In the final year of their studies, undergraduates undertake extended independent research, stretching over two teaching blocks.
Students are required to identify their own topic, formulate the particular questions to be asked, identify the main primary sources to be used, set the research questions in the context of the issues arising from the secondary literature, and carry through a scholarly and analytical study to the highest standards. In short, the dissertation builds on skills learned in earlier special projects and in the group project, but in the Dissertation students will take their first really independent steps as historians in their own right.
The earlier students begin to think about the topic the better. The best dissertations tend to come from those who began to think about what they might research, and discuss their thoughts with a member of staff, towards the end of their second year.
Guidance to help you in researching and writing your Dissertation will be provided in the form of lectures on devising a research topic and on identifying and using primary sources. These are delivered as part of the Researching History skills-unit in Teaching Block 1 of the final year.
Students are also assigned a supervisor who will discuss with them a draft dissertation proposal and subsequent work, as well as the particular challenges of the chosen topic. They receive guidance from their supervisors in one-to-one meetings, which should not normally exceed three hours per student (this includes guidance meetings, a feedback meeting for the introduction and email advice). Students are, however, also free to consult other lecturers with relevant expertise in their office hours.
A key component of the dissertation is that it should engage with primary source materials (broadly defined). Students are, however, also expected to demonstrate how their analysis fits into and contributes to the existing literature on their topic.
Since 2009, the Department has published the best of the annual dissertations produced by our final year undergraduates and to award a 'Best dissertation of [year]' prize to the best of the best.