Travel · University

From South to North: York, Durham and Best Friends

Exams done and First Year more or less over, I embarked on a three day trip up north, to visit some of my closest friends from school.

Having missed my train home from university on Friday, resulting in the waste of over £30 in the form of a second ticket, I was absolutely determined to ensure that I did not miss another train this week. Perhaps I was too determined however, as I arrived at Kings Cross Station over an hour earlier than my train was due to depart. Once on the train, I had a comfortable two hour journey to Nottingham, from which I moved onto a coach for the last leg of my journey to York. My coach dropped me off at York University campus, where I was met by my friend Anna. First, Anna showed me around her flat and her room. We then took a bus into the city centre where we walked through the Shambles, I took some touristy photos of York Minster and then we sat in a park and gossiped until it was time for my train to the second city on my list: Durham.

I arrived in Durham shortly after six pm, where I was greeted at the train station by my friend Emily. We walked to her college and had dinner, before going on a long walk through Durham. Despite being very small, it is undeniable that Durham is a beautiful city, predominantly full of rivers and churches. We sat on a bench by the river for a while, before returning to Emily’s room, in which we watched an episode of Gilmore Girls (which Emily has yet to finish) and then we went to bed. The next morning, we went to breakfast in college and then headed to Emily’s friend Hannah’s room, as Emily has roommates who have not yet finished exams. Here, we watched a couple more episodes of Gilmore Girls, and then headed into town, where we went window shopping for a few hours. We then returned to lunch in college, which was a tasty mozerella wrap and chips.

After lunch, Emily and I went for a walk around the other Durham colleges – I think that there are thirteen in total. For Emily’s birthday this coming Sunday, she intends to go on a bar crawl around the other college bars, and so the aim of our walk was to time how long this would take. Whilst at one college, we spotted my friend Ashwini outside on the phone – a weird coincidence, as I had not intended to see her until Tuesday. We stopped briefly for a chat, before continuing on our walk. When we got back to Emily’s college, we concluded that we did not fancy going to college dinner, and instead decided to go to Pizza Express; Emily’s friend Hannah came with us. I had a Pollo Forza pizza which was delicious, albeit very spicy. After dinner, we returned to Emily’s room, where we had a very early night, as Emily’s roommate had an exam the next morning.

On Tuesday, the final day of my trip, we woke up early and went to breakfast in college, just as we had done the previous day. We then spent the morning walking up to the river again, where we sat for a while, as it was a beautiful sunny day. As it begun to get more windy, we relocated to a café called Flat White Kitchen, which is supposedly famous in Durham, for delicious hot chocolates. After returning to college and eating lunch – which was mushroom pasta – we went back to Emily’s room to watch another couple of episodes of Gilmore Girls. At around three o’clock, Emily and I walked up to the hill colleges, where we met Ashwini. The three of us sat on the grass talking for about an hour, after which we had to part ways, as Ashwini had an exam in the following day to revise for and I had to ensure not to miss my 4:40 pm train. As we had cut it a bit close, we had to speed walk through town and up the hill, as I attempted (probably quite poorly) to seem as fit as Emily and not like I was going to stop breathing at any second! Thankfully, we arrived at the station with ten minutes to spare, and I soon departed on my journey back to London.

Over all, it was an amazing three days exploring new cities and catching up with three of my closest friends. Funnily, I have realised that Durham is the furthest north this southerner has ever been – not just within the UK, but also in the world!

Travel · University

A Weekend in Swansea

Two days ago, three of my friends and I travelled to Swansea, to spend the weekend at my friend Bee’s house.

We arrived quite late on Friday evening, at around six pm. Although this in itself was not late, it was certainly much later than the estimated arrival time! We went straight from the coach station to Bee’s house, merely catching a glimpse of the coast from the taxi window. When we arrived at Bee’s house we enjoyed a lovely dinner with her family. We were then shown to where we were staying – in a whole separate house at the end of the garden! After dinner we went to the bar that Bee’s boyfriend’s family owns for a short while, before trekking back up the (absolutely exhausting) hill. Lenya and I were sharing a room and, after talking for a short while, we went to bed quite early, as we were tired after the long journey  (the journey up the hill from the pub that is, not the breeze that was Bristol to Swansea).

On Saturday, the four of us, as well as with Bee’s younger sister, went to explore Swansea. This meant a long walk on the beach and the cliffs that overlooked the beach, concluding at Mumbles Pier, where we had delicious ice creams from a place called Joe’s Ice Cream. The beach was absolutely beautiful and the weather was surprisingly warm.

When we returned from the beach – and ate quite a bit of cake (!) – it was time to start getting ready for Bee’s birthday party, which was the reason that we had come. The party was pirate themed, but as Lenya and I had not done too impressively on the costume front, we attempted to redeem ourselves by painting massive eyepatches on our face with eyeshadow! The party started at around 7:30 pm, with many of Bee’s family and family friends in attendance, as well as a couple of Bee’s friends from school. At the party, Bee’s dad’s band (who would’ve thought) performed a number of songs, there was a hog roast (which I obviously avoided), delicious bean burgers, and a fire pit which we sat round when it became colder. The night did not conclude until about 3:00 am, at which point we – the university students – finally had to call it a night, whilst the adults remained strong for a couple of hours more!

