Considering the comparatively great amount of writing that the Harvard curriculum requires of the average undergraduate, it is somewhat surprising to observe how little opportunity is allowed for the accomplishment of original work outside of composition courses. Although sometimes, unfortunately, the importance of such mechanical devices as footnotes is sadly exaggerated, the greater part of course theses rightly place the emphasis almost entirely upon the tasks of gathering and correlating source material. This principle generally assures a thorough knowledge of his subject on the part of the student. There is, however, a place in the college curriculum for something more than mere competently written presentation of absorbed material.
Professor Murdock, for example, in requiring in his American Literature course an entirely original criticism for which no reading should be done except the work to be criticized, offers a refreshing relief from courses in which students tend to become mere rewriters of other facts and thoughts. A report of this type which disposes of all research entirely is of course, the ultimate in allowing full leeway to individual ingenuity and is perhaps only possible in the completeness of its emphasis upon this aspect in the field of Literature. The general principles involved, however, can well be applied in varying degrees in other fields. In the case of history, for example, while at present no effort is made to prohibit originality on the part of the student, the emphasis is too often placed upon the rehashing possibilities of thesis writing. If on the other hand, the emphasis were placed more heavily upon the student's individual interpretation of history the practical value of the theses would be greatly augmented.
In general, written reports offer a fairer basis for judgment of the student's ability than such devices as hour examinations, but where such reports are allowed to degenerate into mere compilations of source material, their constructive value to the student is dubious: