Theses are labors of love. Students spend up to a year researching and writing them, countless sleepless nights working on them, and hopefully are proud of the product that they hand in. They are supposed to be the capstone to students’ four years of education—the first “real” contribution that students make to the scholarly community.
The creation of a website to save all senior theses—created by Harvard College Free Culture, a student group—should be welcomed as a great addition to the campus and Harvard’s ever-widening and expanding academic community. Currently, the Harvard University Archives only saves certain theses depending on the honors grade that they receive, and theses that receive the cutoff grade and above are accessible through the Archives’ inconvenient closed-stack system.
The Free Thesis Project provides researchers much easier access to all of Harvard’s senior theses, if students choose to put them on the site. Theses are accessible at any time on the Internet, and all senior theses can be submitted, regardless of grade. This change should help students find models for senior theses as they enter the daunting process, and more generally, should help facilitate research on campus—maybe even professors will learn a thing or two from students’ work.
On a lighter but important note, the Free Thesis Project may help students late at night in early spring when they are ready to destroy their computers and quit their theses: “Will anyone except my two graders read this thing!?!” is a reasonable question on students’ minds. With the Free Thesis Project, students should be assured that generations of researchers—or at least people who are fascinated by Harvard students—will read their work online.
This project is a perfect student-led extension of the open access motion recently passed by the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, which, through the Harvard University Library’s new Office of Scholarly Communication, will offer free access to all professors’ newest scholarly work. We hope that all students will submit their theses to the online depository, though we understand that if a student plans on running for the White House (or plans on being a President’s spouse), senior theses can be a delicate issue.
In all other situations, however, senior theses, like Harvard professors’ work, should be openly available to the public so that knowledge can be spread and research facilitated more easily.