Sunday, October 8, 2017

Eco, Umberto. How to Write a Thesis. MA: Cambridge, MIT Press, 2015. Trans. Caterina Mongiat Farina and Geoff Farina. Originally published as Come si fa una tesi di laurea: le materie umanistiche, Milano, 1977. 29-31.

  3. The research is useful to others. An article that presents a new finding on the behviour of the elementary particles of physic is useful. An article that presents a transcription of an unpublished letter by the Italian romantic poet Giacomo Leopardi, and that recounts the circumstances of its discovery, is useful. A work is scientific if, in addition to fulfilling the two conditions above, it advances the knowledge of the community, and if all future works on the topic will have to take it into consideration, at least in theory.
  Naturally the scientific relevance is commensurate with the contribution’s significance. Scholars must take certain contributions into account in order to say anything relevant on a particular topic, while they can leave others behind without serious consequences. Recently, a number of letters from James Joyce to his wife have been published, specifically letters that deal with explicit sexual matters. People studying the origin of Molly Bloom’s character in Joyce’s Ulysses may find it useful to know that, in his private life, Joyce attributed to his wife a sexuality as vivacious and developed as Molly’s. Therefore, the publication of these letters is a useful scientific contribution. On the other hand, some superb interpretations of Ulysses present a keen analysis of Molly’s character without this data. Therefore this contribution is not indispensable. We can find an example of a more important scientific contribution in the publication of Stephen Hero, the first version of Joyce’s novel A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Stephen Hero is generally considered fundamental for understanding the development of the Irish writer, and is therefore a fundamental scientific contribution.
  Here we should address the so-called “laundry lists” often associated with extremely meticulous German philologists. These might include an author’s shopping list, to-do list, and other incidental texts that are generally of low value. Occasionally these kinds of data are useful because they shed the light of humanity on a reclusive author, or they reveal that during a certain period he lived in extreme poverty. Other times these texts do not add anything to what we already know. They are small biographical curiosities with no scientific value, even if there are people who build reputations as indefatigable researchers by bringing these trifles to light. We should not discourage those who enjoy pursuing this type of research, but we also should understand that they are not advancing human knowledge. From a pedagogical perspective, if not from a scientific one, it would be more fruitful for them to write an entertaining popular biography that recounted the author’s life and works.

  4. The research provides the elements required to verify or disprove the hypotheses it presents, and therefore it provides the foundation for future research. This is a fundamental requirement. For example, to prove that centaurs live in Peloponnesus I must do the following with precision: (a) produce proof (as we have already said, at least a tail bone); (b) recount exactly how I discovered and exhumed the archaeological find; (c) instruct readers on how more evidence can be unearthed; and (d) if possible, give examples of the precise type of bone (or other archaeological find) that would disprove my hypothesis, were it to be discovered in the future. If I accomplish these four goals, I have not only provided the evidence to support my hypothesis, but I have facilitated the continuation of research that may confirm or challenge it.
  The same is true for any topic. Suppose I am writing a thesis on an Italian extraparliamentary movement that took place in 1969, and that is generally believed to have been politically homogeneous. In my thesis, I wish to prove that there were in fact two factions, one Leninist and the other Trotskyist. For my thesis to be successful, I must produce documents (flyers, audio recordings of meetings, articles, etc.) that verify my hypothesis; recount the circumstances of the acquisition of this material to provide a foundation for further research; and present the criteria by which I attribute the supporting documents to the members of the 1969 movement. For example, if the group was dissolved in 1970, I must weigh the relevance of material produced by membres while the group was active against that produced by former membres of the group after its dissolution, considering that they may have cultivated their ideas while the group was still active. I must also define the criteria for group membreship, such as actual registration, participation in meetings, and presumptions of the police. In doing this, I provide the foundation for further investigation, even if it may eventually invalidate my own conclusions. For exmple, let us suppose that I consider a person a membre of the grouup based on evidence from the police, but future research exposes evidence that other membres never considered the person in question as a membre, and therefore he should not be judged as such. In this way, I have presented not only a hypothesis and supporting evidence, but also methods for its verification and falsification.

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