The Senior Honors Thesis in History
What Is a Senior Honors Thesis?
The senior honors thesis is a major work of student research based on primary sources that makes an original contribution to the scholarly literature. An honors thesis typically takes the form of a multi-chapter paper about 75-125 pages in length, although other formats are possible. Each student works with a primary adviser – a faculty member in the history department who can provide expert guidance in the subject area of your thesis. All honors thesis writers also enroll in History 399 (the honors thesis seminar), in which students read examples of successful theses and drafts of each other’s work, discuss strategies and technical details for the thesis writing process, and, most importantly, get credit for writing the thesis. The honors thesis seminar is a two-semester sequence, with each semester receiving 4 credits.
Why Write a Senior Honors Thesis?
First and foremost, writing an honors thesis a remarkable opportunity for students to work as historians. Many thesis writers find it is the most challenging—but also the most satisfying—academic experience of their undergraduate careers.
A senior honors thesis is required to receive Latin Honors through the College of Arts and Sciences in history. The level of Latin Honors (cum laude, magna cum laude, summa cum laude) is then determined by the College of Arts & Sciences on the basis of cumulative GPA. Eligibility for Latin honors requires a minimum GPA of 3.65 through the end of six semesters; the awarding of Latin honors depends on maintaining that 3.65 GPA minimum through eight semesters.
More broadly, the senior honors thesis is an opportunity to engage in sustained, supported research and writing on a topic of your choice. It enables you to develop your skills working with primary sources, scholarly literature, and historical argument and exposition to the fullest. It is excellent preparation for graduate study in history or related fields, and an accomplishment that stands out on a resume.
That said, writing an honors thesis is not the right fit for everyone, depending on their other commitments, goals, and academic plans. Students may therefore choose to complete the capstone requirement for the history major through an advanced seminar or independent study, as laid out in the history major guidelines.
How Are Senior Honors Theses Evaluated?
Completed honors theses are read by both the primary adviser and a second reader, another faculty member from history or a related field whose expertise connects with the thesis topic. The primary adviser and second reader confer on awarding each thesis a letter grade and a level of department distinction (distinction/high distinction/highest distinction). The level of distinction is separate from the Latin Honors process and appears separately on the transcript.
I Want to Write an Honors Thesis! What Now?
First-year students considering an honors thesis are strongly encouraged to undertake (additional) language training, as the ability to read sources other than English is necessary for some thesis topics and an advantage for many more. Sophomores should begin thinking about possible topics and consulting with faculty members with whom they might be interested in working. Many thesis writers work with faculty from whom they have previously taken courses. While this is not a requirement, the department strongly recommends that students select an adviser with whom they have worked before and that the thesis topic emerge from a student’s prior coursework. Students planning to study abroad in their junior year are especially encouraged to think about possible topics related to their study-abroad location and to speak with potential advisers before heading abroad. Students may need to revise their proposed honors thesis topics based on their preparation, available faculty advisers, and project feasibility.
In addition to a Historical Methods seminar, required of all history majors, students planning to write an honors thesis should also consider taking an Advanced Seminar in their junior year to receive in-depth training in conducting research and writing substantial essays. Students may incorporate a revised version of the final research paper written for an Advanced Seminar as part of their honors thesis.
In some cases, students may not meet the GPA requirements for Latin Honors eligibility, but have demonstrated the historical thinking skills and initiative necessary to complete an honors thesis. In such cases, with a letter of support from the proposed primary thesis adviser, a student may write an honors thesis and be eligible for departmental honors.
Is There an Application Process?
All students planning to write an honors thesis in the following academic year should complete a short questionnaire by May 1 identifying their thesis topic, their thesis adviser, and their summer plans for making progress on the thesis.
For more information, contact:
Professor Christine Johnson
Director of the Honors Thesis Program in History
Honors theses from the 2022-2023 academic year
- “Perpetuam Salvetatem: Refugee Crisis, Permanent Heresy, and Civic Identity in the Salvetat of Medieval Toulouse.”
Adviser: Mark Pegg
- “’The Nature of Injustice in that We May Not Always See it in Our Own Times”: The Life and Death of the Right to Privacy
Adviser: Christine Johnson
- “'Arise! Those who Refuse to be Slaves.' Coalition between the Black Panther Party and the Chinese Communit Party in the 1960s and 70s. "
- Adviser: Uluğ Kuzuoğlu
- “The Women’s Court and Women’s House of Detention: A ‘Progressive’ Response to Female Criminality in New York City.”
- Adviser: Andrea Friedman
- “’Like the Ogre in the Story’: Scientific and Historical Approaches to Studying Climates of the Past with a Case Study on the Great European Famine.”
- Adviser: Mark Pegg
- “’Today You Are Masters of Catalonia’: Anarchist Participation in the Spanish State and the Failure of the Confederación Nacional del Trabajo’s Catalan Revolutionary Experiment during the Spanish Civil War, 1936-39.”
- Adviser: Corinna Treitel
- “Perceived Necessity: Union Excesses and the Civilians who Endured Them during theAtlanta Campaign of 1864.”
- Adviser: Iver Bernstein
- “How the Stage Became a Place of Assimilation, Integration,and Acceptance for America: American Jews on Broadway, 1935-1947.”
- Adviser: Joanna Dee Das
- “’The Small October Revolution’: Black Women and the St. Louis Public Housing Rent Strike of 1969.”
- Adviser: Iver Bernstein
- “Ideologues and Mystics: The Political and Religious Evolution of William Dudley Pelley, 1890-1937.”
- Adviser: Christine Johnson
- “Projection, Encounter and Occupation: The Career of Union Soldiers From Shiloh to Corinth.”
- Adviser: Iver Bernstein
- “Myth Making in Tudor England: Remembering the Wars of the Roses.”
- Adviser: Mark Pegg
- “He wore ‘a flaming red silk waistcoat’: Remembering Francis McIntosh.”
- Adviser: 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