Sunday, February 9, 2003

More on digital dissertations

All of my academic attention these days is going towards making the case for a digital dissertation. I want to submit a Flash dissertation, and I cannot find precedents in the social sciences - although there are plenty of general multimedia theses in the fine arts and hard sciences, and some in the humanities - and I did find an IRC transcript of an online thesis defense. If you know of any interactive theses or dissertations in the social sciences - I'd love to know, please. I have a hard time believing I am the only one trying to do this - or experiencing resistance ;)

For background see the University of Waterloo Electronic Theses Project Team ETD Questionnaire Results (1997) which introduce governance, intellectual property, submission, access, distribution, storage, preservation, social and philosophical issues.

For now, my problem is two-fold: matters of format and structure/content.

I must make the case that my project meets the archival requirements and standards of the University, the National Library and international dissertation archives and publishers.

For example, UMI Dissertations Publishing Guidelines for Dissertations in Digital Format.

"UMI will accept dissertations and Masters' theses on CD-ROM under the following conditions:
1. Software to display, play or read the document is either ubiquitous free ware such as Netscape or Adobe Acrobat or is fully licensed third party software.
2. A copy of the application used to display, play or read the document is available on the CD and is fully licensed to be copied and installed on a reader's machine."

Does this mean if I create my dissertation with Flash, I have to submit (on CD-ROM) the Flash file and a copy of the Flash Player? I checked out the Macromedia End User License Agreement but I don't understand if it prevents me from doing that. I know I can make stand-alone executable files for PC and Mac - but then I don't know if that meets the accessibility and archival standards of dissertation publishers like UMI or the National Library. Any ideas?

But maybe the greater challenge is "social and philosophical" - making the case that a digital dissertation can not only meet the scholarship and research standards of sociology and anthropology, but also expand the possibilities for future research and interpretation.

After all, there's still that weird tension between having to situate one's project within established disciplinary debates - "our history and traditions" - and at the same time make an "original contribution to knowledge."

Maybe I should start by asking "What is a thesis or dissertation?"

UPDATE: I was spending too much time thinking about what *I* wanted to do, instead of what I wanted my *thesis* to do. It can't be Flash. I want it to be a living document and it has to be entirely W3C compliant. I need to figure out a way to evolve this site into my dissertation.

I just finished reading the methodology for Simon Pockley's 1998 web site dissertation, The Flight of Ducks. (One of the thesis advisors was William Mitchell). Good thoughts on accessibility, archiving and preservation. [via ETDs in the Humanities]

Also, Hypertext and Journalism: Audiences Respond to Competing News Narratives by Robert Huesca and Brenda Dervin - raises interesting questions about voice and authority.

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