MEMS 491

Astrolabe, British Museum, Sloane 54

MEMS 491:
Research and Thesis Writing
Fall 2004 and Winter 2005

Karla Taylor
3220 Angell Hall
e-mail: kttaylor
telephone: 764-6363
hours: Fall MW 1-2 and by appointment
Winter M 11-12, W 9-10 and by appointment

The centerpiece of the MEMS concentration is the senior honors thesis, which is meant to be the single most meaningful piece of work you will do as an undergraduate at Michigan. This course is intended to guide you in this difficult and rewarding process. It is designed to help you conceive, do research for, and write your honors thesis. We will spend some time each week working together on learning techniques and methods generally applicable to academic research in the humanities. We will also discuss what makes an honors thesis different from a long end-of-term paper.

You will spend time presenting your own work-in-progress to the class as well as reading and critiquing classmates’ drafts. Due dates throughout the term will help you to conceive of this large project as a tightly interrelated series of smaller projects—notes, outlines, research proposals with annotated bibliographies, topic proposals, drafts of sections. By the end of the fall term, you will have a 30-page polished draft of your thesis, and a very strong sense of exactly what changes and additions you need to make to that draft before you turn in the final version on 1 April of the following term. We will continue to meet throughout the winter term.

In the course of researching and writing your thesis, you will develop a sense of mastering a topic in great depth. This will stand you in good stead, whatever your career goals might be. You will become the expert within the domain of your project. You will also develop a sense of intellectual community with other MEMS concentrators. This will include attending MEMS-sponsored events around campus, and taking advantage of the special intellectual opportunities offered to MEMS concentrators.

The Honors Thesis is a major essay, usually between 40 and 50 pages long, composed over the course of at least two semesters. The thesis should not be merely an extended survey of the relevant critical or scholarly literature; nor should it be a record of your private musings on a given topic. The thesis should display extended evidence of the author’s searching, creative, well-articulated thoughts about his/her subject. It should also be built on a substantial amount of original research, and display a strong conceptual grasp of the issues it raises.

Early in your senior year, you will choose a faculty adviser, the professor who will help you frame your research, and who will assist you in drafting your thesis. The director of MEMS will make every effort to help you find and work with an adviser. There is an incredible richness in the faculty in medieval and early modern studies at the University of Michigan, and the director can help you think through various options. Ideally, the adviser will be someone with whom you have already worked, but this is not necessary. Because you will be taking MEMS 491, her/his primary responsibility is to help you work through the conceptual problems that accompany all ambitious work. The director will also point you to other faculty whose expertise could enhance your thesis.

MEMS has a small bursary which you can use to do research you could not otherwise afford to do. MEMS is also a member of the Newberry Renaissance Consortium, and so can sponsor research trips to the Newberry Library in Chicago and the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C.

Course Requirements

1. Completion of a thesis draft—aproximately 30 pages in length—by 14 December. A prior draft is due on 22 November.
2. Completion of the numerous assignments preparing for, clarifying, and developing your work on your thesis.
3. Class attendance and participation. These always matter, but they are particularly important in a class like this, where the students’ work is at the center of the course. Your grade in this course will be significantly harmed by poor attendance.
a. A corollary: you must complete the assignments on time and bring them to class, since, as will be clear from the syllabus, the schedule is tight and the focus of a given period will often be your own work.
b. Another corollary: the success of much of this class depends too on the energy and commitment with which you engage with your peers’ work, in discussions and in writing. You hope for rigorous and sensitive scrutiny of your work; provide the same for your colleagues.
4. Evidence of sustained, extensive work on your own project throughout the term.
5. Although you will not be evaluated on this aspect of the course, it is crucial that you find, with my help if you need it, a faculty adviser for your project as early in the term as possible. Please consult with me before you go searching for advisers.
6. You will be expected to meet, for approximately one hour a week, during the winter term of this year. These meetings are designed solely to help you in your continuing work on your theses; your own concerns about the revision process will largely shape the meetings.

