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Module Contents page

Dissertation Tutorials: You will have tutorials beginning in January, for full time students, or June, for part time students. Tutorials will continue throughout the summer.


Module Code: HOPP 5014

Module Credits: 60 credits

Module Tutors: All tutors work on this module and supervise dissertations

Meetings: Tutorials by arrangement

Assignment due date: 1 September

Follow this link Dissertation Contents to get started on the module.

Back to the MA: Photographic History Main Page


This module is intended to fulfill the requirements of a Masters and consists of a substantial piece of independent scholarship of 15,000-20,000 words based on primary source material. To progress to the Dissertation Module, students must have passed Research Methods module and will normally have passed all other modules in the MA. Research should be at the appropriate critical and reflective standard for MA work. You will be supervised in a series of tutorials and will conduct the bulk of your research and writing independently.

There are many things to take into consideration for an MA thesis, but the main one is to remain focused and keep your research question small, and your research on primary materials relevant to that small question.
Actually, Archive Fever comes on at night, long after the archive has shut for the day. Typically, the fever - more accurately, the precursor fever, the feverlet- starts in the early hours of the morning, in the bed of a cheap hotel, where the historian cannot get to sleep. You cannot get to sleep because you lie so narrowly, in an attempt to avoid contact with anything that isn't sheilded by sheets and pillowcase. The first sign, then, is an excessive attention to the bed, an irresistible anxiety about the hundreds who have slept here before you, leaving their dust and debris in the fibers of the blankets, greasing the surface of the heavy slippery coverlet. The dust of others, and of other times, fills the room, settles on the carpet, marks out the sticky passage from bed to bathroom. This symptom -worrying about the bed- is a screen anxiety. What keeps you awake, the sizing and starch in the thin sheets dissolving as you turn again and again within their confines, is actually the archive, and the myriads of its dead, who all day long have pressed their concerns upon you. You think: these people have left me the lot: each washboard and doormat purchased; saucepans, soup tureens, mirrors, newspapers, ounces of cinnamon, and dozens of lemons; each ha'penny handed to a poor child, the minute agreement concerning how long a servant must work to get to keep the greatcoat you provide him with at the hiring; clothes pegs, fat hog meat, the exact expenditure on spirits in a year; the price of papering a room, as you turn, in the spring of 1802, from tenant farmer with limewashed walls into gentleman with gentleman's residence. Everything. Not a purchase made, not a thing acquired that is not noted and recorded. You think: I could get to hate these people; and, I can never do these people justice; and, finally: I shall never get it done. For the fever usually comes on at the end of the penultimate day in the record office. Either you must leave after tomorrow (train timetables, journeys planned) or the archive is about to shut for the weekend. And it's expensive being in the archive, as your credit card clocks up the price of the room, the restaurant meals. Leaving is the only way to stop spending. Your anxiety is that you will not finish, that there will be something left unread, unnoted, untranscribed. You are not anxious about the Great Unfinished, knowledge of which is the very condition of your being there in the the first place, and of the grubby trade you set out in, years ago. You know perfectly well that despite the infinite heaps of things they recorded, the notes and traces that these people left behind, it is in fact, practically nothing at all. There is the great, brown, slow-moving strandless river of Everything, and then there is its tiny flotsam that has ended up in the record office you are working in. Carolyn Steedman, 'Something She Called a Fever: Michelet, Derrida, and Dust', in American Historical Review v.106, n.4, October 2001, pp.1164-1165.
Don't let yourself get bogged down, and don't worry that you are not going to look at and write about EVERYthing in one small MA dissertation. It is a problem we all encounter and your tutor will help you to focus your questions and research to fit them into the time allowed you to write. Most important is that you enjoy the process and feel satisfied with the end result.

Learning Outcomes

Upon successful completion of this module, you will be able to:

  • Identify, evaluate and communicate the history and context of a body of primary sources in photography
  • Demonstrate a critical awareness of the dialogues surrounding this and similar primary source material
  • Demonstrate the ability to bring personal creativity and clarity to the outlining of a research question
  • Work independently in a research context

Back to the MA: Photographic History Main Page