Conceptualizing the Generalissimo: The Rise, Fall, and Re-Assessment of Chiang Kai-Shek in American Journalism and Scholarship
Tyler Bamford, History, 2012
Thesis Advisor: Professor Paul Barclay
Q: When did you start thinking about your thesis?
A: I began thinking about possible topics for my thesis in my sophomore year, however, none of my initial ideas developed into my thesis. My final topic developed after several discussions with my advisor, Professor Paul Barclay of the history department, towards the end of my junior year. Combining my passion for U.S. military history and Professor Barclay’s expertise on East Asia, my thesis dealt with the U.S. media’s portrayal of China’s military dictatorship during WWII.
Q: How did you start tackling your thesis project at the very beginning?
A: After determining my thesis topic, the next step was to create a summer reading list that gave me a firm background towards understanding previous scholarship and thereby prepared me to analyze my primary sources in a meaningful way. This was especially important for me because I had not studied modern China prior to undertaking my project.
Q: Did your advisor explain the structure of a thesis project to you?
A: In my first several meetings with Professor Barclay in the fall semester of my senior year we outlined a schedule with deadlines for the completion benchmarks throughout the duration of my project. This was one of the most important decisions we made, and it was important that I agreed on a schedule with my advisor and stuck to it.
Q: Did you have to do a literature review? Had you ever done one before?
A: In addition to the reading I did during the summer between my junior and senior year, my advisor instructed me to write a historiographical essay, which gave a brief history of the most important works pertaining to my research. Previously, I had done several essays of this type in Professor Pite’s History 206 class on methodology. My historiographical essay helped me to hone my research questions and also formed the basis for the introduction of my thesis.
Q: Do you remember receiving correspondence from the library about your honors thesis?
A: Shortly after I signed registered to write a thesis in the spring of my junior year, the library sent me a survey asking me the details of my proposal. After answering the questionnaire, I was contacted by a reference librarian who assisted me for the duration of my project. The research librarian I worked with throughout my thesis was Lijuan Xu.
Q: What did you find most challenging about your thesis project?
A: The most challenging part of my thesis was deciding what information to include in my writing after collecting so much in the course of my research. Not having a strong background in my area of research meant that I was constantly coming to new conclusions that made my argument evolve significantly from what I had originally expected. This meant I was continually going back and incorporating new aspects into my introduction and earlier chapters.
Q: What did you find most rewarding about your thesis project?
A: The most rewarding aspect about my thesis was the way I totally immersed myself in my research by tying it into other courses and experiences in my senior year. While writing my thesis, I also began studying the Chinese language in order to better acquaint myself with Chinese culture, and I completed an internship with the college archives working with collections that dealt with the Second World War in China.
Q: What assistance did your advisor/department offer you throughout the course of the year?
A: I met with my advisor at least once a week to discuss my progress and ask any questions that arose while writing my thesis. These meetings helped me to stay focused and work through the problems that came up in the course of my research. They also sustained a dialogue that strengthened my conclusions by verbally presenting them to someone else on a regular basis.
Q: Did you meet with librarians in the course of conducting your research? How many times and at what stages of your research?
A: Lijuan was a great help to me throughout my project, and I met with her regularly during the research phase of my project. She was very enthusiastic about my work, and in addition to helping me acquire books, she often found works I was not aware of. While I was in the writing stage of my project, she read my chapters as I wrote them and came to support me at my defense.
Q: What other kind of support did you rely on throughout the year to accomplish your thesis (IT, parents, friends, etc.)?
A: My family and my friends were definitely the most important people I looked to for support during my project. Doing a thesis can mean many long nights of writing and many mornings when I wasn’t the most pleasant person, but throughout my project my family and friends constantly asked about my work and listened to me vent my frustrations during the rough patches.
Q: Were you able to get access to all of the research materials you wanted for your project?
A: With the help of Karen and Keith in the library’s ILL department I was very fortunate to get almost everything I needed for my research. There was no single article that I needed and couldn’t get. The only source I would have liked to explore more thoroughly was an online newspaper database that wasn’t available to me because it would have cost tens of thousands of dollars for the library to subscribe to. Fortunately, I was able to use other sources and ILL individual articles that I identified.
Q: Would you do anything differently if you went through the process again?
A: In retrospect I would have liked to spend more time making my introduction more focused and at the same time reflective of my final arguments. In order to do this I could have written the bulk of my introduction after drafting the rest of my thesis.
Q: What advice would you offer other honors thesis students, especially in your department?
A: The best advice I can offer to students undertaking a thesis (especially in the humanities and social sciences where they can run well over 100 pages) is to not get overwhelmed by the size of the project and instead focus on short term goals that you set up with you advisor. Effective planning is crucial to executing a strong thesis according to a deadline. Also, make sure you pick a topic that you can see yourself reading about non-stop for a year, even while at home during breaks.