Trip to Waterloo, Ben B

The trip to Waterloo proved to be an educationally and socially enriching experience. As a first year at the University of Kent, the trip was so much better than anything I had experience formally in education. Over the course of the four days we visited a total of six museums, each with their own appeal and important insight on history. The majority of these were to do with the battle of Waterloo, which is hardly surprising given that we were staying in Waterloo, but I think what may have surprised me the most was the fact that even though they were focused on the same battle, each museum still managed to provide new information or provide the information in such a way that they were still interesting and informative. By far the most fascinating of these exhibits to myself was the presentation provided to us at Hougoumont farm. With two large screens, each carved to represent either the British or French cavalry charge, the museum managed to create more than just a simple presentation and produced an engaging and visually pleasing display that certainly will not be leaving my mind any time soon. Another eye opening and particularly notable experience on the trip was climbing to the top of the Butte du Lion. After almost dying from doing more physical activity I think I’ve done since I was five by climbing up the stairs, the view at the top proved to be worth it. From the statue, one could see out into the fields in which one of the most famous battles in British History took place. I felt this experience was even more complimented by the fact we had Dr. Tim Bowman’s lecture the evening before giving us a rundown of the battle. Each of the museums were fantastic and if I had to recommend a visit to Waterloo to any student, lecturer or just anyone interested in the field in history, I certainly would.

However, the educational side of the trip was not the only reason it was fantastic for me. Being a first year I had never really had contact with many students studying history that were second or third years. The trip proved to connect me to both students that were more experienced than myself and students that certainly were more knowledgeable. This led to a plethora of fascinating discussions on all that is history as well as any topics of interest I actually have (which are far too nerdy to include on this blog) and even led to me making quite a close friend as a result. Furthermore, as well as meeting generally interesting people, it also helped me to decide what to do next year and resulted in me receiving a lot of tips on how to write essays.

Overall the experience at Waterloo was one I will certainly not forget any time soon. It not only gave myself and the other students that I have spoken to since an insight into the horrors and historical significance of the Battle of Waterloo and the Napoleonic Wars as a whole, it was a lovely experience and gave the students and lecturers involved in the Age of Revolution project a chance to bond. I immensely enjoyed the trip and am looking forward to working with and for the Age of Revolution project in the future.

Trip to Waterloo 8-11 February 2018 by Megan K

As someone who had very little knowledge of the Napoleonic Wars prior to visiting Waterloo, my experience there was eye-opening, to say the least. In my native Pennsylvania, students of history are predominately instructed on topics relating to Native Americans, the Imperial Crisis of the American Revolution, the Civil War and Reconstruction, World War II, and the Civil Rights Movement.  My only previous connection to the 20-year conflict in general was through a fifth-grade lesson on the Battle of Baltimore during the War of 1812, where we learned of the bombardment of Fort McHenry and Francis Scott Key’s penning of the Star-Spangled Banner.  In fact, to add to my shame, the earliest I can recall gaining any insight into the legend of Napoleon Bonaparte was through the Ben Stiller film Night at the Museum.  On the bright side, the narrow scope of American-centric history made me all the more appreciative of the opportunity to participate in the Age of Revolution project.

Our journey began with a visit to the Ambulance Museum of Mont Saint-Jean, which fabulously illustrated the absolute brutality of the Battle of Waterloo. The exhibits we visited emphasized a sense of humanity within the battle.  The people involved in this decisive battle were not just soldiers, they were fathers, husbands, brothers, and sons who battled in grimmest of conditions.  Many met violent ends and those who were lucky enough to survive were often left mentally and physically damaged.  After this humbling introduction to the engagement, Dr. Tim Bowman provided an extremely insightful talk to set the stage for the next day’s battlefield walk.  Discussing the military strategies exercised by both sides as well as the weaponry utilized, the Age of Revolution crew was thoroughly prepared to visit the scene of the crime.

