Senior Thesis Seminar
- The Senior Thesis Seminar in History
- Preparing for the 398 Seminar
- Proposal Submission Deadline
- Writing a Research Proposal
- Students Abroad
- Admissions Decisions
- Undergraduate Research Grants
- The 398 Seminar
- The Thesis
- Recommendation for Honors
- The Johnston Prize
- Mechanism for Student Complaints
- Questions and Further Information
The three-quarter History 398 senior thesis seminar is a selective program intended for outstanding history majors who are ready to move from learning history from others to independently researching and writing history of their own under faculty supervision.
The rewards are many: the chance to work closely with a faculty advisor to craft an original research project of your own design, the pleasures of sustained immersion in a subject of intense personal interest, enhanced research, writing, and time-management skills, and the confidence and satisfaction that goes with completing a scholarly project of this magnitude. For those considering graduate study, the senior thesis can be both a trial run and a stepping-stone that will give you a top-notch writing sample for applications to graduate programs. It also gives you the chance to work with peers who care as much about history as you do. Students who have participated in the program in the past have consistently cited the senior thesis seminar the most rewarding intellectual experience of their college years.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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 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.
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. Students demonstrate these qualities by submitting a brief research proposal by the specified due date. Applicants are generally advised of admissions decisions before registration for fall quarter begins.
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.
The 398 seminar is a three-quarter sequence taken in the senior year in which senior thesis students prepare a thesis and meet regularly as colleagues to discuss problems of common interest under the guidance of a faculty member. It typically meets weekly in fall quarter but less often in winter and spring. Subjects for discussion include methodology, approaches to primary and secondary sources, problems of objectivity and subjectivity, and the use of narrative and analysis. Practical matters like funding sources and library resources are also discussed. Included on the reading list are superior senior theses from previous years. These theses are also available for consultation by juniors interested in applying to the seminar.
In the fall, students complete a variety of short assignments relevant to their topic, as well as a revised and expanded thesis proposal. In the winter and spring, they submit drafts of chapters for comment and revision. 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.
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. Authors must submit three bound copies of their thesis: one for his or her advisor, one for the 398 instructor, and one for the department’s files. Costs incurred for printing shall be borne by the student. An additional digital copy must also be submitted to the Undergraduate Coordinator at the same time.
The submitted thesis must include a title page, acknowledgments, a one-page summary with five keywords, the core text, footnotes, and a bibliography. The thesis must be carefully proofread and the references prepared carefully and in a consistent style.
Completion of the 398 seminar does not assure the granting of Honors. The Undergraduate Awards Committee makes a recommendation on Honors, and its recommendation is subject to approval by the WCAS Committee on Undergraduate Academic Excellence. The department uses the following criteria in its deliberations:
- Two readers of the thesis must judge it to be of very high quality. One will be the faculty advisor; the other is the instructor of the senior thesis seminar. In all cases, both readers must submit a written evaluation of the thesis, explaining their recommendation for (or against) the granting of Honors, and commenting on the originality and quality of the work. In rare cases where there is a difference of opinion the Director of Undergraduate Studies will read and report on the thesis as well.
- The candidate should have a minimum GPA of 3.5 in history courses.
- The candidate should have a minimum GPA of 3.5 overall.
- Exceptions will be made to the minimum GPA requirement in items 2 and 3 if the thesis is judged to be of extraordinarily high quality.
If the department recommends Honors, the candidate’s name is forwarded to the WCAS Committee on Undergraduate Academic Excellence which makes the final determination of honors. Be advised that there have been cases in which the department has recommended Honors but the College has declined to confer Honors.
The Grace Douglas Johnston prize is awarded to the student whose honors thesis is judged to be of the highest quality. The award is made by the department’s Undergraduate Awards Committee.
The department Chair will hear cases in which a student feels that he or she has received unsatisfactory consideration from the department’s Undergraduate Awards Committee.
The department holds an information session concerning the senior thesis seminar in late February each year. For further information please address inquiries to email@example.com.