Nine questions with Ellen

BA Archaeology and Ancient History student Ellen tells us about studying at the University of Birmingham.

Ellen Durbin sitting on a bench on campus

1. Tell us about yourself

I’m Ellen, a second-year student studying Archaeology and Ancient History. I’m from just outside the Forest of Dean.

2. Why did you choose Birmingham?

When choosing my university I prioritised making sure the course was right for me. I found that many of the universities I visited were quite limited to the classical world. I loved that at the University of Birmingham I had the option to study outside Greece and Rome, also exploring Ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia (I have now, however, been completely won over by Ancient Greece).

3. What has been your favourite module?

It’s so hard to choose my favourite module out of the ones that I have studied so far because I’ve loved so many of them. My favourite second year module is probably Human Remains, and I know that many of my course friends would agree that it really stands out. It was amazing to learn about how much can be learnt from examining the human skeleton. The module wasn’t just limited to biology either, and covered aspects from cultural beliefs to cannibalism!!

4. How does studying at University compare to studying at A level?

Before I started looking at potential undergraduate courses I had never heard of ‘classics’ or thought of studying the ancient world. My school didn’t offer any subjects surrounding ancient history and it wasn’t until I started going to a weekly Archaeology Adult Learning Course that I realised that it was something I wanted to pursue. I was definitely nervous that I would get to Birmingham and be out of my depth. Once I got here, however, this was far from true. The lecturers all take into consideration that everyone is coming to this degree with different levels of prior knowledge. When I look back I find it crazy to think that at secondary school all my knowledge of the ancient world came from Horrible Histories and the Percy Jackson books.

5. What has been the most challenging aspect of studying your course?

I think the hardest thing for me to adapt to when coming to the University of Birmingham was getting to grips with all of the reading. It was something I had never had to do at Sixth Form, and I found that I was getting quickly overwhelmed. Instead of looking for the parts of the reading relevant for me, I would spend hours writing out unnecessary and unhelpful notes. What really helped me with this was the Project A and B modules that we studied in first year. We were taught all of the key skills and techniques needed to approach an academic reading.

6. Can you tell us about a highlight of your time with us?

The highlight of my time studying Archaeology and Ancient History was definitely my chance to co-lead the ‘Child Potters in Ancient Greece’ project, supervised by Maeve McHugh. Not only did we have the chance to delve into a fascinating and underappreciated aspect of Greek History, but we also worked with artefacts in the Classics, Ancient History and Archaeology museum on campus.

7. What do you plan to do after University?

I am still not decided on what I want to do when I finish university, but at the moment I am looking at doing a Masters in Archaeology.

8. Did you take part in any extra-curricular activities?

I am a member of the BACAS society and played in the BACAS netball team in my first year. I am truly awful at playing netball (practically embarrassing) but I was still made extremely welcome. It was a great way to make friends on my course as well as to do a bit of exercise.

9. What is the best thing about your course?

I think that the best part of my course is the flexibility when choosing my module options. I am most interested in Archaeology, so I was able to choose modules that reflected my interests. Many of my friends who also study Archaeology and Ancient History have found themselves more drawn to the Classical side of the course or to ancient Languages and have been able to choose modules that reflect this. 

Find out about our BA Archaeology and Ancient History programme