The History dissertation – OurWarwick

The History dissertation

United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (the)
Kiera Evans | Postgraduate History (Modern) Contact Kiera

At the start of third year, I could feel the dissertation looming over me.

The choice of topics I could focus on felt almost endless – I’d enjoyed aspects of all the modules I’d studied – and I was at a bit of a loss with where to even start to narrow it down.

But it was fine – by the end of term, I had a topic in a time period that I was happy with and an enthusiastic supervisor who made the seemingly huge workload ahead feel achievable. As the year’s gone on, I’ve surprised myself and gone from doing the dissertation because I had to, to genuinely really enjoying it.

I thought I’d share a few things I’ve learned about doing the dissertation up to this point with you to demystify it a bit.

It gets very niche, very quickly

When I heard previous students’ dissertation titles, I wondered how they’d possibly written 9000 words on such an unusual topic. But it turns out that it’s actually very easy for the dissertation to become incredibly niche.

The topic I started with was ‘science in Franco’s Spain’. I thought I’d probably be looking at how a few different sciences were used to push Franco’s political aims during his dictatorship. By the end of Term 1, I’d changed my focus to academics who were fleeing from Spain during the Spanish Civil War and in the early years of Franco’s regime, guided by the primary sources I’d looked at in the archive. It’s not quite what I originally had in mind, but it’s really interesting and I’m very happy with it as a topic.

Doing it bit by bit over time is key

The dissertation is a very different kind of essay to the usual assignments. I usually spread the work for my assignments over 7-10 days, and I know people who can do them in a couple of days. But that process didn’t seem like it would fit for my dissertation. Maybe it’s because my research is so heavily reliant on primary sources, or because it’s so many more words than I’m used to writing. Either way, it was clear from the start that I would work best by spreading the work out over a long period of time.

I went to the archive to look at my primary sources a couple of times in November, and then did secondary reading based on what I’d found this term. After speaking with my supervisor, I realised that there were a couple of themes in the primary sources that I hadn’t taken notes on, so I’ve been back to the archive to fill those gaps this term. I’m now pretty much ready to plan it, and I’ll write it over the Easter break.

I know working gradually isn’t for everyone, but it’s definitely helping me to keep stress levels under control and keep up with all the other reading and assignments I have to do during term.

Go with it

As I’ve already said, although the overall subject area of my dissertation has been the same since the start, the focus has changed a lot as I’ve done more research. It’s strange to think that it’s changed so much from what I originally planned, but I think I’ll have a much better and more interesting dissertation because of it.

I actually can’t think of anyone who hasn’t changed some aspect of their dissertation. Whether it’s the location, type of primary sources being used, or the time period, everyone’s dissertations are moulding to the new things that we’re learning as we go along. It’s something that I haven’t experienced with the usual essays that I do, and I think it’s the part of the dissertation that I’m enjoying the most.

United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (the)
Kiera Evans | Postgraduate History (Modern) Contact Kiera

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