Some definitions:

Statement of Interest (250-300 words; due Week 1 and 5).
This is a topic statement. A topic proposes a connection of elements—say “Medieval Popes and Images of Jews.” It’s likely that your topic is rather undeveloped at this point—maybe you know a general subject area, or a specific text or two, that you find compelling, and are searching for an issue, an angle. Just strive, for this first assignment, to create a vivid, accurate statement of what’s on your mind. Don’t worry that it’s not fully formed or specified yet. After we discuss these statements, you will have a chance to polish, specify, and expand your topic statement, to be turned in in Week 5. For help in topic development, look at Chapter 3 in Booth, The Craft of Research

Annotated Bibliography (2 + pages; due Week 4)
This assignment involves library work and critical commentary. Your job is to find, read, and then compile a list of books and articles that might help you develop your thesis. Each entry in the bibliography should list your source in a properly formatted bibliographic style appropriate to your discipline (consult the MLA Handbook), followed by a few sentences summarizing the important features of the source. Use this assignment to begin isolating the key issues in your project. You should use your reading to help you develop a hypothesis about your topic: that is, the question that will guide you through your research. Having a sense of these key issues is vital for your next assignment: the prospectus, which will articulate your hypothesis.

Prospectus (1000 + words; due Week 7)
The prospectus is a document that formally characterizes your thesis as a unified enterprise, a project in the strict sense. Whereas your topic statement simply announced something that one might talk about, your prospectus needs to propose an initial claim with respect to a topic, or, if your claim is as yet uncertain, to make concrete the agenda for the project. (Keep in mind that your claim at this point is provisional and subject to change depending on what your ongoing research turns up.) Typically, a prospectus will follow this format: it identifies a critical or scholarly context, it specifies the problem within that context; and it tenders a claim regarding that problem, or develops a launching point into your argument. The prospectus should make clear what primary and secondary materials are key to your project, and must be accompanied by a structural outline.

Presentation: Peer Review of Work in Progress (5 pages; Weeks 8-13)
During the second half of the term, each of you will deliver one five-page portion of your writing aloud to the class. This process lets us explore the “how” of thesis discussion: introducing questions and evidence, citing critics and scholars, etc. The five pages you choose to share with the class should be as polished in style as possible (not an outline, or freewriting); by this time you will have learned about appropriate styles by examining honors theses from previous years. Bring copies of your pages for all class members.

Section drafts: (10+ pages, Weeks 10 and 13)
Your job is to complete a draft of a minimum of ten pages of your thesis in Week 10, and then a second section of 10+ pages by 22 November (along with the first section). This will be your first partial draft. You may wish to focus on one particular section, or chapter, of your thesis for this assignment. If you wish to include an introductory section as part of your draft, that is fine, but not required: many successful theses are not written by starting at the beginning and proceeding in a straight line to the end.

Thesis draft (approximately 30 pages; due 14 December)
I do not expect you to have a draft of your entire thesis finished by 14 December. I expect that there will still be one or more sections—sections that are still unwritten, perhaps only partly researched—as you turn in your draft at the end of fall term. Your draft should include notes and be accompanied by an abstract and a complete bibliography. I emphasize that what you do turn in of your thesis should be polished, so that my response to your written work is as useful as possible. You should not submit notes or outlines in place of prose: all kinds of conceptual and analytical problems can be avoided at the note or outline stage. And comments or grades on a set of notes would, for that reason, be of very little use to you as you worked on your thesis in the first half of winter term.

Week 1 7-10 September
1. Introduction
Assignments: Write a statement of interest (250-300 words) for next week. Prepare, for next class, to speak very briefly about your project-in-the-making.

Week 2 13-17 September: Libraries; Statements of Interest; computers and research
1. Tour of the Reference Room and related locations at Hatcher Library; some search techniques; beginning to do research: setting up recording mechanisms, note strategies, bookkeeping, outlines; computers and research; advice about choosing faculty advisers.
2. Go over statements in class; finding a topic: points of resistance / questions / confusions; pitfalls and downfalls: what goes wrong with topics, where to be careful. Discussion of topic statements and plans for topic revision.
Assignments: Read Prologue, chs 1-4 in The Craft of Research. Polish your statement for this class. Bring enough copies for everyone.

