Getting Started

Updated for fall term 2009, 23 Sep 09

WebCT, DNDLearn, or Moodle?

RMC appears to have little control over its distance delivery platform, which has vacillated in coordination with the Canadian Defence Academy over the last three years between WebCT and DNDLearn, with Moodle openware now entering the mix.  From a professor’s perspective, this is frustrating and time-consuming, so I will not be using the RMC platform until there is some consistency. My colleagues have recently been 

If an alternative becomes available, I’ll let you know.

For now, there are two parts to the course site. The weekly “inputs” are on the white pages, and the weekly student “outputs” and discussions are on the grey pages, accessible by signing in through the student page from this site.  The grey pages from last year’s course will be accessible for a while, after I have received permission from last year’s students, but I won’t leave them up all term because it will get confusing, for me if not for you.  The grey pages include a Forum for any general comments or notices received from students or colleagues, that don’t relate to a specific week. 

Routine for the course

The course will run for 12 classes over 13 weeks. You should plan on a minimum of 6-9 hours per week, and will need more than that for weeks when assignments are due.  My nominal class days for WS507 are Tuesdays 1420-1630 and Thursday 1430-1530.  Try to read through the course material, and send me any requests for clarification before Tuesday 1400.  I will try to answer questions of clarification the same day I receive them, but cannot guarantee that that will be possible.  The white pages are available for the whole year, but are labelled at the top either “updated” or “under construction”.  Changes will be minor in most cases, unless there is feedback from colleagues or students.


There will be no teleconference associated with WS507 this year.  We tried it last year and most students did not participate.  If you need to speak to me, I am available during office hours, and sometimes other hours, at 613 541 6000 ext 3593.  I am not available by cell phone, but we can look into skype. 

Please include WS507 in the subject line of all correspondence.

Assignments are due by 1600 Friday of the week in which they are assigned, and I will try to get comments back to you the following week.  I am flexible about when I get assignments if you are flexible about when you get them back. I was able to provide comments to some but not all of the students last year who submitted work after the end of the term.  This year I do not expect to be able to provide further feedback after the end of the term due to other commitments.

Working through the course

Begin by flipping through the 12 weeks, and checking your own calendar.  I have some flexibility in when I receive your work, if you have some flexibility in when you get comments back.  Try to let me know if you can’t make any particular week and we’ll make alternate arrangements if we can.

The first week is critical.  Pay particular attention to the options you have as a student:

  1. a.    you know you want to write a thesis and already have a topic and a supervisor  

  2. b.    you are fairly sure you want to write a thesis, but are still searching for topic and supervisor

  3. c.    you might want to write a thesis, but are keeping your options open

If you are (a) there is some flexibility in the assignments to conform to the direction of your supervisor, particularly if you are writing a history thesis.

If you are (b) or (c) you must pick a proxy topic with which to work through the examples and assignments for the course.  Your proxy should be similar to your eventual topic, and you need to know something about it to make good use of the time you will spend thinking through the research topic.

If you are (c) and have no idea what you want to research or who would supervise your work then you should seriously consider dropping this course and completing the MA with the course pattern.

If you cannot identify a tentative topic and supervisor by week 4, you should consider dropping the course.

On the other hand, some students doing research projects have found the course a useful way to begin their research toward that end.

Note on the evolution of the course

Prior to 2004, students in War Studies at RMC were not required to take a formal methods course.  Efforts were made to provide an informal (non-credit) course involving seminar discussions with professors about how they did their research.  some years this extended to more formal lectures on historiography.  The 2005 Graduate Studies Calendar introduced the requirement for a methods course for students in the thesis stream. 

Professor Whitehorn began teaching WS607 for PhD candidates, with a focus on qualitative and quantitative research design and methods for the social sciences.  WS607 was designed to culminate in a thesis research proposal. WS507 was offered as an on-site course for MA students in winter 2008, and online for the first time in winter 2009.

The first iteration of WS507 followed the WS607 model and provided students an opportunity to work through their research methods to a completed proposal. This had mixed results.  Students who had already chosen a topic and made progress on research found some aspects of the course irrelevant to their case.  Others who had no clear view of their own research topic were disadvantaged because they could not apply the material to a case.

Methods appropriate to research in history and social sciences diverge somewhat, but perhaps less than some people imagine.  In a classic speech delivered to the Institute of Electrical Engineers in 1965, H.B.G. Casimir explained that outside the British Isles, “marmalade” is a subspecies of the genus “jam”, while in Britain, it is a separate genus.  Similarly, “science” outside the English-speaking world includes all branches of systematic enquiry, and history is indeed a science, though some marmalade-eaters may demur. 

The course and texts are primarily intended to prepare students for research using social science methods, but each course is tailored somewhat to the research interests and thesis ambitions of the students taking it, and therefore historiography and methods for historical research will be emphasized to the extent that members of the class are pursuing historical research. History will be treated as a scientific discipline for the purposes of research methods.

H.B.G. Casimir, “When does jam become marmalade?” A Random Walk in Science: An Anthology Compiled by R.L. Weber, edited by E. Mendoza (London: Institute of Physics, 1973)