Writing a Senior Thesis
Each year, seniors must decide whether to write a senior thesis. It is, of course, a major undertaking. A year-long course (History 99), it requires intensive research in primary sources and culminates in a major piece of writing (usually on the order of 60 to 100 pages). It is a significant investment of time and energy; it ordinarily attracts only a small percentage of graduating seniors.
However it certainly does make sense for some, especially highly motivated and self-starting students. Here are some of the reasons why you might wish to consider doing a senior thesis:
- It provides an essential experience for those planning to do graduate work, especially in history. A senior thesis means "doing" history, not just learning it; it helps you to discover how the historian conducts research and transforms that raw information into a coherent story and analysis.
- You can explore, in great depth, a subject that is of great interest to you, but only tangentially (if at all) broached in the general curriculum.
- If your research requires the use of non-English sources, you can improve your reading skills to the level expected in graduate work.
- The thesis is of course a major writing experience: with the help of your adviser, you will learn how to structure a large piece of writing and, in the process of writing, have an opportunity to refine your style and to internalize the conventions and mechanics of academic prose.
If you are interested, you should seek out a thesis adviser (ordinarily someone in the geographic or chronological speciality of interest to you), go through the mechanics of formal registration, and begin designing a strategy to choose an important, feasible topic. Normally, you should complete most of your research by the beginning of the second semester, and then use February and March to write and revise.
The thesis must follow the conventions described in the complete Honors Thesis guidelines (doc). The final thesis is due in April (a specific date set by the department, normally after the second spring vacation); the thesis is then discussed at a formal defense (attended by the adviser, another member of the history department and one reader from outside).
What kind of topics are appropriate? It should, of course, be a subject in which you have a particular interest; it should also be one for which there exists a substantial and accessible base of primary documentation. While you probably have some idea of the topic that interests you, the adviser can help you link that interest to a set of primary sources (whether printed or archival), most of which are available on campus or at least in the Boston area.