Contributed by Colm Flynn, TCD
Do you consider your PhD to be a job or a vocation?: I have distinct memories of a celestial voice imploring me to share my historical insights with the world… so, vocation then, I suppose. Also, jobs pay so it’s not one of those.
In 20 words or less tell us why you decided to do a PhD: I dearly want to live in an Ivory Tower (I also enjoy my topic and the challenge the research presents).
Colm’s Diary: Writing a PhD is a lot like making love to a beautiful woman – sometimes you wish you were writing a different PhD. It’s the nature of the beast (you may have noted that we’ve now moved on from the beautiful woman analogy) that, no matter how interesting your topic of research, there will be occasions where one’s academic drive and vim deserts one. My answer to the ubiquitous question, ‘you there, what is you PhD in exactly?’, usually elicits a very positive and interested response. Upon discovering that I work on 12th century crusader artillery most people display what seems like genuine interest and have follow up questions even though they might be vague or Lord of the Rings related. It seems, however, despite my proud ownership of a topic that breeds such interest (and I do own it, so back off), it is impossible to complete four or so years (three and a half with any luck) without several of those weeks – the ones wherein one single-handedly doubles the number of hits on the Guardian’s website, the paucity of articles on Medieval artillery in that particular newspaper notwithstanding.
The further I progress into my research the more convinced I am that there are two principle challenges to the completion of a PhD – motivation and the possession of a viable topic. A student armed with both is set. Keeping those weeks to a minimum as I have done leaves me just with the actual research topic to worry about.
As with many PhDs, the focus of my research underwent a significant change as the issues and the nature of the evidence on those issues became clearer. I now baulk at what a younger and less world weary Colm once thought was possible. It turns out that covering both the historical and archaeological evidence for the transfer of ideas about and methods for siege-warfare from the crusades to Western Europe over the course of the entire twelfth century is quite a tall order. It arguably reflects poorly on me that it took two and a half years to realise the salient (and now obvious) points that Western Europe is a big place containing many, many sources and that 100 years is a not insignificant amount of time. As it happens, concentrating on the historical evidence for one element of siege warfare (artillery), one theatre of war (the crusades) and a mere 50ish years (1097-1148) is far more manageable and voilá, I forged a workable topic from the monster that preceded it: Crusader Artillery, 1097-1148. A workable topic and the drive to see it through.
Colm’s working PhD title is: ‘Crusader Artillery, 1097-1148′.