The Department of History Honors Program offers students a unique opportunity to work intensively on a year-long project with one or two faculty members and a small group of peers. We encourage history majors to consider this option, which over the years students and faculty have always considered one of their most rewarding experiences at Kenyon.
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 requirement 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). Students must have completed the Practice and Theory methods seminar with a grade of A or A-.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
Students choosing the Honors option must also complete the Senior Capstone. The Senior Capstone portfolio of Honors students will consist of:
See the History Department senior capstone document for additional details.