The Making of Ernest Hemingway
by Christopher Murphy, English, 2012
Thesis Advisor: Professor David Johnson
Q: When did you start thinking about your thesis?
A: I knew I wanted to do a thesis after I declared my major Sophomore year, so it was certainly a long-term goal. I started thinking about the specifics of the project in the spring semester of my Junior year.
Q: How did you start tackling your thesis project at the very beginning?
A: I read a lot. All the reading gave me new ideas and helped fill in the gaps with old ideas as well.
Q: Did your advisor explain the structure of a thesis project to you?
A: Doctor Johnson refrained from getting too much into the structure of the project until later on in the process. It was important that I had a firm hold on the material first. That being said, he made sure I was reading with a purpose and working toward a certain structure that got clearer and clearer as I went along.
Q: Did you have to do a literature review? Had you ever done one before?
A: I did not have a literature review, I’ve never done one either!
Q: Do you remember receiving correspondence from the library about your honors thesis?
A: Yes, I do. It certainly did not surprise me to see the library reaching out and offering all the assistance it could. That’s what the Lafayette library and its staff is all about, really engaging with students and helping us to do high quality work.
Q: What did you find most challenging about your thesis project?
A: It was a war of attrition for certain. Staying engaged and enthusiastic through the whole thing was difficult, particularly when it came to the writing.
Q: What did you find most rewarding about your thesis project?
A: I spent a year learning and interpreting the life and writings of my favorite author – that’s incredibly rewarding. Also, I want to be a writer myself so looking at the young Hemingway specifically and seeing the courage and sacrifice it took for him get started as a writer was both important and instructive for me.
Q: What assistance did your advisor/department offer you throughout the course of the year?
A: I ended up settling into a biographical approach for the thesis, which worked well because Dr. Johnson is a biographer himself. He was very helpful in guiding me through the mechanics of doing such writing. He also knows a lot about Hemingway and held me to a high standard in presenting information.
Q: Did you meet with librarians in the course of conducting your research? How many times and at what stages of your research?
A: I did not meet with any librarians. I have benefited from taking a few classes in the English department that partnered with reference librarians: FYS Stories and Possibilities & Eng 210 American Literature with Professor Phillips, and Eng 350 Studies in Writing and Rhetoric with Professor Falbo. In those classes, I developed the information literacy skills that helped me navigate through my research with relative ease. I would also say that my sources were mostly biographies and Hemingway’s own writing, which are very easy to trace down. Had I been working with scholarly articles I would have needed a lot more help from the library.
Q: What other kind of support did you rely on throughout the year to accomplish your thesis (IT, parents, friends, etc.)?
A: My parents and friends were very supportive, which helped me a lot. I think anyone who takes on a thesis project needs that kind of support system. They offered sympathetic ears in the moments when I was most frustrated and sincere enthusiasm when things were going well. I am very proud to share the finished project with them.
Q: Were you able to get access to all of the research materials you wanted for your project?
A: Yes. The library had every single book I needed, which again was not surprising knowing how great our library is.
Q: Would you do anything differently if you went through the process again?
A: I would start writing earlier for sure. I didn’t really start writing until winter break. That decision did not necessarily affect the quality of my work, but it certainly made things more stressful. I had to deliver a completed first draft before spring break to stay on a good schedule, so the brunt of my writing happened from the middle of January to the beginning of March – a relatively short time frame.
Q: What advice would you offer other honors thesis students, especially in your department?
A: Do as much reading and thinking as you can over the summer. I mentioned before that I think this process would have gone more smoothly if I had started writing earlier. Well, a good way to be able to do that is to get your research done early. There really is no excuse to not get some good research done over the summer. You can check books out of the library for the summer. Even if you have an internship that keeps you working eight hours a day, you can still find time to work on the thesis. Only five hours a week would go a long way. Trust me, do that research over the summer and you’ll be set up well for the year.