Student Perspective | Keith Madeira | PhD

My main objective is to use GIS to gauge the efficacy of the built defences around Gibraltar. I am going to create a model which fires virtual cannon and, using, cartographically correct maps of Gibraltar throughout its history
19th October 2022

Why did you choose Gibraltar?

My PhD journey began in what I suppose is an atypical way. It was during the first lockdown, during one of the many civil contingency meetings which took place over a short period of time, that I was approached by the Director of Academic Programmes and Research, Dr Darren Fa. I had completed my MSc in 2017 and I had been considering furthering my studies in the field of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) for some time (although, to be completely honest, something at the level of a Doctoral Thesis had never even crossed my mind) and he suggested the PhD route at the University of Gibraltar.
The fact that I could take such a huge step in my academic career from the comfort of my own home using the great facilities offered by this university was a definite boon. To be able to access education at such a high level right here in Gibraltar, is an amazing thing to me.

What was special about doing your PhD here?

This is an easy question to answer. It’s the personal touch!
Apart from the fact that, as a local, I am fully aware of the advantages of studying on home turf (especially as my particular project is set here), the University of Gibraltar is a very tight-knit family.
Larger Universities may offer certain benefits over our own fledgling institution but, for example, I remember my time at university in the UK where I had to keep introducing myself to staff and I felt that I was a tiny little cog in a huge machine.
Later, my MSc journey, being done entirely through correspondence, was such a dry experience. Even though my tutors there were always available, there was an element of anonymity about the whole experience which I lamented. Upon my wall hangs a diploma from a University I have never even set foot in, which I attained with the guidance and help of people whom I have never met!
Here, I feel like I’m part of a team (even though I’m doing a private study on my own!) The staff will always go out of their way to help you and, being so small a university, the PhD students have formed a special bond through which we are constantly helping each other out. It’s very special and I doubt I would have the same experience elsewhere. I have found that the pros far outweigh the cons!

What would you say to someone else who might be considering a PhD with us?

Go for it! A PhD is unlike any academic challenge you’ve ever set for yourself. The fact that you get to choose your own topic makes the whole experience one ginormous geek-out. The one downside (if it can be called that) is that you may find it difficult to switch off from it. For me, at least, my PhD journey has become a bit of an obsession. Not bad from someone who had been labelled as “academically unmotivated” from an early age in school.
I know for a fact that many other places choose the topic for you and you can easily find yourself working on a very boring topic. The University of Gibraltar has no such agendas. So long as your proposal meets their standards it’s pretty much a green light on the topic of your choice. It’s very refreshing, not to mention liberating!

Describe your PhD project

My original idea had been to explore the concept of using GIS as a tool to streamline the bureaucracy of the Civil Service. It was during a time when we were desperately trying to marry data from different Government departments and struggling.
A few meetings with Dr Fa later and it became clear that this route was not for me.
In my lifetime I can say that I have had many conversations with him… all of them interesting, but none of them short! We would always start off by talking about my proposal and, invariably, end up talking about our shared love of local history. Eventually, upon realising that my interests might lie on a different path, a separate task which had previously been suggested by him as a side-project suddenly became the main focus of my academic progression.
Having a professional background in GIS and a keen interest in local military history meant that a project wherein I would be able to combine the two was obviously preferable. My main objective is to use GIS to gauge the efficacy of the built defences around Gibraltar. I am going to create a model which fires virtual cannon and, using, cartographically correct maps of Gibraltar throughout its history (which I will also have to create using contemporary sources), see just how impenetrable the fortress really was.

What type of research did it involve and what skills have you learnt along the way?

The research involved has been extremely multi-disciplinary. On one hand I am looking through texts and maps which are hundreds of years old and, on the other, using very modern methodologies to bring these aspects of my project to life.
I’m using this time to learn to code adding to my GIS skillset. It’s definitely a strange marriage of skills and knowledge but I suppose that’s what makes it interesting.

Why should the public know about this topic?

History can be a fickle thing! We all know that old saying that is written by the victors. The romantic ideologies of glory in battle can result in an over-hyped reality of a situation. We see it in sports fandom all the time. One side’s legendary goal is the other’s lucky kick!
The history that we try to keep alive in our culture relies a lot on the ability of the teacher to gauge the student’s imagination. The number of times I heard the words “try to imagine” as a boy was too high to keep track of. Sometimes a picture will give you an element of clarity which would otherwise be impossible.

What will be the wider impact of your research? How has your research impacted on both a local and a wider scale?

I want this research to serve as the foundation to many similar studies in the future. But, the biggest impact I am hoping to have is in breathing new life into stories which have been handed down over generations by creating a tool which can help locate the places in which they happened. As an example, accounts of the attack of the floating batteries during the Great Siege tell how the ships of the Kingdom of Spain got so close to the city walls of Gibraltar that the cannonballs fired by the British defenders bounced on the roofs of the ships.
By knowing the height of these roofs above sea level and the trajectories of the cannonballs, and then plotting this information on a map, it becomes possible to know exactly where these ships were anchored. This gives archaeologists a very good idea of where to start looking for wrecks.

Do you have any future plans that will follow from this research?

I’m hoping to publish in the future by expanding on this study. I would also like to apply this model to other fortresses such as Malta.
  • PhD

    PhD by Research

    Our PhD by research programme is based on independent study, guided by your assigned supervisors and support system. It typically takes a minimum of three years to complete full-time, or a minimum of five years when studied part-time.[...]

    FT 3 to 5 Years/ PT 4 to 8 Years

    No Placement option

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