Reflections on Studying the Past – Meddyliau ar Astudio’r Gorffennol

Before this year I had not only never attempted to create a podcast, but I had also never written a blog post. And now I am about to write a reflective blog post about making a podcast, so bear with me. One of the best things about being a Swansea University student has been the fact that I’ve been given the opportunities to do things I never thought I would be able to do, accomplish things that I thought were impossible for someone like me, and grow in ways I never thought I would. Creating this podcast episode encapsulates all this into one assignment.

I originally chose to do HiH3377 A History of Sex and Gender because I had done a similar module during my year abroad in Canada. In Canada I had an opportunity to cover things beyond those available at Swansea. In Canada they were not bound to the uptight British culture surrounding sex. So when I had to decide on my final year modules I was surprised Swansea was offering a module on the history of sex and gender. It was a brave module to put on by British standards. This bravery from the lecturers in turn inspired me, and I assume my colleagues, to tackle topics within our assignments that we may have never had the confidence to explore elsewhere.

What I loved most about this second assignment was the not only the freedom to choose the topic but also the freedom to choose the form of the assignment. We were given the option to write a proposal to a local council, create a learning resource for school students, or we could record a podcast. I loved it because I had always wanted to make a podcast episode but never had the confidence to make one. Then when you’re offered the opportunity to further your formal education while doing something you’ve always dreamed to do, you must grab that opportunity with both hands. Additionally, throughout my academic life, right back to primary school, I have always been told: “Joe is a clever boy, I just wish he was able to express himself on paper”, and when I got my dyslexia diagnosis these comments made even more sense. Therefore, I have always found it easier to express myself verbally, and to learn through listening. This explains why I found the podcast so much more suited to my skills and talents, and why I believe podcasts are a great way to learn. Don’t get me wrong: I still think essays are important, but allowing students who have varied skills, and different ways they learn best, the opportunity to choose the form of the assignment can only be a good thing.

During the research stage what I found really fascinating about the historical experience of sex-workers is the timelessness of their circumstance. Let me explain: during the beginning of my research into the topic, I found the typical, almost cliché, picture of the sex-worker as an impoverished individual, usually a woman, sometimes a boy, who because of the impoverished nature of their life circumstance turned to the profession of sex-work in order to survive. However, as I continued my research a new picture emerged. The sex-worker, despite being let down by the system, was not necessarily a victim. Instead, she could be someone using an autonomous form of work that took wealth from largely middle-class men and redistribute it among working-class communities. This analysis critiqued the structures that forced many into the profession. It was a characterisation which I felt was also consistent with my limited experience with sex-workers themselves from my work with homeless shelters over the summer. They were survivors of a system that did not do enough for them. They used what agency they still had to try and construct a life, just like the women selling sex on the streets of Victorian England, and just like the working-class boys selling sex in early 20th century Ontario, Canada. Demonstrating a continuity of the sex-workers’ circumstance, which prompted questions about the system that marginalises women sex-workers, was something I attempted in my podcast.

When it came to recording the actual podcast I was faced with a dilemma: should I film it? Or should I just record the audio? I decided on the latter because I found for all the academic podcasts I have listened to I never care about the visual side of the podcast. After all, the listener of an academic podcast is there for the information, and not to watch a historian talk. I was thinking about what my audience wanted from me and attempted to provide them what they were looking for. This enacted some of the feedback I’d been given on previous assignments, showcasing the academic growth this assignment represented for me.

Although I was asked to write a reflective blog about this podcast and how I researched and recorded it, instead I have found myself reflecting on my four years at Swansea University. Perhaps I’m just feeling melancholy knowing I will be leaving Swansea for a final time in two weeks, or perhaps it’s because I have been asked to write about the final assignment of my degree.

Or perhaps the reason why I am so proud of this particular assignment is because I was able to bring together all the skills I have learnt here, opportunities I was given here, and use the confidence Swansea University has helped me develop to create something I will be proud of for the rest of my life.

Thank you, Swansea University, for turning a boy who got two C’s and an E at A-levels into a man that can tell his proud mother that he got a 1st in his degree.

By Joe Hardwick

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