Portrait of Annie Levy

Annie Levy

Please tell us a bit about yourself, your background etc?

I’m an intersectional feminist, a youth leader, a regular swimmer, and I am interested in political theatre. Since  the age of 14 I have been involved in a Reform Jewish Youth Movement, and I now educate participants and leaders to view the world through a critical lens, challenging social norms and partaking in liberation movements. I am very interested in women’s empowerment projects in developing countries, and how western NGOs can make a genuine, sustained difference. In my spare time I read, and listen to feminism-themed comedy podcasts.

What made you want to apply to your course and to Leeds?

When I was in year 12 I came to an open day here, and immediately fell in love with the university. I particularly liked the Student Union and surrounding area, as it was so lively  and felt like the ‘nucleus’ of the University. I remember looking at a board outside the Union that listed all the societies available, and being overwhelmed and excited by the breadth of options, from Buddhist Meditation to Kickboxing to SocieTEA.  The University was also close to the city, and I liked the thought that I could easily escape from the university bubble and explore the city centre.

In terms of my course, I stumbled upon International History and Politics (IHP) whilst looking for a straight History BA. I was in the School of History at the open day and got chatting to the director of IHP, who described the purpose of the degree, which was founded to try and foster understanding of international affairs to avoid a repeat of the widespread conflicts of the twentieth century. I was inspired by the course’s mission, and the modules available were perfectly catered to my interest in modern political history. I also liked that IHP is far less Eurocentric than many History degrees, and I would be able to study topics such as the Arab-Israeli Conflict and Afghanistan.

What is it that makes you passionate about International History and Politics?

I love that IHP is so rooted in the recent past,  my past two years of study have helped me massively to understand why the world is as it is today. The course helps to contextualise current affairs, and I feel I now have the background knowledge to critically challenge media coverage of international events.

I am also grateful that within IHP I have been given the space to develop my own academic interests, no matter now niche. For example, I have been able to link my interest in gender, social and cultural history to international history. IHP is unique as we have the chance to specialise early on, completing a 6,000 word, dissertation-style essay in second year. Whilst this sounds daunting, it was actually a really rewarding experience. I wrote my essay on racial dynamics in the twentieth century birth control movement, in the United States, international feminist forums and NGOs in Nigeria. Without the long essay module, and a tutor who was happy for me to look at international history from a more social angle, I may never have had the opportunity to explore this specific interest of mine.

Which IHP modules have you particularly enjoyed studying, and why?

My favourite IHP module so far has been the Arab-Israeli Conflict. Having spent time studying in Israel, I came to the module with some prior knowledge and an interest in the region, particularly in the peace process. However, I underestimated how much I would learn from studying such a relevant, highly political and emotive conflict in an academic environment. The seminars each week consciously addressed multiple narratives, for example we studied the War of Independence from the perspectives of Palestinians, Israelis, Jordanians and the British, simulating a UN-style debate about the legitimacy of the new state. This meant we could develop a multi-faceted understanding of the conflict, which did justice to its moral complexity. 

Which Discovery Modules have you studied, and how do you feel they have enhanced your time in Leeds? 

For my Discovery ModulesI have chosen History modules as I enjoy broadening my historical scope beyond IHP. My absolute favourite Discovery Module has been Race, Gender and Cultural Protest Since 1865. The module focuses on revisionist history of race and gender, and contextualises so many of the ongoing race and gender-related struggles in the world today. This module sparked my interest in gender history, affecting my long essay and dissertation choices. It was also a great opportunity to meet some new people, outside of my course.

What would you say about the library and study facilities at the University?

The university has a massive variety of study spaces, which differ in mood, noise levels and architectural style. It is great to have the choice of different spaces depending on how you feel, and whether you are working alone or in a group. The libraries all have nice cafes, which come in handy for much needed work breaks and a catch-up with friends. During exam season the libraries are open 24/7, and whilst I wouldn’t recommend pulling an all-nighter, I have benefitted from having somewhere on campus to have a last-minute revision session before morning exams! 

What activities have you been involved in outside of your course and what have you got out of being involved? 

I am a member of Spoken Word Society, which holds open mic events every term. Anyone can read a poem that they have written, and I am constantly inspired by other students’ talent, and the way people can articulate experiences they have had in a poetic way. The poems are often also very funny, and the society is super supportive so it’s always a warm environment and a fun way to spend an evening.

I also regularly attended Yoga Society sessions last year, which was a great way to de-stress and have a break from the library. There are multiple classes every day, so regardless of your timetable there will be various types of yoga class to suit you.

I also swim at The Edge almost every day. Swimming is also a great break from work, and I enjoy having an hour without my phone or any distractions to exercise. The Edge is right on campus, which makes it especially convenient if I want to sneak in a swim between lectures or as a library break.

Finally, I am involved in Jewish Society, running the Reform/Liberal Denominational Prayer Space. The community is large and welcoming, and has helped Leeds to feel like a home from home. I would encourage anyone who is interested to have a look at the religious societies here, as there is a large variety. We do a lot of interfaith work, which is a great way to learn from one another and make the most of being at such a diverse university.

What would you say about Leeds as a city and how do you think it has helped you make the most of your time here?

Leeds is a lively city, full of culture, food and places to shop. It is small enough to walk from one side of the city centre to the other, but has the atmosphere of a major city. Even after two years here, there are still so many bars, restaurants, museums, parks and theatres that I haven’t explored yet.

My favourite thing about Leeds is the German Christmas market which comes to Millennium Square every winter. It’s a fun place to hang out with friends, wondering around, drinking mulled wine and dancing to live music.

Finally, I have benefitted from getting involved with Leeds city more broadly through volunteering at the Refugee Forum. I think it is important to form links with the city, rather than sticking entirely to the student bubble, and to contribute positively to society in some way. There are lots of societies within the University that enter the wider Leeds community to work on great projects.

Do you have any comments about the support you receive from the School of History? 

In first year, when I was still getting to grips with university life, the History Student Support Officer was very helpful, and I checked in with him a couple of times. It was great to know that someone in the School of History knew me personally, and understood my interests and life outside of my degree. Also, in the time I have been at Leeds I have seen welfare structures developing directly in response to student feedback. There are new roles in the School of History specifically to support people struggling with mental health issues and the general stresses of university. It is great to know that so many people are around if needed.

What do you plan to do once you’ve finished your course, and how do you think the skills and knowledge you’ve developed at Leeds will help with these plans?

My long-term plan is to work on women’s development projects in developing countries, either through an NGO or the government. I am hoping to begin by actually working on a project on the ground, and then move on to strategizing from the UK. However, I haven’t decided on an exact path yet, as I may complete a Master’s at some point, or work first running the youth movement I grew up in. I have been able to tailor my studies at Leeds towards this career path, looking at development through a historical lens, which has been valuable. University life more broadly, including living away from home, volunteering and making great friends, has helped me to become far more confident, and I think it takes confidence to acknowledge long-term career goals, when graduating can be such a daunting prospect. It is possible that my plans will change, but I feel that IHP has opened lots of doors, and there are endless careers I could consider after studying it.