Sunday, April 17, 2011

Approaching the End: Good Proposals

"This proposal looks pretty much finished at first glance. (And congratulations, by the way, on having the first full proposal up for review--not that it's a race, but someone had to be brave and be first.) Your sources are rich and deep, especially for this stage of the game, and your passion for your subject has already produced a lot of evidence of hard thinking. And, as appears clear from your "To" line at the top, you already have your emphasis advisers on board. As far as the basic requirements of Cap One are concerned, you're done except for setting out a proposed timeline to completion of thesis from here, and perhaps also fleshing out your cursory outline. And, as you yourself noted above, it needs a bit of proofreading/copyediting still."

"You're close to a completed proposal now. (I of course speak from having the benefit of also seeing the full draft of your proposal last week, in addition to your latest posts.) Once you've got your second adviser on board, I think it's time to write this up, wrap up Cap One, and move into full gear for completing the thesis itself. This is what we want--someone already fully into the project and running with it, advisers on board, by the end of Cap One. You'll find as you move into the next phase that some of your ideas keep shifting as you get more feedback from your emphasis advisors and find more interesting source material."

Mark wrote these paragraphs as comments on Van's and Misty's latest blog posts. They are the first of many such comments, we hope. Each of you is progressing on your own timetable and in your own manner. What you'll all have in common as the course ends, at least all of you who will pass the course, is an acceptable proposal, one rich with research and informed by what you've thought about that research and well stated with clear indications of what you'll be working on during capstone 2. Additionally, the proposal will have been approved by two emphasis advisors.

I was very pleased this week when Jarry came by to see me. He showed me a thorough proposal complete with a good annotated bibliography, a comprehensive list of the dental terms he's translating into ASL, and a prototype DVD that demonstrates how his visual dictionary will work. Some of the pleasure came because Jarry hadn't been posting on the blog and I was unsure of his progress. He has made great progress.

That is, of course, all we care about. The blog postings have been a means to an end. There are other means to the end of a good proposal. 

Final postings of the final proposal are due on April 25, as stated in the syllabus. Additionally, please bring your signed advisor pages to either of our offices.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Research And Writing Are Hard!

You already know writing a thesis is hard.

This post is meant to demonstrate solidarity with you as move from first ideas to the hard work of working through large amounts of material at the same time you're still looking for just the sources you'll need.

The picture I took this morning is of the floor just to the right of my chair at my desk.

On April 7th, for an international conference being held at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, I'm scheduled to read a paper called "Andre Umstaende: Erection as Self-Assertion in Heinrich von Kleist's 'Marquise von O..."

The paper isn't done yet.

After five full days of reading and writing during spring break, I worked on it all day this Friday, Friday night, all day yesterday, yesterday evening, and will now turn to it today again as soon as I'm done. I've got a great idea (that was the proposal the organizers of the conference accepted) and I've got a couple of dozen pages of notes and even some paragraphs. I've got 12 important articles about the story (see them lying there?), I've got an important book called "Fragments for a History of the Human Body" and theoretical works by Irigaray, Burke, Schopenhauer, and Herder. And most important, I've got the work by Kleist that I'm reading so closely that I've almost worn it out.

Moving from the original good idea to the development of that idea is just plain hard.

I'll let you know how it goes.

Keep letting us know how your projects are going.

We're in this together.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

A Couple of Links for Thinking About Over the Break

Folks, I'm sure that many if not most of you are enjoying a bit of downtime from schoolwork this week. (A few have posted new and intriguing items nonetheless.) Therefore, in place of the usual advice and exhortations, I thought I'd just paste in a couple of links to interesting pieces in the Sunday NYT this week. One is an English teacher's argument for teaching students how to tweet and text elegantly, rather than merely churn out bulky term papers (hmmm, thoughts anyone?). The other is a book review of James Gleick's new tome, The Information, which has an interesting take on the explosion of types of information, including Wikipedia, that you are all now dealing with. Happy Spring everyone, here are the links:

The opinion piece on "Teaching to the Text Message":

The book review on Gleick:

Sunday, March 13, 2011


Our friend (and professor of English at UVU) Jan Wellington spent yesterday evening with us. She's a fine writer (about travel during the French Revolution, for instance) and she's a wonderful maker of jewelry.

She brought several of her recent creations to show us. Each has a name. Each is made of beads Jan has collected. She knows the history of the beads -- which range from Czech glass to German silver to Nevada turquoise.

