This is the first in a series of posts on the lessons I’ve learnt from various episodes in my life. First up: my dissertation. In case you’re not familiar with dissertations: they are the large written projects which are often given to students in the final year of their degree. The details of mine are available on my academic website. Here I want to try and distil my experience into some generically applicable lessons that can be applied to other dissertations, PhD theses, other projects…and maybe even life generally! Apparently the most common piece of feedback from students after they’ve finished their dissertations is “I wish I’d started it earlier”. I took this advice and started very early, doing a lot of work on my dissertation during the Easter holiday of my second year, but I still had a bit of a rush at the end. I also put an extra week into my schedule to allow for ‘unforeseen problems’ and was really very glad I had done this, as I suddenly found a major problem with my work a week before the deadline! I’m a big fan of PhD Comics and one of their comics perfectly describes the bad habits I tend to fall into: A story in filenames. As I’m working in remote sensing I have a large number of image files, both original images from satellites, and a large number of images I’ve created through processing the original files. Through doing this I’ve spent far more time than I need trying to find particular files, and have often ended up with file duplicates taking up extra hard drive space.

Realists painted images that exposed the hardships and inflicted guilt upon the ruling classes, who could no longer claim to be in ignorance of the plight of the common man. Tolstoy’s War and Peace (1869) tells the story of Napoleon’s French Invasion of Russia and claims the philosophical writing of Shopenhauer as a major influence. Shopenhauer wrote that human will was the main impetus for change. That society did not function under zeitgeist, or collective consciousness, and in fact, each individual made decisions that suited them first and foremost. Karl Marx wrote The Communist Manifesto in 1848 and agreed that all societies experience class struggle in order to progress. He saw capitalism as the dictatorship of the borgeoisie who ran the system for their own benefit and unable to form a caring society as it was essentially, a disordered system that relied on the benevolent will of individuals. The ideal society would have a system of government with a collection of ordinary people representing the majority to ensure income was distributed evenly.

In realist narratives today we see this most apparent in the function that documentaries play in our modern culture. Documentaries aim to bring to the public eye a problem society faces, and offer solutions that are real and achievable. Documentaries provide experience of guilt and frequently evidence for the plight of the less fortunate that cannot be ignored. Other texts that emphasise realism include soap operas, where the current social issues of the day are tackled through the lives of ordinary people. The aforementioned reality TV texts present individuals in pursuit of a “need” that is difficult to attain, a dream that can become a reality if they “win”. In order to “win” the contestant must display enough skill to be admitted into the “society of leaders”, which itself is comprised of ordinary people who have excelled in some manner. The Romantic movement had its philosophical roots in Europe and its literary expression in England. The 17th and early 18th century saw rapid social change as agricultural lifestyles were displaced by the introduction of machinery, leading to many works lamenting the loss of the beauty of the countryside.

Religious change from Catholicism to unbridled Protestantism saw the removal of images of God, which had been a hallmark of Catholic expressions, best remembered by detailed stained glass windows and renaissance art expressing biblical stories. Puritannical Christianity had put down roots, and freedom of religious expression was limited to the gift of being able to read the Bible. The innovation of world wide travel caused many to question Puritan viewpoints. Romantics gave birth to fantasy worlds in texts like Kubla Khan by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Exploring the exotic world of belief systems and writing poems with the lyricism of rhyme and classical structural forms sought to legitimise the idea that there was more than one world faith. Romanticism can be summarised as the triumph over human understanding of experience and is in line with concepts such as self actualization, where it is possible to achieve the desires of the heart.

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