Tag Archives: History

Film and Television History

Glutton for punishment that I am, I’ve started a new Open University Course: AA310, Film and Television History. I’ve jumped in as the course won’t be available after this year (though I hope it is replaced).

It’s early days, but I’m loving it. The course started with the different schools of film theory, the aesthetic, social, economic and technological. For that unit I had to watch Citizen Kane (great), Cape Fear (60s, great, 90s not so good) and Titanic (never seen it before, was awful). There was a great tutorial the other weekend, and I particularly enjoyed the coffee break, geeking out about Tarantino, ‘West Wing’, ‘Firefly’, ‘Dexter’, ‘Ice Cold in Alex’ and so on. Almost nothing that got ‘never heard of it’ responses.

I’ve spent much of today writing my first essay for the course (due midweek), and from a choice of two, I wrote about ‘Titanic’. I had a lot to say – and I could have said a lot, lot more…. and that’s without putting in the bits about the predictable formulaic crapness of it (on the contrary, the formulaic nature of it is part of the reason it did so well)

The next unit is ‘Hollywood’ – i.e. the business of Hollywood, the studio system (and its demise), the rise of ‘New Hollywood’. I shall have to watch John Wayne (Stagecoach), Bette Davies (Now, Voyager) and Marlon Brando (The Godfather) I will watch Rear Window, Jaws and Fargo.

As always, my main concern is one of ‘time’, fitting it all in. The OU is my lowest priority, day to day, except perhaps when an essay is due.

It’s a shame the OU can’t work out a way to spread a course out for those of us who want to do the course but find it tricky to keep up (at least until the summer holiday hits). I’d happily have a 60 point course spread over two years, (Feb -> Oct in the following year). Slightly tricky, as they’ve have three batches of people on the go at once, Two year starters, two year finishers, and one year sprinters…. but I’d pay a 10-20% premium for the extended option!

Exam Results

The results are in for A200: Medieval to Modern (1400-1900), and they’re as bad as I had feared they would be. I narrowly missed a grade 3 pass.

That’s the optimistic way of putting ‘I got a grade 4’. This is much lower than the ongoing assessment, a high grade 2. Its not too surprising given that:

  1. This was something for which I was struggling to find the time.
  2. I was dramatically unprepared
  3. I am operating far outside my comfort zone of physics/maths
  4. Given the breadth of the course, and how ‘foreign’ it is to me, I would have needed a lot more preparation time to have made a difference.

That does feel like mealy mouthed excused making, it is very disappointing. I thought I’d done better. Looking at the breakdown, two of the questions fell below the ‘pass’ level. For one of them, fair enough, but the other seems harsh. This means that the two questions which did score well were on the verge of grade 1.

Ah well. Could have been better, I know – but it could have been lots worse…..

…..and how many historians would make a decent fist of a physics course whilst doing their day job, I wonder?

As you may gather, I’m now in the ‘trying to rationalise’ phase of things – I’m not used to getting what is (for me) a low score like this.

Exam Day

It’s exam day.

Yes, my A200 course ends today. I’m totally unprepared for the exam, and I’m dreading it a bit. You see, I’m not a historian, my brain is quite mathsy – I tend to get principles and then apply them. With history, there are principles, but there are also facts. Loads of them. Where to start?! How to prepare for something like this?

As a physicist, I tend to ‘pick up’ things I need often, and look up the rest. For example, I know that the charge on an electron is -1.6×10-19C, I know it takes 13.6eV to ionise hydrogen, I know that the Earth has a radius of about 6400km and a mass of 6×1024kg. I know the planck constant and the speed of light. I never sat down to learn this stuff, I learned principles, and the facts I needed seeped in as they were used.

This methodology doesn’t really cut much ice for the forthcoming exam. It’s not enough to know the big picture, I need to know the nitty gritty names of things, who said what to whom, who did what to whom… that is important, I can see it’s important – but I can’t shake my physicist brain out of the ‘it’s what they said that’s important, not who said it’ mentality.

For instance, if there is a question about statebuilding in Germany (Bismarck, Wilhelm etc), I should be fine, Statebuilding in Belgium? Okay. Italy? Screwed. With physics, I could take the one principle and apply it in multiple cases (this is why people tend to to well or badly with physics – you get it, or you don’t).

