This outline clarifies expectations that accompany writing an honors thesis, and should answer most of your questions.
Special attention is given to developing a research proposal, to the importance of working with a faculty adviser, and to the various stages of writing the thesis during the senior year. Individual members of the faculty may suggest variations on these guidelines, so students should consult with their faculty adviser early in this process to reach a mutual understanding about the appropriate form for a thesis.
If you have any further questions, feel free to discuss them with your faculty adviser or the coordinator of the history department honors program, Professor Lisa Wilson.
Q: General Information
The history department honors program is designed to offer motivated and accomplished senior majors the opportunity to engage in a two-semester, independent, in-depth research project in close cooperation with a member of the faculty. Students accepted into the program register for HIS 497-498 (a total of eight credits). They are required to take HIS 497 (Honors Seminar), write an honors thesis, and present their work in an open forum. Students must earn a grade of A or A- in order to graduate with departmental honors.
Are you contemplating doing a thesis? Then the first step is to develop an interesting question and think about how to answer it. The topic should be sufficiently focused so that the thesis can be completed in two semesters. The topic may be part of a larger issue or it could be entirely self-contained.
Remember that the topic should be related to the interests and skills of a member of the history department. What follows are general guidelines the department uses when considering honors proposals and in evaluating completed theses.
The most general requirement is that a thesis must involve original primary research. You might deal with a new or refined interpretation and explanation of a historical problem. Or you might seek to fill a gap in our knowledge, although you would need to demonstrate that filling that gap is worthwhile. There may be other ways to make original contributions, including combinations of the above.
A thesis should build on knowledge you have already acquired and wish to take to higher levels of understanding and sophistication. If you have one or two ideas for a thesis in mind, meet with an appropriate history department faculty member to explore them. Interested students are encouraged to begin discussing the possibility of doing an honors thesis with their adviser as early as the sophomore year.
Receiving honors requires an A or A- as the final grade for your thesis. It involves a great deal of work and creativity, including going through several drafts with your thesis adviser, the honors director, and your readers. Keep in mind that honors quality means well written, understandable to both specialists (your advisers) and sophisticated historians of any field or time period (your peers in the Honors Program), and demonstrative of a thoughtful and creative analysis. Students contemplating honors are required to take at least one 300- or 400-level history course during their junior year.
Entry into the history department Honors Program is a competitive process. Students who seek admission must satisfy the following requirements:
- Have a 3.5 average in their major and have an adviser that is a member of the history department.
- Have received a grade of A or A- in at least two courses in the department.
- Have done course work in the field in which the project is to be conducted.
- Obtain written approval from a department member who agrees to act as adviser and the approval of your choice of readers by your adviser and the consent of the readers themselves.
- Receive departmental approval of the project (See Approval Process and Deadlines, next topic).
Q: Approval Process and Deadlines
1. Pre-register for HIS 497 during the second semester of junior year. Those studying abroad may register for HIS 497 at the beginning of the senior year; for the spring semester of your senior year sign up for History 498. You should appear in your adviser’s class list for that semester. On rare occasions if you are an education student with student teaching in the fall or on a SATA with your adviser in the fall semester in the country that will be the focus of your study it might be possible to do a thesis. Such a student should consult with their adviser to see if this is feasible. Such exceptions will be approved on a case-by-case basis.
2. During the second half of the spring semester of the junior year: students interested in writing an honors thesis should contact an appropriate member of the department to ask if the faculty member is willing to act as adviser for the honors thesis.
3. By the end of the first week of the fall semester: students must submit a 2-3-page proposal to the Coordinator of the Honors program stating the aims, scope, and method of the project and the types of sources to be used. The department member who agrees to serve as adviser signs the proposal or otherwise indicates to the department in writing that he or she is willing to supervise the project.
4. The Honors Program Coordinator will circulate the proposal to members of the department. Any member with a comment is expected to convey it promptly to the adviser or the Coordinator. If doubts about the appropriateness of the project persist, the department chair may be asked to convene a department meeting to consider the proposal. Final approval of a project requires the consent of the adviser and of the department. The Coordinator notifies the student about the outcome of this process.
5. The department conducts its review of proposals in a timely manner so that if a project is not approved, the student will have ample time to rewrite the proposal or register for alternative courses. Under no circumstances will proposals be accepted after the first week of classes of the senior year (see 6 below).
6. Students may also develop projects in the course of the Honors Seminar in the fall, but they must still find an adviser and get departmental approval for their thesis project by the end of the first week of classes of the senior year or they will not be permitted to enter the Honors Program. They must also get the Honors Card signed by their advisers and readers and submit this as well.
