John Riley '10
Thesis Title: “Revolution in the Third Rome: Russian Classicism and the Soviet Shadow, 1700-1941”
Hello everyone. My name is John Riley, and I graduated from Harvard with a degree in History in 2010. As an undergraduate in the history department, I wrote my senior thesis on the impact of the Classics on Russia before, during, and after the revolutions of 1905 and 1917. Specifically, I traced how Classical literature and history influenced the political imaginations of government leaders – V. I. Lenin and Joseph Stalin in particular – and expressed the political voice of the emerging bourgeois intelligentsia in its poetry, prose, and historical writing. In doing so, I asserted that the Classics were a continuous battleground between the government and the intelligentsia, waged through contradictory evocations and contrasting emphases of source material, literary allusion, and genre. I also played for the men’s ice hockey team at the position of goaltender. Currently, I study the history of ancient medicine at Oxford University, where I will complete my masters degree in June. Specifically, I study the means by which patients and doctors coped with the challenges of surgery in the Roman Empire. Next Fall, I will begin medical school back in the US.
My experience in the history department at Harvard was fantastic for a number of reasons. Even with the busy schedule of a student-athlete, I was able to take a variety of interesting courses with professors who are experts in their field. I enjoyed strong relationships with faculty members who invested time and energy into supporting my work; a few of them still mentor and support me even now, three years since I have left Harvard! Finally, in the history department my studies were not confined to textbooks and lecture halls; I had the opportunity to produce my own original research as part of the thesis program. In these ways, the history department offers a level of variety, personal attention, and independence for the undergraduate that is unequaled by any other department at Harvard.
I believe that the skills I acquired as an undergraduate in history have continued to serve me well after graduation. I felt well-prepared to take on graduate level work in history at Oxford, and – for any aspiring doctors out there – I can tell you that a background in history is as viable a path to medical school as any other. Analytic thinking, detailed research, concise and effective argumentation – these are crucial skills for whatever career path you might choose, and these are skills you will gain if you pursue a degree in history at Harvard.