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Blogs from the School of History, Classics and Archaeology

In with the bricks, or how a building can make a difference

An aerial view of Central Campus highlighting the William Robertson Wing

Lockdown taught us that you don’t really need to be somewhere physically to get the work done, right? History student Olivia might disagree.

When I started university, I didn’t really spend much time in the William Robertson Wing – the home of the School of History, Classics and Archaeology, or HCA as it’s usually known. In the beginning I got lost one too many times, and gave up on it because the Undergraduate Common Room intimidated me, and the lift was out of service when I wanted to go to the research room and didn’t want to climb the stairs. So I found myself mostly in the main library feeling entirely anonymous. But now, almost all my time is spent in the HCA building, and I see and interact with the same people every day. A degree as large as history can be a little daunting, but the HCA building provides a small, tight-knit community within the larger University community which makes that a little easier.

A typical day, untypical places

I usually start my days early. I wake up around 6 or 6:30am and go for a run around the Meadows or around Holyrood Park (though in reality, it’s pretty stop and go because there are lots of very friendly dogs out in the morning and I miss my dog at home a lot). When I get back, I take a quick shower, get myself ready for the day, eat some breakfast, and head off to HCA where I will inevitably realise I’d left a book I needed for class in the ever-growing pile of books on my desk at my flat. C’est la vie!

Statues and bookcases in the Student Research RoomsI usually get to HCA around 9am and head to the Student Research Room on the third floor for the first part of my day. When I get there, I wave at my friend Josh, and get settled in at my favourite desk (second from the door on the left). I usually like to make a list on Monday of everything that I need to get done for the week and then set in on everything that I have to do. Inevitably, I will have a lot of thoughts and feelings about whatever it is that I’m reading for whichever seminar, and I will drag Josh into the hallway to gesticulate wildly about female poets in the Gàidhealtachd (an article by Anne Frater), or about a Medieval Islamic medical case study (an article by Cristina Alvarez-Millan), or Lidl being out of my favourite pasta shape (it can be a very hard life).

At around 1pm, unless I’ve had a seminar, I’ll head down to the common room which is usually just picking up as everyone else comes down for their lunch break as well. I’ll generally set my things down at the best desk in the common room (in front of the window second from the left) and settle in for about an hour with a group of my friends. Generally, I don’t get into the lunch debate that plagues every University of Edinburgh student, but sometimes I dabble and will get a wrap from Nile Valley (not African Wrap because they don’t marinate their aubergines the same way). I usually take about an hour for lunch, but my friend Ellie and I often have some kind of shenanigan going on that we loop the other in on (and very often get complained about on The Tab).

Students chat in the Undergraduate Common Room

After lunch, I bid my friends in the common room farewell and I put my headphones on and face the window. I’ll usually do my more intense work in the morning in the quiet of the research room and save my less intense work for the common room, so I often end up writing my dissertation in the afternoons or catching up on some work.

In the evenings, I try to take it easy. I generally leave HCA around 5 or 6pm, and I usually spend the evening making dinner and watching something dumb on television or reading. But on Mondays I have History Society meetings (a society I’ve been involved with since my first year and which has really helped me get to know my peers), once a month I have ‘girls night’ with my neighbours (who I only got the chance to meet because they’re also in the History Society), and every so often I’ll stay late in the building to finish my dissertation work (with the help of friends who are actually largely distracting though there’s no one I’d rather be distracted by).

The HCA Community

The spiral staircase in HCA, with a cast of the Venus de Milo at the bottom

Being an HCA student and having these spaces reserved specifically for HCA people is really special and I cannot imagine my university experience without it. With the amount of time I spend in the building, I’ve gotten to know my degree much more intimately than I think I would have had I not spent so much time here. I’ve been able to make lasting connections with faculty because I am just always around. Whether it’s been that I often ride the lift up with the same people, or I’m closer to office hours, I have really valued my time hanging out with lecturers and getting to know them more personally than we really get to in seminars.

I have also made lasting friendships through HCA. There is a definite group of us who spend every day at HCA doing the same things with the same people, and by virtue of proximity, we’ve been able to build these connections that have lasted years. It is a lovely thing to know that your space is a space you can share with your friends and with people who are just as excited about their degrees as you are about yours.

Being in HCA and being part of the little HCA community who spends all their time in the HCA building means that I know my friends are perfectly willing to have me gesticulate wildly at them about whatever I’m currently reading, and be frustrated alongside me that a text I need isn’t available in English, and stay late with me in the common room for moral support while I struggle through my dissertation. Having access to the HCA building has made my degree feel much smaller, despite being a huge programme, and it has made me feel much more at home in the space I spend so much of my time in.



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