One thing which continues to baffle me slightly is the number of people wanting to read my thesis when I’m done. I’ve subjected a number of those individuals to editing duty under the guise of an early peak at it. But all the same, I worry. Not because I don’t think my work or writing is good–that is another post for another time. I worry because I expect them to, quite frankly, find it dull. I am afraid they have some vision of a manuscript that will be some sort of page turner, filled with fascinating accounts of civil rights on both sides of the Atlantic.
…Yeah… It isn’t like that.
Now granted, I am blessed to have supportive family and friends who may in fact be more interested in my thesis because I am interested in it; rather than some sort of interest of their own. And a few have said they just enjoy learning, especially after leaving college (I have great friends, don’t I? 🙂 ).
Grad school has been more or less an introduction into the strange world of “professional” history. Not that JBU didn’t do an excellent job preparing me in undergrad, but I suppose there is something about the stages of acadamia, and just having to go through each one. Nothing can quite prepare you for that next step, other than just doing it. Anyway, “professional” history has all sorts of rules and traditions that we are suppose to practice and follow. (I blogged some about those sorts of things last fall when I took the historiography class) We build on the writings of prior scholars, critique their analysis, and offer a (hopefully) better one. We cover new ground. We use new sources. And yet, the process of doing that methodically often makes it, frankly, rather dull. A lot of what I read, and probably a lot of what I write, is honestly drudgery to read. The ideas and arguments are interesting, as are the findings, but the reading it takes to get there is dull. And to a large extent, that’s just the way it is.
Now the purpose of the thesis is largely to demonstrate to my examiners that I have, in fact, learned how to do all this. I can work with historical sources in a professional manner, take into account other historians works, and analyse all that material coherently. Our handbook for the thesis lists, among other things, that one of the grading criteria for the thesis is ” awareness of the methodological skills necessary to analyse and interpret an appropriate range of primary source materials”. We are also suppose to use “an appropriate scholarly apparatus of references and bibliography”. Which is just another way of saying to document everything (yay footnotes!). All of this, and other criteria, result in a document that, while perhaps interesting, is hardly destined to become a Barnes and Noble best-seller. I suppose every field is prey to its own bevy of obscure words that no one–outside that field–uses. But to be in that field, you must use those words. Ironic, yes. Such is life.
All the same, I do think historians have an obligation to at least write well. Since we offer little else to the world besides our writing and research, we ought to at least do that well. Yet, surprisingly enough, I have found that many historians don’t write particularly well. Even forgiving the cumbersome language academic history imposes on itself, we still have a lot of historians that use poor sentence construction and wordy language. It might not make it more “interesting” but it at least makes it more readable. And surely that is the point, yes? So I do hope to not only demonstrate my mastery (since it is a Masters degree–ok, sorry, it’s late and that was lame, yes) of history, with an appropriate “scholarly apparatus”, but also a decent command of the English language.
And judging by the rambling of this post, I have my work cut out for me. So, dear thesis readers, don’t say you weren’t warned.