Fun with PhD thesis access

Seventy-two years ago a nun submitted a PhD thesis to Boston College in the USA which contains an English translation of the Peristephanon of Prudentius.  The work was never published and is rare.  So I wrote to the college and asked for a copy.

My request was declined.  Apparently it might be in copyright.  Shock! Call the lawyers!  “Do you have permission to see this item, sir?” The librarian demands that I write to this now-deceased nun’s order and ask for permission, before she will make me a copy.  I’ve been chuckling about this all evening.

I mean… I have to ask the Pope (or his representative), before they will send a copy of a 72 year old thesis to a scholar to use for research purposes?  It’s pretty daft, isn’t it.  And if I can find someone with “authority” to allow me to look at this, I shall have to be careful how I ask, in case they wonder if I’m taking the mick. 

Ah, libraries…

Of course it may be that the environment in which the library has to work is more risky than I think.  UK television depicts Americans as people who go around either sueing each other or blowing each other’s heads off on a daily basis.  Obviously it must be true — the TV programmes are mostly made in the USA.    If so, no wonder the library is a bit gun-shy.  No wonder they want to waste my time, and that of the recipient, just in case. 

But I had not realised that gangs of nuns might be so much of a threat to them as that.  Rampaging gangs, equipped with semi-automatics and a hot-line to a law-firm; man, it’s dangerous out there in Boston.

I’ve written back and shifted the onus on them, by asking to whom I should write.  That will cost them something to find out, although not much.  Once this nonsense makes work for them, rather than just me, they may see sense.

3 Responses to “Fun with PhD thesis access”


  1. Christopher Ecclestone

    as a nun her estate would have gone to the order so the property right is with the library you contacted.

    I feel bad for the authors of these works. Slave over this for years. get no recognition then 72 years later in a digital age someone takes an interest and the door is slammed shut on the work. She undertook the work presumably because it was virgin territory and lo and behold she has not be able to add anything to scholarship because “the keepers” have come down with an attack of gormlessness.

  2. Roger Pearse

    I think it depends how it grabs you. I think it’s funny. Just imagine it…

    A secret meeting of the Inquisition is taking place, “somewhere in the Vatican city.” Pope Benedict XVI himself is in attendance. Albino monks are on the doors. The mood is tense. A cardinal coughs, nervously.

    His Holiness nods, opens his mouth… and the Holy mobile phone rings. With an impatient gesture, the pope answers it; and a little voice says, “Excuse me your Holiness, but could I possible have permission to get a copy for research purposes of a 72 year old thesis on the Peristephanon of Prudentius?”

    Amazed, the pope asks, “Who is this?” A flunky tears it from his hand, and utters a hasty reassurance and promise and puts the phone down.

    Once more the Pope prepares to give his address on the problems of the Church in Europe… and the phone rings again. “Hello, um, it’s me again. There’s another thesis…”

  3. More fun with a thesis at Roger Pearse

    […] I’ve already blogged on how Boston College library demand that I get permission from a religious order before they will supply me with a copy for research purposes of a 1937 thesis written by a nun.  […]



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