War Studies – What to expect and how to get the most out of your course

“It’s not just military history – this war, that battle. It’s war as a phenomenon in society. It’s ethics, philosophy, sociology, psychology, international politics… all the different factors that feed into conflict. I find it totally fascinating.”

With term-time upon us and a fresh intake of students about to begin their War Studies degree this month, we caught up with our intern Patrick Butcher to find out what to expect from such courses and university life in general.

What was your pathway into War Studies?

I’d always been interested in History but didn’t feel I had the skills in it at GCSE level to consider taking it as an A-level option at college. Instead I studied English Language and Chemistry along with Religious Studies, which I chose more for the ethical and philosophical aspects of the learning which had always appealed to me.

The idea to go on to do War Studies at university was something that evolved over time. My mum – who is very supportive – suggested it initially. Back in 2008/9 there were only a handful of courses available at A,B,B universities like King’s College in London and Birmingham. I also came across ‘Peace Studies’ courses which had similar elements but they made ‘War’ sound like a bad word! In the end I accepted an offer to study at Wolverhampton where I’m about to begin my third and final year.

How did you feel about going away to university?

I come from West Sussex so Wolverhampton was a long way from home. After I’d completed half my first year I began to feel unsure about being at university. You can’t underestimate how much of a change it is. I left and took a full-time job at a supermarket but after a year I thought ‘What am I doing here?’ I realised I wasn’t done with War Studies yet. I went back and completed my first year and I haven’t looked back since.

What can students expect to cover in a War Studies degree?

It’s not just military history – this war, that battle. It’s war as a phenomenon in society. It’s ethics, philosophy, sociology, psychology, international politics… all the different factors that feed into conflict. It introduces a lot of big ideas like counterinsurgency which is a current hot topic. Of course you’ll cover the First and Second World Wars but from different perspective including the home front. At present I’m writing a dissertation on military political relations on the British side during the Boer War 1899 – 1902.

What learning tips can you give new students?

Like anything else in life you get out what you put in. I spend about eight hours a week in lectures and then it’s up to me how much outside study I do. I was given a recommended reading list which was relevant to my course. But my biggest tip is if you find something you hear in a lecture interesting, don’t be afraid to go away and read up on it.

In my year-long ‘War in the Modern World’ module we touched on Carl Von Clausewitz – a Prussian soldier and military theorist who wrote a book called ‘On War’. I decided to research his personal philosophies which really enhanced my learning. The more reading I do, the better I think and write. It nice to be able to impress your lecturers with a few extra facts too!

Do you have any advice for how to handle the first few weeks of university life?

No matter how difficult you might find it, smile and say hello. Meeting new people is a big part of being away from home. The great thing is a lot of them will share your interests – especially your course mates.

Don’t party too much but don’t stay in your room with your head stuck in a book either. It’s really important to strike a good balance and make the most of the fantastic life experience university offers.

What do you want to do after your course?

I’m definitely considering a career in the army. I’d want to start with the Territorial Army initially and then look at my options from there.

That said, I’ve really enjoyed my internship at Helion which has given me a real appreciation for the publishing process, how much work is involved and how long it takes. It’s a daunting prospect – being totally responsible for bringing a book to market that hopefully lots of people will buy.

What have you learned during your internship at Helion?

Getting used to working in an office environment and working life itself was my first challenge. I started out with a few smaller projects to manage while I got settled in. Then I took on responsibility for preparing a manuscript for publication. I’ve done everything from proofread the text to arrange the pictures on the pages. I was in regular communication with the author who was on the other side of the world!

I’m really grateful to Duncan for giving me such a fantastic opportunity. He has taught me so much over the past six months. My confidence has improved enormously. Now, as well as appreciating military history books from a reader’s perspective, I can do so from the publisher’s too.

Further reading

We stock 17,000 specialist military history titles covering all aspects of conflict. Make sure you bookmark helion.co.uk for all your War Studies reading needs.

Join in the conversation

Starting a War Studies course this month? Tell us what you’re most looking forward to using our comment facility.

Michelle Corbett

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