Tiong Suet Wei is currently a first year undergraduate reading BA in History in the London School of Economics and Political Science. This personal statement was part of her successful application to the LSE, School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), Durham University and University of Warwick for History.
“Why study History?” This is a question that I am often faced with. I start my answer by stating the importance of understanding heritage. English wouldn’t be my first language if it weren’t for the British colonisation of Malaysia and construction of English schools. Whereas my grandparents’ generation had condemned imperialism and fought for Malaysian independence, contemporary opinions suggest that British colonisation was necessary to develop Malaysia as a country. I never thought of the latter, for Malaysian textbooks taught me that British imperial rule was ruthless. As I have read more, I began to form an understanding of the lasting benefits that British rule brought to Malaysia, but also its shortcomings. With this exposure to opposing opinions and having an international background, I have developed a particular cultural awareness as I have realised that each individual has their personal interpretation of events depending on how they have been affected by them. This awareness is vital, as I am now able to think critically about opinions before jumping to conclusions. Studying History at university would deepen my knowledge on how to analyse sources effectively and to judge the strength of an argument by the evidence it has to substantiate it. In the modern world we live in, in which most people are subjected to myriad sources of news and information with little idea of what to believe, I’m convinced that these skills could not be more useful to me.
Studying the French Revolution at A2, I have taken an interest in the debate between Edmund Burke and Thomas Paine. If the debate is merely viewed as a critique of the revolution by detached observers, it is of little value as it is easy to see that Paine’s stance was proved wrong with the rise of Napoleon. However, if it is viewed as part of the revolution, it is of enormous value to historians as it becomes a piece of evidence to understand the construction of contemporary views. This debate that shaped modern politics is one clear proof that History is not merely a collection of past events that is too distant for us. The impact of past events still resonate today, thus making History intriguing to me as I am aware of its relevance to us, as we are unravelling the stories behind the formation of the present social structure and the way we live now.
Outside of school, I have read Paul French’s “North Korea, State of Paranoia” which enhanced my understanding of how North Korea is able to maintain its totalitarian regime. Tracing similarities and differences between North and South Korea today, as well as West and East Germany before 1989, has led me to ponder on whether the German reunification could provide clues to political leaders today on how to approach North Korea to give up its regime and failing Juche system. Studying History interests me as it allows me to consider such thought-provoking questions while being mindful of not taking events out of context.
I have picked up important skills from participating in business competitions that would be favourable when pursuing a History degree: presentations have empowered me with confidence when speaking publicly and I have learnt to pick key points from complex case studies to justify arguments. My communication, leadership and time management skills were developed during my service as a prefect, vice-captain of a sports house and student council. Volunteering regularly at church gave me the opportunity to listen to first-hand accounts of war when I served and joined a group of elders for lunch. Listening to how wars were so real to them hit me with a realisation that studying history isn’t only about mastering an impressive amount of information, but also having the stories of the past become alive and vivid to us.
Engaging with the complex past is a challenge I would be delighted to take on – to try to make sense of conflicting perspectives, rather than be spoon fed the easy simplifications of History, as the richness of the past cannot be undervalued.
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