Dissertations are often a rich source for specialized research. Recent dissertations may provide a useful survey of secondary literature and typically contain an up-to-date bibliography. Sometimes the focus of the dissertation requires sustained attention to a particular text, in which case the author may include a translation of a primary source unavailable elsewhere.
However, dissertations are also among the more neglected sources. In the past there were good reasons for this. One reason was simply a lack of easy access. Dissertations were difficult to obtain until they became available on microfilm. Twenty years ago, due to the impact of University Microfilms International on the availability of microfilm dissertations, Bradley and Muller observed:
We are in the midst of a bibliographical revolution that has as much to do with unpublished as with published materials. Those of us who went through graduate school in the early 1970s used many scholarly books that failed to refer to a single dissertation. But because of the publication program of University Microfilms International, this is becoming less and less true. Good books and good contemporary dissertations will almost always refer to at least a half dozen dissertations.1
Now, as educational institutions make digitized dissertations available in PDF format, many dissertations—recent dissertations in particular—are instantly accessible. Today the scholar has no excuse for ignoring unpublished dissertations.
A variety of services provide access to downloadable PDFs of dissertations. Of course the most complete commercial service is ProQuest Dissertations & Theses, which contains full-text for dissertations published since 1997 as well as many published earlier, but it is only available at subscribing institutions. Many dissertations are also freely available. Some of the best databases for finding electronic theses and dissertations (ETDs) include:
- Networked Digital Library of Theses and Dissertations (NDLTD)
- EThOS (Great Britain)
A number of libraries contain detailed lists of these repositories. There are helpful lists at Indiana University Bloomington (“Finding Dissertations: a Research Guide”) and the Library of Congress.
Dissertations do not always appear in databases. Sometimes they are available for direct download at library websites. The Hekman Library of Calvin College makes available dissertations from Calvin Theological Seminary. Many European institutions, including Swiss universities, are e-publishing their dissertations. The University of St Andrews has divinity theses available in PDF from as early as 1952. Among these is a 1979 thesis on Franciscus Junius by Douglas Judisch, “A translation and edition of the Sacrorum Parallelorum Liber Primus of Franciscus Junius: a study in sixteenth century hermeneutics.” This three volume work contains a 50-page biography of Junius, an analysis of Junius’s exegetical principles, and a full translation of the preface and first book of Junius’s Sacrorum Parallelorum (1607).
For Further Reading
- Bailey, Charles W., Jr. Electronic Theses and Dissertations Bibliography. Houston: Digital Scholarship, 2005-2012.
- James E. Bradley and Richard A. Muller, Church History: An Introduction to Research, Reference Works, and Methods (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995), p. 79. [↩]