Thesis Corner: Madeleine Elliott

Welcome to Thesis Corner! This week, I am writing about my own thesis, using the same questions I asked Max last week.

Q: What was my thesis about?

A: I wrote about the Economic development of Seattle and Tacoma in the 1890s. I specifically focused on the Klondike Gold Rush and a few economic circumstances which may have influenced the cities’ differing responses to the Gold Rush.

Q: How did I decide on this topic?

I started thinking about my thesis toward the end of the spring of my junior year (spring 2017). I knew I wanted to research something related to Economic history, but I didn’t come in with a question I desperately wanted to have answered. “Economic history” is extremely broad, so I spent the whole summer trying to narrowing it down to a specific question I could investigate. I came up with probably 10-15 overarching subcategories of topics–like “patents” and “logging industry” and “railroads”–and then scoured Economic history journals for articles relating to those topics in order to spur a question in my mind. It was a long process.

Although, in the end I went with one of the first questions I had asked myself (why is Seattle, not Tacoma, the biggest city in Washington?). I had to narrow it again once I actually started researching and familiarizing myself with the topic, and that’s how I ended up looking at the 1890s and the Gold Rush.

Q: Was I surprised by any of my results?

I had heard before that Tacoma was “supposed” to be the big city in Washington, but I hadn’t realized why that was. All I knew was that the Northern Pacific Railway had chosen Tacoma over Seattle in the late 1800s. As it turned out, Tacoma had a lot of manufacturing and trade advantages that led to this decision, and it was these same advantages that I believe led city leaders in Tacoma to not try to take advantage of the Gold Rush in 1896, the way city leaders in Seattle did.

Q: When did I start researching and when did I start writing?

I didn’t fully decide on this topic until late August/early September, when I was actually in my thesis class, so that’s when I started researching seriously. I started with journal articles that provided the theoretical foundations of my paper, then I looked at secondary source documents that helped me familiarize myself with the topic (and to figure out what primary source documents I would need to make my case), and then I started looking for primary source documents (there was some overlap between these as well). Most people who write Economics theses don’t have to use primary source documents like the ones I was using. I visited eight different libraries and archives (most of them off campus) throughout the semester, and I was still searching for more primary sources up until December, when I turned my thesis in.

I started writing in September or October and I completed a first draft in early November. That first draft was pretty much the basis for my paper; from there I just tried to incorporate new primary sources and strengthen my argument.

Q: What advice do I have for people who are writing theses in the future?

Pick something you like, because you will be spending a lot of time thinking about it.

The first topic idea you come up with doesn’t have to be the perfect topic, but the sooner you start thinking the longer you have to work through to an idea you like.

Writing this paper will be difficult. Ask for help when you need it.

Talk through your ideas with your adviser. Don’t be afraid of asking “stupid” questions.

That concludes this week’s thesis corner.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *