Presentation on theme: "Warwick History Dissertation. Questions 1. Do you need to use ‘primary sources’ and ‘archives’ in writing a dissertation? 2. What do these two terms mean?"— Presentation transcript:
Questions 1. Do you need to use ‘primary sources’ and ‘archives’ in writing a dissertation? 2. What do these two terms mean? 3. How do you find this material? 4. How do you make effective use of this material in completing a dissertation?
Q1: Do you need to use primary sources and archives? No, but …
There may be dissertation topics in which such sources are not relevant Attaching your dissertation to Historiography Addressing theoretical questions Addressing the historiography of an aspect of your Advanced Option or Special Subject
But even in these instances: A dissertation attached to Historiography is very likely to use the original writings of the historian(s): a ‘primary’ source in this context A deeply theoretical question is likely to use address the writing of theorists: a ‘primary’ source in this context. It may also find some of its best evidence in writing/sources from the time. An analysis of historiography in your Advanced Option or Special Subject is likely to involve analysis of historians’ use of primary sources and perhaps your own in order to comment on this
Any decision to avoid primary material should consider: Am I missing an opportunity to impress in terms of initiative and originality and in demonstrating a broader range of analytical skills? Might it be easier to make an original contribution to the field by focusing on an issue in detail (and analysing material from the time) than by commentating only on what has been written by historians already?
Q2: What do we mean by ‘primary sources’ and ‘archives’?
‘Primary Sources’ Produced at the time (though if for instance the subject is representations of the First World War, this could include sources produced in 1914-18, but also since that time, right up to the present day) Many of these sources will be written (both published and unpublished) But also includes visual and oral material, and material culture Use of the material may involve retrieval from libraries, newspapers and books (including published collections of primary sources), and may increasingly involve use of electronically accessible collections
When is a source primary; when is it secondary? You are expected to divide these up in your bibliography Sometimes eg in study of recent history it may be very difficult to distinguish between the two A source may be of value as a voice from the time, but also as a source that commentates on the events of the time. If you are interested in representations a source from this year could be best placed in the ‘primary’ section. Don’t fret about this. Use your common sense
‘Archives’ A particular type of primary source A deposited collection of material relating to a particular individual or organisation (accessible in person or sometimes electronically) The majority of dissertations do not involve use of archives Whether you use will depend on your subject and the availability of material Use can be impressive if done properly, but also challenging and time-consuming Don’t worry if your research does not involve use of archival material
Q3: How do you find this material? Module handbooks Narrowing down your topic Library catalogues Footnotes of articles/books Talking to your supervisor Contacting other experts Sharing ideas/finds with other students on your module
The Warwick Library Learn to use and navigate via website Encore and Classic Catalogue Don’t hesitate to order material from ‘store’ Special collections eg 4 th Floor official publications, statistics, law reports Guide to use /access to other libraries Assistance from subject librarian Lynn Wright Document supply service
Warwick library electronic ‘databases’ Browse under History, but could be useful material under other subject headings Includes large collections of digitised and searchable primary printed material (eg EEBO; ECCO; House of Commons Parliamentary Papers; newspaper collections) Collections of archived primary material (eg Great War Archive; India Raj and Empire) Key reference sources (eg Dictionary of National Biography) Bibliographies (eg Bibliography of British and Irish History)
Searching for archival material Attractions of material close to hand: Modern Records Centre; BP archive; local records offices (Warwick; Coventry); archives close to home for access during Christmas and Easter vacations MRC video on using archive; possibility of arranging meetings with archivists for guidance Locating archival material via electronic catalogues and searching to determine value of visit. Good starting point: MRC ‘External Links’ tab
Examples of electronic catalogues Access to Archives (A2A) project This project aims to create a virtual national archives catalogue. The historical records to be covered by A2A are of national, regional and local importance and date from periods between the twelfth and twentieth centuries. Access to Archives (A2A) project National Register of Archives Searchable information about sources for British history held throughout the UK and overseas National Register of Archives Archives Hub Descriptions of major collections within many UK higher education. Archives Hub National Archives Catalogue The National Archives is the repository of the national archives for England, Wales and the United Kingdom. Its online catalogue contains over 9,000,000 entries to the archives of central government, courts of law and other national bodies. National Archives Catalogue
Accessing outside archives and libraries Study catalogues if available so you know what you may be interested in looking at Contact archive/library to explain your interests and to discuss access Archivists often experts in knowing what material will help you Arrange visit Ask your supervisor for a letter if needed to support access
Q4: How do you make effective use of this material? Demonstration that analysis of this material can help to answer your question and/or reveal the potential to rethink existing approaches and interpretations This may involve detailed analysis of a very small body of particularly relevant material (the value of the case study or several case studies). This will also provide the opportunity to demonstrate skills in close analysis and referencing Or it may involve analysis of a larger body of material eg via a range of quantitative techniques Merely providing a few examples plucked from a mass of material to illustrate a line of argument that does not depend upon this material is less impressive Equally, throwing a mass of original material at your reader without being able to demonstrate its implications in relation to existing historiography can lead to work that is more descriptive than analytical
And the practical side: Importance of taking notes / making copies (value of digital camera) Importance of noting archival references: a reader must be able to locate the document/book via your reference Knowing what you are looking for in order to focus your effort and save time Planning ahead and not leaving things to the last minute
Concluding tips Think about sources in combination with narrowing down your subject. This will be an ongoing and evolving process. Combine thinking about historical debates with thinking about how you can use materials to provide a new angle on or test an aspect of these debates Aim to use some material intensively to show ability to prove (or attempt to prove) your argument, rather than just illustrate it, via original historical research