What am I looking for in a dissertation?

Well it’s been a couple of months and a dissertation topic has still not fallen from the sky into my lap. No worries. I hear dissertations take a long time. Instead of trying to locate a specific topic, I have begun thinking about what I want in a dissertation topic. Two things have particularly stuck out in my musings about a topic, examining space and social relationships.

Social Relationships

Though I have enjoyed the topic from my MA thesis, I found some of my methods a little unsatisfactory. I feel like I had an adequate handle on the Grand Rapids elite, but realistically the city was just too big (87,565 in 1900) for the sort of deep analysis of social relationships in which I wanted to engage. An even smaller small city would provide me the ability to more fully explore the social relationships that I started in examining the water scandal.

I want to be able to do the deep analysis that the What Middletown Read project does. The project examines what library books citizens of Muncie checked out. Though it may seem like minutiae, the books people in a city read can reveal a great deal about what people thought and how they viewed the world. These types of details can really get to the micro-level analysis that attracts me to social history.


Space has really been attractive to me as a scholarly topic. I love A. K. Sandoval-Strausz’s Hotel and the way the book uses a place, and its social meanings as a space, to examine a society. This non-conventional narration of history (through a non-human entity) seems exciting to me. I particularly like the ability to be very specific (in viewing history through the Hotel), but also examine society through a broad lens.

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