I could repeat that across the course, some aspects will be fine, and on others I’m in deep do-do. It all depends on the slant of the question.

This is most uncomfortable for me. Apart from my driving test, I’ve never done badly in an exam, ever – I’ve not allowed myself to be unprepared, and I’ve been taking subjects which ‘fitted’ with how I think. I’ve done less well than I’d hoped, perhaps, but not badly.

With the OU exam, the course has been for fun (and it has been interesting), but it has also been the lowest priority, and as such I’ve been playing catchup through the course. I don’t think that’s the real issue for me, though. Even with an indefinite time to prep for the exam, I don’t think I’d ever really feel ready, my brain doesn’t work in the ‘history kind of way’. That’s why I took the course on in the first place.

I might be pleasantly surprised, but even if I get a good score, I won’t be satisfied. I won’t be coming away from the course with a feeling that I really know stuff. I’ll know more than many, but that’s not what will satisfy. With my first degree I knew when I knew, I was confident when I learned something, and I knew when I got there by the skin of my teeth, and I did something about it. With the history course, I’m not confident and secure in anything. I don’t like it.

What I’ve got is a broad overview, without the fine resolution of detail. That is something I didn’t have before, and it’s in a subject which is far from my first choice of subjects. It doesn’t help that the revision has been woeful, I’ve had a lot of work related commitments, and I’ve come home tired, unable to study effectively – and so I’ve spent the evenings doing fairly mindless things. Honestly though, I don’t see that loads of revision would have changed matters, history is so far out of my comfort zone. If I can look things up as I need them, great. I can concentrate on the arguments.

That said, my coursework to date is of 2(i) standard (Pass 2 in OU-speak). I recognise that by most standards this is good, yet I do get a little pang of disappointment to miss the pass 1.

I can’t do anything to get a Pass 1 now, and I fear the exam will knock the grade down to Pass 3 or lower (I’m lacking so much confidence). I’m dreading some little snippet of information proving both critical and elusive.

By 5:30pm, it’ll all be over.

15% and I can resit
40% and it’s a grade 4 pass
55% and it’s a grade 3 pass
70% and it’s a grade 2 pass
I can’t get grade 1.

Honestly, If I’m not getting grade 2, I would want to resit, there would be dissatisfaction and I would not be happy. Realistically, I feel that grade 3 would be more likely, and deserved. Anything below grade 3, and resits beckon. Regardless of the result, I’m not as fluent as I’d want to be, even if I fluke it.

Can I have another week, please?

Coalition Document: Confidence

I was meaning to write on the 55% proposal in the coalition document, and then I saw that mpk had said pretty much exactly what I wanted to say anyway, in his post ‘When a confidence vote is not a confidence vote’ – so here is his post (reposted with permission)

There has been much brouhaha from people who should really pay closer attention to the details about the proposals as part of the UK’s new coalition agreement for a fixed-term parliament to require a vote of 55% of MPs to dissolve it.

The essential thing to remember is that the government is not Parliament. The government is formed from among the ranks of Parliament, but the two are different entities and the two motions proposed reflect this:

  • A motion of no confidence is Parliament expressing a lack of confidence in Her Majesty’s Government, and can be passed – as today – with 50% of voting members plus one member. If it passes the government falls and we need to find a new one.
  • A motion of dissolution is Parliament expressing a lack of confidence in itself, and in its ability to produce a viable government from among its ranks. It will be able to be passed with 55% of MPs voting in favour. If it passes Parliament is dissolved and a general election is called.

It looks a lot less menacing when phrased in this manner, and what’s really inexcusable is the number of MPs who really should already know these kind of details sounding off about how outrageous the 55% threshold is. Is it really? We’re looking here at the same parliamentarians who passed the Scotland Act 1998, which defines the parameters under which the Scottish Parliament functions. The Scottish house already has a mechanism to dissolve itself in this manner – but there it requires a two-thirds majority. In other places with Westminster-style parliaments this is not uncommon.

What’s really happening is that with fixed-term Parliaments, the Prime Minister relinquishes the right to ask the Queen to dissolve Parliament at a time of his or her choosing. There therefore needs to be a new mechanism to give Parliament the ability to dissolve itself – as a no confidence motion only forces the resignation of the government.