After a fueling up with a plate of dumplings and a good night’s sleep, we took on the 1815 Memorial Museum, la Butte du Lion, and Hougoumont. Honestly, I could have spent the entire day exploring the Memorial Museum alone.  The materials were so well presented and the artifacts were so well curated that I spent half of my time marveling at the layout of the museum and half of my time surveying the actual items it houses.  The next step, or steps I suppose, 225 of them to be exact, was visiting the Lion’s Mound.  Not only did I realize how out of shape I am, I also came to fully realize the extent of the catastrophe at Waterloo.  Standing on top of the Mound, I was able to look out, recalling Dr. Bowman’s illustration of the battle, and truly appreciate the efforts and the tenacity that both sides brought to the table during this immense clash.  Afterward, a short stroll to Hougoumont provided the group with an intriguing and endearing account of Britain’s successful endeavor to prevent the property from falling into Napoleon’s hands.  As a historian with rather limited experience but quite high interest in military history, I was baffled by the fact that some 26,000 troops engaged in the fight for Hougoumont and its surrounding area.  To say that the second day of our excursion left an impression would be an absolute understatement.

Our last full day in beautiful Belgium started with a talk by Dr. Ambrogio Caiani at Napoleon’s headquarters. If it hadn’t been for the excruciatingly windy conditions, I could have listened to Dr. Caiani discuss the location and its significance all day.  After a quick pit stop to warm up with a cup of tea, we headed back to utilize the meeting rooms at the Memorial Museum, hearing several fascinating sessions on sources and objects and how these materials can provide substance to any lesson in revolutionary history.  Speakers such as Arthur Burns and several University of Kent ambassadors enlightened us on not only how to access these resources, but additionally how to take advantage of physical items and allow them to bring history to life for students.  To conclude a wonderful weekend of exploring, the group headed to the National Army Museum in Brussels where we were able to freely roam through the exhibits, exploring the history of the Belgian military.  After such an informative weekend, I genuinely cannot believe how little I knew about the Napoleonic Wars a few days prior, and I am exciting to continue learning about the conflicts independently.

As a former primary school teacher, I really appreciate that the project provides educators with the tools necessary to better understand this era of history as well as to present the material in a way that fully engages a younger audience. I enjoyed the fact that the trip was inclusive of those with a minimal understanding of the Battle of Waterloo in addition to those with extensive knowledge of the historical significance.  Not only were the organizers of the trip always willing to provide a deeper background into the unfolding of the events, the museums and monuments we attended as a group were accessible and very well assembled.  After a brilliant weekend of networking, meeting fellow historians, and hearing about the specific historical interests of others, I can confidently say that the opportunity to work on the Age of Revolution project as a PhD student at the University of Kent is an absolute privilege.

How to Sum Up the Age of Revolution in c.20,000 words?

In the past two months, I’ve been attempting the impossible: to summarise the most significant things that happened during the Age of Revolution, and to explain and justify why these things were important and how they connected to one another.

Age of Revolution Theme Summaries & Key Messages BJM

It’s been quite a writing challenge – we’re habituated to having quite a lot of control over our subject area, or speaking internally to one another about research sub-fields, and to concentrate on archival finds and quite detailed debates and issues in one place, time, or theme. It’s also required a bit of courage – every generalisation in large sweeps of history is so vulnerable to objections, caveats, corrections, and critique. And inevitably, so much of this stuff is – to use the perennial escape line for historians – “not my field.” But there are good reasons for grappling with the macro, and chewing cud in other people’s fields, as well as having to be selective. These cut to the core of what history is, or should be, about. Fundamentally, if the history we produce is not usable and purposeful – if it cannot be articulated and understood, and made relevant to people and classrooms today – then the enterprise risks not only losing popular and state support, but also leaving the big picture painting to those who haven’t necessarily trained in the discipline.

The figurative system of human knowledge proposed in the Encyclopedie, with its three branches of “memory, reason, and imagination.” The Encyclopedie was a bit more challenging than my thematic overview, constituting a groundbreaking multivolume work over two decades that crystallised many aspects of the Enlightenment, and aspired to “change the way people think” according to its principal editor, Denis Diderot.

Thankfully, colleagues within the Age of Revolution team have ridden to my rescue, so thanks to them for the many inflections and tweaks this has gone through. I now submit it, as the Declaration of Independence put it, to the “Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions.” And feel free to comment on it, correct it, and chew it over. Hopefully some of it will be useful as the various teams in the project think more deeply and fully about many of the historical themes and developments, and how we can explain and vivify them in museums and classrooms.