On Rereading One’s Dissertation

One of my colleagues recently told me to stop thinking of my dissertation as a dissertation and start thinking of it as a manuscript. So I’ve attempted to do that by actually rereading the darned thing while thinking of it as a manuscript rather than a dissertation. Keep in mind that I haven’t actually taken it out of its little drawer since late October when I sent it in to be bound. Rereading went something like this:

Ooh, look at the title page. How nice!

I made a table of contents? Really? I have no recollection of doing that.

DOOM! There’s a conspicuous typo on page 19!

Reading…reading…reading…hey, this is really interesting! I didn’t know I knew about these things!

Clearly the two hours I spent dividing up the monochapter that became chapters one and two was *not* time successfully spent.

I recently discovered that Isaac La Peyrere was a Huguenot. Yet I write that he spent his final days in a monastery. Is there a problem here? What did I miss?

Ooh, Chapter Three is full of dirty fornicators! Excellent!

Chapter Four definitely needs to go on a diet. Yet trimmed up it could be interesting. (Note: I did in fact just trim it up and send it off to an essay competition. We’ll see.)

The fifth chapter is ostensibly about household violence and “unchristianlike usage.” It also touches on slaves beating masters, Bacon’s Rebellion, and the “just war” doctrine that allowed the enslavement of non-Christians.

Chapter Five thus needs to be, clearly, three chapters.

But I don’t have enough *research* to actually fill out three chapters with good, original, informative arguments! (insert whine here)

Then do more research, historianess!

I can’t believe this. On page 236 I actually wrote the sentence, “Slaves had a tougher row to hoe.” Was I trying to be punny?

And after that, Chapter Six drifts back into Chapter Four. Ergh. I think I was repeating myself…

I have a conclusion! Really, I do! I have no recollection of writing it, but there you have it.

I used to be terrified of my dissertation. Now I’m terrified of my manuscript!


10 thoughts on “

  1. This was a fascinating read and something I’ll keep in mind for the day I hopefully get to your stage of enlightenment and have a dissertation of my own to read through. So, on the whole, writing your diss, being a prof trying to publish your diss: which is the tougher row to hoe?

  2. I am now thankfully closer to the end, than the beginning of the ‘book of the dissertation’ project. I did not truly begin to make progress on revision until my ‘dang what an awesome point, this rocks’ moments finally began to be exceeded by thoughts along the lines of ‘this is a stupid piece of rubbish, how did this ever get passed?’ In other words, at some point we need to fall out of lust with our own scholarship, and give it some tough love.Cheers,Mike Davidson

  3. My advisor gave me this advice from day 1. He told me to always think of it as a manuscript. Gettting it published got me a FT/TT job. It took me about 2.5 yrs to gut my diss. and re-write it and then get it published, but it was well worth it! I cringe every time I look at mine.

  4. I agree with dr m – or, rather my advisor said the same thing. The diss is only a first draft of a manuscript. I had my dissertation published asap after finishing, and am thankful for that. Otherwise, I might have spent another 6 years deciding it was no good! Let me know if you need advice on getting it out into the publishing world 😉 oh, by the way, you don’t know me, but I just stumbled upon your blog. I’m also a historian.

  5. My still makes me cringe, and it has been published for three years. Like other people have said, my advisor (and, in fact, most of the professors in my programs) always insisted that the dissertation be written like a book since that was what it should ideally become and since we would be writing books for the rest of our career, anyway. To teach us to write something other than a book was a diservice. The sooner you get it to a publisher the better. Good luck, and enjoy the process, too!

  6. This is a timely post for me. I recently reread portions of mine after being solicited by a publisher. Well, that opportunity fell through, but it taught me some valuable lessons about the “state of my dissertation.” Like you, Historianess, I’ll be rewriting mine over the next year or two. Good luck! – TL

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