On learning history – Aidan’s introduction

Hello! My name is Aidan. In 2022, I graduated from the MA/MSC program in international history at Columbia University and the London School of Economics, where I focused on medieval northern European commercial history and, very unrelatedly, British and American diplomacy and empire in East Asia in the early 20th century. I really just threw everything at the wall, and those are what stuck. I also studied history at the University of Chicago, where I wrote my bachelor’s thesis on British and Japanese isolationism in the 19th century. Anyway, this isn’t really supposed to be a cover letter, but where I’ve gone to school and the people I’ve met continue to be really important to me.

When I was 8 or 9, I remember showing Fire Emblem (a medieval fantasy tactics game) on my Nintendo Game Boy Advance to my grandmother, who studied medieval history at Barnard College in the 1950s. This is one of my first memories of caring about world history (to the extent that a medieval fantasy video game can be considered ‘world history’), or being aware that others around me cared about it. Ironically, I continued to have a mixed relationship with the field all the way through the end of high school. I got my worst AP exam grade in history (a 3) and got a lot of Cs and Bs on history exams generally. I did do well on research papers—in my American studies class, I wrote one research paper on taverns as political organizing points in pre-independence America, and another on barbed wire as the commodity that brought an end to the American West as the FJT “frontier” space.

But really, what always had me coming back to this field was video games and fantasy books, and I think this is quite appropriate. There is no ‘objective’ view of history, because there are as many voices and perspectives and narratives of history as there have been people. So, the study of history really isn’t so different from books and video games: it involves heroes and villains (any good academic adviser will ask you who these are in your thesis), world-building, subjective extrapolation, and a colorful imagination.

I fell in love with the academic study of history at Chicago. I took classes across nearly every historical field I could find, from the Carolingian Renaissance to the Islamicate ‘gunpowder empires’ of early modern Asia, from 19th-century European diplomacy and empire to the evolution of Greek identity over the past 3,000 years, to Japanese science and foreign learning in the 18th century, and the list goes on.

During this time, I also started playing the early modern history video game Europa Universalis IV. I ended up writing about this game for my personal statement to my graduate program, and then I wrote about it for a paper at Columbia, and now I’m giving a conference presentation on it at Virginia Tech in spring 2023.

I’m not precisely sure where I want to take my work next. My stock answer, when people ask, is that I’d like to continue studying early 20th century British and American diplomacy in East Asia. Something particularly about the period of 1894-1914 sticks with me. It’s such an absurd global twilight zone, right before the apocalypse of the 20th century, that I keep going back to.

As time goes on, I’m also becoming more interested in post-WWII Japanese and American history. I currently work as a reporter at the Japanese daily paper The Asahi Shimbun, which is a sort of stepping stone/window for me into that mid-late 20th-century world–a world so close to me and still so evident today and yet, because I was born in 1995, still infinitely far away.

My goal on Project Edinburgh is to continue exploring, and bringing humanism into history. Thanks for following along, and see you around.

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