Site search by Freefind

I am also a published non-academic historian.
Reviewed 1st January, 2015.

My academic research of 2002 to 2004 (transfer report from M.Phil. to Ph.D) at the Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine at the University of Manchester was to deeply contextualise and analyse the work, and impact of the work, of Sydney Chapman and Lloyd Berkner on the International Geophysical Year (I.G.Y.) of 1957-1958. My research supervisor was Dr Jeff Hughes.

Central to my thesis was the mathematical physics of Sydney Chapman and Lloyd Berkner, and the intellectual structure of the I.G.Y. (see Annals of the I.G.Y.). I stand by my assertion that its like was never seen before, and is unlikely to be seen again. Personally I think the IGY was midwife to a Kuhnian revolution in geophysics and plate tectonics. But that is an untested hypothesis, at least by me.

I was, and am, intrigued by the evolution from the Second World War of the I. G. Y. within the context of international relations as seen from a British perspective, and was setting the whole in the context of a new evaluation of the history within the twentieth century, and prior to 1957, of The Falkland Islands and Antarctica. The transition from the 1930s to the 1950s was of particular interest to me.

It enjoyed seeing Chapman's notes from 1919, and his occasional thoughts about Einstein's thinking, a minor source on this, in Chapman's papers at Nuffield College, Oxford. Most of Chapman's papers are in Alaska. Maths being, to my thinking, a set of tools which can describe and explore, but not, ultimately, define, physical realities. Several different tools from, eg those of Newton and Einstein, can describe the same thing in different ways, with differing levels of scale and complexity, and physical parameters, and be given different language as metaphor for observation and for mathematical solutions to equations eg curved space and time dilation. In idle moments I speculate that electromagnetic radiation must be the medium of commonality (I am not think parallax). EM radiation in the Earth solar system, in addition to geology and gravity, were important in the .G.Y.

I was not quite sure yet where my thesis was going. There was still another full year of basic research needed, and in relationship to the public record of Sydney Chapman and Lloyd Berkner, and then the year for writing up. In fact writing would have begun earlier, and, once it was clear my research supervisor and head of department were content that I transfer to Ph.D, I had already begun to write elements of what would eventually be my Ph.D thesis.

The research and writing process, feeding off one another, would have seen quite a few course corrections in my thinking. This was not research and analysis based on known sources of known dimensions, dimensions that could be established by a close reading of the early record, as my second book was, but rather was an exploration of the wholly unknown, with sources of potentially infinite dimension, as was the case with my first book. In the latter case - where the dimensions of the research are profoundly important, but themselves unknown - the background reading and deep theoretical and practical understanding of the nature of sources, such as the limitations of the sources (AJP Taylor and Henry Kissinger are interesting commentators), and the research tools selected, eg prosopography, become very important. Raw data collection for my thesis undertaken at the Royal Society Library in the fall of 2002, and I have, as yet, attached no meaning to that data, nor hypothesized about its meaning.

Once it became explicitly clear to me that both my head of department and research supervisor, Prof. M. Worboys and Dr. Jeff Hughes, had concluded and had told me I might work to transfer from M.Phil to Ph.D then I worked with the following timetable: Year one (two part time years) background work, and location and initial exploration of primary sources relevant to contextualising the main content. Figure out how to search secondary sources. I made considerable progress in both.; year two (two part time years), in depth research, dedicated to my main subjects - Sydney Chapman and Lloyd Berkner, probably only, in the final analysis, Sydney Chapman; year three (two part time years) - write up and fill in gaps. My intent was to gradually increase my non student work, but in a different direction, and with less journalism. I was beginning to focus on periodisation and frame. Being a part time degree, only half my time was related to academic research, but I was seeking a common base for both academic and non academic work.

