A history dissertation is a long, original, investigation-based document composed by a doctoral student in the final phase of his or her studies. History dissertations are written after a student has completed the requisite history coursework and passed a series of intense history exams; the thesis is intended to build on the information learned in the course of these pursuits and demonstrate the student's ability to think critically, research thoroughly, and provide new insight in his or her field.
Many history students in the report phase of their studies are already advanced scholars in their fields and have published or presented research texts in the past. However, history dissertations will be different from these works of scholarship in that they will be expected to be much longer. History dissertations are often the foundations for books; therefore, they must cover a larger amount of material and present that material in the specific way required by their universities.
History dissertations are based in research. Often, this research is centered on primary sources. A primary source is an original text. Often, primary sources are housed in the special collections divisions of libraries. Therefore, the type of research necessary for a history dissertation can require the student to travel to many different libraries in many different locations, as primary source texts are almost never texts that can be borrowed, but texts that must be viewed only in the special collections reading rooms of libraries. Students should always be sure to take copious notes when viewing such texts so that they have a plentiful information reserve to draw from later.
The way in which the student structures his or her history dissertation will depend on the type of history dissertation being written. However, all history dissertations will include several sections, including: (1) pages of front matter, including a title page, copyright page, approval page, abstract, table of contents, list of tables, and list of figures; (2) the main body of the document; (3) a comprehensive list of the references used in the report; (4) an appendix; and (5) the writer's curriculum vitae. The structure of the main body of the document will depend on the nature of the study being done.
All universities issue very specific guidelines for dissertations, and these guidelines must be followed exactly. Among other things, these guidelines will make note of the required writing and citations style the student must use; however, unless otherwise indicated, a student can assume that he or she is to write the report using Chicago Style.
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