Archaeology, Archaeology Teaching

What happens to dissertations when departments close?

Now that I have the data from the analyses of the Clatworthy slags, clean and polished and ready for interpretation, I’ve been chasing a few references for relevant background material.

At the moment my knowledge of the ores of the region is based on a selection of Victorian and early 20th century geological and mining texts. They are very good, but the one chemical analysis of the ores dates to 1864 and claims to have found less than a few percent silica and alumina. If this is true and can be generalised to the ores of the region, it will affect my interpretation of the slag data – mostly my understanding of whether the alumina is entering via the furnace lining or the ores.

The excavator of Clatworthy, Lee Bray, referenced an undergraduate dissertation submitted to Exeter University by Charlotte Hall in 2003, on the iron ores of the Exmoor region. This clearly could be really important to my understanding of the ores, so I’ve been trying to get hold of it.

First email to the library unfortunately hit some snags with people on leave, but I was eventually directed to the archaeology librarian, then to an extremely helpful administrative assistant in the archaeology department. She asked her Head of Department, and it turns out the dissertation was submitted to the Chemistry Department.

This is where the bad news comes. The Chemistry Department in Exeter has closed. The dissertation is no longer held by the university. There is no forwarding details for the student. I have, essentially, hit a dead-end.

Beyond the problems this obviously presents me, this begs the broader question – what has happened to all of the dissertations from the closed department? Have they just been thrown out? Is that research now lost, forever?

If the dissertations are lodged locally and not with the university library service, then they’ll always be at risk from this kind of calamity. It seems crazy to think that years and years of students work and unique research is just gone, when it could have been saved had some kind of process been established. But I guess that’s the problem with cutting departments – dusty old dissertations are probably at the bottom of the list of concerns when people are loosing jobs. I wonder how many more little losses we’ll discover as time reveals the full impact of closed departments?

4 thoughts on “What happens to dissertations when departments close?”

  1. American universities resolved this issue a while back by centralizing the publication of North American dissertations and theses through UMI. ProQuest now hosts the database that has PDFs going back to at least 1997 and abstracts going back to 1980. Older works have not yet been digitized. Most all are available for purchase (hard copy or pdf), but most libraries in the UK subscribe to this database, permitting free downloads if you log in from your campus domain.

    1. Now that’s good thinking – wish our lot had something similar! We’re only just starting to get PhD thesis digitised and available through the British Library… fingers-crossed we catch up eventually.

  2. Search and advertise for the author of the dissertation on Facebook. Maybe he/she has a copy.

    1. Have tried, no luck so far… unfortunately the author’s name is quite common which isn’t making life easy!

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