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Thread: Need help - choosing a Masters Thesis

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    Default Need help - choosing a Masters Thesis

    Hi, I'm new to the board. Just started Command and Staff College and I'm trying to come up with some ideas for a Masters Thesis. I can pretty much choose any topic but I'd like to pick something that I've got some knowledge about and some interest in (although I'm open to other ideas). Areas that interest me the most are Afghnistan, American Revolution, American Civil War and Vietnam. Appreciate any assistance in advance. s/f.

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    Council Member davidbfpo's Avatar
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    Default Help?

    Areas that interest me the most are Afghanistan, American Revolution, American Civil War and Vietnam.
    Maddog,

    Looks like you have the answer already. The four wars can all be called civil wars, so what are the common factors and the lessons learnt: conflict resolution, SSR , conventioanl and unconventional etc. 'Fighting in civil wars: lessons from US history for Afghanistan'.

    davidbfpo

    PS Don't forget to add a few lines of introduction on the 'Tell Us Who You Are' thread: http://council.smallwarsjournal.com/...t=1441&page=52.
    Last edited by davidbfpo; 08-08-2009 at 12:09 PM. Reason: Add link

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    Former Member George L. Singleton's Avatar
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    Default Deciding on a Masters topic

    At the Command and Staff College level you have at hand the resources to do a bang up job on a new Masters thesis.

    The WSJ journal article currently post here on SWJ on decentralizing Afghan governance via supporting the resistance efforts of village militias under the jiirga system might be compared to Revolutionary War America operating under a loose national "Confederation" which for purposes of a dynamic future American nation had to be shifted away from "state's rights" which is akin to the jiirga system in Afghanistan to what became our more centralized governance system.

    To me as an old history and political science A&S student (undergraduate level) your topic could easily run away into a more complex doctoral dissertation...so governing and regularting the outline to keep it within your MA level of scope and scale will require your best skills, which I am sure you are up to.

    Good luck, and I for one admire you openness in posting your intentions and interests and seeking comments here on and from SWJ participants.

    George Singleton

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    Default Maddog

    You are prtty much where you need to be. You have a general area of interest, as David says, but you need to narrow it down. That is something for you to work out with your committee - chair and 2 members at least one of whom should have a PhD. Among the people you might consider talking to and as potential committee members or chairs are: Jim Willbanks and Chris Gabel in Mil Hist, Geoff Babb in DJMNO (or whatever we call it now), Geoff Demarest and Les Grau at FMSO, Rob Thornton at JCISFA (and of course this board), and, of course, Bob Baumann Dir, Grad Degree Programs. Talk with all of them about what you have in mind and ask for advice on committee members.

    Good luck

    JohnT

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    i pwnd ur ooda loop selil's Avatar
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    Regardless of the topic you end up doing I take my grad students through a process of discovery to get to their final question. That being the really big leap. We deal in questions that need answering not topics.

    I will usually have them write down on a piece of paper a whimsically chosen number of topics they like (25-50 depending on how evil I'm feeling). It really doesn't matter because they have to throw that one away (they don't know that so don't tell them). Then I have them do it again shooting for about 10 topics.

    After that little exercise I ask them why are they interesting, what is important about them, what are the intersections between them, what do we know about them, what do we not know about them, what are the questions left unanswered, who drove the research on these topics, who are the main players in the area being studied, is there something special about these topics that cuts across other areas? Oh, and many more questions.

    Then I make them write a prospectus tying it all together derived around a question. Usually the question is inelegantly tied around "who, what, where, when, why, how" or a derivative. That is fine. We are choosing a topic not writing the thesis. By now they have started a literature review. They never realize that but I am fine with the results. Upon completion of the topic research they usually refine the question. The question will become their research question, and then I usually have them form a hypothesis in formal language.

    At this point they write the literature review.

    Then they refine the question, refine the hypothesis. Kick themselves for missing a whole bunch of stuff.

    Then they write their methods section. How are they going to study the problem.

    Then they refine the question, refine the hypothesis. Kick themselves for missing a whole bunch of stuff.

    And then, and only then, is the topic finished.

    Of course, we throw all that out from time to time and do it totally differently. Every project, every student, every program is different.
    Last edited by selil; 08-08-2009 at 04:05 PM.
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    Council Member Sigaba's Avatar
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    Maddog--

    Out of curiosity, what is the focus of your degree program <<LINK>>?
    It is a sad irony that we have more media coverage than ever, but less understanding or real debate.
    Alastair Campbell, ISBN-13 9780307268310, p. xv.
    There are times when it is hard to avoid the feeling that historians may unintentionally obstruct the view of history.
    Peter J. Parish, ISBN-10 0604301826, p. ix.
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    Ian Kershaw, ISBN-10 0393046710, p. xxi.

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    Default Need some help

    Quote Originally Posted by Sigaba View Post
    Maddog--

    Out of curiosity, what is the focus of your degree program <<LINK>>?
    Sigaba - Its a Masters of Military Studies. Pretty much open ended from there. I'm still trying to decide on a topic and a thesis.

