Senior Thesis Seminar
- The Senior Thesis Seminar in History
- The Thesis Seminar
- Applying for the 398 Seminar
- Writing a Research Proposal
- Students Abroad
- The 398 Seminar
- The Thesis
- Undergraduate Research Grants
- Recommendation for Honors
- The Johnston Prize
- Mechanism for Student Complaints
- Proposal Submission Deadline
- Questions and Further Information
The Senior Thesis Seminar is for outstanding history majors who wish to take on the challenge of actively investigating and writing history. In three years of classroom learning, students will have acquired a great deal of historical information and a variety of interpretive skills. But for those with a passionate interest in how history is “made,” there is no substitute for actually doing a sustained piece of historical research and writing. The Senior Thesis Seminar is for students who want to do original research and fashion their own interpretation of the past.
The rewards are many: the chance to work closely with a faculty advisor, to craft an original research project, to sample the pleasures of sustained intellectual study, and to sharpen skills in writing and research. Students who have participated in the program in the past have consistently viewed the Senior Thesis Seminar as the most exciting and rewarding intellectual experience of their college years. We hope you will take the time to think about the program, contemplate your interests and ambitions, and apply.
The program requires students to take the three-quarter 398 Senior Thesis Seminar in the senior year. The thesis program is administered by the department’s Honors Committee, which comprises the Director of the 398 Senior Thesis Seminar (Chair), the Director of Undergraduate Studies, and a third faculty member appointed by the department’s Chair.
Outstanding History majors are encouraged to apply to the seminar in the spring of their junior year. 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 Committee is particularly on the lookout for candidates with imagination, analytical acuity, verbal fluency, and personal initiative. Students demonstrate these qualities by submitting a brief research proposal by the specified due date. The Honors Committee will notify students of admission in time to register for 398 for the fall quarter.
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.
Topic: Before they can begin, students need to choose a topic, one that will hold their interest over the long haul. Think of the problems that have gotten under your skin in previous classes. What issues have interested you the most? Do you have any special language skills? What kinds of materials do you most 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 are required to approach a prospective advisor and work with her or him to define a compelling and workable project. History senior thesis projects are ordinarily sponsored by tenure-line professors from within the Department of History (assistant, associate or full professors). Students may petition to have their thesis advised by a postdoctoral fellow, a lecturer, 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 Department of History prior to submission of the thesis proposal.
Statement: Based on this process of thinking, reading, and discussion, students prepare a short (2-page) statement outlining their proposed topic. 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 brought to bear on this problem. If possible, set your approach within the context of what other scholars working in related areas have written. 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 your material and are aware of the issues at stake in your project. The proposal should also speak to your abilities, drawing attention to relevant course work, previous research experience, language skills, or other factors relevant 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.
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. Subjects for discussion include methodology, approaches to primary and secondary sources, problems of objectivity and subjectivity, and the use of narrative and analysis. 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 begin to submit drafts of chapters for comment and revision. 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. Students also meet regularly with their faculty advisor throughout the year.
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, 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 sources, and 3) a conclusion to summarize these findings and suggest future avenues of research. A thesis is typically 40-60 pages in length and includes a thorough bibliography.
The final version is due several weeks prior to the end of the spring quarter. The student submits three bound copies: one for his or her advisor, one for the Director of 398, and one for the department’s files. Costs incurred for printing shall be borne by the student. Additionally, an e-copy is submitted to the Undergraduate Coordinator. The 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.
There are a number of undergraduate research grant (URG) opportunities available to students. 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 special research scholarships, fellowships and grants include the Katherine L. Krieghbaum Scholarship which provides funding for senior-year research projects, 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.
Completion of the 398 seminar does not assure the granting of Honors. The Honors Committee makes a recommendation on Honors, and its recommendation is subject to approval by the WCAS Committee on Undergraduate Academic Excellence. The departmental Honors Committee 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 Director 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 cases where there is a division of opinion a member of the departmental Honors Committee will 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.
A majority vote of the Honors Committee then ensures a recommendation for Honors, and the candidate’s name is forwarded to the WCAS Committee on Undergraduate Academic Excellence which makes the final determination of 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 Honors Committee.
The deadline for submission of Senior Thesis Seminar proposals to the History Department office is 4:00 PM on the third Friday of the spring quarter. Please submit via email attachment to the Undergraduate Coordinator at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For further information concerning the Senior Thesis Seminar please address inquiries to email@example.com.