Jessica Hollis, MA War and Strategy student

Jessica Hollis

Please tell us a bit about yourself and your background.

I did my undergraduate degree in International History and Politics at the University of Leeds where I achieved high 2:1, receiving a first-class mark for my dissertation. Alongside my studies, I was also a Peer Mentor with the History Society, worked as a Student Ambassador and as an English Tutor with the Tutor Trust.  

I am currently still at the University of Leeds, studying a Masters in War and Strategy.  My research interests include the rise and fall of strategic bombing, aerial warfare, insurgencies and counterinsurgencies and medicine and warfare in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. My dissertation is likely to be on the use of air power in coercive diplomacy. Alongside my research, I am volunteering with the Oral History Society’s project at the RAF Museum in Hendon where I am interviewing local residents who experienced the bombing raids during the Second World War.  

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

I came to the University of Leeds as an undergraduate and read International History and Politics so already had a good feeling about the place and wanted to stay. The War and Strategy MA course was unique and covered a broad range of topics, including ones I had not touched on during my three years as an undergraduate. I thought the quality of teaching I received from the lecturers at the University was amazing and their enthusiasm for the topics they taught only added to the experience. I really liked the independence I was given when choosing my dissertation topics and the continued support I received throughout my research and writing. 

What is it that makes you passionate about your area of study?

Since coming to university, I discovered topics I had not studied before and I really enjoyed learning something new. Moving away from the more conventional topics, I became fascinated with the Middle East and aerial warfare. Having never read anything about either topic I was amazed at the plethora of literature available and how it covered an incredibly vast chronology. With the Middle East remaining a very current and relevant topic, I have thoroughly enjoyed reading about its complex history and developing my understanding of how its various present religious, social, political and military factions were formed. Finally, as a constantly evolving and to some extent less well-known area of history, I am keen to keep my knowledge of the Middle East up to date as well as exploring its varied and controversial past.  

What aspects of the course did you enjoy the most?  

For my undergraduate course, the aspect I enjoyed the most was my Special Subject on Transnational War Volunteers. I was an engaging module and promoted a lot of discussion in seminars. We looked at a variety of primary sources, including literature written by Islamic scholars, and diaries and letters from soldiers who had been inspired to travel abroad and fight in a conflict that was not necessarily theirs. We also looked at more formal legislation covering the period from Garibaldi to Osama bin Laden and the various diplomatic initiatives to try and stop the flow of men and women to fight in different wars. 
The student-led seminars gave us the opportunity to teach the rest of the seminar about a topic we found interesting, encouraging us to find our own materials, develop our own arguments and lead discussions. It not only improved presentation skills and confidence talking in front of people, it was an opportunity to become really involved in the research-led learning aspect of the course.  

What would you say about the learning facilities in your School and at the University in general?

The School of History has access to so many online journals and databases. I have never not been able to find something or been short of material. The libraries are also amazing with such a variety of books and other primary sources such as foreign office documents and various government memorandums which are on microfilm. The library is also very accommodating in terms of if they do not have a book, they can order it in or borrow it from another library. The Liddle and Bamji Collection are an excellent asset to the university, with a range of primary documentation on the First and Second World Wars and the application of military medicine during those times.

What other activities are available for students to take part in outside of their studies, and which ones have you tried out yourself?

The Leeds University Union has over 300 societies, so you are bound to find something to join or something new to try. You also have the opportunity to set up your own society if it does not exist. I have been an active member of the Raising and Giving (RAG) Society, having taken part in their six-week ‘Peru Project’, supporting their fundraiser ‘Pedal to Prague, and this year actually cycling in the ‘Bike to Barcelona’ challenge.  

What would you say to anyone thinking of applying to your course?

If you are very passionate about any aspect of war and strategy and its history, and are prepared to do a lot of reading and independent work then you will thoroughly enjoy the course. The University has lecturers that cover so many different topics, from the Medieval period up to very recent times, looking at the wars unfolding today. The course is very flexible and can be tailored to your interests, which gives you the freedom to get as much out of the course as you want. Whilst you learn about events and their consequences, you also become familiar with concepts, theorists and you are encouraged to develop your own opinions and style. There is quite a bit of emphasis on student-led sessions and student-led presentations, which are designed to improve your confidence and prepare you for further careers in academia or in the working world.  

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

I would like a career in the Royal Air Force or some form of government or civil agency that deals with security, military or political information. The analytical skills I developed whilst researching my dissertation will be of use when it comes to working with larger quantities of numeric and verbal data.  Being able to scrutinise information and pick out important parts will also be useful in a working environment. Having written a 12,000-word dissertation, I now feel I am able to present an argument in a coherently, having used a variety of sources. Furthermore, the skills I developed from the various presentations and seminars I led have given me the confidence to talk in front of people and I also have a better understanding of how to lead discussions as well as taking part in them.