A letter to our 2017 history graduates from Andrew Priest

  • Date

    Wed 26 Jul 17

On behalf of all members of the History Department’s teaching and support staff I want to congratulate everyone who has graduated from the department. I can speak for all my colleagues when I say that we are very proud of you.

You, our students, are the lifeblood of the Department. Our academic staff offer great modules, but it is you who give life to them in lectures and seminars, testing and challenging our understandings of the ways the world has evolved over time.

It is your hard work that helps to make our Department what it is.

This year, the Department has climbed in the rankings of several important league tables, and we as a collective – staff and students – can take satisfaction in this. But it is you who have really driven this improvement.

We are delighted by the range of your intellectual endeavours. This applies especially to the Final Year Independent Research Projects, always one of the highlights of the academic year, which proved to be so outstanding again this time.

We celebrate the best of this work in the presentation of your degrees. This includes a prize for the Independent Research Project, as well as prizes for the best overall degree marks. Some of our Masters students also get awards and one of our PhD students, Claire Sims, has this year received the prestigious Philip Hills award for mature students – a generous gift from the family of one our alumni.

But the success of history students is not just measured in the classroom, and we are always pleased to see how you engage with the wider community, both on campus and off it.

Indeed, we hope that one of the things you have learned in your study of history is that it is about diverse peoples and communities, and the importance of understanding and working with them.

Many of our students employ the history skills they have learned and continue to learn in highly innovative and exciting ways. For example, one of our graduates is Chantel Le Carpentier who served as the Students Union President from 2014-15.


Our students have also been at the forefront of a new venture, Rebel, a multimedia website, magazine, and radio station that launched this year, and which, to quote its magazine’s editor (who is another one of our students) aims “to give a creative voice to the students of Essex”. If I tell you that the magazine’s first edition looked at everything from the prospects of the then-recently called general election through to the political and social significance of pole dancing, you will understand what I mean when I say that it is diverse and provocative.

Our History Society, a body for and led-by our students, also goes from strength to strength. This year, it was the worthy winner of the Union’s Golden Guild Societies Award.

More broadly, our students are involved in all different kinds of work, engagement, and volunteering, giving something back, whether it is to the local community, University or Department. In History, we have been fortunate in finding excellent students to help with our Frontrunner and Undergraduate Research Opportunities Programme (UROP) schemes. UROP connects students with academic research, allowing them to work with a member of staff on a specific project and to become trainee researchers. While the range of the projects – including a workshop on parish churches in Early Modern England, a study of a slave ship in the late 18th century, and work on sources relating to the department store John Lewis – attests to the diverse interests of the Department, it is also a testament to the willingness of students to get involved and shape it.

As a result of these kinds of activities, more of our students than ever before also now get good jobs or go into further study after they graduate, a further cause for celebration. While we as a Department help with this process as much as we can, including through employability training, it is our students who are ultimately motivated to go out and find this work, and build on the skills they have honed at Essex.

And so we wish you luck as you take this next step, whether it is further study here or elsewhere, or in work away from the University.

We always want you to feel part of the History Department at Essex. As you look forward to the next chapter in your lives, we trust that you will also take the time to look back, to remember and reflect, just as we hope we have helped you to do in your history studies.

Thank you.