Q: The Thesis Proposal
I. The Question
State as succinctly as possible the question you are addressing. It is often helpful to state a "hypothesis" in your proposal. One source of interesting historical questions comes from debates between scholars: see where each scholar emphasizes different factors, conditions, or causes. Your subsequent research may shed light on a particular area of disagreement.
II. The Significance of the Question
Explain why the question is important. If related issues are controversial among scholars or practitioners, what are the competing views? If you are approaching a topic in a new or innovative manner, how have others approached it and what contributions might your approach make? If you are exploring a new topic, what is the gap in the literature and why is it significant?
III. The Research
A thesis in the history department must be based on primary sources either in the original language or in translation. You need to explain what sources you plan to use, where they are located, and what methodologies you are considering using to analyze your information.
A thesis typically has four components:
1. An introductory chapter that deals with theory, methodology and historiography.
2. Two or more chapters that analyze the primary research you have conducted.
3. A concluding chapter.
4. A complete bibliography.
Minor components include a table of contents and acknowledgments. Refinements and variations are possible and should be worked out with your adviser. A history thesis is typically 80 to 100 pages long.
Q: Schedule during Thesis Year
Students need to enroll in HIS 497 (The Honors Seminar) during the fall term of their senior year; however, any student whose proposal is not departmentally approved by the end of the first week of classes of the senior year will not be permitted to enter the Honors Program. During the first week of the senior year, honors students, in addition to enrolling in HIS 497, must meet with their thesis adviser to develop a schedule of tasks and meetings. The adviser may want a thorough outline of Chapter I written as soon after classes begin, or may assign a preliminary course of readings so that the structure of Chapter I can be firmed up. This is also a good time to agree on the composition of the Thesis Committee, composed of the thesis adviser, a second member of the history department and a third reader outside of the department. Finally, students should reach an understanding of when various tasks will be completed and develop a preliminary schedule for meetings.
During the first semester, a number of assignments based on your thesis research will be due as part of the Honors Seminar. This work should be handed in to both your adviser and the Honors Program Coordinator (who teaches HIS 497). You will spend much of the first semester focusing on research and methodology but you should always be thinking in terms of the written project since you will have to submit appropriate parts to your adviser at mutually agreed upon times. Many students choose to write the introductory chapter during the first semester even though it will probably be rewritten later in the thesis year. As you work on subsequent chapters, you will think of refinements and it is often the case that the introductory chapter cannot be written definitively until the entire thesis is completed.
By the end of the first semester, your thesis adviser and the Honors Program Coordinator will expect either a very detailed outline of your entire thesis or a draft of at least one chapter. Normally, this reflects between 25 and 40 pages of high-quality research and writing. If this is of A or A- quality, then you will get an IP (In Progress) grade for HIS 497 and continue to HIS 498. If a student is dropped from the program, or decides not to pursue an honors thesis after completing HIS 497, the student should drop HIS 498 during the Add-Drop period of the spring term and will receive a retroactive grade for an Independent Study or HIS 495.
Assuming that you receive an IP for HIS 497 and continue with HIS 498, you will develop another schedule of tasks and meetings with your adviser for the spring semester. There will also be regular group meetings of all honors students with the Honors Program Coordinator. Toward the end of the semester there are items to work out, such as submitting copies of all readers and scheduling a meeting with them to discuss the quality of the final draft. If the process is completed successfully, one copy will go to your adviser, one to the Honors Program Coordinator, one to each of the readers, one to the library, and one to you. All those who successfully complete the History Department Honors Program will be expected to give a short oral presentation on their research at an open forum, normally held during the last week of classes.
The final draft of the thesis is due on May 1st at 5 p.m. in the Registrar’s office. This is a college-wide deadline and no extensions are possible. Your adviser must receive advance drafts of all chapters well ahead of this deadline which will permit the fine-tuning that can make the difference between a good paper and an excellent and sophisticated piece of research. Along with your thesis you must submit an "Honors Thesis Adviser’s Signature Page" signed by your thesis adviser and your readers. One copy should go to the departmental office, one to your adviser, one to the Registrar’s office and one to the Library.
The history department suggests the following deadlines for thesis work. Actual deadlines should be worked out with the thesis adviser.
End of Spring Break: polished draft due (typed, double-spaced)
Early April: draft returned to student, with comments
April 15-20: revisions completed
May 1: final thesis submitted. Students will submit a completed "Honors Thesis Submission Form" with the Registrar's Office, which closes at 5:00 p.m. Students must also provide a digital copy to the library via the Honors Study Resources Moodle site for inclusion in the College's Digital Commons, the College’s digital repository of scholarly works.