This week’s post comes to us from our London intern Plamen Momchilov, who describes how visiting a city and learning from a professional guide can be a more engaging learning experience than simply sitting in a classroom.
It has been said that, without a doubt, London is a historically rich city, filled with centuries-old buildings and curious stories to hear. From Roman walls, through Medieval palaces, to Victorian splendor, there is a 2,000-year history to explore within the center of the capital.
Typically, the way that we study a subject (such as the history of London) at a university would be through a series of lectures and seminars. But being physically in London provides a plethora of opportunities to explore endless amounts of interesting sites. It is even easier if you have a knowledgeable guide to teach you about a topic you are interested in while being surrounded by the living history of this city.
In the last month while I attended guided walks, I soon realized that there was more to explore than I had thought. Though I study and live in the area, I felt as excited as the visiting students, who were only beginning to experience London.
Professional Guide Richard Barnett leads a group of students on a tour
I joined a walk with Arizona State University students in Greenwich, where hemispheres meet and naval heritage is the main attraction, an area that has lured various interesting characters throughout its history. Once an isolated village past the outskirts of London, its significance in regards to the development of British naval power is undisputed. However, it is not only scientific research or overseas quests that have attracted so many to the area. Since the Tudor era, Greenwich has enticed royal pleasure-seekers, secret spies, and creative novelists. Richard Barnett, our guide who offered insight into the history of Greenwich, managed to captivate all of us by weaving together narratives of grand architecture, ghost stories, odd scientists, and undercover royals.
Students with an interest in law and the impact of documents such as the Magna Carta would find the area known as Temple fascinating. Hidden between Embankment and Fleet Street, Temple is known to most people through the novel and film ‘The Da Vinci Code.” People well acquainted with Temple’s history can easily debunk the myths put forward by Dan Brown! David Mildon detailed the roots of English law and politics as he guided us around Temple. Middle Temple, the hall in the heart of the area, is like a historic time capsule. It was founded by the Knights Templar and has developed into a secluded legal base, in which many famous people, including several authors of the American Declaration of Independence, received their legal training.
The focus of guided academic walks need not be exclusively historic. As one of the largest cities in Europe, London’s diverse inhabitants face numerous challenges. Natalie Savona, an experienced dietician, has researched the health issues that concern Londoners, particularly those from low-income backgrounds. Her guided walk around the borough of Tower Hamlets exposed the pressures urbanization and globalization put on the provision of healthcare in London, as well as how social and economic inequalities have had an effect on local attitudes towards public health. She touched on how gentrification across London’s poorest boroughs has had an impact on diet and choice.
Through experiencing these sites first-hand, I have been truly inspired to learn more about this vast city and its people. These guided walks have taken me beyond the traditional learning platforms of lectures, readings, and seminar discussions into a space where I have had a sensory connection to the subject matter, and, as a direct result, will remember the stories I have been told more vividly.
~Plamen Momchilov, Intern at ACCENT London