What Is Senior Honors Thesis

A senior honors thesis is likely the biggest project a student will complete in his or her undergraduate education. Some university history departments require a senior thesis in order to complete the degree. Others offer an optional honors program requiring a certain grade point average and departmental approval as a prerequisite.

Regardless of the individual school’s policy, if a student has to or wants to complete a senior thesis in history, there are several steps to take in working toward achieving this goal. Identifying a topic, doing preliminary research, and writing a thesis proposal are the first steps in writing an honors thesis.

Identifying a Topic and Beginning Research

The first step is for a student to identify a broad topic of interest, captivating enough to devote an entire year of intensive independent research to. To provide an example, if a student is interested in women in nineteenth-century Europe, this is not even a narrow enough topic for a doctoral dissertation, let alone a senior thesis. How about women suffragists in nineteenth century England? This is better, but still not narrow enough of a focus. The key to finding a great topic is identifying interesting or perplexing questions about the subject of interest. Using the above subject to illustrate, some more specific questions to address could include:

  1. What sorts of obstacles (financial, personal, political) did women suffragists face at the time when the movement began to pick up speed?
  2. Who were some of the lesser-known English suffragists, and what role did they play in the movement?
  3. What kind of support from men did women suffragists in England receive? Why did these men support the suffragists?
  4. Did the suffragist movement have an effect on women’s fashion trends in England during the nineteenth century? If so, how did fashion change?
  5. How much did English and American suffragists interact during the late nineteenth century? What did this do for either movement?

All of the above are more specific than writing a simple narrative. The who, what, where, and when of the thesis subject need to be addressed for the sake of providing a background. But the important questions are why and how something happened.

A student should also talk to professors about the feasability of the project. What sources exist on the subject? Is the topic still too broad to fit into a 50-100 page paper? Too narrow? Who else has written on the subject whose work is worth reading?

Drafting a Thesis Proposal

A thesis proposal is an essential component of the thesis-writing process. This is where a student outlines questions to address and primary and secondary sources to use. Typically the history department needs to approve the thesis proposal in order for a student to continue with the project. The basic structure of a thesis proposal is usually:

  • Statement of the topic and questions/problems to be addressed in the thesis.
  • Brief literature review/historiography: major historical works in the field, questions already addressed on the subject, how these works will be used in the research project
  • sources; it can also be listed in bibliography format

There are, of course, variations on the structure of the thesis proposal; a student should consult with his or her thesis advisor for advice, particularly with regard to departmental policies.

Once a thesis proposal has been approved, it’s time to get started with the in-depth research, and the overall writing process. This is a challenging task, but by identifying a solid topic and doing preliminary research, and drafting a winning thesis proposal, students of history are on the right track for producing a quality work of research and writing.