What is it like being a researcher in Arms and Armor?

For those considering the path, all I can say is – congratulations!
The good news is that you are embarking on an effort which can be fun, and intellectual, will in due time reveal to you much about yourself, and can evolve into many things, including historical research per se. My condolences as well: you will waste a lot of money, make a lot of mistakes and will deal with the nastiest crowd, i.e. fellow researchers. In all aspects, research in arms and armor is not that different from theoretical physics (minus math) or psychology (except you have to deal with experiments post factum).

I do not believe in giving advice, but I can use my experience to say what kind of consequences of your decisions you can expect. Which path to take should remain completely up to you, and there are plenty of people who are successful, yet very different in both their goals and strategies.

First, I would like to state things, which I believe to be very general in their application. Success in almost everything is:

Talent x effort (which is a function of motivation) x timing

You probably heard many times how some invention was proposed 10 or even 100 years before somebody became famous for it? In some cases the inventor simply did not have the access to financial markets or international resources that would allow him to publicize it, but usually it is simply that in order for a new product to become popular it needs to fit well within both the existing economy and existing manufacturing ability. Proposing a reasonable TV design 20 years before it can be manufactured at a reasonable expense is an achievement, but can be next to useless in commercial sense – after spending one’s saving on keeping the startup alive for 5, maybe 10 years, the inventor will be forced to close the shop.

Timing is what separates talented people from famous geniuses; reliable employees from multi-billion business owners and a great general from a respected colonel, known for his smarts, but skipped on promotion because of his inability to keep up with the paperwork.

In collecting or research there is also a time when thousands of items suddenly become available, and decades where none are to be found. Yes, during the latter the prices will also be depressed, and good supply also drives collecting demand, so you often hear people saying “oh I should have bought it 20 years ago for 10% the price”. But, sorry, 20 years ago it was in some forsaken provincial antique shop, nobody knew what it is, and there was no demand for it. With equal outrage one can lament the failure to purchase some land ridden with oil deposits.

Talent is mostly innate and in general case is evident by the age of six or so. At this point a child might become intensely interested in certain topics and able to absorb information regarding them at the levels far exceeding the expected. In theory, one can and should compensate for the lack of talent (which frankly we are all guilty of) by utilizing research of other people, and by increasing one’ effort. However, in practice all three are strongly correlated. Talented people are more interested in the subject per se, and more likely to commit their time for research, and also more likely to swallow their pride and study other people’s work, as well as being able to filter it for useful information.

Untalented are less interested in the technical subject, but more in the status associated with it. They cover the title of researcher, collector, philanthropist, aristocrat, ad nauseum, ad infinitum. Therefore they will pursue social strategies instead – assembling in groups of 10-20, and mutually promoting each other as “scholars”. The more humble their breeding, and the more their ability is in line with the industry average, the more aggressive and effective they will be in employing social techniques. This is how the world of Academia, internet forums and collector’s gatherings work – being complete imbecile does not pay off, but the best chances are with someone of slightly above average abilities, coupled with extensive self promotion, working on “popular” subjects and investing a lot into social interaction. Ever wondered why members of intellectual professions where appointment is done by committee have short beards and eyeglasses? The answer can be easily discovered by addressing the literature on psychology of liking and group behavior. Discovering a revolutionary theory that disproves the existing status-quo (unfortunately in most fields an impossible achievement) on the contrary – will make you a pariah, though a respected one. When acknowledged experts in the field are finally dead, and the new generation, which never had to abandon their theories in favor of yours, takes their place, you’ll get a prize. So, don’t die young! But then, you did not really do all this for some gold medal bestowed by the people you don’t have any reason to respect??

But talent is not only about the ability to churn up theorems or using induction and deduction to observe and understand some before unknown patterns. Talent is also about the ability to manage oneself, first and foremost emotionally. Too many people cannot contribute to the field, because they wish to remain happily married to the theories they once proposed, seeing new facts as uncalled for adversaries, or, on the contrary – because any vague statement of contradictory nature causes them to panic and proclaim that “they always knew this to be the case, but were prevented from saying so by X”. Owning up to responsibility is one of the most important traits of a true researcher. The ability to objectively evaluate (and use) the work of others is another. No great discovery is made by a sole genius. Progress is a collective effort and great advancement occurs only when true talent can summarize the work done by many others.