Saturday, November 19, 2016

What's in a name or the prescience of a well chosen title

For my first foray into the process of doing a phd in history, I decided to open up the very fundaments of how I ended up doing research on shipbuilding industry. As I mentioned the title of this blog mirrors that of my forthcoming dissertation.

"Valtio ja suurteollisuuden synty"

Where Valtio means the Finnish state as a group of actors with varied agendas and roles. And suurteollisuus is shipbuilding industry, or literally big industry as I concentrate on a few key companies, projects and processes.

I did not invent this title, although it has been with me, guiding me and challenging me from early May, 2013 onwards.

My ideas were far more modest and grounded in the development of Finnish coast guard vessels. This idea sprung from my work at the Coast Guard Museum in 2012 and landed me a spot to do a phd at the University of Helsinki. It wasn't significant enough though. During that winter a crisis emerged, as I lost faith in the originality and importance of my early idea. This then was the message to my peers and supervisors, when my research plan was discussed at the Finnish and Nordic history phd seminar. If this isn't good enough, what should I do?

Much was discussed and many threads were spun. Frankly I have no recollection of that session, because of what followed. After the seminar my supervisors and I withdrew to professor Kuisma's office and kept at it. What of – they asked me – shipbuilding industry? Now, I'd read quite a bit and had a few rudimentary ideas. This led to a spirited exchange that was summed up in the end with a single phrase, I immediately wrote down in my notes (I'm using them as a memory aid while writing this). My dissertation title.

From that moment on, it hasn't changed, not once. And it won't.

Here's why: the understanding that I could reinterpret the role of shipbuilding in Finland frightened me but at the same time I felt immense relief and sense paramount sense of purpose. Here was my mission. Now I had a clear theme to sink my teeth in, to pick my methods and topics. Over the course of the following years the title has guided me onwards. Whenever there's doubt about the significance of this or that, I can always return to my mission. Does it expand our understanding of Finnish state - industry relations through shipbuilding. If yes, in it goes, if not, then not.

One needs only skim my supervisors' bibliography to understand how this happened, but honestly, I feel great about the prospect of anchoring my research to a vibrant body of literature and showing how business history can illuminate historical understanding on Finland.

This clear idea of my subject led me to zoom in on the literature, and after reading it and finding certain issues it led me to my exchange in London. Now obviously, it was a lot more complicated than that but I'll get to it later. What I see as important is this. The relationship between the state and the industry is clear enough of an axiom. It allows for ideas to emerge but at the same time it provides structure, a scaffolding to hang my ideas to. This does mean that my thesis lives on the promise that I deliver a meaningful argument about this particular relationship.

Now, I haven't mentioned the subtitle yet, nor will I. That one has proven to be of a fluid nature. Methodological gestalt shifts have led to considerable re-writes and I'll probably set this one to stone (or DOI, if you will) at the last possible moment.

Now that I've explained the name, I can get on with minutiae... you have been warned ;)

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