Week 3 20-24 September: Research tools; Engaging with “secondary materials”; assessing books for usefulness; shortcuts in research and when not to shortcut; annotated bibliographies
1. managing the research: initial orientation to topic; essential reference guides; assessing books for usefulness (reviews; annotated bibliographies; citation indices; reference librarians)
2. managing the research: strategies for gathering information and taking notes

Assignments: Read: Booth, chs. 5-6 in The Craft of Research. Find and take notes on the biographies of your possible author(s) or the general introductions to your topic / important books pertaining to your subject / field. Find reviews of these essential texts (whether you find reviews or not, bring records of your efforts at research to class).

Week 4 27 September – 1 October: Refining / expanding specific interest statements; engaging with “secondary materials,” continued; work with archival materials and bibliographies: assessing critical trends / issues, determining interpretative histories (brief presentations to class of your findings, with examples). Establishing your own critical position.
1. archival materials, primary and secondary materials, bibliographies,
2. critical trends, interpretative histories (presentations). Establishing your own critical position

Assignments: Read chs 7-8 in The Craft of Research. Compile a correctly formatted and punctuated annotated bibliography, at least two pages long, that includes some of the primary and secondary texts you will be using in your project. This annotated bibliography should be getting larger every week from this point in the term until at least Week 12. Bring its latest version to any conference you have with your thesis adviser or with me. Turn in the annotated bibliography for review.

Week 5 4-8 October: Prospectuses; Work with archival materials, continued; in-class reviews of preliminary prospectuses (this class and next)
1. prospectuses
2. archival materials

Assignments: Read chs 9-11 in The Craft of Research. Write an expanded version of your statement of interest (500-750 words)—a preliminary prospectus (to be read in this class, revised and turned in next week)

Week 6 11-15 October: Prospectuses; Bibliographies in progress; Making arguments in theses; Thinking through structures

Prospectuses returned with comments; in-class presentations and discussions of prospectuses and the possible shapes of theses. Developing outlines that work; thinking through structures; in-class discussion and reviews of outlines
1. Prospectuses. Structural strategies
2. outlines. Ordering a skeletal argument

Assignments: Read ch 12 in The Craft of Research. Write a minimum of two provisional, possible outlines; Write expanded annotated bibliographies

Week 7: 20-22 October: Putting it together: prospectuses with outlines; peer reviews of prospectuses and thesis outlines

Assignment: Write prospectus with attached outline (your prospectus should be 1000 words or longer at this stage; we will review your prospectuses in this class);
1. workshop prospectuses

Assignment: Write (and turn in) revised prospectus and outline (the revisions growing out of work done on Tuesday the 15h): the outlines should be getting fairly detailed by this point, and you should be conceptualizing transitions between sections.

Week 8 25-29 Oct: discussion of returned outlines and prospectuses; discussion of prefaces / introductions; discussion of transitions and sustaining an argument brief discussion of acknowledgements
1. intros, transitions and sustaining an argument; workshopping intros
2. workshopping paragraphs (idea: each person should bring in paragraphs reflecting important moves in thesis—e.g., moving from specific to general or vv, shifting from one major aspect to another.)

Assignment: Read chs.13-14 in The Craft of Research. Peer review of prospectuses/outlines

Weeks 9-13: Work on thesis; weekly meetings, assigned presentations (5 pages) and peer review. Proscrastination and perfectionism.
9: 1-5 Nov
10: 8-12 Nov turn in draft section of 10 + pages
11:15-19 Nov
12: 22-24 Nov turn in draft of thesis
13: 29 Nov – 3 Dec
24 November: Draft of Thesis due: this draft will be given back to you, with comments, immediately upon your return from Thanskgiving recess. You will then have until December 14 for editing and for any further revisions that may be required.

Week 14 6-10 December: Drafting of final work; oral presentation of your thesis; abstracts
1. oral presentation of thesis, abstracts
2. oral presentation of thesis

Assignment: Read ch. 16 in The Craft of Research.

Week 15 13-14 December
1. discussion of what to do between now and 15 April; any further presentations of work in progress.

Dec. 14 Final draft of thesis due (with abstract, notes, bibliography)

Winter 2005
Meeting time: Friday 11:00-12:30

Jan 7: Discussion of what to do between now and 15 April; further presentations of work in progress. Meet in MEMS office

weekly meetings in January, February, and March: workshopping thesis segments and revisions.

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