The necklace on the far right, for instance, is made of Tuareg beads (the Tuareg are nomads of the Sahara and make remarkable jewelry, as well as wearing blue robes).

I thought of the beads and of how Jan collects them and then strings them while reading the blog posts today.

Writing a thesis and making in jewelry have a lot in common, I think.

Before you can make anything, you've got to have materials to make it with. That takes collecting. Several of your blogs show the results of some good collecting. You've found good information to work with.

While you're collecting, you're also thinking about how to make sense of the information you've got. You're working out an argument, a narrative thread, a story to tell.

It's not enough, obviously, to have a pile of beads. It takes a good eye, inspiration, patience, stringing and restringing to make a good necklace or bracelet.

Thus the title of the post: patience. As you continue to work, making some progress each week, enjoy what you're doing, trust yourself, be patient as your move forward.

And if you'd like to see more of Jan's work, here's a link:

Sunday, March 6, 2011


After reviewing the latest posts, I am worried, frankly, about a general lack of urgency. Desultory commentary--on an article read, an opportunity opened, an interesting contact made--at the rate of one post per week will string your thesis project along quite nicely for a few years or more. The assignment given last week was not an ultimatum, nor would simply meeting its requirements be the highest form of progress, but the assignment was given because we are becoming anxious about the months flying by. Put another way, to pass this course requires the completion of a capstone thesis proposal: a full work up of annotated sources sufficient to the completion of the project, a working thesis, an explanation of inspirations, methods and goals, and a step-by-step outline of how and when the capstone will be completed. We are now approaching the midpoint of the term and very near to the end of regular, all-student class meetings, after which you will scatter to complete your proposals while keeping regular contact with us. The object, once again, is a fully functional capstone proposal, not any series of assignments or the minimal update of a weekly post.

Some of you are obviously making great progress. Those of you who are not making great progress (or who are not sure what bee got into my bonnet this morning) should read through ALL of the other posts, taking note of those that most clearly approach the goal of a complete capstone proposal as described above. Read our comments on each post. If you can say to yourself, when viewing even the most far advanced project, "Ha! I have done as much as this and more already," then by all means post all the wonderful stuff you have done. Post as often as you have fresh material to post. Aim to finish the proposal early. Aim to prove my concerns totally unfounded. Put me in my place; show me what wonderful things you have done and are doing.


Sunday, February 27, 2011

All Ears

I just finished my Sunday morning read of your blogs and am both encouraged and discouraged.

Encouraged by the excellent progress some of you have made with practical issues (Kate, congratulations on the internship; Jessica, congratulations on the peace and justice studies funding). Encouraged by the emerging annotated bibliographies in some cases.

Discouraged where there seems to be little progress.

What makes the difference?

I've been reading a 1965 Croatian novel just translated into English. The image on the cover (taken from some odd thoughts of the main character) is of two ears that seem to be listening. Listening for what?

For our purposes, they might stand for the acute attention required as we sift the universe for the information that will make us experts on our subjects. They might stand for curiosity, without which we'll find nothing. They mean, for me, the intense awareness required as I work on my own projects. When I'm all ears, I hear a lot of good stuff.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Annotate, Annotate, Annotate

My Sunday morning review of the class blogs has treated me to many encouraging signs of progress, including some posts of emerging annotated bibliographies. No matter the type of thesis you are pursuing--artsy, money-making, activist, scientific, metaphysical, all the above--it is always a good idea to document and annotate every aspect of the research along the way to the finished project. With that in mind, I encourage those of you who haven't yet posted the beginnings of your annotated bibliographies to let us in on your progress on that front, and I encourage those of you who have given us a glimpse of what and how you're collecting your supporting information to expand and continue the posts.

Here's a couple of excerpts from good ol' Wikipedia's entries on "annotation" and "annotated bibliography" to remind you of what we're talking about here:

"Annotated bibliographies, give descriptions about how each source is useful to an author in constructing a paper or argument. Creating these comments, usually a few sentences long, establishes a summary for and expresses the relevance of each source prior to writing. . . .

The purpose of annotations is to provide the reader with a summary and an evaluation of the source. In order to write a successful annotation, each summary must be concise. An annotation should display the source's central idea(s) and give the reader a general idea of what the source is about."

