Light bulb moments are often spoken about, but it is rare that the inception of a passionate interest can be pinpointed as accurately as UNE PhD student Cody Davis’ love for First World War history. 

“My specific interest in First World War history is something that I realised whilst studying Richard Scully’s UNE unit on the topic. This was the first unit I had taken which dealt with the topic directly and it was probably the most enjoyable one I had studied here at UNE.” It takes a strong will and a keen mind to turn a passion into an academic pursuit, which is exactly what Cody has done with his PhD studies.

“My PhD study is an epistolary history of emotions that examines the experiences of married British, Canadian and Australian soldiers during the First World War.”

For over two years, Cody has been exploring how soldiers that served in the First World War’s loyalty to their families clashed with their duties to their country. With the end of his PhD in sight, the research has only interested Cody further.

“Being a husband and father was often the most immediate and engaging element of men’s sense of manhood but this was disrupted with the outbreak of war in 1914 and also by the subsequent recruitment campaigns which challenged men’s reasons for not enlisting. My thesis intends to answer why they left and how their marriage influenced their military service.” This thesis represents the culmination of years of study for Cody, as he originally began his study journey with UNE through a Bachelor of Arts, followed by his Honours.

Although his studies aren’t complete quite yet, Cody has his eyes set on the horizon and what comes next. For him that means getting the opportunity to share his passions with others.

“In terms of employment, I have wanted to become a lecturer at a university for a while. Once I finish my PhD, I am hoping to follow that career path and continue to make a genuine and impactful contribution to the field and also to UNE.”

During his current studies, Cody has been lucky enough to be the recipient of two scholarships: the RTP stipend, and the Keith and Dorothy Mackay Travelling Scholarship. In Cody’s words the RTP scholarship is one that “most postgraduate students will hear about when they commence their studies. It has been the financial backbone for the continuation of my studies.”

Meanwhile the Travelling Scholarship was a fantastic opportunity suggested to Cody by his supervisors; unfortunately he hasn’t had the chance to utilise this scholarship yet as COVID has put a temporary stop to his research travel plans.

“In April, I had organised a trip to the UK to undertake a research placement at the University of Leeds which would have given me the opportunity to really engage with some fantastic academics in my area of study as well as allowed me to access the Liddle Collection, an archive of First World War correspondence which houses some great material. However, COVID stopped that from happening which is why I have been unable to use the Travelling Scholarship as intended.”

Lockdown and the COVID-19 pandemic have had other ramifications for Cody as well, challenging how he developed his thesis and resulting in an expansion of the scope of his study. “Originally, my focus was on Britain which was then expanded to cover the ‘British World’, specifically Australia and Canada, too.”

If there is one thing that Cody has learned from his study journey is that challenges can help you develop in areas outside of your comfort zone. Cody recently had the opportunity to speak on ABC radio about history of the First World War in relation to ANZAC Day.

“One thing that has surprised me is how much I enjoy public speaking, even though it terrifies me. Talking about my topic to rooms of people, or even on the radio, has always refreshed my sense of passion for my study; it reminds me of why I want to keep doing what I’m doing.”

“In terms of my topic itself, one thing that has shocked me is how important home was to the soldiers I am studying. When a married man left for war, he left behind his family and an important part of his identity. His military service was defined in part by that separation. This was manifested within the almost daily letters soldiers would write home when possible and the importance they placed on receiving letters from home.”

While Cody has a strong appetite for learning and exploring the knowledge within his field of study, but he also emphasises that the people he has met during his time studying have made the experience far richer. Reflecting on what advice he might have for other students and what he will take away from his study journey, Cody discussed those who have made his studies all worthwhile.

 “Some of the most influential experiences I have had whilst studying have been the conversations I have had with keen and interesting people who made genuine contributions to my own learning in very informal ways.”

 “When I first started studying, I was living at Austin College and met some of the best people who are still my closest friends, and even met my now fiancé there. In my classes, I met some great people, both students and teachers, who I still look to for advice and continue to influence the direction of my studies. I believe one of UNE’s greatest assets is the people that make up its community.”