In consultation with a faculty supervisor, the student draws up a written prospectus for the research. When the prospectus is acceptable to the director, he or she discusses it with the other members of the American Studies faculty who are members of the student’s dissertation committee. With their approval, the director convenes a meeting of the full dissertation committee at which the student presents the prospectus and discusses it with the committee. At the end of this meeting, the student is told whether to proceed with the research or to modify the prospectus in light of committee objections. Every effort is made, however, to make sure that the prospectus brought to the meeting of the full committee is sound and defensible.
You should begin your prospectus with an introductory statement about the nature of the project which answers these questions: What is your dissertation topic? What central question(s) are you addressing? What hypotheses (if any) are you testing?
The body of the prospectus goes into detail about the proposed research and answers three broad questions.
- Can the project be done?
- Is it worth doing?
- What is the relationship of the research to scholarship in American Studies?
Can the project be done? This is a question about sources, their nature, their accessibility, and how they will be used. The prospectus should address the following in sufficient detail for your committee to understand how you propose to proceed, using what sources:
- What are your sources? What kinds of evidence will you use? Are your sources accessible? Explain how your sources are adequate for completing the proposed research. Discuss any anticipated gaps in the sources or difficulties in using the sources.
- What is your framework of inquiry and analysis? What theories or assumptions or both will organize your research processs and your interpretation of your sources?
- How will you proceed? What methods will you use to examine, analyze, and “interrogate” your sources? What will your research process actually consist of? Where will it take place? What special tools or resources, if any, will you need to conduct your research?
- How will you organize your findings? Include a tentative chapter outline and a rationale for that outline.
Is it worth doing? What specific scholarly audience(s) are you addressing? What is the significance of the project: does it break new ground? Fill in a gap in the existing scholarly literature? Revise a previous interpretation? Or build and elaborate on previous interpretations? Include a brief review of the appropriate scholarly literature. Specify the particular scholarly contribution you hope to make to that literature.
What is the relationship of the proposed research to scholarship in American Studies? Your dissertation will be directed by a member of the American Studies faculty and categorized as a dissertation in American Studies in Dissertation Abstracts. It is important that you be able to place your work within a context of previous American Studies scholarship and to be able to say how your research meets the aims of the field.
Append a selected bibliography of primary sources and essential secondary references.
Append a proposed timetable for completing the research and writing the dissertation.