I would like all of you particularly to consider the potential role of the source (human, text, cybertext, multimedia, whatever) to your finished project, whether as contribution, signpost, or even an instructive dead-end.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Highlights of the Week

Last night I had the pleasure of reading this week's additions to the thesis blogs. I say pleasure because there were many of them that showed good progress. Just a couple of what felt to me like highlights:

Leah reports that she sent off her application to work this summer at a Georgia aquarium that houses whalesharks. Obviously the kind of work that will lead to a good thesis and, in Leah's case, to a potential dilemma: what if she has to decide between two internships? My comment was that her kind of dilemma is a sure sign of progress.

Drew writes that he has an actual event -- for next Halloween -- to plan. That's a remarkable step from vague potential.

Van has moved in the last couple of posts in his thinking about insanity/film/reification to rethink the three sections of his thesis, dropping one for the time being and adding another that came up while talking with a friend. What the posts show is the productive fluidity that comes to a project as we have lots of information, lots of ideas, lots of possibilities and let them work in us, let them ferment, let them find a good form.

And there were quite a few other posts that showed good progress. There were also a couple that felt like posts for the purpose of posting. Make progress, week by week, and you'll have something you can be really proud of.

By the way, there have been quite a few really good comments. Keep helping each other with good questions and suggestions. I like the feel of this.

A final note about the photo. I'm working, with Lyn Bennett, on a book about the construction of meaning of barbed wire. We just heard from the American Quarterly that they need two more months to evaluate the article we submitted about late-nineteenth-century advertising of the new invention (they've had it since August!). In the meantime, however, we're writing about barbed wire in literature. Lyn found, just this week, a couple of very interesting references to barbed wire in Steinbeck's novel Grapes of Wrath. So while we wait, we keep working, keep writing, keep collecting. The photo is from yesterday morning, an attempt to use the snow and the early morning light to highlight what's really a difficult thing to portray. Spenser and others of you who are good photographers could do this better and more easily; but I'm left to try lots of times and hope to get lucky.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Progress, Progress, Progress

I was on a barge on the Danube River just east of Belgrade late one afternoon when a high-school friend of my friend Zarko Radakovic motored up to the barge on his boat and climbed up the ladder to join us. He was a filmmaker, it turned out, and he had just made a film for M. Markovic, Slobodan Milosevic's wife, a film for her political campaign. Progress, Progress, Progress -- I lit up the film with those words, he said. It was a brilliant film.

Today I've been thinking about what, of all possibilities, would be the most important thing to keep in mind as we work on our theses and books.

Progress is what I came up with.

What progress have I made today? What progress this week.

Progress, of course, comes from work. Hard, concentrated work.

Have I worked on the thesis today. This week? Has the work been hard?

If it has, I've made progress.

And if I make progress, I'll have a good thesis or book.

And with luck, I'm not trying, with my progress, to get a nationalist elected to the Serbian parliament.

Sunday, January 30, 2011



Scott Abbott   863-8537
Mark Jeffreys 863-6199

This is the first of a two-course sequence during which IS students write a senior thesis, a research paper or project that draws on tools and knowledge from each of two emphases.
Capstone 1 is designed to facilitate the research and writing of the thesis. As needed, we may address theoretical and practical problems associated with research and writing, including interdisciplinarity, research methodologies, library research, and evaluating scholarly sources.

Grades will be based on the Final Proposal, due April 25th, a Monday.

ATTENTION STUDENTS WITH DISABILITIES: If you have any disability which may impair your ability to successfully complete this course, please contact the Accessibility Services Department.  Academic accommodations are granted for all students who have qualified, documented disabilities. 
ACADEMIC DISHONESTY:  This course upholds the Students Rights and Responsibilities Code, Section VII-D, “ACADEMIC RESPONSIBILITIES.”  You are expected to do your own work on assignments and exams unless they are designed as collaborative efforts.  If you are involved in any form of academic dishonesty you will receive a grade of “zero” for that assignment.  If you are involved in academic dishonesty a second time during the semester, you will receive an “E” as your final grade for the course. If you plagiarize the proposal for the course, you will receive an “E” for the course.

First Class: questions, expectations, fears, examples

Assignment 1 (due 24 January – bring copies for everyone in the class (23))
Most basically, what do you want to write about? What problem would you like to solve? What topic would keep your interest over the course of two semesters? What do you already know the most about? What would you like to become even more expert at? What question or topic will require you to use what you’ve learned in both your emphases? Can you state a first, tentative question you’d like to answer? Think about whether that question, like most first questions, is too broad for a thesis (requiring a book to answer it – and you’re only writing a senior thesis). Can you ask a more focused question? What kinds of resources will you draw on to pursue this topic?
Feel free to structure this in any way that will help you think more clearly about a possible topic. The better you do with this, the better you’ll be able to move to the next assignment.
We’ll each stand before the class and talk about what we’re thinking about and invite questions and suggestions.