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    Default Need some help

    Everyone - thanks for the assistance. I believe I've chosen an area of research. I'm leaning towards the British Southern Campaign of 1780 in the Carolinas. The part I'm still stuggling with is coming up with the question that I'm trying to answer. I think I'd like to write about whether the campaign could have been successful and how the British could have been successful in that campaign. Also thinking about comparing that strategy of "Americazation" with "Vietnamization" and the American strategy in Iraq in 2006 which could be described as "Iraqization". Any thoughts, advice or other ideas for a thesis based on my proposed topic from the board would be appreciated? Thanks again.

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    Default British Southern Campaign of 1780 in the Carolinas

    Hi Maddog,

    Interesting (to me) topic, especially if you delve into alternative history and "what ifs" - and definitely a "small wars" topic. Would you be thinking of reversing the Battle of King's Mountain ?

    My interest is that battle was the first major engagement of the ancestor of my dad's WWII unit (1/117 IR, now 1/278 ACR - East TN).

    For those not well acquainted with King's Mountain, the TNGenWeb Project has an index to a number of sources - and also the Historical Statements Concerning The Battle Of Kings Mountain, Army War College, Historical Section, 1928.

    As I read the references, that battle went something like so - attached (a much reduced version of a half-page size originial; so not as clear as I'd like).

    Any corrections to my armchair conclusions are welcome.

    If you go that way, your thesis would be of interest to me.

    Cheers,

    Mike
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    Council Member davidbfpo's Avatar
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    Default "Zation" has it's own issues

    Quote Originally Posted by Maddog View Post
    I'm leaning towards the British Southern Campaign of 1780 in the Carolinas. The part I'm still stuggling with is coming up with the question that I'm trying to answer. I think I'd like to write about whether the campaign could have been successful and how the British could have been successful in that campaign. Also thinking about comparing that strategy of "Americazation" with "Vietnamization" and the American strategy in Iraq in 2006 which could be described as "Iraqization". Any thoughts, advice or other ideas for a thesis based on my proposed topic from the board would be appreciated? Thanks again.
    I'd stay away from trying to compare "zation" in Iraq, as someone said that history is still being written and current events can distract.

    More difficult would be to add a third non-US "zation". E.g. Portugal in Africa, especially in the "sideshow" Guinea-Bissau. How about the Phillipines?

    davidbfpo

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    Council Member Fuchs's Avatar
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    Default

    Really good studies should push the horizon, enlarge the view.

    A special interest in four U.S.-related conflicts (I read Vietnam and Afghanistan as such) sounds (warning: blunt) almost like failed education to me.

    There's so much in military history; several continents, documented military history of up to five thousand years. Yet, U.S. officers speak of the same few conflicts most of the time; those that their nation was involved in.

    Here are some alternative topics (no, I don't think that anyone here will take these examples seriously):

    Cannae and its effect on the art of war

    Leuthen and its effect on the art of war

    Coining war experiences of the Chinese society

    The historical influence of logistics technology on the culminating point of attack

    Successful reforms of mature armies to meet new strategic needs (since the 16th century)

    The Wars of the East India Companies and the Hanse (trade NGOs)

    Successful historical control of terrain with very low force densities

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    Thumbs up

    Quote Originally Posted by Maddog View Post
    Everyone - thanks for the assistance. I believe I've chosen an area of research. I'm leaning towards the British Southern Campaign of 1780 in the Carolinas. The part I'm still stuggling with is coming up with the question that I'm trying to answer
    Kia Ora Maddog. For me the key to your thesis is that word 'question'. A finely honed research question is one that will be focussed, narrow, and that you can always come back to when you need to self-discipline (i.e. I've come across all this great stuff that I want to include but is it relevant to the question I have chosen to answer??!!. If it doesn't help to answer the question, you ditch it. An open question will allow you to go off on tangents that, in the end, you'll eventually have to cull to make the grade.

    My advice would be to work with your supervisors (and associates) to craft a question and an abstract (80-90 word limit) to help you narrow down. Once you have done this to everyone's satisfaction (it may take some time) then you will finally have your parameters and your own disciplined focus. It's a slog but a worthy one (the actual field research stuff is a breeze in comparision).

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    Council Member Sigaba's Avatar
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    Default Look before you leap

    Maddog--

    While you consider the sound guidance offered in this thread, I suggest that you do not neglect two critical factors: your thesis committee and available source materials.

    In regards to the latter, you might spare yourself some anxiety if you get a good sense of what types of primary sources and secondary works to which you'll have immediate and unfettered access. You might further benefit from asking yourself if you have enough materials or if you have too much information. (The latter can be surprisingly disconcerting.)

    In regards to the former, if you've not already done so, you might profit from sounding out professors you'd want to have on your committee. Do they have time to work with you? Do they want to work with you? Will their areas of interest and expertise help or hinder your project? Do you trust each other? Do you get along?

