The Honors Program allows qualified history majors to pursue a year-long independent research project on a topic of their choice, in close consultation with one or more History faculty members. Students will produce a written work of approximately 80 to 100 or more pages, compete with footnote, bibliography, illustrations, maps, etc. In the spring, the department will invite outside examiners to read and assess the students’ work, and they confer with the faculty to determine the degree of honors to be assigned to each student’s honors thesis. To clarify the stages of the program and the expectations of all participants—students, faculty, advisors, and outside examiners—the department has composed the following guidelines.
Interested students should begin to prepare for the Honors admissions process toward the end of the sophomore year. They should figure out if they will be likely to meet the GPA requirements for eligibility to submit a proposal. Juniors interested in pursuing Honors should start thinking about the topic of their prospective research, and discussing their interests with members of the History faculty. Juniors who go off campus for one or both semesters need to plan ahead carefully, and contact the History Department and relevant faculty members about the Honors admissions process and prospective projects while they are away (if they are absent in the spring semester). All Honors students must have completed the “Practice and Theory of History” methods seminar (HIST 387) prior to their senior year.
B. Requirements and Procedures
To be eligible to participate in the Honors Program a student must meet criteria 1 and 2 below:
- Possess the minimum grade point averages. The Social Sciences Division of the College requires an overall cumulative grade point average of 3.33 for participation in Honors. The Department of History requires a cumulative grade point average of 3.5 in all history courses by the end of the junior year.
- Possess the personal and intellectual qualities necessary for successfully completing an honors thesis. The History faculty will make this determination based on the student’s A) maturity, B) analytical skills, C) research and writing ability, and D) ability to conduct independent research. This assessment will be based on the student’s prior performance in courses taught by the History faculty.
- Each spring, the History chair invites students who meet criteria 1 and 2 above to submit a research proposal in August of that year. The letter of eligibility provides guidelines for producing a viable proposal. Each candidate MUST discuss with a member of the History faculty their research topic, questions, and bibliography prior to submission of the proposal. That faculty member will serve as the primary thesis advisor if the proposal is approved by the History department. Proposals submitted by students who have failed to consult with the likely thesis advisor will not be accepted.
- OVER THE SUMMER BEFORE THE FIRST SEMESTER OF THE SENIOR YEAR, students planning to pursue Honors should follow up their exploratory discussions with faculty members by preparing a thesis proposal. This proposal should consist of an overview of the project, a preliminary bibliography of the major scholarship, and some primary sources on the subject they plan to research. The overview should consist of a review of the scholarship on the topic, possible research questions, and—ideally-- a tentative thesis. The bibliography normally will be several pages in length (depending on the topic) and should be arranged in some kind of order (by types of sources, alphabetized overall and within categories). It need not be perfectly polished or completely definitive. Prospective Honors students, therefore, should try to plan their summers so as to allow some time in a library or access to a computer connected to online library catalogs.
Over the summer students should feel free to contact faculty for help and further consultation, keeping in mind, of course, that faculty may be away or unreachable for all or part of the summer. In addition, students may make adjustments in the framework or conceptualization of their original topics, in accordance with their initial findings in compiling the preliminary bibliography. While the thesis proposal is NOT a CONTRACT IN STONE, it should ensure that the project is a viable one, and get students started in order to make the best possible use of time in the fall.
- Students will submit their proposals, via email, to the History Department chair in early August. (The chair will send out reminder emails in July.) The department faculty will review the proposals to determine the viability of the projects. Those students whose projects are deemed acceptable will be admitted into the Honors program. The History faculty will strive to make these determinations by the beginning of classes. Accepted students should change their registration from Senior Seminar 490 to Senior Honors 497, for which they will need the chair’s signature.
II. Structure and Expectations of the Honors Program
Honors students and faculty members will meet at least three times in small groups throughout the fall, and once in the spring before the March break. Groups will consist of no more than six students. Students and advisors in each small group are responsible for reading all the first chapters discussed in the fall meetings. Each student will be assigned a primary and secondary faculty advisor. At the end of the year, the primary and secondary advisors are responsible for reading the theses assigned to them. Students and their primary and secondary advisers should maintain close and regular contact throughout the year (email, regular office meetings, etc.), and advisors should return students’ draft chapters with written comments in a timely fashion. (Students are of course free to consult with other History faculty as the circumstances dictate.)