Assignment 2 (due 31 January)
            Rewrite/rethink your first assignment. Bring copies for everyone, emphasizing what progress you’ve made. Again we’ll talk about the topics, about progress made, sharing ideas and questions.

Assignment 3 (due 7 February)
            Rewrite/rethink your first and second assignments. This will be a much advanced, third draft. Bring copies for everyone. Again we’ll talk about the topics, about progress made, sharing ideas and questions.

Assignment 4 (due 14 February)
            Preliminary research. Use your noggin to squeeze the Google, squeeze the UVU library search engines, squeeze your in-laws, squeeze anyone or anything that might have information you’ll need for the thesis.
            Bring a written description of what you’ve found that will help with the thesis (copies for everyone). The writing is not for us so we can see you’ve done the assignment but rather a record of your thinking and your findings. You’ll make good use of this in weeks to come.

Assignment 5 (due 21 February)
            Make further progress on assignment 4, expand your collection of sources. Ask what you know you’ll need but haven’t yet found. Figure out ways to find it. Bring a record of your progress to class (with copies for everyone).

………that’s it for now. There will be other assignments to come.

In general, we’re working toward a robust version of the thesis that represents about half the work you’ll do for the final thesis. We call the first full version of this a proposal for research. We don’t mean “proposal” as first ideas, but rather at a full thinking through of the project, laying out what you’ve done and what still needs to be done in capstone 2.
This proposal must be completed and approved by advisors from your emphases as you begin the 499R class. When you ask faculty members to serve on your committee, you are also asking them to approve the proposal you have written. The proposal often includes a project summary explaining the topic, a review of literature and an outline of topics for discussion in the paper. The review of literature consists of a brief bio of the author of the source, a discussion of issues contained in it and quoted material from the source related directly to your project.

The thesis should involve a problem or question that requires you to draw on tools you’ve learned in the two emphases you have chosen for Integrated Studies. Each thesis should reflect serious academic research, clear and concise writing and should consist of an in-depth discussion and analysis of the topic. The length of the thesis will be determined by the topic and the disciplines involved. For instance, a thesis discussing a mathematical problem might be fully analyzed in a few pages, while a philosophical, theoretical thesis could take 30 pages to discuss. The thesis should include a clear statement of purpose or thesis statement, substantial supporting evidence for each assertion made, clear documentation of sources and a summary of the issues presented as a conclusion. The thesis should also include a works-cited section. Sources should include professional journals, books, articles, newspaper articles, documentaries, archives, personal interviews, etc. Internet sources may be used, but only with careful scrutiny as to original source and author and only to supplement other sources.

The Advisory Committee consists of three members: your IS Capstone instructor, and one full-time faculty member from each or your Integrated Studies emphases. Choosing the members of your committee is a crucial step in the capstone process. You should choose the member of each emphasis department whose work is most closely aligned with the project you have chosen to pursue. As an Integrated Studies student, you are still gaining a degree from the departments you have chosen as your emphases, and are still students of these departments. Integrated Studies simply facilitates the combination of these two disciplines. So work closely with the committee members you choose. 

Advisory Committee members will assist you in writing your thesis by reading several revisions of your paper.  You can call on committee members with questions about the topic as well as questions about research and research writing.  As committee members read each version of your thesis, they will comment on ways you can improve the paper. They are expected to give you honest and professional evaluation of your work, so be prepared to receive criticism. Work from the comments on each draft to revise, to clarify issues, improve support for your assertions and to document carefully.  Take the comments you receive seriously and revise to reflect these critiques. Once you have prepared a competent draft of your paper, submit the draft to your advisors. When you have received commentary from them regarding the direction and content of your work, revise and submit the next draft to your committee members. When you have received comments from each of your committee members and have revised thoroughly, submit another draft for comment. We will continue this process until all members of the committee are satisfied with the result. We hope to review each paper three times before it is ready for defense. Note that we are requesting only “competent” drafts for commentary. No committee member should be expected to review “rough” drafts or to read and reread identical drafts of a thesis. If you need writing help, the Writing Center is available to you.
This is a big project. It can be rewarding and enjoyable (even fun). I hope to see you in my office as often as you would like, and to hear from you via e-mail often.

For examples of good theses and further information about the senior thesis, see the Integrated Studies web site: or the theses in the library.