Prospective Thesis Applicants

Preparing for the 398 Seminar

Third-year history majors with a GPA of 3.5 or higher and support from a faculty advisor may apply for admission to the History 398 seminar. Applications are due by 4:00 PM on the third Friday of spring quarter for students who intend to take the senior thesis seminar in the next academic year. A letter of recommendation from your advisor must accompany your proposal or be submitted directly by your advisor at the same time as your proposal.

Students considering an application should begin preparations early, first by completing History 393 and History 395 by the end of their third-year and second by discussing their proposed research with prospective faculty advisers well in advance of the application deadline. Generally, students are best served by approaching faculty they have studied with in the past who work in their research field.

The 398 Seminar

The 398 seminar is a three-quarter sequence taken in the senior year in which senior thesis students prepare a thesis and meet regularly to discuss problems of common interest under the guidance of a faculty member. The seminar typically meets weekly in fall quarter but less often in winter and spring.

Enrollment in 398-1 and 398-2 are mandatory. Students who have otherwise completed their coursework are not required to enroll in 398-3, though all others are encouraged to do so. All three quarters may be counted toward the twelve-course requirement for the History major. Students receive “K” (“continuing”) grades at the end of the fall and winter quarters and then three letter grades at the end of the spring quarter; these three letters grades need not be the same. Seminar grades are decided by the seminar instructor in consultation with individual faculty advisers; the final decision rests with the seminar instructor.

The Thesis

A thesis is an historical analysis based on a student’s individual research using primary materials that makes some original contribution to the field. The variety of methods and approaches currently used in the discipline of history means that no single type of thesis constitutes a model. The originality of the thesis may lie in its explication of untapped sources, its reinterpretations of familiar sources, its new synthesis of existing interpretations, or some other novelty. A thesis will almost invariably include: 1) an introduction to set out the problem, state the argument, limit the scope of the inquiry, and position the thesis in relation to the current state of historical opinion on the topic, 2) a set of chapters to present and analyze the relevant evidence, and 3) a conclusion to summarize the findings and suggest future avenues of research. A thesis is typically 40-60 pages in length including a thorough bibliography.

The final thesis is due in early May to allow your faculty adviser and seminar instructor time to read and review your work in advance of the mid-May deadline for submitting honors recommendations to the College.

Application Process

To apply to the senior thesis program, applicants must submit a thesis proposal and a letter of recommendation from a faculty advisor.

Applications to the senior thesis seminar are due by 4:00 PM on the third Friday of spring quarter via email attachment to the Undergraduate Coordinator at history@northwestern.edu.

Admission to the thesis program is decided by the current and incoming instructors of the senior thesis seminar and the Director of Undergraduate Studies.

Those admitted are generally expected to have both a history GPA and a cumulative GPA of 3.5 or above. However, no one is admitted solely on the basis of a strong GPA, and we occasionally admit candidates with a GPA below 3.5. The admissions committee is particularly on the lookout for candidates with imagination, analytical acuity, verbal fluency, and personal initiative, and also weigh the degree of enthusiasm evinced in faculty letters of recommendation. Applicants are generally advised of admissions decisions before registration for fall quarter begins.

Writing a Research Proposal

Topic

Before they begin, students need to choose a topic that will hold their interest over the long haul and reward in-depth research. Think of the questions or problems that stuck with you from your previous classes. What issues interested you the most? Do you have any special language skills? What kinds of materials do you enjoy working with? Do you feel a special affinity with a particular place or epoch? What sort of question would you like to answer?

Advisor

All students must secure in advance the agreement of a faculty member to act as their advisor. This faculty member should be knowledgeable in the student’s area of interest. After having given some thought to potential topics, students should approach a prospective advisor and work with her or him to craft a compelling proposal. History senior thesis projects are ordinarily sponsored by tenure-line professors from the Department of History (assistant, associate or full professors). Students may petition to have their thesis advised by a postdoctoral fellow, a visiting faculty member, or a faculty member from another department. Such petitions must be approved by both the Director of Undergraduate Studies and the Chair of the History Department prior to submission of the thesis proposal.

Statement

Based on this process of thinking, reading, and discussion, applicants prepare a short two-page proposal outlining their proposed topic and its signficance. It is important to prepare as concise and coherent a statement as possible at this preliminary stage. Be sure to identify a specific historical problem or question the thesis will address. Indicate the sources that will be consulted. If possible, set your approach within the context of what other scholars working in related areas have written and outline the significance of your proposed contribution. A short bibliography should be included. Your objective is to demonstrate that you have begun to think through the research process, that you have acquainted yourself with relevant materials, and that you are aware of the issues at stake in your project. The proposal should also highlight your abilities, drawing attention to relevant course work, previous research experience, language skills, or other factors germane to the project. Be certain to include the name of a proposed advisor. No one will be admitted to the seminar without faculty sponsorship.

Letter of Recommendation

A letter of recommendation from your proposed advisor must either accompany the proposal or be submitted directly by the advisor such that it reaches the office at the same time as your proposal.

Cover

Proposals shall have a cover sheet indicating the following:

  • Student Name
  • Student email address
  • Seven-digit Student ID and Student NetID
  • Proposal Title, Advisor and Advisor email address

Students Abroad

Students who study abroad during their junior year may apply for admission to the senior thesis seminar, but must meet the application deadline. Students in this position should contact advisors well in advance of the application deadline since email communication takes longer than verbal exchange.

Undergraduate Research Grants

There are a number of undergraduate research grant (URG) opportunities available to thesis writers and those who apply to the senior thesis seminar are encouraged and expected to seek financial support for their research. Provost-sponsored opportunities include Academic Year and Summer URGs (which carry a $3000 stipend intended to cover living and research expenses). Weinberg College grants include Academic Year grants of up to $1000 and summer grants, which carry a $3000 stipend to cover research and living expenses for an eight-week summer period. Additional Weinberg College research scholarships, fellowships and grants include the Katherine L. Krieghbaum Scholarship, a prize one senior thesis writer from each department is nominated for each year, the Herskovits Undergraduate Fellowship Program, which provides funding for research involving NU’s Africana collection, and the Sion Asia-related Research Grants which provide funding for research on Asia-related topics, among others. Additional information may be found on the WCAS website.