In a coalition government or under proportional representation, it’s quite likely that there will be multiple coalition possibilities. If the current Con/Lib coalition were to fall to a confidence motion, there would be nothing to stop Labour trying to put together a coalition of its own (perhaps the ‘coalition of the progressive’ touted last week) and being invited to form a new government by the Queen if it looks like they can make it work. This is essential if we are to move away from a de facto two-party system, but also to prevent tiffs among coalition partners from forcing elections at the drop of a hat. Only if a new Government can’t be found would Parliament elect to dissolve itself and force an election, and compared to the countries where 2/3 is the requirement I don’t think 55% is an entirely rebellion-proof threshold.

I’ve got no problem with people being opposed to the 55% threshold – that’s democracy – but I do have a problem with people not getting their facts right, as I am an obsessive nerd who cannot stand it when someone is wrong on the Internet.

Something is Wrong on the Internet

A200 – Block 1 is ending

I’m now a month into (officially) A200: Exploring History, Medieval to Modern. Unofficially, I’m about six weeks in – 3 months in if you count reading ‘Wallace’.

Having initially been ahead of schedule, after one block I am bang on schedule. This is slightly worrying as it implies that I will soon be behind schedule.

Next week, the task is to write the TMA, the tutor marked assessment. Fortunately, I am already half way there, so I’m hoping to be able to rebuild a little slack into the system by pressing ahead with block 2 (due to start on the 20th march).

The course has been interesting, but very involved. I’m not a historian and it’s tricky separating the ‘interesting’ from the ‘important’. When is a detail vital, when is it just ‘colour’? Obviously, each and every detail is important for some later study, but until you get ‘later’ you can’t tell which you need – so I’m finding it tough when reading something for the first time to pick out the key points.

Having said that, if I re-read something, it gets easier as I have a framework in place and I’m not operating from a position of total ignorance.

The four units in module 1 to date are:

  1. When England ruled France (i.e. Charles VI of France and Henry V of England giving way to Henry VI having a claim on the French throne, and Charles VII not liking this one bit.
  2. Power and Consumption (i.e. The dukes of Burgundy – and Burgundy as a power in its own right)
  3. English Society in the later middle ages (the end of the French Wars leading into the Wars of the Roses
  4. Belief and Religion in Burgundy, England and France

The latter is the topic I’m looking at now. I’m about as irreligious a person as you could meet – I don’t understand the mindset, especially when history shows us that religions change – but I cannot deny that religion has an important place in the history of the world.

The unit primarily looks at Catholicism and we see how that came about from humble beginnings – and how it mutated over time, with purgatory, satan and even ideas of the trinity being ‘bolt on’ additions. It also looks at the religious neighbours – the Greek Orthodox Church (which came about due to the Roman empire splitting into East and West, with the eastern empire surviving as Byzantium), and it looks at Islam, the incredible rise of the Moslem Empire which went from being in the Arabian peninsula at the death of the Prophet to spanning a huge area in about eighty years – reaching from Asia to the Atlantic coast of Africa, as well as gaining a European foothold. Granada was the last European vestige of this empire in 1492 (Christopher Columbus saw the surrender).

The unit also looks at the Great Schism, where for a time there were three Popes, the third being created to try and unify the two factions.

It’s all interesting stuff – obviously as the course focusses on European history and so Catholicism is central. I’m loving the politics and intrigue of it all – and am struggling with the religion itself – I’m simply unfamiliar with a lot of the terms. Fortunately that doesn’t matter too much as I’m picking it up as I go.

What I’m finding interesting is the thought that despite the historical evidence that much of the church is man-made, often the result of a debate or decree, people still take things at face value. I suppose, this was the point of the reformers like Calvin and Luther, going back to scripture as the Catholic church had ‘distorted’ Christianity.

For the assignment, I have to focus on unit 3 (it’s tempting to skip unit 4 – but I don’t want to!) – the assignment is to write a short piece about a painting showing the Trial of the Duke of Alençon in 15th century France, as well as a short piece on a document, a letter to William Stonor written in England in 1476. I’ve done the writing about the painting, I need to draft the piece about the letter – and then I need to edit both pieces to form a complete response. It should be fine.