Dissertation and beyond

During the second term of your second year you are introduced to the idea of a dissertation. At first this 10,000 word project may seem daunting. I have begun to finalise my ideas about a dissertation topic and in this blog I’d like to show you that it should be seen as a great opportunity rather than a burden.

Easter Reading in preparation for my dissertation
Easter Reading in preparation for my dissertation

My plan for my dissertation is to write an essay on the reaction of the government to the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s. I came to this idea as it is based on a period of time which I really enjoy (post-war British history) and it is an area which hasn’t been explored too much.

By no means was this my first idea. Some of my previous ideas had included: racism in 1960s Birmingham, social reforms under the Harold Wilson government and the representation of Northernness in J.B. Priestley’s ‘An English Journey.’ Whilst reading this you’ll probably have one of two reactions. Either, you’ll think they sound really interesting or more likely I’ve never considered doing anything like that ever before and they sound a bit weird. To be honest both reactions are fine. The great thing about doing a dissertation is that it is entirely up to you, you can literally do it on anything. One of my friends this is considering doing her project on football hooliganism and another friend is interested in public schools. In reality if you can think of a topic which interests you and there is plenty of material available then you will in most cases be able to do it.

Another great thing about doing a dissertation is the opportunity to work closely with primary sources. If you want to you can include visits to archives both in Britain and abroad. You can visit archives such as the British Archives at Kew or the Bodleian Library at Oxford University. You could also choose to travel abroad to visit archives in places such as Europe or further afield in places like China or the USA, but don’t worry – this is by no means expected!

However, if you find archives a bit old and stuffy then there is plenty of opportunity to access primary sources in books and online. For example, my main primary source collection will be an online database called ‘Mass Observation.’

Although a dissertation may seem a bit scary I just thought I’d let you know about the huge range of possibilities that it can offer!

I just mentioned that one of the best elements of the dissertation was the ability to work with primary sources. As you move through a history degree at York you will find that the sources you work with are varied. In third term I am completing a group project for my module on Post-War Japan. As part of this project our group had to watch a Japanese film and we will subsequently have to write an essay on themes arising from this film.

The Wind Rises- a 2013 film by the Japanese director Hayao Miyazaki
The Wind Rises- a 2013 film by the Japanese director Hayao Miyazaki

A group watched the film The Wind Rises which is about a plane engineer who struggles to come to term with how his designs are used for war and killing people.

In my other module this term (Leisure and Pastime in twentieth Century America) we had modules on themes such as Stand-Up comedy, American  Football and Hollywood. In the seminar about Hollywood we watched clips from films such as Taxi Driver and  The Graduate. 

What I am trying to say is that History isn’t all about books!

Thank you for reading

All the best


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My name is Mark. I am originally from a small town called Kendal in Cumbria, (basically there's more sheep than people!), and the only thing we're known for is kendal mint cake.... which isn't actually a cake!? I am currently a second year history student at York and I am a member of Alcuin college. My favourite period of history is the twentieth century and in particular, twentieth century British history. I love playing sport and some of the sports I play include table tennis, pool, cricket and darts. This year I am first team captain for the university darts team, as well as Alcuin darts captain. Despite my love of sport and competitive edge, I do have a softer side. Some of you may be surprised by my love of Rom-Coms??? I love studying at York as the university is really vibrant and exciting, there's always something new to do. It is also lovely to live and study in such a beautiful and historic city. I wouldn't change my decision to come here for the world!