Uploaded by Nina Cowan

Personal statement 6th draft

Diogenes said “we have two ears and one tongue so that we would listen more and talk less” As a person
with ADHD and Dyslexia, I'm frequently disappointed in my ability to listen. My education has been
shaped by a phenomenon known as the Golem Effect, where expecting less of an individual leads to
poorer performance. I believed I could never be “smart”. And then I discovered history, and found a
framework that changed the way I saw the world and myself.
I trace much of my desire to study history and politics to research I conducted for a podcast I created. I
am increasingly excited to learn how history continues to shape the present, thus, making it a vital piece
of any discipline. Politics, in particular, is a field in which historical influences are demonstrably present.
Therefore, my engagement with one, fuels my interest in the other.
There's an intimacy that comes with primary sources. Thucydides's History of the Peloponnesian War, is a
favourite of mine. And almost 2500 years later it still has relevance to our understanding of contemporary
politics. For example, The plague Athens faced in 430 B.C, feels eerily similar to our current pandemic. It
devastated the ruling class, accelerating the polarization that riddled the remainder of the empire,
mirroring our contemporary crisis. Historically, disease outbreaks are common, but democratic states
appear particularly weakened by them. I think this is because of the conflation of ‘freedom’ with
democracy. ‘Freedom’ is fundamentally challenged by masks, vaccines, or other public health mandates.
When the attractiveness of democracy is dependent on ‘freedoms’, if that is forfeited - even for the greater
good - people’s trust in democratic government weakens.
Furthermore, In Ian Shapiro lecture series, power and politics in today's world, it is argued that
democracy exists for the primary reason of preventing autocracy. Shapiro's ideas are intriguing, but they
attach democracy to an ideology. This leads to people thinking that if that ideal is weakened, democracy
as a form of government is broken. I'm curious as to how democracy could be devoid of ideological
promises, and how this might positively affect it.
I am also interested as to why authoritarianism becomes a popular alternative when democracies weaken.
Chomsky's Profit over People fed this curiosity, helping me understand better the accordance of
neoliberalism and authoritarianism. Neoliberalism advocates a reduction of both individual and state
influence, favouring a stronger central power, making fewer decisions. This makes it easier for a
neo-liberal state to devolve into an authoritarian one. Democracies today have been significantly shaped
by the neo-liberal revolution of the late 20th century, potentially furthering the growth of
Alternatively to politics, this summer I took a course which explored history in a scientific context. Here,
history focuses on ideas, perspectives, and how they have evolved. Since societal developmental
disparities can create technological advantages that are often weaponized and racialized. Approaching
history this way puts these temporary differences in context, encouraging tolerance and highlighting the
importance of diversity. This is something I try to remember when I present a historical narrative in my
academic endeavours and podcast. For example, I was conscious of this as I wrote an essay on Achilles
and Patroclus for the UCL’s Greek and Latin departments summer essay competition.
All of this is meant to illustrate how my study of history has shaped my understanding of contemporary
politics. Thucydides, John Dunn and Chomsky are just a few examples of people who have used history
in different ways to change my understanding of today's political landscape. But the most important thing
that history helped me understand, is that I could understand. It showed me that I had become the biggest
imposer of the golem effect on myself, it was believing I would never be “smart”, that was holding me