I just downloaded a full-length thesis as a pdf from the "thèses-en-ligne" website, which is maintained by the French CNRS as a host for doctoral theses based on multidisciplinary research. There are over 5,000 theses available, including a number having to do with, among other things, prehistory and paleoenvironments.
I think this is a brilliant initiative that should serve as a model for other countries. First, it gives doctoral research a wider diffusion than it might otherwise get, especially given the difficulties of procuring theses from overseas for the Interlibrary Loan services of many North American universities. Second, it actually gives publicly-funded research entities an actual, concrete output which citizens can freely access. Lastly, it also forces some transparency in research results (i.e., people can finally check and see whether a PhD thesis really contains a meaningful discussion of certain issues), and it responsabilizes up-and-coming researchers by ensuring that they give back to the funding agencies that financed their work.
I think that, in the US, the NSF should start something like this, and that any public funding for doctoral research should be awarded only if the researcher agrees to provide NSF with a copy of the finished thesis. The same should also be true for the Canadian SSHRC and NSERC.
In any case, the CNRS initiative joins those of a number of other groups that wish to provide access to theses having to do with specific kinds of research. The Paleoanthropology Society's Dissertation Distribution Service is a good example. It is to be hoped that more research societies begin similar efforts
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