This past spring, I joined three other Ball State undergraduates of diverse majors and backgrounds for participation in a study abroad exchange program conducted jointly through Ball State’s Rinker Center for International Programs and Keele University in the United Kingdom. Throughout the British spring term – which runs from mid-January to mid-June – I received an educational experience identical to that of an ordinary student at Keele. My course of study focused on high medieval and early modern European history. British courses are highly specialized and focused on the historiography of particular fields from the outset. Fortunately, the Department of History at Ball State, particularly Dr. Abel Alves’ course in historiography and Dr. Scott Parkinson’s research course, prepared me for such a transition.
Of course, I set aside plenty of time for travel. I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to visit Ireland, Paris, Milan, Venice, Vienna, Berlin, Hamburg, Amsterdam, and The Hague, plus many incredible locations within the United Kingdom itself, including London, Warwick, and Oxford. Though anyone’s worldview can be enriched and indelibly altered by travel abroad, I found that a historian’s unique sensitivity to context and antecedent gives special flavor to an affair like European travel. My years as a history major deserve all the credit for enhancing my experience thereby.
Though any effort to rank the events of my travel would prove futile given my outstanding experiences at every one of my destinations, highlights included multiple trips to the British Museum (over which I was still unable to survey the entire collection on display), Oxford’s fantastic Ashmolean Museum and Bodleian Library, King John’s Castle and the Cliffs of Moher in Limerick, Ireland, the Habsburgs’ Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna, the Lombard castle complex and cathedral in Milan, and the Venetian Doge’s Palace. Among the masses of tourists who seemed to absorb their entire experience through their smartphone cameras and only stop for ephemeral looks at whatever piqued their interest, I found myself pausing for long durations in rooms and atop castle turrets to absorb all that those historical places articulated about their own times. My history studies at Ball State gave me the perspective necessary to experience history as it lives and breathes through places and people from Europe to Muncie.
I picked up many wonderful educational experiences at Keele. The British higher educational system is set up to be quite challenging and is based on highly independent reading and research. I am one of many undergraduates in the Ball State Department of History who aspires to enroll in a graduate studies program – in my case in order to eventually instruct and research at the university level. My semester abroad served as a wonderful primer that exposed me to a diversity of research approaches to which not many American students have access. I am now able to more deeply understand British historians’ writing. Therein, one finds methodologies divergent from the models that most American historians use, which are more akin to approaches first developed in Germany. As budding historians in an age of unprecedented international academic collaboration, I would recommend study abroad to all undergraduates in the department.
I was so impacted by my course of study, in fact, that I have chosen to take on research on social persecution within the context of the Twelfth Century Renaissance using the big and deep historical approaches introduced to me by our department’s Dr. Alves. A common belief is that travel and study abroad changes one’s life in an entirely revolutionary way, which suggests that previous experiences are somehow replaced. Conversely, I found that study abroad augments other wonderful educational and life experiences, a process that conditions for a well rounded, open-minded, and better-prepared academic and personal outlook.