We talked about a sample thesis and two prospectuses.
There were some things that we were all impressed by. Everyone liked the clear organization of the thesis. The table of contents, for example, nicely divided the project into three parts: how things are, how they ought to be, and how to get there. The long second part was helpfully divided into sections as well.
There was universal praise for the amount of research and the way the research was integrated into the project as well. The author was clearly in command of her sources and used them to advance her project rather than turning her project into a commentary on her sources.
There were some differences of opinion as well. For example, Peter found the opening drew him into the project. Sally would have preferred a more direct statement of the topic. Speaking for myself, I think this is clearly a matter of taste. I do think it would be useful for everyone to at least write out a few personal paragraphs explaining how you came to the topic and what you hoped to achieve by writing about it. That does not have to be in the final product, but writing it out will help clarify the project for you.
Concerning the prospectuses, we mainly talked about the quality of the sources. Generally speaking, you should aim to have bibliographies that look like your course syllabi. That means books published by university presses and articles from quality scholarly journals. But not all projects work that way. One of the samples was closer to journalism and others involve the use of data. When you’re doing a lot of original research like that, the quality comes from your research more than the sources you read.
If you’re wondering what has happened since Ehler’s thesis, there was a very interesting article published in the New York Times last week about surrogacy contracts. (It’s the third in a series: the first article dealt with international surrogacy contracts and the second article was about a bad agency that brokered surrogacy contracts.)
As you can see from the article, feminists went from nearly unanimous opposition to the practice in the 1980s to mostly accepting it today. The law, meanwhile, is generally permissive but still unsettled.