Every year at least one faculty member (normally the department chair) is assigned to supervise the Honors program. The supervisor should make sure throughout the course of the year that both students and advisors understand the guidelines laid out here, and that groups are meeting regularly. The supervisor is also responsible for arranging the visits of outside examiners in the spring.
Students whose work does not measure up to the expected standard at any point in the process may be asked to withdraw from the program and convert to an independent study.
B. Schedule of Meetings and Submissions
- First fall meeting: normally held in the second week of classes
All prospective Honors students and history faculty will meet together to discuss the requirements of the Honors program and the schedule for the year. It is also at this meeting that each student will be assigned primary and secondary faculty advisors. The primary advisor will ordinarily the member with whom the student has already been working. Depending on the number of Honors students, efforts will be made to ensure that all faculty members are advising a student. Students and faculty will also be assigned to small groups, each group consisting of no more than six students and their faculty advisors, with the faculty distributed as evenly as possible (area-wise) among or between the groups.
- Second fall meeting: early October
Students will present to their small groups a thesis proposal revised as a result of discussions with their advisors and other faculty members. (The revised proposal should include an expanded bibliography.) At this point each student should be able to clearly articulate their project's lines of inquiry and analytical framework, and have sufficient primary and secondary sources to enable them to successfully complete the first stages of the project.
- Third fall meeting: early November
Students will present a chapter (it may, but need not, be the first chapter) to their small groups. All group members must read all the chapters presented to their group, and everyone is expected to contribute to the discussion of each chapter.
- Second chapter: due before December break
Small groups will NOT meet to discuss the second chapter, but students MUST turn in a complete draft, in prose form (not outline) of a second chapter before leaving campus for the winter vacation. Non-submission of a second chapter will result in withdrawal from the Honors program. Students who withdraw thus from the program will retroactively receive credit and a letter grade for the fall honor’s seminar, based on their advisor’s evaluation of their first chapter.
- Fourth meeting: early February, within 2 weeks of students' return to campus
All students and advisors should meet once as a single group in the early part of the second semester to share progress and frustrations in research and writing. Any student who wishes to have the group read part of work in progress, or a revised chapter, may submit that to the group at this meeting. Students and advisors should construct a schedule specifying dates for submission of chapter outlines and/or draft chapters.
- Final Submission: late April
It is critical that advisors maintain close contact with students in the final stages of writing, revising, and preparing a polished version of the Honors thesis. A complete draft of the thesis will normally be due to all readers at the end of March. A final, polished version of the thesis will normally be due in mid or late April.
- Outside examination: early May
A copy of these guidelines should be sent to each outside examiner. Outside examiners will read the theses and come to campus to conduct oral examinations. At the conclusion of the oral examinations, outside examiners will meet with the department as a whole to determine the degree of honors. The degrees of honors are: Highest Honors, High Honors, and Honors. It is possible that a student may also receive no honors. The outside examiner and each faculty member who has read the thesis will provide their assessment of its strengths and weaknesses. These faculty members and the outside examiner will then engage in the discussion for the purpose of arriving at a consensus on the degree of honors to be awarded. If no such consensus can be reached, the outside examiner will determine the degree of honors.
C. Withdrawal from the Honors Program
Students may withdraw voluntarily at the end of the first semester. They will receive credit and a letter grade for the fall honors seminar, HIST 497, based on their advisor’s evaluation of the work completed in the first semester. Students who fail to submit a second chapter before winter vacation will be asked to withdraw from the program.
The inability to lay eyes on a major source or archive should not prevent a student from completing a second chapter (which will undoubtedly be revised anyway) before winter break, and so will not be accepted as an excuse for an extension.
Students who withdraw later in the spring will likewise receive appropriate credit and a grade for a senior seminar based on their advisor’s evaluation of their work.
