The Senior Honors Thesis
For students who write senior honors theses, even those who don’t plan to become professional historians, the experience is often the most gratifying—and the most challenging—of their undergraduate careers. Writing a thesis offers students an unparalleled opportunity to immerse themselves in research and writing, and it is also the path to graduating with Latin Honors as a history major.
The senior thesis in history takes the form of a multi-chapter paper, usually about 75-125 pages in length. Each student works closely with a faculty thesis director, who helps identify a topic, map out a research strategy, and guide the writing process. A second reader reads the final version and offers a recommendation as to level of honors; in many cases, the second reader also advises and reads along the way. The expectation is that students will produce a polished research essay that offers an original interpretation of primary sources.
Students who are considering writing a senior thesis should plan ahead. History 301, Historical Methods, is intended to give students the basic skills necessary to undertake any research project. Students should take sufficient 3xx and 4xx level courses in their area of interest to acquire the necessary background and expertise for completing a thesis in that area. In addition, thesis writers are required to take at least one, and ideally two, advanced seminars during their junior year as the best preparation for the senior honors thesis. (Students whose study abroad plans make this impossible should consult with the Director of the Honors Program to identify alternative preparation strategies).
In the ideal scenario, during the course of an Advanced Seminar, the junior-year student and the instructor mutually agree on a potential thesis topic, survey the relevant secondary literature, address any deficiencies in writing skills, identify and locate the necessary sources, and form the personal working relationship essential to success in the senior year. Students returning from abroad, or those who plan to write in areas of history not addressed in their junior-year seminars, have an individual responsibility to take the initiative in contacting a likely thesis director and convincing her or him that their topic and program of research is doable.
These directors, in turn, have the responsibility to question potential thesis writers about their plans, and if necessary, to dissuade those students whose preparation, writing skills, or research ambitions appear deficient. Students should identify a thesis director during the spring semester of the junior year.
Students undertaking a senior thesis work individually with a thesis director, and also participate in weekly meetings of the Senior Honors Colloquium, which addresses such varied topics as interlibrary loan and bibliography, the research process, and writing strategies. Senior honors candidates in International Studies and other related programs are welcome to participate in the Colloquium. The coordinator of the Colloquium authorizes registration for History 399.
Thesis writers enroll for four credits of History 399 during both the Fall and Spring semesters, but students receive the same grade for both semesters based on the final evaluation of the thesis. Both semesters of History 399 are designated Writing Intensive, as all successful theses are subject to revision and rewriting. The senior thesis is a polished research essay, frequently submitted with applications for graduate study and for employment.
In addition to writing the senior thesis, students must maintain overall academic excellence. The College of Arts & Sciences has established a minimum grade point average requirement (averaging all courses, not just those in history) for Latin honors at 3.65. The top 15% in overall GPA among Latin honors candidates will receive summa cum laude; the next 35% magna cum laude; the next 50% cum laude. Students whose grade point average falls below 3.65 may still enroll in the Senior Thesis Colloquium and receive a specific level of distinction from the History Department.
Satisfactory completion of the thesis qualifies students for induction into the Rowland Berthoff History Society. The best senior work also competes for the J. Walter Goldstein Prize (and cash honorarium), awarded annually to the outstanding student in the honors program.
Honors theses from the 2020-2021 academic year
- "Eternal Victims: How the Southern Upper Classes Absolved Themselves of Culpability in the Aftermath of the Civil War"
- Advisor: Douglas Flowe
Elizabeth (Liz) Keller:
- “The Practicall and Abusive Metamorphosis of Man: John Bulwer's Anthropometamorphosis and the Construction of the English Body"
- Advisor: Christina Ramos
- "A 'Storm of Controversy': Anti-Abortion Activism, Partisan Politics, and the Mexico City Policy"
- Advisor: Andrea Friedman
Charles (Wil) Morriss:
- "Populist Propaganda: The New Deal Social Documentaries of Pare Lorentz"
- Advisor: Kristoffer Smemo
- "Invaluable Images: A Study of Photography in Three Postwar Presidencies"
- Advisor: Peter Kastor
- "William Rogers: The Country Club Secretary of State"
- Advisor: Mark Pegg
- "'We Kept the City Alive': Teamsters, Tenants, and the Soul of St. Louis"
- Advisor: Douglas Flowe
The Department of History wishes to congratulate our 2018 Rhodes Scholar!
- "Moral Treason and Black Civil War Widows in the Post-Emancipation Era"
- Advisor: Iver Bernstein