What is the dissertation prospectus?
The prospectus is an overview of your vision for your dissertation: its major claims and contributions, and how you will complete the research and writing.
What are the major components of a dissertation prospectus:
The prospectus has four major pieces:
Argument: What are the main arguments that you plan to make? Why are you writing this particular dissertation?
Historiography: Where does the project fit into the existing scholarship? What gaps do you hope to fill? Which debates do you plan to engage?
Research: How will you carry out the research? What are the primary sources of information and how will you access them?
Writing: How will you write this history? What might be some of the major narrative plot points and characters? What are some of the important stories that will engage your reader?
What is the purpose of writing a dissertation prospectus?
The process of writing and approving the prospectus is a structured mechanism to ensure that students have thought through their dissertation plans and that student and faculty advisors have had an informed and thorough discussion of those plans.
The prospectus is simply a plan for your dissertation. Your prospectus does not commit you to particular answers, but rather is a preliminary statement of what you know and think, and what you plan to do.
There are two primary audiences: yourself and the members of your dissertation committee. (You also might share your prospectus in a workshop venue at Yale.)
Writing a prospectus allows you (requires you) to lay out your plans and make sure that you and your committee know (and agree upon) where you’re headed and what you hope to accomplish.
How should a prospectus be structured?
There is no required format for the dissertation prospectus in History. Faculty members may have varying ideas about what they would like to see your prospectus cover, so you should consult with your committee members about what you are writing. You may wish to share a draft prospectus with them.
A prospectus generally should address all four of the components noted above: argument, historiography, research, and writing. In order to address all four of these topics, a History prospectus typically ranges between 9,000-14,000 words.
A prospectus writer might wish to include some of the following sections:
Narrative/exposition (stories, characters, questions)
Historiographical overview (how it fits into the literature)
Discussion of methods (kinds of sources and modes of interpretation)
Tentative table of contents (imagined outline)
Chapter overviews (from 1-4 paragraphs each: topics, likely sources, argument)
Sources (where will you find the necessary information)
Research and writing workplan (semester-by-semester to completion)
References (footnotes/endnotes, possibly bibliography)
What is the “prospectus colloquium”?
The prospectus colloquium is an important required milestone marker in the doctoral program, a moment at which the doctoral student meets with a group of faculty members (the prospectus committee) to discuss their dissertation plans. The faculty committee must approve your prospectus in order for you to “advance to candidacy.”
At least two of your committee members must be active affiliated members of the Yale Department of History. Your prospectus committee does not have to be the same as your dissertation committee, but usually the members of the prospectus committee are asked by the student to serve on the dissertation committee. Sometimes students add additional committee members later in the dissertation-writing process.
Meeting with your full committee is very important because it is usually the first chance that the faculty members have to talk with each other about your project and to “get on the same page” about your plans. (One-on-one meetings between faculty and students already will have happened.) For this reason, the prospectus colloquium requires faculty members to participate at the same time, and is best conducted with everyone in the same room during the regular semester when everyone is on campus. (Two faculty members are required to be physically present in the room; others may participate by Zoom if necessary.)
Faculty members will have questions about your ideas and your plans. They may give conflicting advice, which you might try to reconcile or clarify. You also can come to the colloquium with questions that you would like to discuss with your committee.
What use is the prospectus after the prospectus colloquium?
The prospectus is a valuable document to revisit in order to check on whether you are continuing to pursue the project that you set out to do. It can help you to prioritize your research. Often language from the prospectus fits easily into some part of the dissertation, such as the introduction. The prospectus also can provide valuable material for grant proposals and even job application letters.
Remember that it can be very helpful to re-outline your dissertation project after you have done more research and writing. You are not locked into your project as described in the prospectus, but it is very helpful to realize when your project has changed.
If you decide to significantly change your topic or your approach, however, you must inform your faculty committee. If the changes constitute a fundamentally different project, you may need to reconvene your committee to present a new prospectus. Your faculty committee must have approved the dissertation project that you are undertaking; at the end of the dissertation process, the faculty committee will need to approve the dissertation’s completion.
How should I schedule my prospectus colloquium?
You are responsible for scheduling your prospectus colloquium and reserving the room for it. You should schedule the meeting as far in advance as feasible, ideally several months in advance of the meeting. Finding a date requires coordinating several people’s schedules in the following manner:
Identify a roughly two-week period during the semester when you might like to meet for your prospectus colloquium.
Using a Doodle poll (or other online scheduling software), propose a broad range of meeting times during that period. The prospectus colloquium typically is scheduled for 90 minutes, though it may not use that entire time.
You may wish to consult with your primary advisor and other committee members prior to creating the poll in order to narrow the list of dates when they are available, particularly if they have specific schedule constraints. It also may be necessary to circulate a second scheduling poll if none of the first proposed dates work.
Remember that at least two of your committee members must be present in the room during your prospectus colloquium, while the others can participate virtually, if necessary. Ideally, all of your committee will be present to facilitate a back and forth conversation in the group.
To reserve one of the conferences rooms in McClellan for the meeting, please contact Marcy Kaufman once you have secured your date and time. If no room is available in McClellan at that time, there are other suitable rooms for small groups available in the library and elsewhere on campus.