Category Archives: Honours Thesis

All posts regarding work related to my undergraduate honours thesis.

Learning To Share Your Work

One of the most irritating things in the life of a student, at least to my mind, is not knowing what to do with your work once it is complete. After spending an entire semester, or in the case of a thesis an entire year working on a major paper, it often will just sit there taking up space on your computer. I find it so frustrating because I don’t want to get rid of it, because as a historian I have a weird need to have a small archive of my work, but at the same time I don’t want it to just sit there.

The solution that I have found thanks to the advice of professors and fellow students is sharing your work by publishing it online. In order to do so there are many options out there. One of my favourites to date has been putting my work on academia.edu. However, as I have learned this year through the process of finishing my thesis there are other options out there as well. For instance simply publishing in a private blog such as this one.

While it does not seem at first that this will accomplish much at all, it is a great networking opportunity also. By blogging about it and then perhaps Tweeting a link to your work with appropriate hashtags, academics of similar interest will be able to find your work. Helping others find your work allows your work to spread and be read by more individuals who can give you feedback on your work. This feedback will lead to more successful writing in your academic future. As an example I will publish my work on this blog to demonstrate how easy it is.

Deciding on how to publish my thesis was a difficult task. Luckily I had the help of of my supervisor for suggestions. I could think of only one way of publishing, put up a PDF of the file on a publishing website such as academia.edu. However, he was able to suggest to me some alternative forms that could prove useful as they could be a more accessible read to some. Seeing as my entire thesis is about accessibility and the written word, I thought this was a great idea.

So to begin I will publish a PDF file of my thesis right here (Thesis FINAL Copy) followed by a full copy in Notational Velocity.  Notational Velocity will allow the work to look like a virtual book with chapters stacked on top of one another rather than the endless virtual scroll of a PDF file.

To do this download notational velocity (http://brettterpstra.com/projects/nvalt/). Then, download the attached zip folder (hollis-thesis)and unzip it. In Notational Velocity, go to Preferences -> Notes and select that folder under ‘read notes from folder’. Then, under preferences -> notes -> storage, select under ’store and read notes on disk as ‘plain text files’. My thesis will now become available. In the search bar, try ‘accessibility’ and see all the bits and pieces come together! An original, non-linear reading experience that breaks the tyranny of the infinite scroll shall appear.

Finally, I will also publish a copy using a program called Twine.The amazing thing about Twine is that it allows the reader to see a work from a more external perspective. Twine does this by allowing you to make a game puzzle using themes from your work. So for my puzzle I will attempt to bring the reader through the experiences of a disabled academic. This will make it so the reader can have a greater understanding of the struggles that were brought up in my thesis and therefore have a greater appreciation for the paper while reading it.

The Twine version is a little more complicated to make obviously so that will be published soon in my next blog. For now, enjoy the PDF and Notational Velocity versions…

Letting Your Research Guide You

When starting out on a research paper, or in my case a thesis, one always has a plan of attack already in mind. For example, in an earlier blog entry, “White Board of Ideas”, I introduced the topic of my thesis to be studying the evolution of digitization through six different technologies. These technologies were: the incunabula, telegraph, the telephone, radio, television, and the internet. After a short while of researching though I came to the conclusion that this would simply be too large of a task to undertake for an honours thesis that I only have one year to write. Instead, I decided to focus my efforts to what interested me most in my research. This is how I ended up comparing the evolution of digitization of the incunabula (early book) to the development of the ebook.

My research did not stop guiding me at that point. Once I began, I discovered that it was important to follow some tangents that needed clearing up. For instance, when I began discussing my experience with ebooks, I fell upon the topic of taking physically printed books off the shelf and making them into a PDF format that I can read on my computer. While this idea was the original inspiration for my thesis as a whole, it led me to write about another necessary step in the evolution of digitization, copying.

This sudden realization opened up a number of other tangents. Most importantly, the study of copying in general and how that process became digitized through a number of paradigm shifts in its evolution through history. While pursuing this tangent of research I discovered some amazing stories, my favourite of which was about a Jesuit named Father Busa who was born in Italy in 1913. While doing his doctorate in philosophy he went about creating the first digitized index of the work of Thomas Aquinas.

In order to do so he estimated that he would need around thirteen million punch cards to do so. Because of this Busa knew that some kind of machine was necessary so he teamed up with IBM to complete such a daunting task. It was a very interesting story that I discovered thanks to letting my research guide my work.

