In reading a work of history (a secondary source), the place to begin is to seek out the author's main points--to find out what she is trying to tell you. Only when you understand what it is she wants to convince you, can you begin to ask critical questions about the book or article. Basic to this task is the distinction between theme and thesis (plural, theses). Essentially the theme is what the book or article is about; the thesis is what it attempts to prove. All books have a theme, or topic; good ones have both a theme and a thesis (or, in fact, several theses with one or two dominant ones which run through the entire work). A thesis is often quite simple and direct, not necessarily an extremely subtle or brilliantly new idea. But it is an idea which needs explanation and defense before you, the reader, can be expected to agree to it.
Professor Melunet Bcsikçi. who is now at Yildiz Technical University in Turkey, has expanded his 2009 PhD dissertation into a fuller account of the mobilization experience of the Ottoman Empire in the First World War. He notes that this experience was "a constant, two-pronged attempt on the part of the state at accommodating voluntary participation and containing resistance" (p. 1). This book is not a military history of mobilization-rather, it focuses on the social and cultural relationships between Ottoman citizens and the state apparatus of conscription and service. While he focuses on Ottoman mobilization of manpower in the First World War, Bcsikçi's study is an overview of several broad areas from which it is difficult for the reader to establish a unifying theme and thesis. If there is a thesis to be made from this book it is "That the Ottoman conscription system was always incomplete" (p. 314).
Introduction (Theme and Thesis)
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