Japanese history guy obviously does not favour Mr. Smarty Pants. The Ottoman specialist is indifferent, maybe partly amused, just like the rest of the class :P

The Science Geek
That would be me :P Just like how the module was split into 3 parts, my relation with the module was split into three. During the Iberian peninsula lectures, I slept. Not because they were boring... oh no... they were anything but boring! Stories of politics, back stabbing, conquests, how could it be boring! I was an undergrad research student then. I had an average of 5 hours of sleep every night, thanks to my research project. Plus, there was my concert preparation. So my tired and aching body would make up for lost sleep during the history lectures (and other lectures too!). It just so happened that when it was time for the Japanese Ang mo to take over, my lab work for the research project also came to an end and my concert was a big success. Which meant I got an average of 8 hours of sleep each night PLUS afternoon naps!!! (:D :D :D) I was wide awake in lectures. And this lecturer used to upload the handouts for us to print and bring along, to take notes. From the second lecture of his, I started printing two copies of the notes, single sided, coz I was writing down so much of stuff! Check out the picture comparisons!!!

My lecture notes for Iberian Empires written at the back of some other set of notes. Pretty empty. That would be coz I dozed off :P

My lecture notes for Japanese Empire! And this is just one side! There's lot more stuff written on the other side and the second copy that I printed out coz as you can see, I ran out of space in the first copy!

More Japanese Empire!

The Ottoman specialist didn't upload notes till after the lecture was over, so I took my notebook along and always came back after taking atleast 8-10 pages worth of notes!

I have never paid so much of attention in class for any other module. All my science modules included! Even though I was forced to take this module, it ended up becoming one of my favourite modules. I always used to look forward to Tuesday afternoons when I would have my lecture, then a tutorial. The highlight of my week!

And today, the last lecture just got over :(

On a brighter note, I got my second term paper back and the prof thinks I have done an excellent job and that I have improved LOOOOOAAADS from the first one (which was a disaster) :D :D :D :D

Ah well... all good things must come to an end to make way for better stuff. Maybe I will take another history module next year... "The Japanese Samurai: Way of the Sword"! ;)


Clueless said...

Pity we discover all the good things in life quite late, no? You could've done so many history modules in the course of four years at university! Oh well. Better late than never, always. :)

I'm glad to know you enjoyed your module so much! It's nice to have something so nice to cherish. Here's hoping you get a fabulous grade in the exam! (Even if not, I'm sure the memories will be good enough!) :)

soleil said...

Uber cool! I've always thought that if I wasn't a life sciences student, I'd most probably be a history student :p

Vijay Chidambaram said...

Wow! Wish we had profs like that!