The History Department invites outstanding students to write a 40- to 80-page honors thesis. To qualify, you need to be a senior in the top 20% of the major. This means an upper-division History GPA of at least 3.65. You must have completed at least four 400- and 500-level History courses. One of these courses must be History 400, in which you must have earned either an A- or an A.
Researching and writing an honors thesis will go with you into graduate school, into a profession, or into business – anywhere that the ability to do substantial, evidence-based, well-written research is prized. It will add extra depth to your undergraduate History major, and it will allow you to explore a topic of your own choosing more fully than you could in any other undergraduate course.
The honors thesis needs to include substantial work with primary sources. It also needs to include the scholarly context from relevant historical literature. Your thesis may also consider other perspectives, especially those that you can find in major, historiographically significant works about distant times and places. Such works – even if they are about societies hundreds of years and thousands of miles from your own sources and questions— can serve as a model for how to work with your material. You may base your honors thesis on a topic about which you have already written for another course. To be turned into a 40- to 80-page thesis, any project based upon work in a previous course will require complete reworking and rewriting. The size limit is 80 pages. This is not a goal but a limit. The goal is 40-50 pages of good prose, excluding apparatus and bibliography. This assumes the kind of formatting that publishers require -- generous margins and double-spacing for everything, including notes and block quotations.
Beginning the Process
If you think you qualify, and you have some idea about one or more topics that you
might want to research, please see the Honors Adviser. Bring an unofficial copy of your transcripts. The Honors Adviser will verify that
you meet the GPA and other requirements. They will also help you to refine your ideas
about a topic, and select a faculty member whom you could then ask to become your
honors thesis supervisor, based upon that faculty-member’s areas of expertise. You
will work with your supervisor to research and write the honors thesis. Once your
supervisor has agreed, you will enroll for the 3-unit course, History 490, “Senior
Honors Thesis,” with the permission of the Honors Adviser. Successful completion of
History 490 will satisfy three units of History Elective for the Major.
Meeting Others Along the Way
Whether you are writing an undergraduate honors thesis, a Masters thesis, or a doctoral
dissertation, one of pleasantest and most useful things to do is to join your fellow
students in a thesis writers group. You will find that you want to compare notes –
maybe literally. You can share insights and concerns about research methods, archival
issues, historiographical questions, and the writing process itself. Once most everyone
is well along in their first drafts, your group can meet frequently enough to circulate
chapters, discussing a different member’s work every week. The insights that you would
get from reading each other’s work can be very valuable; even more valuable is the
need to get a chapter done in time for the other people to read it. Groups of three
or four people can work great; so can groups of eight or ten, although you might have
to have two presentations a week towards the end of the term. To help kick things
off, the Honors Adviser will call everyone in the honors program together around week
three of the term. This organizational meeting is a requirement. To help you stay in touch with your fellows, and to give you more insight into how
other people carry out their research projects and write their works of history, everyone
in the honors program is also required to attend each of the department’s brown bag research seminars (they are typically
held about three times a semester), as well as the Appleby lecture in the spring.
Your supervisor will establish a due date somewhat before the end of the semester in which you take History 490 – early enough so there is time for the supervisor to evaluate the thesis well before finals week. Please give a copy of the thesis to the Honors Adviser as well. Completing the honors thesis brings special recognition at the History Department’s annual awards ceremony in the spring, and a Certificate of Recognition in History at graduation.