Yesterday was the end of my second week of grad school and it has been an interesting two weeks… not really sure how coherent this post is going to be, but I’d like to get my thoughts down here we go.
Going to grad school in another country is a learning experience of its own. Not only do you have your course work to worry about, but you also have to learn to navigate a new system with its own set of values and expectations. The program I am in is different then I thought it would be, and to be honest, I am not entirely sure if I am too impressed by it or not. I suppose I went into the program with the expectation that because of the school I am going to and all its prestige, it would be a rather rigorous and involved program. I am a little disappointed at what I am getting for my money. There is basically no classes, and very little instruction. I expected it to be more hands off then programs in the states, but I still figured there would be a little more structure then there is.
Now I don’t expect to be handheld through the whole process or anything, but I just figured there would be a little more professor student interaction. We have some “research training” which has really turned out to be field trips to different archives and a weekly 1 hour seminar where we talk about different methods…kind of, other then that we are pretty much left to our own devices.
On the one hand this is good because I am teaching myself how to create a secondary source reading list, and figuring out how to find the information and direction I need on my own. This is good because in the real world of academia as a professor and a researcher no one is going to tell you where to start or hold your hand through it, so figuring it out for myself now will help me in the long run writing my dissertation and working as a researcher.
On the other hand it is a bit frustrating because of the amount of money I am spending on this degree, It makes me feel like I am not really getting much as far as lectures and instructions. I am basically paying $18,000 to write a 25,000 word dissertation and receive a degree.
Money is a really big frustration. Not that I am scraping by or don’t have enough or anything, it is just that I have taken out loans to pay for this year and the reality of the debt weighs on my consciousness pretty heavy. I think this is especially the case because I am in a country where people my age have little (maybe a couple hundred euro or so) to no debt. People freak out about owing little amounts of money and here I am over $50,000 in debt.
Its hard not to ask myself whether it is all worth it, whether I’ve made a silly choice in choosing to follow this dream. The hard part is this concern is purely economic, and I suppose we don’t like being seen to make our life decisions only based on money. I think we hope that we are driven by more romantic notions, that we choose to follow our dreams and not settle for something just because of the money. It is a sad but hopefulness of the poor artist who decides to make his creativeness his life instead of “selling out” in order to have a materially comfortable life.
But life is not a storybook and we are not fictional characters. Sometimes our motivations are simply based on economics, on money, and I think sometimes thats probably okay.
Which brings me to my next quandary, what do I do next. On the surface it may seem silly for me to think like this when I just started my program, but the truth of the matter is applications for PhD programs are due in November. So I really do need to know what I want to do, where I want to go.
I don’t think I would get my PhD at Trinity for a couple reasons.
One is because I really want to be at a school that has a more British imperial centred program because I will be more employable being under a global history perspective and that can be done under the umbrella of British Imperial history.
Trinity is great, but it is easily apparent that on some levels they are a bit behind on historiography and theory. I mean I guess it makes sense, I sometimes forget that I am in a country that is very new. While developments were happening in American and across Europe, Ireland was redefining itself in a post-colonial world, dealing with the aftermath of a civil war and the on-going struggles between Protestants and Catholics in the North. While World War II pushed women into the workforce in America and in England, Ireland remained neutral and didn’t experience the same post-war feminism. When we had the civil rights and student movements of the 1960s, movements which changed the way we look at history by pushing social and cultural history to the forefront, Ireland was still trying to write its political narrative, still trying to define itself in terms of national identity, still grappling with the national question.
Therefore I guess it is not fair to believe that the same theories and beliefs we have about history in the States or in the UK would hold true for Ireland. But it is a bit frustrating. It is odd having to defend why you think a social or cultural reading of history is valid and worth considering, when my entire time as a student back home that discussion had already been had and was already decided as a given. It is a bit frustrating when you would like to look at issues from a non-political perspective but everything, mainly poplar history but even academic history pushes the national question into EVERY discussion. Now I don’t want to discount the importance of these events, but I do not believe you are doing justice to the past when you approach your research with an emotional and political agenda and a preconceived narrative of how things work together.
As an outsider it feels as though people are still fighting on some level. I know every person that does history comes to the table with his or her own biases, I have mine like all the rest. But I do believe that a failure to acknowledge ones bias and to ignore facts to promote your narrative is not right.
It comes down to what is the ultimate job of the historian. I know we can never write a completely objective history, and on many levels I completely agree with a post-modernist interpretation of history. But I do not believe our job is to construct false narratives for political or sensational ends. Then again the more I go on the more foggy and unclear the job of the historian actually gets for me. What is our purpose? Our goal? Should we even have a goal? Even if we try not to “teach” or “preach” our lessons through history can this be completely avoided?
I have no idea.
In my own research I am finding it hard to narrow down my topics. I want to go in with a clear and precise question but at the same time I don’t want to go in looking to fulfil a certain narrative. I want the facts to speak to me and not twist them to my needs. But maybe this is not possible on many levels? Aren’t all facts only as good as how we interpret them? When the same evidence can say things to different people is it really a fact? Or is it just our biases reflected, the way we see the world in our own time and how we see the past in our mind made into a tangible thing?
This post is becoming very long so I will probably just end it there. It does feel good to get these thoughts on paper although I don’t believe I will be finding the answers to these questions any time soon.