Nicholas Ball – discovering maritime history

"Currently I work as Archaeological Data Manager for HMS Victory, at the National Museum of the Royal Navy in Portsmouth. 

"I am responsible for the ship’s historical and restoration archive, material collection and artefacts collection. This includes thousands of ship plans, historic photographs, letters and surveys documenting conservation, historic artefacts relating to Nelson and the Age of Sail, replica items used for interpretation, as well as historic material remains of the ship which have had to be removed during conservation.

"Working for the newest national museum is very exciting and we have an expanding fleet of historic vessels, such as HMS Warrior, HMS Caroline, and HMS Trincomalee, as well as the Fleet Air Arm Museum, and soon a new Royal Marines Museum.

"It is amazing to think that I work in a dockyard that has been used by the navy since Tudor times. We are surrounded by historic buildings – the store where the Victory material is kept is even an 18th century ropery- where rope used to be made for the ships that sailed to every corner of the globe."

"I enjoy working with historic archives and artefacts, looking at letters written by Nelson, or clambering down into the dark hold of HMS Victory and seeing timbers from over 250 years ago! It can really bring history to life."

"If you want to work in heritage it is essential to spend time volunteering, and getting your foot in the door. 

"Being expected to give your work for free to gain experience can make it tricky for a recent graduate without any money. I have worked in various pubs and cafes over the years, to support myself while volunteering at museums. 

"After graduating I travelled in New Zealand, and spent time volunteering at Taupo Museum and Art Gallery, in the centre of the North Island. It was great to be able to use skills from my degree at Plymouth to get some experience at a small museum overseas where I helped catalogue their oral history collection.

"After travelling I also volunteered at Norwich Castle Museum, where I helped identify and catalogue new archaeological finds. This volunteering experience really helped me to get a job later."


"Later I undertook an internship at the National Maritime Museum (which luckily was paid) and this experience helped me to get a full time job there as Assistant Curator where I was given the opportunity to co-write a book with another curator about the Navy Board ship model collection from the 17th and 18th centuries. So persevering with a career in museums was worth it in the end, even when at times it seemed a difficult area to get in to."

"The good thing about studying history at Plymouth was that it gave me greater options to diversify my experience, and didn’t necessarily direct me down one single career path."


"I chose to study history because it was the only subject which I was really passionate about at school. I remember reading history books in my spare time, and visiting historical sites for fun and on family holidays. So I thought why not try and make a career out of it? 

"The University of Plymouth was appealing because it was developing quite rapidly and seemed to have a lot of investment, good facilities and lots of students. Plymouth itself was appealing largely because of the area of the country it sits in. Devon is a fantastic county and there is quite a lot to do in the surrounding areas of Plymouth, particularly Dartmoor and of course Cornwall down the road.

"Compared to most other courses, history will give you a much better understanding of the world and the society we live in. It will teach you critical thinking, you will learn how to read with scrutiny and to write with purpose. Unlike many other degrees, history isn’t simply training so you can fulfil a specific job in a competitive employment market, studying history gives you skills and knowledge that will stick with you for life."

"After studying history at Plymouth, I really caught the history bug and wanted to go further down the academic route. My favourite module was ‘What is History?’, taught by Professor James Daybell, the module presented a wide range of historians and historiography, but I remember reading E.H. Carr’s book ‘What is History?’ as part of the course literature and I think that book had quite an effect on me. The book really delved into the ideas that underpin historical writing, how sources can be dealt with, and how history can be interpreted. These ideas, as well as those of other historians, were a big part of that module.

"It was being by the sea at Plymouth that got me interested in the maritime world, and a couple of years later I went on to study a masters in Maritime Archaeology at the University of Southern Denmark, something I wouldn’t have been able to do without my degree and experience from Plymouth."

The Barbican, Plymouth

"Being a student in Plymouth is great fun. There is such a big student population and the University is right in the heart of the city, between the city centre and the historic Barbican to the south, and the largely student area of North Hill and Mutley to the north. 

"If your parents come to visit take them down to the Barbican for the historic pubs.

"One of the good things about studying history at Plymouth is you have a lot of time between lectures – but this means you have to have good self-discipline to manage your time, because even though you do not have as many hours of lectures as other courses you still have a lot of work to do. I spent a lot of time in the library, and if you enjoy reading then this is the course for you. My favourite lecturer was probably Dr Claire Fitzpatrick, she is a very good teacher and I learnt a lot, particularly from the modules on Irish history. Dr Harry Bennett’s lectures were always fun – he always presented us with a new way of looking at things."

It’s often said that the best way to see the future is to understand the past. History with Plymouth helps you do just that, while gaining the professional skills you’ll need throughout your career. Exploring five centuries of human history, you’ll encounter political intrigue, cultural transformation, war, sex and revolution across the globe. Take the lead in your research projects and choose areas of study from our flexible range of modules, creating a tailor-made degree.

You’ll graduate with the problem-solving and analytical abilities that will give you the edge in the world of work.

Study BA (Hons) History