Advisors may sometimes suggest that a student withdraw from Honors. In such a case, the faculty supervisor should review the case with the Chair and make a final determination. Students whose work does not measure up to the expected standard at any point in the process may be asked to withdraw from the program and convert to an independent study.
D. Expectation of students
“What is an honors thesis?”
An honors thesis is a product of original research based upon the use of appropriate primary sources and relevant secondary materials. The thesis should articulate a clear argument or conceptualization of an issue or set of issues. The focus of the argument should be narrow enough to allow the student to finish the thesis within the allotted time and in about 100 pages, but broad enough to allow the student to consider the scope and significance of the argument being developed.
The honors thesis provides the student with an opportunity to polish writing and composition skills, and construct a coherent narrative and a unified argument supported by an analysis of varieties of evidence. It will have a beginning, a middle, and most importantly and end, which students should strive always to keep in mind, indeed to visualize.
“How can I possibly write a thesis?”
Experience shows that the success and satisfaction of the Honors students’ experience will depend largely on their relationship with their advisors. Choosing a topic, finding and using materials, identifying and developing the argument, writing and revising the various parts, then assembling them into a completed manuscript are all stages of the process that students should negotiate with the advisors’ help. Students should therefore arrange with the advisor a regular schedule for meeting and discussing progress on the project.
The process of researching and writing is often a solitary one, but to the extent possible we encourage students to share their experiences with each other and to seek the advice of faculty members as well as their peers. Thus we stress the importance of promoting solidarity in the small groups, reading each other’s work, offering helpful and friendly criticism or praise, and sharing methodological or documentary discoveries.
E. Expectations of Advisors
The single most important task of the advisor is to establish and maintain regular contact with the Honors student. This contact, however it takes place, is critical to the success of the student’s project. Advisors should help students to assess the viability of the project and the availability of the sources, to define and clarify topics and arguments, to use and to cite properly primary and secondary sources, to compose chapters, to revise arguments and to correlate the overall structure of the thesis. Advisors should make written comments on submitted chapters and return them to students in a timely fashion (within two weeks). In the fall advisors should read and prepare oral comments on all the first chapters submitted to the small group; in the spring advisors will read all completed theses submitted by students within the small group.
F. Expectations of Outside Examiners
- Read the thesis, paying attention to the various qualities mentioned above, and assess its merits.
- Prepare questions and comments to initiate and guide the discussion during the oral examination. Please also prepare a version of questions and comments to share with the student.
- Prior to the campus visit, should questions or concerns arise over a student’s work, consult with department members.
- On the basis of a comparative evaluation of the senior theses, be prepared to engage in discussion with faculty members to reach a consensus as to the degree of honors to be awarded. In the event that a consensus cannot be reached, the outside examiner will decide the degree of honors, based on their assessment of the written work and the faculty-examiner discussion. The outside examiner should keep in mind that an oral examination can only help a student; it cannot lower a prior evaluation of the written work.
- General criteria for degrees of honors:
- Highest Honors: Student demonstrates rigorous use of primary and secondary sources, notably strong analytical and interpretative skills, and the exemplary exercise of independent judgment in the crafting of a forceful argument. The writing is excellent.
- High Honors: Student makes more than competent use of primary and secondary sources, displays sound analytical and interpretative skills, and demonstrates the effective exercise of independent judgment in the crafting of a coherent argument. The thesis is very well-written and of even quality.
- Honors: Student makes competent use of primary and secondary sources, displays adequate analytical and interpretative skills, and shows some evidence of independent judgment in the crafting of a coherent argument. The thesis is well-written but of uneven quality.
- No honors: Student fails to use primary and secondary sources competently and does not construct and sustain a clear argument.
III. Senior Capstone
Students choosing the Honors option must also complete the Senior Capstone. The Senior Capstone portfolio of Honors students will consist of:
- the preliminary draft chapter submitted to the Honors Seminar in the fall,
- a reworked version of this chapter that draws upon the suggestions and criticisms offered in the Honors Seminar,
- a narrative statement that explains its relation to the thesis as a whole,
- the History Checklist from Symplicity.
See the History Department senior capstone document for additional details.