For What It’s Worth: Self-archiving My 2003 MA Dissertation on Art Spiegelman’s Maus

Panel from Maus by Art Spiegelman (1991)
Panel from Maus by Art Spiegelman (1991)

“There are essential reasons for which a concept in the process of being formed always remains inadequate relative to what it ought to be, divided, disjointed between two forces. And this disjointedness has a necessary relationship with the structure of archivization. It follows, certainly, that Freudian psychoanalysis proposes a new theory of the archive; it takes into account a topic and a death drive without which there would not in effect be any desire or any possibility for the archive.”

-Jacques Derrida, Archive Fever: A Freudian Impression, Diacritics, Vol. 25, No. 2 (Summer, 1995)

It took quite a lot of time and media archaeology work but I have finally located and restored the files that composed my 2003 MA dissertation, and have made them available as a single PDF that I have now self-archived open access on figshare.

It’s now embarrassingly and openly available at

This is student coursework written in 2003– needless to say it should be judged as such and not as the work the author would be capable of writing today. It is hoped the reader will be able to make this essential distinction. It is shared for documentation purposes only and in the spirit of openness and transparency.

The text below is a slightly modified and expanded version of the “About This Document” note I wrote for the deposited version.

The PDF file that I have deposited contains the unrevised text of the thesis I submitted on 1 September 2003 to the University of East Anglia, Norwich, United Kingdom, in fulfillment of the requirements for the Degree of Master of Arts in Culture and Communication at the erstwhile School of English and American Studies.

I wrote that thesis 17 years ago.

I would write a different thing today, both in form and content. It was my first attempt at a long-form piece of scholarship in English (I am a Spanish native speaker), and it was written during what now I retrospectively can understand as both one of the most truly difficult and wonderful times of my life.

Needless to say, I did not know then what I know now. The thesis, I think it is now fair to say, was written completely solo, without the level of hand-holding supervision from postgraduate academic supervisors that UK higher education expects these days as the norm. It also reflects my academic and cultural background, and shows the markers of non-anglo scholarship, evident in everything from syntax to formatting to sentence and paragraph structure to argumentation and citation style (I loathe footnotes now- but hey).

This is not to say that all errors and inconsistencies were not solely mine. I’d just like to place this document in context as student work created at a particular time in a particular place, reflecting my interests and abilities and overall context at the time.

I have shared it now, all these years later, as a means to document and archive an effort that once was, and as a piece of evidence of who I was back then- for what it’s worth, with all its limitations. The thesis is for me a historical artifact, as it absolutely needs updating in terms of scholarship (deconstruction has fallen out of favour, even if in my opinion it remains a poignant lens to understand problems that are still very much current), and our understanding of comics in general and of Maus in particular has not stopped marching on.

So now, yes, the whole thing makes me feel hugely embarrassed, but hey, I did get my MA degree, and went on to write and teach, and then do a PhD. The rest is history and a personal story that is still in the making. I don’t know, I hope that perhaps there’s something there, if only that it shows that once, in 2003, I submitted a thesis on Maus, and passed, and got my degree.

The University of East Anglia’s Postgraduate Degree of Master of Arts in Culture and Communication, like the School of English and American Studies that hosted it, does not exist anymore. At the time, all students were asked to submit two print copies and a digital copy on CD (this was 2003, kids). Sadly, neither the School nor the University Library kept digital or physical copies of any postgraduate dissertations submitted back then, including this one. After inquiring, I was informed a few years ago by email that they had all been destroyed.

Not all the effort put into the thesis was lost and forgotten and deleted. Portions of the research included in this dissertation were included in different revised and partial form in the following peer-reviewed publications:

  • Priego, Ernesto (2002) “Art Spiegelman: el cómic como testimonio”, in De memoria y escritura, edited by Esther Cohen Dabah and Ana María Martínez de la Escalera, Ejercicios de memoria 3; Mexico: UNAM, Institute of Philological Research, Poetics Seminar (Instituto de Investigaciones Filológicas, Seminario de Poética).
  • Priego, Ernesto (2011). “Of Maus and Work-in-progressness”, in Priego, Ernesto; Brooks, Brad; Labarre, Nicolas et al, (eds) (2014): The Comics Grid. Year One. London: The Comics Grid. Journal of Comics Scholarship Digital First Editions 2012. City, University of London.
  • Priego, Ernesto, (2015). Ahí donde no estás: de nombres propios y otros fantasmas. Mexico: National Council for Arts and Culture (CONACULTA); Veracruz Institute for Culture (Instituto Veracruzano de Cultura).

Given the justified ongoing interest in Spiegelman’s Maus and on topics of documentary, non-fiction comics and comics as testimony, for years I thought I should perhaps do something with this file that had been buried alive in a couple of dusty back-up drives in my cabinets. Because it had been so important for me because of what it allowed to happen in my life afterwards, I was tired of its spectre haunting me, and thought that a way to put it finally to rest would be by repackaging it, verbatim with exception of this note and minor formatting issues, and deposit it as is in an Open Access repository.

The original submission contained the default copyright notice required by UEA back then:

‘This copy of the thesis has been supplied on condition that anyone who consults it is understood to recognize that its copyright rests with the author and that no quotation from the thesis, nor any information derived therefrom, may be published without the author’s prior, written consent.’

In order to share the text of my thesis open access, I have now licensed my own work under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Why am I self-archiving this now? One reason is that I was not aware of self-archiving then, and institutional repositories were not what they are now (Professor Adam Tickell’s independent report on open access for the UK Department for Business, Innovation & Skills was only published in February 2016). But an important reason is, I confess, that “archive fever” that as author, academic and collector has always possessed me, and therefore because of that “disjointedness” signaled by Derrida 25 years ago now, between both the drive for preservation and a certain death drive, or at least awareness of time passing, and a need to organise and re-organise an understanding of my own life. Because I am not necessarily proud of that thesis now, as a piece of work, but at the same I am, because of what I tried to say with it and what it meant at the time and what it did make happen, and because I cannot either deny that I ever worked on it, and that it meant so much to me once and, through its consequences, even today.

By self-archiving it I also document and archive myself, a bit of me, with all its contradictions and mistakes, its quintessential disjointedness. It is what it is, and for me there is not really much point unless, for what it’s worth, I open it up somehow, unless I let it go, releasing from the obscurity of the private drawer, and let it be, even if that means nothing at all. At least it is now out there and not just here, whatever that means.