By Elke Close

Five years ago, I discovered that my university offered undergraduate students the opportunity to partake in the Erasmus Programme. Inexperienced though I was, never having lived outside my small home country, I jumped at the chance to trade Belgium for the warmer and altogether more exiting Greek mainland. So two years and one incredible experience later, I found myself back home and missing the international atmosphere. For me, there is nothing more exciting than meeting new people from all over the world. Imagine my surprise then, when I heard about the International Students of History Association (ISHA) from two friends who were members of the local ISHA section in Leuven and looking for helping hands to organise that year’s Annual Conference. I became a workshop leader during the conference and have been attending ISHA events ever since.

ISHA stands for the International Students of History Association which is an international non-governmental organisation of students of history established in 1989. ISHA members are students from different disciplines at different stages of their higher education who are all connected by one thing: an interest in history and historical science. Members are part of local sections, spread all over Europe, which take turns to hosting one of the three seminars or Annual Conference held each year. During these events you will find students from all over gathered together for several days to discuss a wide variety of topics in opening lectures, workshops and paper presentations and take part in unusual cultural activities like day trips to remote Romanian castles or evenings filled with lovely meals at Austrian vineyards.

ISHA Annual Conference in Bucharest

During the ISHA Annual Conference 2015 in Bucharest

Now you might find yourself thinking: ‘This is all very nice, but how does this help me?’ Well, allow me to enlighten  you. Being a part of ISHA, and especially taking part in these international events, allows you to meet and connect with people from across Europe with the same passions and interests as you. And as most of you know, expanding one’s network is a crucial part of the PhD experience (along with the endless hours of research, tutoring, etc.) which is why most of us spend a considerable amount of time writing papers to attend countless conferences and seminars in places a lot less glamorous or exotic than Berlin or Budapest.

As ISHA’s  events are organised in different places all over Europe, you get to travel to cities and countries you normally would not have the chance to visit, whilst gaining all those important PhD skills. If it hadn’t been for ISHA, I would never have gone to Graz in Austria or Olomouc in the Czech Republic. Furthermore,  the seminar organisers arrange an entire cultural programme in addition to the academic activities, in order to introduce you to the city they study in, their country and their culture.

Snapshots of dinner at a traditional Buschenschank during the Autumn Seminar

Snapshots of dinner at a traditional Buschenschank during the Autumn Seminar

Now, even though cultural exchange is an essential part of the ISHA experience, I have found that being involved in ISHA has been beneficial for my research. Having to learn about different topics and create papers/presentations for different thematic workshops, I have thought about the subject of my own PhD in so many different ways. Particularly, during the past few seminars, a specific PhD workshop has been organised with the aim of connecting the participants who were already doing a PhD – or in the process of applying for one – by discussing more advanced approaches and theories. And, by thinking about your research in connection to a broader theme and talking to people working on entirely different subjects, you might find yourself in possession of new ideas, theories or ways to approach your PhD.

Impressions from the PhD Workshop during the Autumn Seminar in Graz

Impressions of the PhD Workshop during the Autumn Seminar in Graz

Besides organising these international events, ISHA also offers you a chance at publishing papers, essays,  and even thesis chapters in its yearly journal Carnival. You don’t have to be a member (good news!) to contribute, so if you are looking for the chance to share your ideas on a certain topic by writing an article for an academic journal, consider Carnival!

Even though I could go on and on about why joining ISHA can benefit your PhD, I’ll stop here – otherwise the sun will have set completely –  and direct you to the leaflets you can find around the department in Edinburgh, our website, e-mailFacebook pagethe ISHA Edinburgh Facebook page or the promotional video made by ISHA Budeapest (make sure you turn on English subtitles!) which you can find below. However, if you are interested in experiencing an event first-hand the next New Year’s Seminar will take place in Marburg in Germany from the 4th until the 9th of January 2016 and is on ‘Fiction and History’. Applications open on the 26th of October and you must have applied before Halloween. I really hope to see you there!


Elke Close is a third year PhD student in Classics at the University of Edinburgh and is working on the influence of the Greek polis of Megalopolis on the ancient federal state known as the Achaean Koinon. She is also the Secretary of ISHA International and Pubs and Publication’s Publicity Editor. You can find her on her page.

(Image 1: (c) ISHA Graz; Image 2: (c) Teemu Perhiö, Image 3: (c) ISHA Graz; Image 4: (c) Matej Samide; Image 5: (c) ISHA International; Video: (c) ISHA Budapest)