Pursuing honors in history involves writing a 50-75 page honors thesis, normally over the course of the two semesters of the senior year. To be eligible to pursue honors, history majors 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.
History majors who wish to pursue honors in history should begin the process in their junior year. Candidates for honors must find a departmental advisor willing to supervise their project and must 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 must receive formal approval of their prospectus from the History Department in order to proceed.
Normally, an honors project will be approved for two course credits—one each semester of the senior year. Honors is a separate designation on a transcript, so a student who fails to receive honors will still earn two credits for independent research. In addition to choosing a departmental advisor, 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 year-long 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, then assigns one grade at the end of the spring term for all honors credits. Honors candidates will also be expected to present a progress report on their initial work to the entire department, including fellow students, at a departmental common hour near the end of the fall semester.
The completed thesis will be approximately fifty to seventy-five pages in length, either advancing a fresh approach to a topic or testing 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. The department faculty will read the final thesis and will then question each candidate in a separate formal exam before rendering a decision on honors.
What will your committee members be looking for when they assess the merit of your honors thesis?
- 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).
Members of your committee [made up of a primary and secondary reader from the History Department faculty (except in exceptional cases)] will assess these points in the completed thesis. In addition, honors candidates will present their thesis before the readers and the entire History Department faculty in an oral defense. Faculty will ask questions probing, for example, the source base, evidence, methodology, and conclusions. Based on the written thesis and oral defense, faculty will decide whether the thesis merits honors.
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.
Standard Timeline for Honors (revised March 2010)
- Last day of classes junior year -- Prospectus (about 7-10 pages with select annotated bibliography) due
- 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.
- Students considering honors might want to view previous honors proposals and theses kept in the main department office in Denny 219B.