I knew I was not working on a great men theory of history, and that the juncture of the history of the Antarctic and the IGY was infinitely more interesting and intriguing and complex than anyone had (has?) yet reconstructed and analysed. I know this from the 39 000 plus words of chapters, partial chapters and chronology and gutted bibliographies which I had already written and assimilated. Certainly there looked to me to be more than one Ph.D thesis in that junction, and the many other junctures with the I.G.Y. Mine, as I say, was via Sydney Chapman and Lloyd Berkner, and the impact of ordinary individuals on great endeavours.

Spies, intelligence services, the Vatican's later settlement of the Beagle Channel dispute, the Trans Antarctic Expedition, emergence from World War and post war macro economics, namely major aerospace contracts in the late 40s between Britain and Argentina -- all were creating a fascinating picture and backdrop that would have made thesis footnotes, and might have made the main content of a book or thesis. This book would have built on work I had done in the late 1990s when I first thought I would like to write about the science from the Antarctic (and I am no Casaubon). As a journalist I wrote a substantial news feature about Lake Vostok, published in Nature.

As a student fresh to academic history research, with a practical money making goal in mind - getting a job/changing career, probably to science/technology policy analysis, politics support, and communications/lecturing, and at NON junior level - still my realistic option, given my three decades of broadly based, degree level, professional and international experience (see CV) - I was exploring a Marxist historiography (like I say it was my first year, but I was suspicious), hence I looked in great detail at FCO records and was building a painstaking and very detailed chronology from many varied sources - as Professor Worboys observed me doing - and was developing the arguments in support of my source selection. I had AJP Taylor's strictures, among others, in mind, and was reviewing the source selection of others with whom I would be competing intellectually, and I was aware, in rough terms, of the work everyone else had then done in the I.G.Y. field, which, with modern databases, the John Rylands University Library, the National Archives, Library of Congress etc..., the British Library (I found that government press offices occasionally forget to send their press releases to the BL, and this is a bad idea) and others, and some well placed emails, is not hard to do.

My world view of the global events was UK centric, and focussed on the Anglo-US axis. I had just started to think about France, because I thought that might help to dislodge the hermeneutic (study of human behaviour and social institutions) I was locked into. Such a shift might have led to an alternate dominant historiography, with greater or lesser ability to explore the full dimensions of the story. They might even have been complementary historiographies.

The historiography I chose led me to LS Pressnell. A Cambridge Ph.D thesis led me to the ICJ (not in person, but in reading of published literature and in case conclusions in international law as analysed in the literature) and earlier international legal rulings in the South Atlantic before the ICJ. Pressnell led me to the relationship in the late 30s between Argentina and the Bank of England. The Monroe doctrine, and the aftermath of the end of the Spanish Empire, were significant dimensions to the context. I ought to say the historiography I had, toward the end of my first part time year, fallen into, was Marxist. I have no idea where it would have ended up by the time I submitted the thesis.

I was thinking about where, given then knowledge of science and technology, and anticipated science and technology of the day, the military might have seen emerging global threats. The analysis, reading, learning and resulting insight and speculations were guiding my research and analysis, including of newspaper stories, and their resulting page placement, not necessarily knowingly reflective of government policy, and the selection of search terms and the search methods I used in various archives. I was learning what it meant to have a truly global outlook, as the British government did in the 30s and 40s. I was beginning to discern some possibly very long-term thinking indeed from the pre Second World War years. It was so strange to realise there had been a time when the Second World War did not exist, when no one had heard of the holocaust. The question I wanted to talk about down the pub (not for publication) was, what would have happened to South America had it not been for the Second World War, and what did Peron talk to the Pope about, and what was Winston Churchill doing in Argentina in 1940, or was it 1941, or was he -- where is that clipping I found? I would need to locate the newspaper clipping.

