Imagine the thousands of years of work put into theses in the pre-digital era, only a copy or two ever printed. Last year, one university library told me they do not copy or lend theses, not even to other university libraries. Thankfully, most new PhD theses are now digitised and available online, and there’s even some digitising of older theses going on. Indeed, the thesis most important to my own work has just been digitised – Sandra Burchill’s “Katharine Susannah Prichard: Romance, Romanticism and Politics” (ADFA, 1988). It’s now available from UNSW’s institutional repository.
Burchill’s scope is immense – she provides a valuable critical biography of Prichard’s life along with a close reading of each of Prichard’s thirteen published novels. Prichard’s work is read in the context of her life and the interplay of those three key elements – romance, romanticism, and politics. The biographical chapters were a huge advance in Prichard research, the first time her life had been examined historically. (Ric Throssell, Prichard’s son, wrote a valuable biography in 1975, Wild Weeds and Windflowers, but it’s a different approach – perhaps closer to memoir.) Burchill’s discovery of various newspaper articles and archival sources is remarkable in a pre-digital context. The chapters of criticism make a compelling reading of Prichard’s fiction, refreshingly unladen with post-structural theory or other approaches which were fashionable in the 1980s. It’s a very readable work of scholarship, one of the few theses which a general reader of Prichard’s work would want to read.
I agree- I think it’s wonderful that theses are now available online. After all, the taxpayer has supported the student’s place and it was wrong that theses sat on the shelves of the home university sometimes even unavailable for interlibrary loan, as you point out. Did you find yourself panicking that someone else had tilled your territory, or did it reassure you that you’re taking a different approach?
Nathan Hobby said:
No panic thankfully! I’d read a microfilm copy before I started and worked out there was plenty of room for my topic and approach.