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Art History Dissertation Methodology Guidelines

Exegesis:  The word exegesis originates from the Greek word exēgeisthai: ex- ‘out of’ and hēgeisthai ‘to guide, lead.’ The core meaning of the term, then, is to guide or lead out of a text its meaning, to interpret. The English term 'exegesis' has a long history, dating at least as far back as the Greek philosophers. While often associated with the interpretation and meanings of religious texts, any 'text' might be the legitimate object of an exegetical exercise.

The history of the term provides some insight into part of the role an exegesis plays in a creative project. The ECU guidelines for a PhD or Masters by Research creative project describes the written exegesis as "supporting, contextualising and/or amplifying the creative project." The exegesis is a multifaceted document that is intended to show your understanding of "previous material in the relevant field of inquiry or creative arts genre," a "thorough understanding of the conceptual, theoretical and/or cultural context" of the discipline," and "how the research is a substantial and original contribution to knowledge."

The traditional process of exegesis, however, is in only one direction: it comes after the development of the original work and has no impact on it. However, in the research exegesis, one informs the other. As the research develops, the exegesis records, documents and interprets what occurs. In addition, as you explore theories and previous research, these insights inform the research project which feeds back into the creative project.

Your supervisor is your most important source of guidance, but additional support can also come from the research consultants.

The methodology section for an art history dissertation is shorter compared to counterparts in the sciences, but it’s still an integral part of the graduate project that requires your undivided attention. As it will likely be based on non-empirical information taken from literature that has already been published in the field, there are some really important things you need to keep in mind when writing it:

  • Determine the appropriate methodology to employ
  • Art historians can use any of a number of methodologies to conduct their research study (e.g., chronological, logical, iconographical, critical analysis, etc.) so it’s important that you first identify the appropriate methodology and that you fully understand how you must frame your study within it.

  • Make sure you address your advisor’s requests
  • If you are having any doubts about which methodology to use then you might benefit from brainstorming some ideas with your graduate advisor. Even though this is your personal academic study, it still must meet certain criteria. Discuss this to find out exactly what is expected from you by the committee.

  • Provide a simple step by step explanation of approach
  • Don’t merely define the methodology you plan on using in your work; you should provide a step by step explanation of why you chose the approach as well as how you plan on going about conducting it. Remember to keep your personal opinions or findings out of this section. The content within should be straightforward.

  • Don’t introduce complex approaches in methodologies
  • One of the things that trip students up is when they begin to introduce complex approaches in their methodologies. This can be both confusing to the reader and to you. The best approach is to think about the simplest method for finding something out and arriving to some definitive conclusion.

  • Set your work aside for a few days before revising
  • The process of revision is very important in high academic writing. If you don’t give yourself plenty of time to revise you might not be taking full advantage of an exercise where the main purpose is to make your argument and presentation stronger. Start this with a clear mindset to reap all of its benefits.

  • Thoroughly edit and Proofread the entire section
  • This piece of advice really does apply to every section and all types of written assignments. Edit for sentence and word clarity. Complex structures or multi-syllabic words can be confusing and much more difficult to understand. Also, make sure you have corrected all errors in grammar, punctuation and spelling. A document that is filled with errors will be poorly received.

  • Always have a fresh set of eyes critique the section
  • You should constantly remind yourself that you want to keep your work interesting and understandable. Even though it will be reviewed by experts in the field, your work should be written and structured so that a person outside the field could also enjoy.