I was sinking into this pre-holocaust world, utterly amazed that it existed. And be sure the holocaust happened, and be sure it was aimed at the Jews, and be very, very sure no other group was treated in the same way, even though other groups suffered. Be very clear this was evil incarnate. Some rift opened in a metaphysical world and Evil itself entered. Perhaps it is because I am Catholic by background that I believe in Evil. This is not a word in my world view to attach as an adjective to human beings. What we do can be evil. So when I write evil, I mean that Evil entered the world and manifested itself in the holocaust. Human agency tacked on other prejudices, but this evil was aimed in total and wholly at Jews, and inexplicably so, and had a dimension beyond wrong, and crime, and power stuggles. This was not about a power struggle. The holocaust transcended national boundaries and political views, and even the causes of war itself. It was an Evil beyond even slavery, and the kind of evil that sends people mad.

These were all guide wires for research and crucial to understanding the impact of Chapman and Berkner on the I.G.Y.

There is one chain of events in what I think of as the mythology of the I.G.Y., which sets the event in a sequence beginning with the first International Polar Year. That chronology is true. It is a powerful narrative drive. But there was a much larger, deeper, more complex and dark history against which the I.G.Y. can be understood. I had not yet created my contribution for publication to that knowledge. That was what I was doing. I had found an example of what I thought might well be Chapman's war work (Second World War. He was a pacifist in WWI) at the National Archives, but it might have been another Chapman, and I knew which sources I wanted to explore to check that out. It might have come to nothing, but the source I had in mind would be of independent value to the thesis. The historiography, and the sweep of departmental seminars, which started way back in earlier centuries, was only a tool for research, and to enable me to interrogate the finding aids turned out as a result of research council grants, eg the ESRC.

I would like to have it known that my head of department's Ph.D thesis was invaluable to me (science in the South Atlantic in the geopolitical context of the late nineteenth century to the late 1920s). I had already asked my research supervisor if I might be able to attend certain undergraduate subject lectures at the University, and been told yes. My own degree level maths and physics - I have a BSc (hons) in biophysic from the University of Leeds - was some years in the past. My degree was a pioneering four year academic degree course with research project and mini dissertation, which I am pretty sure would, in these days, be a masters. In addition, through my professional life as a journalist, and editor, and published author of long standing, I am much more up to date now, and have been consistently throughout my professional life, with the latest in science and technology than most.

I was going through the process a first year postgraduate history research student goes through as they learn deeply what is meant by presentism in historical analysis, and how it must be excluded from one's analysis and thinking and creation of a history.

History is written from the past, not to justify a present strategic aim or wish. It is a very difficult exercise, making the intellectual break that says, what became future to the history I am now writing must not colour my interpretation of the record for this history I am writing, nor influence my understanding of that record. Without explicit proof to the contrary, what looks like forethought and knowledge (ie planned intent) of good or ill to come, very probably is not. Which is not the same as saying that there was not purpose to the events about which one is writing as an historian. But for the historical research to be good one must know something of what came after so that one can be certain one's research of the history has been as thorough as it can be.

Knowing where Chapman's physics and maths ended up, by going to some randomly selected undergraduate maths and physics lectures from particular courses my research suggested I ought to go to would have helped avoid presentism in my thesis. I would say I was creating a pointillist painting in my head as a framework for the thesis. My supervisor's insights were spot on for investigation, in particular of Lloyd Berkner. Though it was Berkner's commitment to education which attracted me to Lloyd Berkner.

I genuinely think it would be dangerous to the quality of academic knowledge building had I sought to do what I was doing without the oversight and involvement of a major University like Manchester, and which was teaching history, and was a leading international history research University, as well as offering research degrees in other fields.

A significant portion of the work I had undertaken to the end of December 2003, when I had given a well received mini presentation to the Ph.D seminar, was sent by me to Professor John Pickstone, the department's founder, in early September 2010. This was not new work, but my work in progress to the end of 2003. It comprised 37,000-ish words (more exist) of writing, chronology, analysis and reasoning, as well as the thesis, not yet explicitly stated. It was 60 to 70 per cent of the work I had completed in two thirds of the equivalent of a single academic year. In 2003 I had sent the same material, essentially working notes, to my research supervisor.

The previous version of this html can be put back on line whenever needed.