    In regards to the topic you pick, if your approach is that of a military historian, I urge you to consider whom you want your scholarship to serve: Athena or Klio.
    It is a sad irony that we have more media coverage than ever, but less understanding or real debate.
    Alastair Campbell, ISBN-13 9780307268310, p. xv.
    There are times when it is hard to avoid the feeling that historians may unintentionally obstruct the view of history.
    Peter J. Parish, ISBN-10 0604301826, p. ix.
    Simple answers are not possible.
    Ian Kershaw, ISBN-10 0393046710, p. xxi.

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    Council Member marct's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Sigaba View Post
    In regards to the former, if you've not already done so, you might profit from sounding out professors you'd want to have on your committee. Do they have time to work with you? Do they want to work with you? Will their areas of interest and expertise help or hinder your project? Do you trust each other? Do you get along?
    That is really good advice, Sigaba.

    Maddog, let me toss out one other piece of related advice - get a circle of friends both inside and outside the military, who can help. Crucial to this is a blend of people who know a lot about the area you are researching and ones who know almost nothing about it.

    All to often, "knowing" an area really well means that you are stuck with the same questions, observations and perceptions. Having people working with you (usually paid in beer ) who know nothing about the area, gives you two advantages:

    1. They ask the "stupid" questions, i.e. the ones outside the cannon of normal science questions.
    2. They force you to communicate clearly.

    This last point is crucial when writing a thesis. I've read too many theses where it was blindingly obvious to me that the person hadn't really mastered the topic, they were parroting what others had said without really understanding it and mastering the area.

    The other reason to build such a group is simple; you will get frustrated with your committee and need to chew a few shoulders .
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    Default All good advice Maddog

    I would say that the faculty gang at CGSC only wants you to succeed. So, it is a question of compatible interests and temperments for your committee. Nobody really needs to be an expert on your narrow subject but the historians will know the literature and will refer you to it. You know that you are not limited to CGSC faculty - other personnel assigned to CAC and Leavenworth can serve. Any questions on that should go to Dr Bob Baumann. See my previous reply for suggestions for committee members among the folk I know. PM me if you want to consult.

    Good luck

    JohnT

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    Quote Originally Posted by davidbfpo View Post
    I'd stay away from trying to compare "zation" in Iraq, as someone said that history is still being written and current events can distract.

    More difficult would be to add a third non-US "zation". E.g. Portugal in Africa, especially in the "sideshow" Guinea-Bissau. How about the Phillipines?

    davidbfpo
    I'd echo this, especially for a Master's thesis. When I compare how ambitious/naive my initial vague idea for a PhD thesis was versus the far narrower topic I ended up actually writing on, the gap is huge. And that's leaving aside the whole issue of history still being written.

    I wrote a short undergraduate dissertation several years ago on the same subject, Earl Cornwallis and the failure of Southern loyalism. Be happy to email it to you, PM me if interested.

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    Council Member Umar Al-Mokhtār's Avatar
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    Default Good Luck

    One of the interesting aspects of the Southern Campaign was the English misperception as to the extent of Loyalist support they would garner after they took Charleston. There is also the question of how did Nathanael Greene win the campaign without winning any of the battles (Kingís Mountain and Cowpens both being conducted by others although one could argue Morganís victory was by extension Greeneís).

    The Southern Campaign is finally getting some of the attention it deserves amongst mainstream Revolutionary War historians.
    "What is best in life?" "To crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentation of the women."

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    Default With Zeal and Bayonets Only

    This might be of interest, read a good review of it recently. Looking to get to it myself after The Accidental Guerrilla, The Unforgiving Minute, The Great Gamble, etc...:

    http://www.amazon.com/Zeal-Bayonets-...=29PDIFJKNEBVE

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    Former Member George L. Singleton's Avatar
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    Default Good to know as my SC and VA family fm Pvt. to Lt. Col. were on the US side there

    Many facets of family tree, both my Mothers and Fathers sides, were in the Continental Armies of SC and Virginia opposing the British during the Revolutionary War.

    Not to bore you with names and ranks, suffice it to say these ancestors ran from underage (14) drummer boy (at Cornwallis surrender at Yorktown, VA) to an againing Lt. Colonel from the highlands of SC.

    One ancestor on Mom's side was a Scottish Lt. Colonel in the British Army in the Carolinas during the Revolutionary War. When the war ended he remained in North Carolina, married an American, and became an American settler/farmer himself. He had been a British mercinary soldier.

    Be interested to read more on SWJ when you or others care to post it.

    Quote Originally Posted by Umar Al-Mokhtār View Post
    One of the interesting aspects of the Southern Campaign was the English misperception as to the extent of Loyalist support they would garner after they took Charleston. There is also the question of how did Nathanael Greene win the campaign without winning any of the battles (Kingís Mountain and Cowpens both being conducted by others although one could argue Morganís victory was by extension Greeneís).

    The Southern Campaign is finally getting some of the attention it deserves amongst mainstream Revolutionary War historians.

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    Council Member Umar Al-Mokhtār's Avatar
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    "What is best in life?" "To crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentation of the women."

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