Archive for September, 2009

PhD Diary: Laura Kelly

21 September 2009

Contributed by Laura Kelly, NUI Galway.

booksDo you consider your PhD to be a job or a vocation? Vocation, definitely. Not wanting to sound like a complete nerd, but it’s too enjoyable to be classed as a job.

In 20 words or less, tell us why you decided to do a PhD: It seemed like a fun thing to do and the natural next step after my masters.

Laura’s Diary: Being in the second year of my PhD, I haven’t yet reached the scary, panic-ridden stages of third year which I am told await me. In first year, I felt like I was trying to find my feet; looking at the literature and doing some research while tentatively trying to network with people at conferences. Second year is a strange in-between stage: on one hand, you feel more confident about your work as chapters begin to take shape, but on the other, there is a constant fear of “am I doing enough?” combined with the regular self-imposed guilt-trips when you spend an hour on Facebook that could possibly have been spent writing ground-breaking new scholarship…or not.

A typical week is difficult to surmise and this is what makes doing a PhD very different to a job. Read More

Some things for the weekend

18 September 2009

By Kevin O’Sullivan

Famine Eviction SceneA couple of things to keep you distracted for the weekend. Well, five minutes of it at least.

The best history-related writing I happened upon this week came not from the stack of foreign aid books and articles that I’ve been (enjoyably) making my way through, but from a piece in The Economist on the privatisation of the space industry:

The past, despite the disclaimer often found on advertisements for financial products, often can be a guide to the future.

How apt for our own ‘interesting’ times.

My second discovery is something that I’m sure those of you with a superior knowledge of nineteenth century Irish history caught up with a long time ago, but, hey, it’s new to me. On the 10 September podcast from Nature magazine, there is a discussion of the newly revealed genetic sequence of Phytophthora infestans, more commonly known as potato blight, in which one of the report’s authors Sophien Kamoun describes how the disease originated in wild potatoes in Mexico, made its way somehow into North America before being brought to Europe and Ireland, with all of its disastrous consequences. You can listen to the discussion at the start of the podcast below or read about it here.


How to turn your PhD into a book: part 1, prepare a book proposal

17 September 2009

booksBy Juliana Adelman

I should start with some confessions.  First, my only qualification for writing this article is that I have turned my own PhD into a book.  I am not 100% happy with either the PhD or the resulting monograph.  I think probably many first time authors will tell you the same thing.  This is just some advice for people doing solid history research who want to convert several years of effort into an object that others might read.  I reserve the right to give advice which I should have followed, but failed to.  And finally, this is going to be kind of long and probably violate the word limits we’ve set for ourselves.  So if you’re looking for light entertainment, skip to something else.

Deciding your PhD topic

Uh oh, too late for that, eh?  In an ideal world, you would have chosen a PhD topic which was so exciting and interesting that your enthusiasm is undimmed after 3, 4, 5…however many years you’ve been at it.  If you are relatively normal you will be sick of your topic by the time you finish writing the dissertation.  However, you will need to refresh your enthusiasm when you start converting the PhD into a book.  When you defend your PhD you are basically answering the question ‘Why is this work important?’  To sell the book to publishers and readers you also need to answer ‘Why is this work interesting?’  You will need to think of why you thought your topic was interesting in the first place and how it might be made interesting to more than the three people who it was written for.  This sounds simple, but is really quite difficult. To convince a publisher to publish your book you need to offer them a compelling reason and ‘a valuable addition to scholarship’ really isn’t good enough.  You also need to think of your prospective readers and consider what is the most important aspect of your research, what you really want people to take away from reading your book.  Now you are ready to…

Read more

Quick and dirty tips… for public speaking

15 September 2009

By Lisa-Marie Griffith

Lisa B. Marshall I have sat through far too many papers, lectures and seminars cringing as novice and even veteran speakers have stumbled, mumbled and whispered through their presentations leaving the audience mystified as to what they are trying to say. My personal pet peeve is that conference monster (there is always at least one) who does not time their paper, or just believes that what they have to say is far more important then the other people in the panel who have stuck to time,  and runs 5, 10 or sometimes even twice as long as their time slot allows (this of course is when the audience turns on the chair). People drift off and miss the point of the paper completely. As historians we should be better presenters. The goal of most who present at conferences is to enter academia and lecture. Learning how to give a good presentation is key to all researchers and future lecturers.  There is NO point in giving a paper if people can not hear you or understand what you are trying to convey. I often find that regardless of what someone is saying, if they are well paced, clear and loud enough I will sit up and listen. And yet that seems to be a difficult thing to achieve for most of us. Nerves will often get the best of us and intentions to speak slowly and clearly go out the window when the speaker is faced with a crowded room of fellow postgrads, academics or people who you would just like to impress. The novice will  rush through their paper, or throw their heads deep into the desk to hide rather than projecting their voices out to the room.

Nerves can not be the only reason why some papers are so incomprehensible.  So why are we so bad?  Read more

Interview: Dr James Kelly, Head of History Department, St Patrick’s College, Drumcondra

14 September 2009

Interview date: 20 June 2009

Pue with MicrophoneWhat book do you wish you had written?
I do not wish I had written books that I have read by other authors, admirable though many are. However, there are a number of books I have imagined that if time and circumstances had permitted I would like to write – and might yet do so.

What would you do if you were not a historian?
I have no idea. I would like to think I might have been a journalist.

When was the last time you looked at wikipedia?
About a month ago.

