I have made it nearly four years at my current institution without having been asked to lead a senior English major project (called ‘Capstone’). What all English majors here are asked to do, nearly always spring of their senior year, is to produce a 20-page research project in a chosen area of interest, and then pare it down to a 10 -15-minute presentation which is then given to an audience of mostly faculty and administrators. While they take a course on general methods to guide and supervise them through the process, each student also needs to find an individual advisor who is a subject specialist in or at least near their chosen subject.
Spring of 2019 was open season on the medievalist who knows a thing or two about mythology and popular culture. I can only think to blame both my Summer 2018 teaching assignment (Myth and Folklore in Literature) and the fact that I have now been in my current position long enough to have had students who started in my introductory classes be in the spring of their senior year. I say ‘blame’ but neither the time nor the course have been negative experiences in any way. It’s just that those two things coinciding are the only factors I can think of for my sudden popularity. Whatever the reasons, I’m now going to be guiding more than one student (in slightly different capacities) through the process from beginning to end of what is essentially an article draft, then turn it into an 8-10 page conference paper. I vaguely remember some classmates in graduate school complaining about a similar assignment in a course on Greek tragic drama as ‘evil’ and me being thankful to not have been in that class. This has since become a thing that I, like most professional academics, must do on a regular basis, forwards or backwards.
One of the reasons I’m putting together a general outline for myself is that I remember sometime in my first or second year of graduate work in English, there was a talk on getting through the dissertation process in a timely way. Granted, the scale is different in my current situation, but the basic premise is the same. One of the senior faculty members who was part of the panel had handouts that included a general timeline. I found that useful and although I was nowhere close to my own dissertation at the time.
It seems like some things that seem obvious to those of us who have to do it on a regular basis are not always obvious or even clear to someone facing the situation for the first time.
I’d recommend to pretty much any first time advanced researcher The Craft of Research by Wayne C. Booth, Gregory G. Colomb, Joseph M. Williams, Joseph Bizup, and William T. Fitzgerald as it was once recommended to me. It’s user-friendly, practical, and multi-disciplinary all at once. It’s also not expensive, especially as far as textbooks go; it’s a paperback under $20. I admit I haven’t looked at the most recent edition, since I’m pretty sure my copy is at least 1 edition out of date, but it’s still the best, most useable guide for something of this sort, at least the part concerning the 20-page paper.
To my knowledge, there is no equivalent guide for turning a larger project into a more condensed presentation version.
Particularly for the medieval side of things, for the basic areas any general project of this sort might need, here’s my basic list of primary and secondary material:
General Primary: Geoffrey of Monmouth’s History of the Kings of Britain
The Art of Preaching by Alanus d’Insulis
The Metalogicon by John of Salisbury
Ars Versificatoria: The Art of the Versemaker by Matthew of Vendôme
Here’s my reasoning for the above, in addition to studying the corpus of your author or genre of interest, if you’re working on anything British and medieval, you should know a little about history and some key genre theories, especially poetry and preaching. Admittedly these lists (above and below) are generic, and not necessarily what I would need for a specific project. That of course will have to depend on the nature of the proposed project.
Basic Secondary (borrowed from a 2014 post):
European Literature and the Latin Middle Ages by Ernst Robert Curtius
Medieval Narrative: An Introduction by W.A. Davenport
The Life and Times of John Trevisa, Medieval Scholar by David Fowler
Style and Consciousness in Middle English Narrative by John Ganim
The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
Medieval Theory of Authorship: Scholastic Literary Attitudes in the Later Middle Ages by A.J. Minnis
Handbook of Medieval Studies: Terms, Methods, Trends. Ed. Albrecht Classen
Old English and Middle English Poetry by Derek Pearsall
Reading Middle English Literature by Thorlac Turville-Petre
The History of Linguistics in Europe from Plato to 1600 by Vivienne Law
Paris and Oxford Universities in the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Centuries: an Institutional and Intellectual History by Gordon Leff
I admit that some of the titles I have listed in the secondary section are possibly out of date by now or are being replaced by something more current; however, as of right now, I am not aware of anything that has fully replaced any of them. And I would also note that this list is more of an example preview, since it doesn’t include things like Medieval Grammar and Rhetoric by Copeland and Sluiter, which is an essential anthology for me, but it is specific to medieval literary criticism and theory, and not all projects might require that kind of thing. Some might, but it’s just a bit too category specific for me to put it on a general model list.
I have not included any of the many extremely useful web-based sources, because they both depend largely on the specific project/subject and there are too many to choose from. TEAMS and Lumiarium.org may be the lone exceptions.
If anyone has suggestions for any of the lists, please share!
The general process as I now understand and practice it should look something like this, based on the 16 week-long semester, a typical timing schedule for most academics, be it professor or student of most levels:
1) Start with proposal/abstract ideas which must be flexible, since specific research on the question may not have been done previously. (Week 1)
2) Read the primary material, as widely as possible. (Weeks 1-5)
3) Read the secondary material, focusing on the specific approach/subject. (Weeks 2-5)
4) Formulate thesis and reasons (Week 6)
5) Outline reasons with supporting citations both primary and secondary (Weeks 6-7)
6) Draft 1 by Spring Break (Week 7-9)
7) Revise for content (Week 9-10)
8) Revise for structure and style (Week 11)
9) Proofread (Week 12)
10) Final written draft (Week 12-13) This may not be a fully complete article draft but should at least cover the main ideas and have notes for the secondary sources to be cited if not already included. I tend to use Comment boxes for this.
11) To start moving towards the presentation, return to step 5 and eliminate any redundancies or pick one major example per point (Week 13)
12) Make sure your current presentation draft is still cohesive, and time yourself (Week 14-15)
13) Make any adjustments necessary, and Present or be generally ready for the eventual presentation (Week 16)