Potential MA dissertation topics...

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Potential MA dissertation topics...

Postby Pete Mellar » 01 Feb 2011 14:38

Hi everyone, I'm a student at the University of York currently undertaking a Masters in Modern History. I'm currently in the process of deciding what my dissertation topic should be for the next academic term, and although I've had a long-time interest in both the Zulu and Boer Wars (indeed, I did my BA dissertation on the former), I'm struggling to disseminate a topic that is original enough to be considered by my course convenor. I just wondered if anybody had any suggestions about particular pitfalls in the historiography of the Boer War that could be filled; I'm particularly interested in British and Boer POWs during the campaign, and the exaggerated importance that has been placed upon the war by numerous scholars since. Any ideas would therefore be gratefully received. Cheers, Pete.
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Re: Potential MA dissertation topics...

Postby Mark » 01 Feb 2011 15:00

Hi Pete

Sounds like a wonderful opportunity to write a dissertation on a subject related to the Victorian Wars. I studied Criminology for my Masters degree (for professional reasons) but sometimes a small part of me often wishes I had also taken history as a subject at university. As to a topic I would go for something that may not have been overly written about before by previous students. One should also keep the focus of the topic narrow, so many students get a little too broad. I'm sure you know all this anyway?!

One area of the Anglo-Boer War I've always found interesting is the thorny issue of the British concentration camps. Just a thought...

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Re: Potential MA dissertation topics...

Postby Pete Mellar » 01 Feb 2011 17:44

I'm certainly wondering whether to look at the black concentration camps of the Boer war, I think this could be a fruitful exercise...although I'd rather not have to afford a trip to South Africa naturally! Again I am slightly worried that this topic has been overdone though...
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Re: Potential MA dissertation topics...

Postby colenso » 01 Feb 2011 20:29

Hi Pete,

The Boer war sounds like an interesting topic, but dissertations can be daunting. Just to throw my ten-peneth in, a really meaty subject that crossed my mind was the South Africa's Railway system and its infrastructure. Plenty of good research for this topic, system layout, How the British kept it running V what were the Boer tactics for shutting it. Then theres the speed of troop movements, supply satistics. Perhaps a key research question could be - what influence did it have on the outcome of the War. How greater part did it play?

kind regards

colenso
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Re: Potential MA dissertation topics...

Postby Brett Hendey » 02 Feb 2011 06:28

I agree with 'colenso' about the significance of the railways during the Boer War. I have an interest in the Natal campaign and there is a fair amount of information available about the role played by the Natal Government Railways. Presumably, the same applies to the Cape Government Railways. The NGR linked up with the Transvaal railway line at the border. The Dutch government or national railway company ran the Transvaal line on behalf of the ZAR government and I was once told that the Dutch kept meticulous records.

Another possibility is to research a significant individual who has not yet been targeted by biographers. If I was much younger, I would choose Major Karri Davies of the Imperial Light Horse, an Australian who played a significant role in 'Uitlander' politics in the pre-war Transvaal, as well as an important role during the war in the ILH, the most notable of all the Colonial regiments of the war. Karri Davies came from a prominent Western Australian family and an Australian friend has tracked down masses of relevant files in WA archives.

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Re: Potential MA dissertation topics...

Postby SWB » 02 Feb 2011 15:43

Hello Peter,

What fantastic opportunity, I did a BA dissertation on the foreign volunteers for the Boers.

I think railways would be good, but perhaps this can be expanded to communications in general. I have been reading a book called 'Khaki Letters' - the correspondence of the telegraphists of the 24th Middlesex Rifle Volunteers. It is fascinating and quite mind boggling that the telegraphy was with the advance, mobile units trailing wires across the veldt or using the railway 'air lines'. As the advance continued 'permanent' offices were set up in houses in cities and larger towns or gangers huts for the small railway stops. These guys set up networks to route traffic from the front back to Cape Town and from side to side, as it were. They worked long shifts (12 hours plus) manually processing thousands of messages.

I would love to know more about this; how was it done? Did the British Army have an established practice or was it made up on the hoof relying on the professional telegraphists in the volunteers? What happened when telegraph links failed - was any part of the British military effort hampered by a failure or significantly enhanced by telegraphy? What was the speed of communication between Cape Town and Lord Roberts' Army as it advanced across the veldt into the Transvaal, and....

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Re: Potential MA dissertation topics...

Postby Pete Mellar » 05 Feb 2011 12:36

It would certainly be interesting to study the railways, although surprisingly the National Railway Museum in York has next-to-nothing on the conflict. I think it is doable, but I would probably have to do some digging at the National Archives. There are some very good runs of C19th and C20th British industry periodicals, some of which focus more on the engineering and operational side of things, others the financial, but I think I may struggle on the military side as I'm not really in a position to head to the bountiful archives of the African subcontinent. The South African military journal is certainly going to be an important source should I take up this challenge, but I am sceptical as to whether the archives in the UK will be sufficient to do this task the service it deserves. Any suggestions as to archival material would therefore gratefully be received :)
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Re: Potential MA dissertation topics...

Postby SWB » 05 Feb 2011 18:44

Hi Pete,

Not sure why the National Railways Museum in York would have any archives relating to South Africa.

An RE officer named Girouard wrote a paper on the railways during the Boer War. It was published but I have never seen a copy for sale, no doubt the RE Museum have a copy.

The Railways in SA were run by the RE, but much of the manpower was civilian from the exisiting railway companies in SA.

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Re: Potential MA dissertation topics...

Postby Pete Mellar » 10 Mar 2011 11:46

Many thanks everyone for your responses. The good news is that I will be undertaking a project on the use of railways during the Boer War, although my exact research sub-questions have not yet been formulated, so any advice would again be appreciated. The railways were of course absolutely pivotal to conduct of the war and shaped many of its campaigns, siege camp locations, transportation of prisoners and so on, and these will be just some of the aspects I hope to examine! I intend to start by consulting the papers of Roberts and Kitchener, moving on to Fransjohan Pretorius' A to Z of the Boer War and hopefully the National Army Museum in London at some point in the summer. If anybody knows of other sources that could be of use to me in this endeavour I would be extremely appreciative, and I again thank you all for your comments.

Regards, Pete.
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Re: Potential MA dissertation topics...

Postby SWB » 10 Mar 2011 12:01

Sounds good Pete.

As I mentioned in my previous post the RE were pivotal in running the railways - so a visit to the RE Library at Chatham would be a must.

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Re: Potential MA dissertation topics...

Postby Jayslater » 30 Apr 2015 14:32

Gentlemen,

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With very best wishes,

Jay
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