Relics of a Provincial Past: Masculinity, Rural Culture, and the Emergence of the Gaucho as a National Symbol in Late Nineteenth-Century Argentina
by Brittany Maugeri
Dept. of History, 2010
Thesis Advisor: Professor Rebekah Pite
Q: When did you start thinking about your thesis?
A: I knew that I wanted to write a thesis my sophomore year. I told Professor Pite about it, and made sure she would be able to work with me, but I didn’t start on the research until my junior year. I knew I wanted to work on Latin America and gender history. I originally thought that I might do something with the Mexican Revolution, and I began some secondary source research. But in the spring I became fascinated by the gaucho and Argentina during a class with Professor Pite, and I refocused my project.
Q: How did you start tackling your thesis project at the very beginning?
A: Once I knew what I wanted to do, I talked with Professor Pite, who recommended reading materials, and set up a meeting with a reference librarian. I knew that librarian Lijuan Xu worked with Professor Pite and the history department, so I emailed her directly to discuss primary sources, which I suspected would be the real research challenge. Meeting with Lijuan was really helpful. She helped me to narrow my searches and access some trickier databases. I spent a lot of my initial research reading and figuring out what was available and accessible for me to work with and narrowing my project accordingly.
Q: Did your advisor explain the structure of a thesis project to you?
A: Yes, Professor Pite was awesome. I don’t know how the other departments approach theses, but in history all of the majors receive a “thesis information package” of sorts that outlines the requirements. So I knew what I was getting into. Professor Pite also she gave me a more detailed outline of her expectations. I like organization and structure so I developed syllabi for my thesis and we went over when different parts of the project would be due, how the research should progress, and how we would evaluate my progress.
Q: Did you have to do a literature review? Had you ever done one before?
A: Not officially. Professor Pite gave me a list of books that I needed to read, but I had already done a lot of general research in her Latin American History courses. In most ways, my research was self-guided. Professor Pite made really useful suggestions and indicated which books would be most helpful. In the early stages of my research, I maintained an annotated bibliography of my sources, indicating why each book was important for my research.
Q: Do you remember receiving correspondence from the library about your honors thesis?
A: Yes, I remember getting an email last year about my thesis, and setting up an appointment with a reference librarian to discuss the project. I wasn’t told, but did discover, the special library “privileges” that you get as an honors student--namely that I could take books home over the summer to read (which was amazing), and that I had a longer check-out period. It would have been nice to know those things right off the bat because I did have a mild panic attack about not being able to do research over the summer between junior and senior years.
Q: What did you find most challenging about your thesis project?
A: Finding sources, especially primary sources, was difficult at first, and so was narrowing my project. The constant revising was really challenging (it significantly frayed my nerves), especially with a full load of classes in addition to the thesis. Writing my introduction was hell. I do not know why, but I had a completely miserable time writing and revising that monster, and out of my entire thesis it is my most hated section.
Q: What did you find most rewarding about your thesis project?
A: Everything. I loved writing, especially second semester once most of the research was done. I loved my topic, and connecting all the things I’d learned. I’ve become really attached and protective of my paper; it’s my academic baby. I was really surprised because everyone warned me that I would be deathly tired of my topic by now, but I honestly am not. It was so much fun to do self-directed research, talk about my topic with my advisor, and do all the writing. It really challenged me to think and write and read more critically.
Q: What assistance did your advisor/department offer you throughout the course of the year?
A: My advisor was amazing. Professor Pite really went above and beyond the call of duty. We met weekly to discuss my project and set up a system of drafting. I would turn in a first draft, she would read and comment, and then I would revise. We went through each chapter this way. We also met to discuss my research findings and progress. Professor Sanborn, who was on my committee, also gave me some great feedback when I gave him drafts of the paper last semester and at the end of this semester. The department was overall very supportive. We had a presentation of our projects at the mid-way point to the history faculty and they offered feedback, which helped. But Professor Pite was really the saving grace of the whole process for me and we worked very closely throughout the development of my project.
Q: Did you meet with librarians in the course of conducting your research? How many times and at what stages of your research?
A: Yes. I met with Lijuan twice: once at the end of junior year and once in the fall of senior year. She helped me to narrow my research and find sources. She was really helpful, especially in the early stages of my thesis project. I also stopped by the reference desk about a hundred times with random questions about searching, book availability, and stylistic questions. Katherine Furlong helped to acquire books that we did not already have (which was fantastic), and Terese Heidenwolf fielded a lot of my reference questions.
Q: What other kind of support did you rely on throughout the year to accomplish your thesis (IT, parents, friends, etc.)?
A: I could not have completed the project (and maintained my sanity) without the help of my friends and family. My roommate and best friend, Shannon, who was not writing a thesis, acted as a sounding board for many of my ideas and kept me from freaking out or supported me when I had to freak out. Also, a lot of friends were working on their own thesis projects and we met to discuss and commiserate. It was great because we were all really enthusiastic about our research and we were all doing different topics. We learned a lot from one another and our different approaches to our respective projects. It was also nice to have a group of people who were dealing with similar levels of stress. My family was pretty supportive and sympathetic, though for the most part, they had no idea what I was talking about.
Q: Were you able to get access to all of the research materials you wanted for your project?
A: No. I got a lot of really great sources, but there were definitely some sources that I just didn’t have access to or don’t exist. I was writing about a mostly nomadic illiterate group of people so finding something that they had written would have been amazing, but almost impossible. Some things I know exist, but they’re in the Argentine archives and I just didn’t have access to them. I had what I needed to work with, but I dream of the sources that I couldn’t get my hands on (hopefully, I will in time for my dissertation).
Q: Would you do anything differently if you went through the process again?
A: I would have started backing everything up sooner and more frequently. I would also have tried to maintain more calm (especially last semester, when I was constantly freaking out). I would have liked to include another chapter. Overall though, I wouldn’t really change too much about my thesis process. My process was really effective for me, and overall, I like the end result.
Q: What advice would you offer other honors thesis students, especially in your department?
A: Stay organized! Set up a plan, and stick to it! Make your own deadlines, but keep them. That’s the key: one must stay focused. Also, it helps if you break the thesis down conceptually. Try thinking of it as smaller sections (it makes it more manageable), but also remember it’s part of a whole. Use the resources at your disposal. Your advisor and the librarians are there and they can totally help you. Don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it. Don’t get so wrapped up in your project that you have a meltdown. Take time to breathe every once in a while. Talk to other thesis students and recognize that there are other people working just as hard and are just as stressed out as you. Commiserate. Love it and own it. It’s your project, make yourself proud of it.