Friday, December 18, 2009

Winter Schedule

We will reconvene on Monday, January 11th. Please note that we will be using a new classroom: room LSC 234.

There is only one task for the Winter term: completing your MA thesis proposal. Our first session on January 11th will be devoted to discussing the requirements for the thesis proposal. Information on the requirements is available via the Graduate Student Handbook.

MA thesis proposals should be roughly 1,500-2,000 words in length. Proposals are typically between 6 and 13 pages, double-spaced, excluding bibliography. Proposals can vary in style and format, depending on your research field, but they tend to follow a common eight-part template:
1) Title page, with an appropriate working title for your thesis;
2) An introductory paragraph(s), or "hook," that lays out your research topic;
3) A discussion of the relevant historiography and its relationship to your thesis;
4) An explanation of your research problem, which can include your working hypothesis and/or theoretical framework;
5) A discussion of the primary sources you intend to study, which can include published, online, and archival documents;
6) A research plan, which includes a working schedule for the completion of your thesis;
7) A formal bibliography, divided into sections for primary and secondary sources;
8) A working table of contents. Theses vary in structure, but they are commonly divided into five chapters: three substantive, research-based chapters, plus an introduction and conclusion.

Jeffers Lennox has kindly agreed to allow us to circulate his MA thesis proposal from 2005, which will give you an example of what one actually looks like. As you will see from his document, the proposal can include footnotes where appropriate. The actual writing of the proposal does not take very long, and a month is sufficient time to budget for its completion. It is important to keep in mind that the proposal is a means to an end, not an end in itself: it is designed to be a road map to guide your research -- or, to use a different metaphor, a basic blueprint for building your thesis -- and it is common for theses to evolve as your research evolves.

MA thesis proposals should meet three basic criteria: A) present a viable historical problem and research question; B) identify and discuss relevant secondary and primary sources; and C) outline a suitable research methodology and schedule for completion. When developing your thesis proposal, keep in mind this five-point checklist, which the Graduate Committee uses in its assessments:
1) Does the proposal show a good understanding of the secondary literature?
2) Does the proposal identify a significant and testable thesis, or a specific, concrete research question?
3) Is the method of testing the thesis well-conceived and logical?
4) Are there adequate primary sources and are they accessible within the timeframe proposed for the project?
5) Are the sources and methodology manageable within the timeframe proposed for the project?

Our goal in January is to get the thesis proposals ready for submission to the Graduate Committee. To do so, students will present drafts of their proposals to the seminar. The rough drafts will be pre-circulated via email (either as Word or pdf documents), at least five days before the seminar, in order to give everyone time to read them and prepare comments. Then, in the seminar, we will discuss each draft and everyone is expected to provide feedback on each proposal.

To ensure that we have enough time for a thorough discussion of each draft proposal, we will stretch the discussions over two different seminars: four students will present one week, five the following week. Please email your drafts directly to me by noon on the Wednesday preceeding the seminar at the latest, and I will circulate them as an email attachment. (This means that those of you presenting your drafts on January 25th must email me your draft by 12:00 on January 20th, which still gives you over a month to work on it).

January 11th: Discussion of the format, expectations, and requirements for MA thesis proposals

January 18th: No class -- individual meetings can be scheduled to discuss drafts

January 25th: Discussion of draft proposals, Part I*
A) Corbett
B) Gregory
C) Herrick
D) Lensink
*Drafts circulated via email by January 20th

February 1st: Discussion of draft proposals, Part II*
A) MacAulay
B) McKown
C) Ranson
D) Regan
E) Winterhalt
*Drafts circulated via email by January 27th

The formal presentations of the thesis propsals to the Graduate Committee will take place during the week of February 8th: I'll post a schedule once I've conferred with the Committee.

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