Historical Dissertations and a Little Advice for My Friends

I had a great conference with my dissertation advisor the other day. The point of the call was that I had to redo my chapter break down because in my prospectus defense, the committee narrowed my topic – – thus the chapters needed to be completely redone.

Anyway, my dissertation will be historical with an “implications” section in the concluding chapter. The question is this: Do I write the chapters chronologically or by theme? My primary research will be the 1890’s composition (a brief look) and then the 1950’s on, so it seems like a no-brainer to just go by decade. Any thoughts on this? Scott, what do you think?

Anyway, I am just writing a quick blog to say I’ve got 3/4 of a chronological chapter breakdown written, and I hope to finish today. I have 5 articles I need to read from the 1970’s, several from the 80’s, and so on.

Also, I’d like to offer advice to anyone who may be starting the PhD process:

1. Make SURE you foster great relationships with your professors so that when the time comes, you will have a supportive and helpful dissertation committee. My committee is wonderful: they work with me, they are willing to talk on the phone and meet at weird times in order to accommodate my schedule, and they WANT me to succeed. They want me to publish, which means so much. They are all hard-working scholars who don’t have time for BS.

2. Take the advice of your committee. Do exactly what they tell you! They know what they’re talking about and if that’s what they want, do it.

3. Think about your dissertation in terms of future publications. Is it something that you can publish later? Can you expand on your chapters in later journals? Remember that your dissertation doesn’t just have to end with the committee – it can be┬áthe foundation of your career in research (if you choose to go in that direction).

4. Discipline: I am struggling with this but am hammering away with the self-discipline. Once you reach this stage of writing, you don’t have specific deadlines; you only have self-imposed ones. Therefore, it is HARDER to keep going every day and VERY easy to get sidetracked. That’s why I am writing this blog in a way. I am making myself accountable to … myself and my readers.

5. Read, read, read. And write about what you read. Each day I read, I am typing a summary of those sources and attaching the summary to the articles. Wow has this been helpful. So later when I go back to the sources, I don’t have to read them again, I just have to read by summary.

Okay, I must go and meet a colleague for lunch. She’s going through the same process I am and it will be interesting to talk with her.

6. So maybe the last piece of advice: Keep friendships going, keep your life going – you can’t be a hermit and be happy. Make time for friends and family. :-)


8 thoughts on “Historical Dissertations and a Little Advice for My Friends

  1. Pingback: Teaching and Writing and Researching, Oh My… | A Daily Journal of my Comp/Rhet Dissertation

  2. I wrote a book on German foreign policy and went chronologically until about 1985, but then had themes – the EU, German unification, Germany and war – that each covered 1985 to 2003 (when the book was published). From what you write, I think going by decade makes sense. When I read books I find that to be easier to follow, sometimes it gets confusing when themes are used and the history seems to jump around. But you’ll know best – which ever seems more natural.

    I also would think of it as a break down into easy to write papers. 10 thirty page papers seems easier than one 300 page book! As I would write later chapters I needed to go back and change earlier ones… The key is to write. The biggest lesson for me too was to be willing to trash something I worked hard on if it didn’t really work for the project or my advisor thought it unnecessary.

    I’m actually starting a research project that is like a dissertation. I’ve been floundering around for almost three years trying to get traction for it and finally I think I have a ‘center’ I can build it around. It. But I’m at a place where I don’t have anyone to turn things into or need it for a degree so self-motivation is my challenge!

  3. Thank you so much! Hey – you should post some of your thoughts on your blog or email me if you want feedback. I know I am nowhere near your level of scholarship, but I’d love to be able to give you feedback. I could even serve as someone to whom you could be “accountable” if you needed…I am curious to know your topic.

  4. Thanks – at this level we’re equals on scholarship, just trying to do the work and learn! I’ll take you up on that offer – thanks! My topic is the “Idea of Europe.” I want to look at the EU not just as an institution but as an idea that emerged from the failures of nationalism and power politics that led to two European World Wars. I want to explore how that idea is shaping an institution that may be well adapted to how politics needs in an era of globalization. I want to connect this with the current information revolution (social media, blogs, etc.) and what we can learn as we deal with very real problems. As far as I’m concerned we’re equals on scholarship – so if we can help each other, that’s great!

  5. Not to confuse matters, but is there a way to tackle the topic both chronologically and thematically? Logically, the historical progression would provide structure, but I would think patterns and themes would also emerge. My dissertation was a case study, so it was very different, but I remember that magical moment when I was reading through my data and the themes just seemed to pop off the page.

    • Absolutely. I have a feeling that that is what is going to happen. It seems easier for the moment, (for my initial chapter outline) to keep it chronological, but even in my tentative chapter titles I see themes emerging. Thanks Susan!

      Sent from my iPad

  6. Pingback: Wading through the Paperwork | A Daily Journal of my Comp/Rhet Dissertation

  7. Pingback: Seven Steps To Avoid Craziness While Writing a Dissertation | A Daily Journal of my Comp/Rhet Dissertation

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