The Thesis: Texts and Machines

Erik Borg, S. Boyd-Davis

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationSAGE Handbook of Digital Dissertations and Theses
EditorsRichard Andrews, Erik Borg, Stephen Boyd Davis, Myrrh Domingo, Jude England
Place of PublicationLos Angeles, California
PublisherSAGE Publications
ISBN (Print)9780857027399, ebook 9781446265581
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2012

Bibliographical note

Author's note: This paper investigates the development of the doctoral dissertation or thesis from its earliest form to the modern research-based thesis, which originated in the Humboldtian research university. It proposes that the thesis was shaped by the tools of the time of its development, in particular the typewriter, as a document dominated by the written word. It goes on to consider how the thesis might be reshaped by more recent digital technologies, including audio, visual and time-based technologies (such as video). It suggests that there is considerable strength remaining in written technologies and proposes a heuristic to evaluate the possible contribution of the new technologies to the dissemination of research.

This paper is based on a historical analysis and a carefully developed argument for the text-based thesis. The historical analysis surveys the history of one of the oldest qualification and suggests how it has evolved as technology afforded new possibilities for research dissemination. It then argues that texts have unique strengths for evidence, argumentation, and access that have not been obviated by more recent technologies.

The paper takes an unusual tool-based approach to understanding the development of the doctoral thesis. This approach is grounded in studies of communication systems, but it has not been applied to academic texts. It then moves on to investigate and evaluate the impact of new technologies on the thesis, which is central to the modern academy.

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