My thesis: the end result

In the end, what I could submit as my Doctoral dissertation was colourful and diverse, but I believe it was also empirically rich and academically stimulating. From the start of my research, I was intrigued by ancient monuments in our landscapes. What is perhaps the particular beauty of my approach, and of my thesis, as I see it, is that people in later prehistory and today, including myself, found themselves in very much the same situation. They all had to make sense of ancient monuments which are visible in the landscape. The object of study of my thesis is the studying subject (and that includes myself), and the results of my study describe, to some extent, its approach as well.

I hope to show in the thesis, firstly, that there are a great number of possible meanings of ancient monuments in different presents and, secondly, that we can reach interpretations and make sense of something by making connections. Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, I hope to demonstrate in the thesis that past and present are always united and cannot be separated from each other. The past is only meaningful within the particular history culture and as a contribution to the specific cultural memory of each present. I do not know if there could be a present without a past (perhaps for small babies and some animals?), but there can certainly be no past without a present.

Technical aspects

My thesis was written in its entirety as a hypermedia document in HTML and can be read like any other HTML document, although I have only tested it using the standard web-browser Netscape 3. It consists of altogether 329 text and image files on 159 individual pages, each with their own individual 'address', which all stand independently as well as forming part of the thesis as a larger whole.

Originally I had planned to submit my thesis on the World Wide Web and give my examiners a URL where to find it. This would have maximised the experience of my thesis being interconnected with other World Wide Web pages (to which it makes links) and made the potential for feed-back and constant updating obvious. I also still think that 'living' World Wide Web pages are one of the most durable forms of publication in the electronic age, as they are most likely to get automatically updated as every new software generation arrives. However, the relevant University Subject Committee and the National Library of Wales did not see it this way, and effectively insisted that I should submit a CD-Rom as my thesis. I think that many Committee members could not envisage that there might be a thesis which is intangible and cannot be stored on a shelf somewhere. The National Library did also, at the time, not offer their readers access to the World Wide Web and therefore insisted that my thesis needed to be in a format which people could actually access in the library. In the given situation, I felt compelled to accept this reasoning. But I also think that it was a mistake to make this demand. The CD-Rom I submitted contained my thesis in HTML files and advised readers to open them through Netscape 3, or alternatively use another web-browser. This is a standard procedure now, but it would be foolish to believe that current standards are not going to change in the future. Even if HTML may still be readable in a decade, I doubt that the CD-Rom format we chose will be readable for a very long time. It is only six years ago that my home computer had a drive for the old large floppy disks – today it is very difficult indeed to locate a single computer in a University where the old disks are still readable, not to mention the problems of opening files written in the software of the time. I am therefore not very optimistic as far as the life-time of the two CD-Roms are concerned which I submitted. The day will come sooner than many may imagine now that someone will be curious enough to want to read my original thesis and find out that this has actually become physically impossible. This is more a problem for the National Library than it is one for me. As far as I am concerned, the thesis has fulfilled its main (though not exclusive) purpose of getting me a Doctoral degree and satisfying those who gave me financial and other support. Regarding the content of my work, it is about memory and multiple interpretations of ancient monuments anyway.

Looking back at my original aims and ambitions

I am very happy with the end-result compared to what I hoped to achieve at the beginning. It took almost exactly four years from my initial planning process to submission. During that time period, software developments (especially new HTML-editors) made in particular the task of writing World Wide Web pages much easier than I had feared at first. In the end I settled for the freeware AOL Press.

One particular danger of writing in HTML became obvious to me after Kathryn Denning was the first to have an extensive look at a nearly complete draft of the thesis in August 1997. Her comments, which were a great help to me in many respects, dealt virtually exclusively with the form in which my thesis was presented and with the content only in so far as it touched on this. There was thus a risk that the impression of my examiners too (not to speak of other readers in the future), would be dominated by the form of the thesis and not sufficiently be based on the topic I was actually dealing with. While this concern turned out to be completely unfounded as far as my examiners were concerned, the risk remains for any future publication of my work. But I guess I will have to take that risk. After all, the unusual format may also create more interest in my work than I would otherwise receive (e.g. in the Directory of ETDs Currently in Progress compiled by Matthew Kirschenbaum, and in a newspaper article: Durham 1999).

An open question is also whether the complexity of my thesis is appropriate and not too confusing or `too long and unwieldy´, as Gwyn Jenkins suspected on 15 January 1997. Who will actually bother to spend enough time reading my pages? I estimate that at least three to four hours are needed, in order to get a proper impression of the work as a whole. I can only hope that Paul Rabinow's aphorism for his recent book (1989,14, slightly modified) will not become the impression which readers get from reading my thesis: `While the parts may seem too simple, the whole may seem too complex.´

One original ambition, which I clearly did not achieve, was to include video clips and sound into my thesis. While in principle it could have been done, I did not feel confident with the appropriate software myself, and did not have the necessary technical support in order to experiment with that either.

Another plan which did not work out was my intention to make the thesis searchable through the use of a search engine. Had the thesis been submitted on the World Wide Web I could have used any of those freely available search engines which allow me to restrict their searches to my own pages. On a CD-Rom, I could not include a commercially available search engine, and I did not find any other satisfactory solution for this problem either.


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Last updated: Mon March 8 1999