Interview with Professor Emirita Barbara Yorke, part 3

Do you personally trust Asser or Bede’s works? – Well you can’t view them as you would modern people, you can’t expect them to be modern historians, and you need to think what their interests are and that is the interesting thing to try to get into the mind of someone else. Bede has a huge mind, so he is quite difficult to get into, and it’s a very theological mind, that’s what he has been trained as, so his way of looking at things is naturally dictated by that, so, truth or trust is a difficult thing to say, but any writer is revealing things about themselves and the times they are living in just by writing. So they are saying things on one level, but behind that are assumptions and trying to get what’s behind what they say is almost more interesting than what they are revealing. So I think if one wants to treat them as a modern history text book that would be wrong, they are not writing in that sort of way.

Do you think history has a future? – oh, it has to, I mean the more things that happen the more history is being created, so it is never going to go away.

I mean as in the discipline, considering the debates that have been with the postmodern attacks etc.  – I think it has, I think it’s too important to ignore, particularly in Europe where history is so deeply rooted, and it is all around us, and it is tied in with everyone’s national identity, it I also tied into the businesses of attractions and tourism so I think it is firmly bedded in the economy. Well I do think it if frightening the way it has been cut back in schools and that people haven’t got that idea of the depth of history that is all around us, for having that knowledge adds hugely to traveling around the country and seeing new places.  I think there is a huge interest out there, especially if you go to lectures in local societies or adult learners, there is a huge interest, for it is sometimes something people grow into, even though they might not have the interest at an earlier age, they can acquire it later in life.

What is your best advice to a student of either history or archaeology who struggles with their work and motivation? – that’s a really difficult question, or I am not very good at motivation, for most people need to able to motivate themselves, it is the most difficult thing to do as a teacher to try and motivate others, and it is one of the most frustrating things as a teacher is that you can’t get people to see what is interesting and to get them going and if one knew how to do it, one would be a huge success. I think one has to accept that you are not going to like everything all the time, particularly as an undergraduate, and concentrate on things you really do like, and always choose courses because they are interesting, not because they are at the best time, or something like that. That can sometimes be a problem, because I am only going to do something that falls between the mid-day period on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, or something like that, cause then you might find yourself doing something you don’t like, and you will not be so well motivated if you do that. It is something that is hard, which often means that if you do get on top of it, you have done a real achievement, and a real leap forward, so it might often be a good sign if some things are hard. So you have to have ambitions, but also leave yourself enough time to do essays, so you can say ‘I am confused now’, and put it to the side, and sleep on it, and then when you wake up the next morning it is all much clearer, that is at least how it works with me and writing, that things sort themselves over night, so you need to allow a certain amount of time to do it. And I suppose to motivate themselves they got to have their bigger goals in mind, though it might be a bit of a struggle, but if you don’t do this you might not get such a good degree, and but if you do, you can get a better degree and a much bigger choice of things you can do in life. And so, whereas the rest of your life doesn’t seem so important when you are young, and that it is such a long way off, and you might by the time you are thirty think why bother, but by the time you are forty you are having a rather different view, and think; ‘Oh my God, I wish I knew, what I know now, and that I would have worked harder when I was twenty so that I wouldn’t be doing this boring job now, but that I could have followed my desire to go on to be a dot, dot, dot, whatever it is you want to do’. So trying to keep that bigger picture in mind and keep yourself at things, even if it is something you are not so interested in, it is usually not wasted in the long run, and sometimes you might come back and find that it is much more interesting later on, even though you didn’t see the point of it earlier. Sometimes you might find that you are working in that particularly area for some reason and it becomes a lot more interesting. It is the same with all knowledge; you have to have the base before you can go on to the more interesting stuff.  If you don’t know how historiography works then you’ll never have that to build upon, and become more interesting.

How has history shaped your life? Or where has it taken you, i.e. where in the world? – Where in the world? Well it certainly has taken me to places which have been good, like you get to go to conferences and things like that, so… that’s good it allows you to travel to places you didn’t think of traveling to, not that I have travelled that much, but I have in Europe and North America,  but not really outside there. Ehmmm, where it have taken me as a person? Yeah… well I suppose the fact of having a bit of expertise in a particular area allows you to go to a conference and someone can come up to you and say that: ‘Thank you so much for your book, it got me interested in that subject’. It is a really nice thing for somebody to say to you, and you think perhaps you have done a little bit of good. It is quite nice to think that you have had an impact in other people’s lives; it is a nice thing to do.

Here ends part III of the interview, but part IV will follow shortly; in part IV which also is the final part Professor Yorke is sharing her thoughts on a Historical truth, and what she would do if she had a time machine.


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