Collaboration, mentorship and opportunity: life as a Sydney history student

31 January 2024
Discover what a history degree can offer beyond the textbook
From invigorating classes to influential extra-curricular opportunities, here’s what our students had to share about their experiences studying history at the University of Sydney.

Studying history at the University of Sydney is about more than what’s in the textbook. Led by highly experienced academics, many of whom have won awards for their teaching and research, the discipline of history aims to bring a holistic approach to learning, with the goal to graduate students who are curious, well-rounded, and can apply their teachings to life beyond the classroom. 

With a focus on enhancing the student experience, those leading the discipline seek to provide students with opportunities that can enrich their learning through mentorships, masterclasses, conferences, community events, and subjects that allow them to apply their education to the real world. These opportunities have led to the history discipline winning the Student Experience Excellence Award at the 2023 Vice-Chancellor's Awards.  

We spoke to two current students and one recent graduate about their experiences studying history at the University of Sydney. 

Darcy Campbell at the University of Sydney

Darcy Campbell, a Bachelor of Arts (Dalyell Scholars) student majoring in History and Politics and International Relations.

A culture striving towards equal opportunity

To offer the best student experience possible, the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences aims to improve access to their degrees through initiatives like the History Social Inclusion Program and various equity scholarships

Both Darcy Campbell, a Bachelor of Arts (Dalyell Scholars) student majoring in History and Politics and International Relations, and Heather Sengmany, a second year Bachelor of Arts/Advanced Studies student majoring in History and Archaeology, cite scholarships as a key motivator in applying for their degrees.

Darcy, an avid reader and learner, grew up on a farm on Birpai Country on the Mid North Coast. She was seeking a degree that would allow her to explore her interests while maintaining a connection to community and her rural upbringing. 

“I was incredibly fortunate to receive a history equity scholarship, which made it possible for me to relocate to Sydney and start my studies within a warm and welcoming history department,” she says. “I still remember the phone call where the current chair of history, Professor Michael McDonnell told me I had received my scholarship – a moment which made the dream of going to university to pursue history a reality.” 

Heather Sengmany at the University of Sydney

Heather Sengmany, a Bachelor of Arts/Advanced Studies student majoring in History and Archaeology.

Heather, who has just started the second year of her degree, was motivated to attend the University based on its reputation and scholarship opportunities. 

“I was drawn to the expertise the University provided, and the opportunities and networks it had,” she says. “Scholarships also motivated me to choose the University of Sydney – the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences Undergraduate Equity Scholarship in History allowed me to reach beyond what I thought were my limits and participate in various opportunities while also being supported financially throughout the year.”

Eloise Vanderveen, graduating from the University of Sydney

Eloise Vanderveen, a Bachelor of Business (Major in International Business) and Advanced Studies (Major in History) graduate.

A curriculum encouraging curiosity

The history program at Sydney encourages students to be inquisitive, empathetic and critical in their learning. Eloise Vanderveen, a Bachelor of Business (Major in International Business) and Advanced Studies (Major in History) graduate found inspiration in both the course material and the process of learning.  

"I absolutely loved learning about African American history and culture in America's South, as well as Chinese history,” she says. “But overall, what I loved most was the journey of realising how much I did not know and going down those rabbit holes. I also found the history lecturers and tutors were all incredibly passionate people who truly care about your learning.”

For Darcy, a highlight of the degree was the subject ‘History Beyond the Classroom’, a unit that encourages students to apply their knowledge of historiography and historical practice to benefit a community of their choice, such as the Redfern Legal Centre or local councils.  

“I have most enjoyed the history department's prioritisation of social responsibility in the present, while still delivering course material that takes students through the foundational annals of the past,” she says. “In ‘History Beyond the Classroom’, there was an outward focus and purpose, which can sometimes seem absent in a discipline known for its backward orientation. This focus has largely been made possible by the discipline’s teaching team.” 

I am deeply grateful for the way our academics bring their whole selves to the classroom, blending their personal experiences and knowledges with genuinely innovative course material.
Darcy Campbell

Enriching education through extra-curricular activities

Beyond lectures and tutorials, the history discipline offers opportunities like mentorships, masterclasses and conferences. Outside of class, Darcy works full-time to support her study, so has limited time to pursue additional activities. 

“However,” she says, “the history staff and the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences have made a tremendous effort to create accessible pockets of participation and collaboration for students like myself. Thanks to them, I have participated in peer-to-peer mentorship, masterclasses with visiting academics, conferences and community-centred events like protests – all while managing to kick off my career in a fantastic workplace. I am truly lucky!”

I have enjoyed the support that the degree has provided me and being a part of a cohort with other people who also have the same interest in history. It has been amazing learning about different perspectives on history from other people and building on my own critical analysis skills during my studies.
Heather Sengmany

Applying historical study to real-world contexts

After completing her degree, Eloise went on to work in the graduate program at Optus. Reflecting on her time at university, she cites her history degree as a major influence on how she thinks and works today.  

"My degree has been one of the best things I have done,” she says. “It taught me patience, resilience and the ability to see the world more critically. During job interviews, my double degree was a hot topic. It showed my curiosity and wide-spanning perspective on both business and the world, as well as how they intersect.”

Darcy completed the initial three years of her degree and is now pursuing honours.  

"I've decided to do Honours out of a deep desire to give back to local communities through historical praxis,” she says. “The local communities we’re a part of – whether small rural towns, activist networks, extended family groups or otherwise – shape so much of who we are and how we think about the past. As such, I want to spend a year researching these connections, hopefully producing a history thesis that celebrates and serves our communities.”

I have also been lucky enough to build up a community of passionate friends, colleagues and mentors, who I am grateful to learn from every day.
Darcy Campbell

Hero image: Heather Sengmany, Darcy Campbell and Eloise Vanderveen

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