THE PROSPECTUS: A DESCRIPTION
What follows is an expanded version of what I placed in your paper guide, plus a sample prospectus from my own writings. A prospectus is simply a prospective description of your paper. Master and Doctoral students have to write one before they begin their thesis or dissertation. Publishers often want them too. In the business world, these are often called “business models.” There are a lot of situations in which you will be expected to write up a preliminary account of a project you are undertaking. The purpose is to get other people—a scholarship committee, your boss, investors, an academic advisor– to buy into your project. In this case, I am the person who needs to buy in. Frankly, even in a personal project or writing, developing a prospectus is a good idea. It can help you figure out what you are doing, why you are doing it, and how you are going to accomplish it.
Your paper prospectus will be due some weeks before the paper. It should contain three items:
- A preliminary thesis. I want to know the general direction you are going.
- A preliminary bibliography, containing all the different sources required for this paper. I want to see who you are reading. I might be able to make suggestions, as well.
- An evaluation of at least one web-based source, using the Website Template (see p. 2). This is a reasonable rendition of a template once furnished by the University of California at Berkeley Library. Now, you will find it attached to this description, This evaluation is not to, primarily, describe how useful this site is, though you might include a word or two on that if it isn’t obvious (see my sample below). I want you to tell me how trustworthy the site is—why you believe the material in that site is credible.
The Prospectus does some good things for us. First, I’ll be able to evaluate where you are headed at a preliminary stage of you work. This may help me give useful suggestions before you go to the trouble of writing a paper. Second, this will satisfy the Foundational Studies requirement for a web-based assignment. Third, the web-based component of this assignment is pretty valuable. There are many good, scholarly sites on the web—swimming in a sea of undocumented, biased crap. This will help you separate the good stuff from the crap.
Don’t consider anything you write in your prospectus as set in stone. You may alter your thesis and bibliography as your research and writing lead you . Please note: even if you use the same bibliography for your paper as you do for your prospectus, I still want the bibliography attached to the paper.
WEBSITE EVALUATION TEMPLATE
|1. What does the URL tell you?||a. A personal website? Not always bad, but what is the individual’s expertise?|
b. gov, uk, fr, ect: government websites. Believe it or not, governments do not always tell the absolute truth. Still, most first world countries (North America, Europe, Asian democracies) will hire first-rank historians for their historical institutions and be willing to talk about the bad in their history as well as the good.
c. .com: a commercial website. This means the institution or organization seek to make a profit. That does not mean that it is biased and poorly done. You just have to realize that informing the public about history is not their only goal.
d. .org: as the Berkeley guide pointed out when it was available, the line between commercial and noncommercial sites has long been blurred. Often times, libraries, museums, and other organizations whose main purpose historical preservation, research, publication, and education will have an .org address. Again, organizations are not always unbiased. Witness Moveon.org and Conservative.org.
|2. Look around for tabs at the top or the bottom of the website labeled “about us,” “our philosophy,” or the like. Look for a name of an author or authors, and for an organization.||a. Here you should find out what organization sponsors the site and what they think about their mission.|
b. You may also find out who wrote the site and perhaps even what their qualifications are.
|3. Look on google if you can find out any more information on the author or the organization. If overwhelmed with sites for a “Natalie Davis,” you might look for “Natalie Davis French historian” or the like.||a. The purpose here is to get third-party information about the individual or organization in question.|
b. Remember, the third party may not always be right.
|4. Look for the “marks of scholarship”||a. This includes a bibliography (very good), supporting notes (very good), opinions solicited from historians (especially good if they try for a variety of viewpoints), links to other sites (good)|
b. These things let you know that the author (s) are at least reading authorities on your subject.
Below, you will find a sample prospectus, prepare according to my directions, for a paper I gave some years ago. The paper deals with ideas about women in eighteenth-century England. I center on a specific source, a “domestic dictionary” published in 1736 pointedly aimed at women.
PROSPECTUS FOR RESEARCH PAPER
In his Dictionarium Domesticum (1736), Nathan Bailey created an extended definition and description of enlightened, rural female domesticity to guide the aspirations and behavior of his readers.
[Or, alternatively, “Eighteenth-century male authors sought to ‘enlighten’ the domestic aspirations of female readers.” You do not need two theses for your paper. I just thought another example would be useful.]
“1730–Bailey’s Dictionarium Britannicum.” 2011.Learning: Dictionaries and Meaning. British Library.http://www.bl.uk/learning/langlit/dic/meanings.html
Bailey, Nathan. 1736.Dictionarium Domesticum. London, 1736.
Béjoint, Henri. 1994, 2000. Modern Lexicography, An Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Boyd, Diane E. and Marta Kvande, eds. 2008.Everyday Revolutions: Eighteenth-Century Women Transforming Public and Private. Newark: University of Delaware Press.
Hancher, Michael. 2004. ‘Bailey, Nathan (bap. 1691, d. 1742)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press.http://www.oxforddnb.com.ezproxy.indstate.edu/view/article/1055
Hill, Bridget. 1993.Women, Work, and Sexual Politics in Eighteenth-century England, Women’s and Gender History, ed. June Purvis. London: Routledge, 1993.
St. George, Robert Blair. 1998. Conversing by Signs: Poetics of Implication in Colonial New England Culture. Chapel Hill and London: University of North Carolina, 1998.
The British Library’s websitegives information on one of Nathan Bailey’s other dictionaries, the Dictionarium Britannicum. It also gives basic bibliographic information on Bailey. The URL and the banner clearly show it is part of the official website of the British Library. There are tabs to sample pages of the dictionary, as well as one to other articles in the “Dictionaries and Meanings” project, which stated purpose is to “trace the history of English dictionaries from 1500 to the present day.” I think it would have been helpful for the British Library to have identified the author(s) of this project. A supporting bibliography, list of suggested readings, or even links to other, similar websites would have also been useful l in establishing the credibility of the information. Still, I have no doubt, given the reputation of the British Library, that this is a trustworthy site.
|Thesis|| || |
| ||Appropriate Time/Place|| |
| ||Coherent (logic)|| |
| ||Well Stated (language)|| |
|Bibliography|| || |
| ||1 Primary|| |
| ||2 Scholarly Secondary|| |
| ||1 web-based site|| |
| ||6 sources total|| |
|Website Evaluation|| || |
| ||Thorough (uses several criteria)|| |
| ||Critical (decision based on analysis)|| |
|Total|| || |
Note: Each item is evaluated on a scale of 1-5 with 5 being high.