What event had the greatest impact on history in Ireland?
It depends on the era of which you speak. In the prehistoric era the emergence of Agriculture; in the historic era the slow but ultimately successful conquest of famine.

What book are you currently reading?
Iain McCalman, The seven ordeals of Count Cagliostros (2003).

Interview: Dr Cathy Hayes, Administrator, Irish Manuscripts Commission

14 September 2009

Interview date: 21 May 2009

Pue with MicrophoneWhat book do you wish you had written?
Gabriel García Márquez’s ‘One hundred years of solitude’ – I am a fan of magical realism as real life can be quite dull.

What would you do if you were not working with the Irish Manuscripts Commission?
I would be running a very successful café in Connemara, or looking at fungal spores on rotting wood under a microscope… the possibilities are endless.

When was the last time you looked at Wikipedia?
Yesterday, but don’t hold that against me. I did check the other URLs offered by the search engine for better sources; it’s just so at-the-top-of-every-search-result it’s hard to avoid!

What event had the greatest impact on history in Ireland?
Yikes! Too hard to choose what grain of sand in the riverbank changed the course of the river… but the introduction of the free education system in 1967 certainly equipped generations of history makers to prepare for their job.

What are you reading now?
Tobias Jones’ ‘The Dark Heart of Italy’ – I need to understand Italians more!

More debate on Google books

13 September 2009

By Juliana Adelman and Kevin O’Sullivan

booksJust wanted to draw your attention to a few recent articles on the Google Book Search debate.  The Economist has run a couple of articles, mostly favourable.  Cleverly titled ‘Google’s big book case‘ and ‘Tome raider‘, they basically argue that the fact that the current settlement is flawed is not a reason to stop Google Book Search.  The Financial Times columnist is more sceptical, arguing for the US government to create its own digital book archive and (as I understand it) buy Google out.  I’m not sure if Europe would feel any more comfortable with this arrangement.  If anyone sees other interesting articles please do reply in the comments.

‘Something’ for the weekend

12 September 2009

The Beatles in Rolling Stone MagazineBy Kevin O’Sullivan

They’re clogging up the charts with the re-mastered versions of their thirteen albums, you can’t escape them on the radio, you can be them on Rockband. Thirty-nine years after they split for good, the Beatles are still the reference by which all popular culture for an entire generation is defined. As the Financial Times puts it today: ‘As all philosophy is a series of footnotes to Plato, all modern popular music is a riff on the Beatles.’

But you don’t need me to prattle on about the band and its significance. Instead, head over to Rolling Stone and check out their ‘Essential Beatles’ guide, with fascinating photographs and audio interview with John Lennon from 1970. Or, better still, get your hands on the 3 September hard copy edition of the magazine (in the shops on this side of the Atlantic right about now) and read Mikal Gilmore’s fascinating lengthy investigation into the long break-up of the group: the creative tensions, the shock of manager Brian Epstein’s death, the arrival of Yoko Ono, the torturous recording of Let It Be, and the divisive battle over the appointment of New York accountant Allen Klein as business manager (McCartney: ‘I said, “Look John, I’m right.” And he said, “You fucking would be, wouldn’t you? You’re always right, aren’t you?”‘). Even if you’re not particularly into the Beatles, this is one of the best pieces of music journalism/history I’ve read in ages.

Book Rally

11 September 2009

Lost Revolution 2

By Kevin O’Sullivan

Last night as I left the launch of Brian Hanley and Scott Millar’s The Lost Revolution: The Story of the Official IRA and the Workers’ Party at the Teachers’ Club on Parnell Square in Dublin, making my way past the queue of autograph hunters and photographers, I caught the eye of an academic colleague near the door. ‘There’s a smell of revolution in that room’, she said. The speeches had ended, the free bar had run its course (no, that’s not why I left), and South Dublin Union was gearing up to provide the heart-rousing tunes. ‘A typical academic book launch’, another colleague remarked, tongue firmly in cheek, as he pointed to the backs of former party activists and ‘lost’ revolutionaries. ‘You see that bald man in the blue jumper in the second row? He was…’

I recognised a handful of faces, half-remembered the names of others. The rest passed me by, but they all knew each other. ‘I can see a number of left wing groups represented here’, Millar told the audience, ‘my family, my friends…’ Tomás Mac Giolla was plagued for photos and autographs beside the door, Mick Ryan’s face was hidden somewhere in the crowd, and Roy Johnston sat in the front row. In his opening remarks, Diarmaid Ferriter described the atmosphere in the packed hall as something akin to an election rally. Read More

The people’s history

9 September 2009

By Juliana Adelman

Marx daughterA very small item caught my eye in the Irish Times‘s weekend magazineTurtle Bunbury, a freelance historian, is offering to write personal histories on commission.  Those of us who won’t be appearing on ‘Who Do You Think You Are?‘ can still get the same service.  You give him the names and professions of each generation of your family and he will produce an illustrated history.  Essays of undergrad length (2,000 words) cost €495.  A ‘book’ of 25,000 words costs €6,500 plus printing costs.  Genius: you write the equivalent of an MPhil dissertation except you get paid for it.  Compare this to the grants in aid of publication which most of us will be asked to find for academic books and it seems like Bunbury is on to a winner.  Sharpening your pencils?  At almost €4/word this is definitely on the high end for freelance writing.  I understand from a freelance journalist friend that she gets about €0.30/word.   And it’s not like she can just make it all up, she has to do research as well.   Perhaps genealogical research might be somewhat more time consuming, but more than 10 times as difficult? I doubt it.  What are you getting from Mr Bunbury in return for his hard work?  Read More