On Dissertations

I just typed “Why do we write dissertations” into Google and the first result was for a website that offers to write it for you for $12 a page. Having just sent a solid 60 or 70 pages off to my committee, I’m wondering if I should have been auctioning them on eBay instead.

Seriously, though, it’s worth asking what function the traditional dissertation serves anymore, particularly since its logical terminus is as a scholarly book in an increasingly challenged academic publishing landscape. The topic is on my mind because I am getting close to finishing my own dissertation, I hope, and because I recently received word of a lecture Sidonie Smith will be giving at Stanford on the subject.

My graduate program involved three years of coursework. Everything since then has been dissertation-land, a lonely place where I’ve spent a further three years working on my own little corner of the digital humanities domain. At the end I’ll have a couple of hundred pages of research and a pretty good knowledge base about contemporary literary reception and a handful of contemporary writers. And, in fact, I do plan to turn this project into a book–but I’m expecting it to be a very different book from the author-chapter model that I’ve been working on so far.