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Why the Magna Carta is imporant to students

5th January 2015

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Rebel barons, back door dealings and bad King John: in the season of warm fireside stories and ultra camp pantomimes, the Magna Carta makes a rollicking tale. However, for students it should have a particular relevant meaning as so much of the student landscape has been shaped by the Magna Carta - and it should thus act as a source of inspiration.

The political engagement of students to say the least is troubled, even more so now that students are not automatically signed up to vote. Something is needed to inspire students, something that is not the normal, sterile and ultimately dull National Union Of Students ‘campaigns.’

The answer is in the Magna Carta: what better a narrative to inspire anyone than one that makes a King recognise the limits of his authority?

Now, the charter itself is considerably more complicated than the story book version of it; indeed the specific details such as church rights and levies on feudal payments might seem a world away. In fact in the short term it was a failure, a document that intended to bring peace but ultimately caused war.

However, this is another reason why it is particularly relevant for students. If you are studying the humanities or social sciences such politics, history, sociology or international relations, The Magna Carta will have a direct impact in shaping your subject. It reignited the debate over the Divine Right of Kings, helped stir the American Revolution and helped create the world we know today.

For the studious, The Magna Carta provides great topics for dissertations. In my own university city of Worcester, not only is King John’s tomb on display (and his finger bone of all things!) but the will he wrote as well. This highlights how close key documents of history are to us - The Magna Carta makes great independent studies for all sorts of subjects.

Students come from all backgrounds and walks of life. However, the ideal that the Magna Carta represents is that leaders should be accountable to those they govern. This cuts across all social groups and cultures and is a uniting force. No wonder then that Mark Gill, of the Magna Carta 800th Anniversary, notes of The Magna Carta that "it’s relevant to everybody, including students."

However, what makes the Magna Carta so important and retain so much vigour might be that its promises have not been, at least in the eyes of some, fulfilled. Second year history student Sam Smith notes of the Magna Carta that "we could do with another," whilst another third year history student believes that The Magna Carta has not been realised; "Not with politicians allowing secret courts and bringing in laws which impede upon our civil liberties."

So perhaps the most profound thing for The Magna in regards to students (and everyone else) is its symbolic importance in reminding us what is left to improve. Events celebrating the Magna Carta are occurring all over the country next year in a Magna Carta trail that will be well worth a visit. Find out more here:

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