As I mentioned in my last blog entry, I have a bit of a problem with my big mouth. This presents many varied challenges to my ongoing academic existence, and one in particular has increased in importance as the all-important dates of my submission and defence are finally on the verge of being established for a year from now. My big mouth extends to that when I read somebody’s work, and enjoy it or come to think that their approach or ideas may have some interaction with my own I usually quite quickly send them an email. Up to this point, this hasn’t been a terrible thing, in fact its something that my supervisor has complimented me on more than once. This has combined with my willingness to open my mouth in public, and particularly in the last year I have seized on a number of opportunities to present at conferences, seminars and lectures. I’ve always directly talked about my ongoing research and work because conferences and lectures provide an excellent opportunity for me to approach different audiences and cultivate feedback and criticisms. This has generally been a good thing, as I’ve been able to make many improvements to my structure, my arguments and my language as a result. However, it does mean that many of those who might potentially be external examiners are no longer eligible.
I have always known that some people who I’d love to have on my committee would never be an option, for various reasons. Having my work evaluated by Dr David Davies, Dr Bernard Capp or the late Dr Jan Glete would have been amazing. Unfortunately, none of these are realistic possibilities.
In a continuation of the theme I discussed in the last blog, I’m not good at giving up control. Numerous people have pointed out (especially those who are finished their PhD) that they had a much more limited role in the selection of their committee, its something that has been weighing on my mind since a few months after I started my PhD. As a result, possible selections are something that I’ve been sporadically looking at, and discussing with Alan for most of the past two years. Given my predilection for getting in touch with people and telling them about my work, it’s probably for the best that I be involved with this process, only so that I can curtail such outreaches and make sure I don’t alienate any more potential examiners through being too open about my work.
Until recently, I was under the impression that my defence panel would be much more grand, or at least much larger than it actually will be. It may be an artifact for mythical stories of Canadian defenses, but I had always thought that the committee would be a significant number of people, like four or five. I’ve recently found out that it will be only two people: an internal examiner who belongs to the University of London system, and an external. In some ways, this makes things simpler because there are fewer examiners, fewer categories to satisfy. Unfortunately, it also means that there is less room for an examiner who would be more skeptical of my approach.
Part of the difficulty in selecting examiners, or rather the issue at the root of my worries about such a selection is the non-traditional aspects of my project. My approach to the history is somewhat unorthodox, for example that I’m using sociological influences and specifically studying processes as embodied by historical events rather than studying the processes to gain or provide perspective about an event. To put it another way, I study the Royal Navy not as an organization, community or collection of ships and their crews, but instead as a set of definitions. I feel that if I sought out traditional naval historians, then they would expect a traditional naval history whereas non-naval historians are likely to be less bound by the traditions of naval history.
The truth is I have managed to let go; now that I’ve presented my list to Alan I intend to leave it completely in his hands. No matter who my examiners are, the best way to ensure that I pass successfully is to make sure that my methodology and arguments are clear, concise and backed by the requisite rock-solid foundation of archive research. That’s on me.