I describe myself as a “Historian, Digital Humanities, gamer, geek, teaching in Cork, Ireland, occ surfer, pipesmoker, drinks single malt, old fashioned Liberal #CitizenoftheWorld” in my Twitter bio. I freely confess to my first year students that I never really planned this out, and at several points, I made choices which I did not think through, or which were, view objectively, wrong and stupid, but it ended up very well.
I did not put any thought into my college choice: I was going to college, and Cork was the nearest. I was told at the Young Scientist exhibition when I was about ten by a nice Air Corps officer that my coke bottle glasses meant I wasn’t going to be a pilot, and I had a couple of great history teachers in school, so History in UCC was so easy it wasn’t a choice, I just went, thoughtlessly, with the flow.
I did make several mistakes. I gave up English after first year because second year included a requirement to do Old English, and while I loved the recitations of Beowulf, I was bad at languages so, with even bothering to find out if I could scrape past that section, I ducked it. I wasn’t going to do postgrad; I was going to get a job and get rich but I was lured into research. My first MA interest was British grand strategy in the Indian Ocean during the Napoleonic wars, and it was looking good until, through inter-library loans, I discovered that C. Northcote Parkinson had written not one but two thumping great volumes on it in the fifties. Of course, I should have looked for wriggle room to revise and update his work, but I didn’t know to do that, and no one suggested it to me. I have a long list of other bumps on the road, not all of which were entirely my fault, but I could have managed them more sensibly.
And yet in spite of making quite a few thoughtless and poor choices, I have ended up in a place in life which suits me very well, and fits with my interests. Let me explain.
The first proper book I read, at about 8, was Enemy Coast Ahead, the story of Guy Gibson’s WWII career in the RAF, ending with his account of the Dambusters Raid. Written before the end of the war, it was thin on details, but told a compelling story about scientists, engineers and flight crews working to solve a challenge: the story of developing the bouncing bombs and training for the raid was possibly more interesting than the account of the actual mission.
Rolling on a few years, when I was 12, I hit a historical question that caught my interest. I got hold of a copy of Bruce Quarries War game rules for Napoleonic Wargaming, in which the armies had different fire ratings before and after 1808, and the organisation of Russian, Austrian and Prussian armies were very different after 1808. Well, I wanted to know why so I spent time running down answers which led me into questions about organisation, tactics, military reforms, the relationship of armies and society, military technology and leadership, as well as situational analysis and decision making, and how we model all of those in games. Those filled most of my reading and teenage geeking.
The other intrusions in this path were computers: one in school so old I can’t recall what it was, but there was an Apple II, a Sinclair Spectrum and, in College a Commodore 64 on which I was the first UCC history undergrad to wordprocess my essays, from sometime in 1983 onwards.
I taught my first Digital History seminar back in 1990, when I was lecturing part-time, and now I teach mainly Digital Humanities, with a strong focus on digital personal learning ecosystems, communities of practice and games. Clearly, there was no grand design, and from time to time I could have gone in different directions, but I think I would have ended up doing things that fit with interests which can be traced back to my teens so it certainly looks it has some narrative cohesion over the whole story arc.
The point of sharing this, which I may refer students to the the point of boredom, is that that many people when filling out college applications, do not have a grand plan, and that’s ok – even if you’re not sure what the destination is, the journey is fun.