Stephen Griffin is a graduate of both the BA in English and History and the MA in History at UL. He is currently in the process of completing his PhD here in UL also. Stephen discusses his experience of the MA programme:
What made you study at UL and what attracted you to UL?
This course ticked all the boxes for me and I signed up straight away as that’s what I wanted to do. I was good at English and History in school and that was what I was interested in. UL had the exact course I wanted to do.
UL had the exact course I wanted to do.
What did you learn on the course?
I learned a bit of everything, including history from 1500 to the 20th century. All the modules were different, it changed depending on your own personal interest. I studied history from 1500 up to World War II. I learned about the history from around the world, including Europe and the United States.
What is unique about the programme?
When I did the MA you got the opportunity to do work placement and I’m not sure there was any other course offering placement at the time. You got the opportunity to go do things like work for the County Council. I worked for Clare County Council in their archive, for a couple of months. There were other opportunities too for my fellow students, such as working in Limerick County Council and working in local study centres and museums. For example, students worked in the Hunt museum in Limerick. Students were also down in Waterford working at a Viking Centre. I found that really useful, it was a great experience.
Can you take us through a typical week on the MA programme?
Generally, you choose one regular module and that’s about two to three hours long, that’s where you learn sources for history and how to approach history, different approaches to history, cultural history, social history, political history and all that sort of stuff. Really, that just gets you in tune with the discipline. At the same time, while that’s all going on, you are being encouraged all the time to really focus on what you want to specialise in for your dissertation. You’re encouraged to think outside the box. You might go in with a very persistent idea, but you might end up changing your mind in a few weeks. I had another two optional modules which be anything from 18th century Ireland or 20th century Ireland, early modern Europe, something to do with Spain in the 17th century, or Germany in the 16th century, it varies.
You're encouraged to think outside the box. You might go in with a very persistent idea, but you might end up changing your mind in a few weeks.
Can you tell us about your own personal experience of the course, the benefits/challenges, etc?
When I started I was adamant I was going to do early 20th century Irish History (everyone’s favourite time period). I took a module on the European nobility from 1500 to 1800, which caught my interest and I then decided to switch my topic. I then did an early modern topic for my dissertation in Vienna in the early 18th century. Your interests change throughout the course. You can go with something that’s drastically different to what you first thought of doing. You get great encouragement and great help from the department. They are always there and are guiding you along, helping you and recommending which sources to look at. You are encouraged as well, to go off and find these things for yourself. I had to go to the national library of Dublin and I also took a trip to the University of Aberdeen, to use their primary sources. Of course, at the same time, we had the option of work placement and I was in the archive, so I got to learn how archives work and how you find things in archives and I learned a lot of stuff like that. When I went on after the masters and I did the PhD, I found it easier to use archives and manage my way through archives and being with archivists.
Would you recommend the MA to others?
Yes, definitely. If you’re looking for a challenge, if you want to identify any historical problem and if you want to find a solution to that problem, I would most definitely recommend the MA to others. If you want to learn good communication skills, writing skills, speaking skills, presentation skills, deal with questions, deal with people, you’ll learn a lot of that doing the MA .
How has your MA study programme prepared you for a career in academia?
Well, as I said, I had the archival experience from the work placement. At the same time, I picked up a lot of language skills, especially with having to go abroad and do research. That’s one main avenue, that’s very important. I wouldn’t have been able to do a lot of the research or a lot of the trips away I’ve had to do, if I hadn’t been prepared or shown how to do all that in the Masters Programme. Being exposed to the different concepts, methodologies and approaches to History as a subject, that were being discussed and used in the MA History modules, also prepared me for the PhD as it allowed me to draw on these ideas and methods in effectively researching and writing my own PhD dissertation.
I wouldn't have been able to do a lot of the research or a lot of the trips away I've had to do, if I hadn't been prepared or shown how to do all that in the Masters Programme.
What do you like about studying history, what initially sparked your interest in the subject?
I’ve always liked history, since I was a child. It was the only subject I was ever particularly interested in. I am just fascinated by the past, how we have come to where we are now, and I need to know how we have gotten to this point. The only way of doing this is by studying the past. I like doing my archival research, I love all that. I love doing all the trips abroad. It sounds fun but it’s also very mentally challenging and draining, but it can be quite nice. I used to say “I didn’t choose this life, this life chose me”, that’s what I like to think anyway. It’s not like I could have been a Mathematician or something, but I might make a good Historian.
I didn't choose this life, this life chose me.
Can you tell us about what you are doing currently? What do you enjoy most about what you are doing?
I am in the process of completing my PhD in History at UL. It’s a bit convoluted but, my PhD research focuses on early 18th century politics and diplomacy, relations between the great powers of Britain, France, Spain, Austria. I am quite interested in early modern courts, especially courts in exile and how they operate in this power system, and how their representatives in these different courts are able to function within this system. Some of them might be recognised, some of them accepted, some might not be accepted, how are they able to keep active in their different places.
If you could give advice to your younger self, what would it be?
I would definitely tell myself to travel a bit more, learn a few more languages or even do better at learning languages.
Do you have any advice for someone thinking of doing a PhD?
If you have to travel, go abroad and do your research, do it, because it will be beneficial to you.
For more information on our MA in History and to apply, please click here.