Over all, the party was a lot of fun, as was the weekend in general! It was lovely to spend a weekend away – especially at the beach in the amazing weather. It is also weird to think that, despite having gone much further away by myself or with friends in England, for example to Leeds, and even to Bristol from home, this was the first time I had actually left the country without my parents – baby steps!*

*Thinking about it properly, that assertion is not actually true…

History · University

Revision Vision: The American Civil War

I have just finished reading a journal article titled, rather self explanatorily, ‘The Causes of the American Civil War’ by Marcus Cunliffe, which presented an interesting angle to the critical question – ‘Was slavery the cause of the Civil War?’. In his article, Cunliffe explores the importance of slavery less in directly causing secession; rather in its creation of the concept of ‘The South’. Whilst this is not a new concept, it is one that I, personally, had not given much thought to before, however Cunliffe’s argument is both succinct and persuasive. I’ve also persuaded myself that writing this blog post counts as revision, so we’ll see how that goes…

To summarise, Cunliffe’s main arguments are:

1. The USA had large internal differences

Cunliffe, similarly to most other historians, notes considerable internal differences within the US, during the Antebellum Period. The economies of the North and South had massively diverged – the North had industrialised, whereas the South remained to be a predominantly agrarian plantation economy.  Furthermore, there was notable ‘political confusion’ during this period, and not just between the North and the South. In 1856, there was at least two parties in each of the thirty-one states; in 1860, when there were four major groups, each with their own candidate, the situation was even more complicated. Even within the Republican party, there were a wide variety of different issues, with different states having different priorities. For example, in New Jersey, Republicans were chiefly concerned with the tariff, whereas in California, the primary issue was the Pacific Railway. Thus, Samuel Butler comments: America was too big. In many cases, it was neither slavery nor secession that Confederate supporters – including Robert E. Lee were attached too – it was something smaller and more concrete than ‘Union’, such as their own state.

2. Without slavery, disunion would not have happened

Cunliffe states that “Indeed, the reasons for disunion, if we exclude slavery, are not convincing”. He notes that, as Randall and other revisionists have argued, sectional rivalries and national ‘looseness’ do not necessarily lead to the end of a country’s unity. In fact, the two conflicting economies in the US – the agricultural South and the industrial North – actually needed and complimented each other. Therefore, Emerson concludes that although America’s framework was, indeed, ‘unlikely and local’, it was not inherently sectional. Cunliffe comments that the US expanded westwards at a tremendous rate of 17 miles per year, and crucially notes that the South too was gaining states from this – Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas, Florida and Texas. Moreover, he assesses that these states had more in common with each other than they did with either the North or the South. Ironically, he suggests, both Lincoln and Davis were actually both from the ‘West’, as much as they were from the North or the South that they fought for.

3. Slavery caused the South to create its own distinct identity and definition

Cunliffe argues that “Without slavery, ‘the south’ would have been a geographical expression, not the label of a separate nationality”. He states that without slavery, then sectional divides would have been much less acute: “The effect of slavery was to define the South much more sharply than would otherwise have been possible”. Through the repeated allusions to ‘The South’ as a separate nation, many in the slave states began to believe in this abstraction, despite it being significantly less concrete than the abstraction of ‘Union’. Thus, Cunliffe concludes, the North only built its separate identity in relation to the South, which had effectively cordoned itself off. 

4. This allowed for the a ‘minority’ mentality, furthering Southern grievances

Thus, Cunliffe assesses, “Without slavery, since the South would not have felt itself separate, it would not have felt hemmed in and outnumbered”. Certainly there were likely to have been disappointments that the South-eastern states were no longer as powerfully represented in the federal government, or that their economies were not so prosperous, but this would have been regional dissatisfaction. Rather, it was the institute of slavery that allowed for the ‘them and us’ mentality that led to immense anger at The North’s growth and economic successes. This mentality of disunion and the South as an oppressed minority did, indeed, become a self-fulfilling prophecy following the defeat of the Confederacy in the Civil War.

5. Slavery was an anachronism that likely would have died out naturally

Cunliffe notes that many historians have argued that the war could have been avoided, had northern abolitionists been “less intransigent” and had political leaders shown “greater wisdom”. He relays a common argument that it was not until abolitionists attacked slavery that the South fought to defend it. Furthermore, Randall argues that in 19th Century America, slavery was already a “monstrous anomaly”. It seems that had the 1860 – 1861 been ‘tided over’, slavery would have dissolved by itself and that abolitionists were crucial in provoking the South into the decision that slavery was a “positive good”. 

Miscellaneous

On Writing a Blog

“I’m just going to write because I cannot help it” – Charlotte Brontë

Writing a blog is something that has always appealed to me. Hence, this is just one along the line of many blogs that I have attempted to write throughout the last few years. This time, I am determined to keep going.

I have asked myself numerous times why all my attempts at blog writing – I am keen to resist calling it blogging, because putting an ‘official’ term on it will probably scare me away again – have been so thoroughly unsuccessful. Indeed, I do enjoy writing and I love the idea of composing a personal record of the experiences that have shaped my life – at the risk of sounding too much like a Dr. Suess quote: the books I have read and will read, the films I have watched and the places that I have travelled. So, why have I never managed to sustain a blog past a couple of months?

I think that the answer lies in the fact that, in the past, I have attempted to be too strict and ordered about the blogs I have tried to keep. I have tried to maintain a regimented posting schedule, to contract and stick to a fixed theme, to ‘engage’ with an imaginary audience. This time, I will not attempt to do that. Above all, because I have realised that I am incapable of doing so!

So, whilst I am certainly not planning on using this blog as an online diary per say – and, to be honest, I have never been at all successful at diary writing either, so it would likely be in vain even if that was my intention – I intend to write about what interests me and when it interests me. It will be my opportunity to reflect on things when need be, or when I want to, but will hold no obligation to do so.

It will be my chance to write simply because I like writing and, hopefully, when and because “I cannot help it” rather than because I feel like I should!