The more you practise, the luckier you get

tl;dr: Do independent study with a purpose.

Last year, doing my history research module, I used to get distracted when doing independent study and wander off spending hours reading irrelevant stuff. But I did get into the habit of thinking about the module themes as I did so, and I did use the primary and secondary document analysis techniques.

On the afternoon before the exam—when I should have been revising—I came across the Commissar Order: the instruction to German soldiers to not take Russian political Commissars prisoner. I remembered that from reading gory Sven Hassel war stories and proceeded to waste the entire evening reading about it. But I did so using my newly-learned research and historiography skills; that way I could pretend it was ‘revision’.

It turned out this document was genuine and was later hugely significant in the Nuremberg war trials and, as a consequence, has been key in influencing international war crimes legislation prosecution since then. It also gives exquisite insight into the war on the Eastern Front.

Courtesy of module A327 Europe 1914-1989: war, peace, modernity, I was able to appreciate the significance of this document, evaluate its authenticity and put it into a political context. I actually got pleasure from using those skills to gain a much broader and deeper understanding of this tiny, trivial, scrap of history than I otherwise would have done. That scrap is still influencing international relations in the world but for the better now.

Anyway, so blinking what?

The next morning when I saw the exam paper, one of the documents to evaluate in the first question was… The Commissar Order! Either the gods smiled on me, or it is true that the more you practise, the luckier you get.

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