Honors

Beginning in AY 2016-17, there will be two options for majors who wish to pursue honors in history.  Both options involve writing a 50-75 page honors thesis during the senior year.  The completed thesis should either advance a fresh approach to a topic or test a hypothesis. While most students will proceed with an honors research project based on primary sources, we also encourage students to consider comparative topics that engage the secondary literature across various fields and time periods. Both options for pursuing honors have the same eligibility requirements:  honors candidates are expected to have a GPA within the major of 3.4 (B+) or higher, and to have completed History 204, a 300 level history course, and at least three history courses in the field in which the student intends to write the thesis.

Option 1

This option is for majors who know by the end of their junior year that they wish to devote their full senior year to pursuing the independent researching and writing of an honors thesis.  Under Option 1, students will receive two course credits for completing the thesis -- one for each semester of the senior year.  (Honors is a separate designation on a transcript, so a student who does not receive honors for their thesis will still earn two credits of independent research for completing it.) 

Students pursuing honors under Option 1 will begin the process in the spring of their junior year.  At that time, candidates for honors will identify a departmental advisor willing to supervise their project, and will submit a prospectus for their thesis no later than the last day of classes in their junior year.  (In some rare cases, students may request and receive an extension for this deadline if they face serious obstacles in organizing their initial work.)  The prospectus is a detailed proposal that includes an annotated bibliography of both primary and secondary sources.  Those students who receive an extension or those whom the department requires to submit revisions for their initial work will ordinarily have until the end of the first week of fall classes to produce a final version of their prospectus.  All honors candidates under Option 1 must receive formal approval of their prospectus from the History Department in order to proceed. 

Under Option 1, honors candidates will present a progress report on their work to the entire department, including fellow students, at a departmental common hour near the end of the fall semester of their senior year. 

Option 2

This option allows students to decide to pursue honors midway through their senior year, if, during the senior fall semester, they produce exceptional culminating work in either History 404 or an independent study, and receive formal departmental approval to expand that work into an honors thesis in the spring semester.  To pursue honors under Option 2, a student (in addition to meeting all the other eligibility criteria for pursuing honors) must be nominated by the professor of History 404 or of the independent study taken in the fall semester.  The entire History Department will then read the student's nominated work, and if the department approves it to be extended into an honors thesis, the student will select a departmental honors advisor to supervise their thesis, and register for one course credit of independent research for the spring semester.  (Honors is a separate designation on the transcript, so a student who does not receive honors for their thesis will still earn one course credit of independent research for completing it.)  Students approved to pursue honors will also prepare an honors thesis prospectus (a detailed proposal for the extension of their fall semester work that includes an annotated bibliography of both primary and secondary sources), which must be submitted to their advisor no later than the first day of classes in the spring semester.  

Under Option 2, honors candidates will present a progress report on their work to the entire department, including fellow students, at a departmental common hour during the second week of the spring semester. 

Procedures Common to Both Options 1 and 2: 

Advising/Grading:  In addition to choosing a departmental advisor, at the outset of the thesis project each candidate must also choose a secondary reader from within the department. Where appropriate, a third advisor external to the department might be arranged. In consultations with the thesis advisor, the student will agree to the major components of the thesis project (normally including a strict research schedule, various preparatory essays and a timetable for drafts). The primary advisor, in consultation with the department faculty, will assign one grade at the end of the spring term for all honors credit (two credits for students pursuing Option 1, and one credit for those pursuing Option 2).  

Oral Defense for Theses Receiving Provisional Honors:  After an honors candidate submits a completed thesis, all History Department faculty will read it and meet to discuss whether it meets the criteria for honors in the major (criteria are listed below).  If a majority of the department approves it, the thesis will be granted provisional honors and the student will be invited for an oral defense.  During the oral defense, faculty will ask questions probing, for example, the source base, evidence, methodology, and conclusions.  Faculty will also offer advice for editing and revising the thesis in preparation for its submission (if approved for final honors) to the Dickinson College Archives.  Honors will be conferred upon a student's successful completion of the oral defense.  

Honors Criteria

When they assess the merit of your honors thesis, your committee members and the history faculty will be looking for:

  • A clear thesis
  • Explanation of the significance and originality of the topic
  • Demonstrated understanding of historiography and how your thesis contributes to this historiography
  • Evidence of the ability to find appropriate sources
  • A thorough engagement and familiarity with primary and secondary sources
  • A clear methodology for research and analysis
  • A well-written and structured essay that is argued and supported with appropriate evidence
  • Scholarly standards of presentation (i.e. lucid writing, correct formatting, Chicago citations).

 

For an interesting first-person account of the rewards of writing an honors thesis in history by a Dickinson alumna, see this blog entry by Becca Solnit '12.

Timeline for Honors

For Option 1:

  • Last day of classes  junior year -- Prospectus (about 7-10 pages with select annotated bibliography) due to history department
  • End of first week of classes senior year -- Revised or extended prospectus due
  • Fall and spring semester senior year -- Various intermediate steps, such as research deadlines, preparatory essays and drafts due, in consultation with advisor
  •  End of fall semester senior year -- Presentations before department faculty and students on progress of work 
  • Two weeks before end of classes senior year -- Thesis paper (about 50-75 pages with bibliography) due
  • Final exam period senior year -- Oral examination  where faculty will explore critical aspects of the paper with the candidate 
  • Prior to graduation -- Students will be required to make final directed revisions essential for formal submission of approved honors projects.  Whether approved for honors or not, students will receive a separate grade for the year's work from their advisor. 

For Option 2:

  • By end of fall semester senior year -- professors of History 404 and/or fall independent studies must nominate exceptional senior work to be approved for extension into honors theses, and entire history department must meet to approve the nominations
  • First day of classes spring semester senior year -- Prospectus (about 7 - 10 pages with select annotated bibilography) due to thesis advisor
  • Spring semester senior year -- Various intermediate steps, such as research deadlines, preparatory essays and drafts due, in consultation with advisor
  • Second week of classes spring semester -- Presentations before department faculty and students on progress of work
  • Two weeks before end of classes senior year -- Thesis paper (about 50-75 pages with bibliography) due
  • Final exam period senior year -- Oral examination  where faculty will explore critical aspects of the paper with the candidate 
  • Prior to graduation -- Students will be required to make final directed revisions essential for formal submission of approved honors projects.  Whether approved for honors or not, students will receive a separate grade for the year's work from their advisor. 

Students considering honors might want to view previous honors theses kept in the main department office in Denny 219B.