Postgrad Lives: 'I love pursuing knowledge for its own sake'


Ben Knowles, 25, has just begun studying for a one-year MA in modern British history at The University of Manchester, with a special interest in using film archives as a source of research.

Why did you want to do a Masters? After I graduated in history at Manchester in 2007, I worked in a bank for two years, which I enjoyed, but I felt that I hadn't realised my potential in history. I was still reading history books, for example, and I wanted to study more.

Why this course? Manchester is keen for you to do some inter-disciplinary studies, and as there's a screen studies department at Manchester and I have always been interested in film, I signed up for it. There are five modules: two in the first term, two in the second and one straddling the whole year. One of the modules I'm doing is called screen research methods, which covers things such as the technique of making films in the past, and how the audience at the time received these films. We're also encouraged to attend postgraduate lectures once a week, from any arts topic, and nine lectures held by academics from outside the university, specifically about history.

What will your dissertation be on? It will centre on film as a source of understanding British life in the first half of the 20th century.

Where did your interest in film come from? I have loved films since I was young, and my dad and I collected film posters and even put on an exhibition about the life of Richard Burton. Then, while I was working at the bank, I got into old documentaries, particularly a box-set released by the British Film Institute called Land of Promise about the British documentary movement between 1930 and 1950. I thought they were unbelievable. I remember one about a shipyard made in 1935 – there were people going to work, making a ship and then going home again!

Do you like the course? It's fantastic, especially meeting and discussing things with like-minded individuals and pursuing knowledge for knowledge's sake. And having had a job for two years has set me up to work really hard.

How are you paying for it? I received a bursary from the history department, which I was automatically entered for as part of my research council application. For living expenses, I have some money saved up. When that runs out, I'll have to get a part-time job.

What next? The logic about coming back to university was to work hard and, if I have the ability, to do a PhD on something with films and history. It's quite a nice area of academic research and there's scope to make an original contribution.

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