The point that I am trying to make is that at this level of academics it is not good to approach a work with a very narrow mindset from the beginning straight to the end. Do not be afraid of looking further into stories that you discover along the way that seem interesting. Never would I have discovered that the development of the ebook and the incunabula were so complex had I not been open to new ideas. I have been amazed at how my writing has improved since I have taken on this mindset.

Learning To Write Music

As I get deeper into crunch time of my mind has had difficulties with remembering to write simple, and to the point arguments. What I have been defaulting to is worrying about the length of it, which leads to a lot of big useless unsupported arguments and statements. Or in other words as Dr Graham calls it a lot of “Hand Waving”. These types of mistakes are what I like to think of as rookie mistakes that I like to avoid after first or second year but when you are under a bit of stress these things happen.

What I need to remember to do is write my arguments in a rhythmic way, similar to a musical composition. This should not obviously be taken in a literal sense. What is meant by this is that I need to remember what the underlying theme of my paper is. The strongest articles or papers do not only continually make more and more arguments to prove a desired point that are not related to one another. Instead, what they always do is revert back to their underlying themes to prove how a certain argument relates to the point that the author is trying to achieve. Dr Graham pointed out to me, is similar to how musical compositions are written, with each verse relating itself back to the chorus.

Therefore, I have to ask myself what are the underlying themes that I am hoping to portray in my thesis? The first and foremost one that comes to mind is why I had a desire to write this thesis in the first place. The main purpose I had in mind when I began this project was to discuss the evolution of the book (mainly its physicality) into a technology that is more and more accessible to all.

This then leads into my secondary theme of how I have struggled with technology throughout my life as a disabled individual, and more specifically a disabled student. This has led me to become entangled with the things around me that help me in my everyday life to become more independent. A number of examples can be made to argue this point, for example every day I depend on my wheelchair to get anywhere. I also depend on my Bluetooth to help me interact with people over the telephone.

When it comes to my working on my passion passion of becoming a historian though, I am even more dependent on technology to scan my books so that I can read them on my computer. What I need to remember to do is always remember these things and keep relating my other arguments back to these underlying themes. If I stick to this strategy I should be good to go.

Stay tuned for more of my adventures writing my history thesis…

Time For the Hard Work

We are now entering January 2015 and it is time that my thesis outlines and proposals start to come together and look like a real thesis. After a month off for the holiday where I was unable to get much work done due to sickness it is a bit intimidating to get back into the swing of things. But after a meeting today with my thesis supervisor Dr Graham, I have a more clear plan set out on how to get myself back into the swing of things.

The biggest problem for me when I approach this thesis is that I cannot help but see from a beginning to end viewpoint. What I mean by this is that I automatically assume that I am needing to write the whole thing from beginning to end and make it a seamless read. What Dr Graham helpfully pointed out to me though is that since it is such a large piece of writing, that it is better that I chip away at it in different sections now and worry about making them connect later.

As logical as this sounds of course it is a difficult idea to get around for me as I have always written my papers from beginning to end and edited the flow of the reading while I write. While this may work for papers that are about fifteen to twenty pages at most, it gets very confusing to try to do so with something that is closer to the forty page range.

Such a strategy though, I believe at least, will be very helpful in getting back into the mindset that allows a university student such as myself to be successful. My reasoning behind this theory is that there is nothing that will improve your ability to write better than doing exactly that, writing.

Therefore, my plan at the moment is not to look at the entire project from top to bottom when I am writing and make it all connect there and then, as Dr Graham mentioned we can worry about that later during the editing process. Instead, I am going to break down the writing into smaller portions and simply worry about if they make sense on their own, and then connect them later on to the other sections of writing.

So I have begun this style of writing by beginning with the prologue of my paper. In the prologue I discuss my interactions with digital media at the university level of education, for example the difficulty I had at first when trying to get course materials such as textbooks into a format that worked for me to read. In addition I discuss how it has been through this thesis writing process that I have discovered a new program (Notational Velocity) that allows me to take notes in a much more organized manner.

Next up I will be writing about the history of the incunabula and its evolution into the book we know today. This section will be interesting as I will pull together sources from different books and academic journals to learn more about its social, cultural and physical characteristics and how they came to be.

Stay tuned…