Department of African and African American Studies

Why Write a Senior Thesis?

Each year a small number of academically outstanding students choose to undertake honors work in African and African-American Studies. Candidates build upon the knowledge learned and skills developed in their previous coursework crafting their own analytical perspectives and interpretations of knowledge.

This experience can be richly rewarding. It provides students an opportunity to work closely with a faculty advisor, think critically and deeply about a significant intellectual problem of their own selection and grow as a researcher, analyst, writer and critical thinker. However, writing a successful honors thesis requires planning, hard work and dedication.

Each year seniors must decide whether to write a senior thesis. It is, of course, a major undertaking and a significant investment of time and energy that culminates in a major piece of writing (typically 60-80 pages). It is well-suited for highly motivated and self-starting students.

Here are some reasons why students consider doing a senior thesis:

  • It provides an essential experience for those planning to do graduate work, especially in AAAS. It helps them to discover how scholars conduct research and transform that raw information into a coherent story and analysis.
  • You can explore, in great depth, a subject 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 foreign language reading skills to the level expected in graduate work.
  • The thesis is a major writing experience: With the help of your advisor, 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.
  • You can graduate, depending on your success in the thesis, with honors, high honors, or highest honors in African and African American Studies, which will be acknowledged at Commencement.


Students who intend to write an honors thesis should seek out a thesis advisor (a AAAS faculty member in the specialty of interest to you) and apply during the spring semester of their junior year. Those accepted to the honors program are strongly advised to complete a part of their research during the summer before their senior year. Doing so increases the time that can be devoted to writing during the academic year and makes the whole process less stressful and more rewarding.

Travel and Funding

Candidates who need to travel to conduct their research should investigate funding options as soon as possible.

The Office of the Dean of Arts and Sciences (DAS) offers limited funds (up to $150) to seniors writing senior theses.

Library Support

The Brandeis Library has created a guide to help you along the path to completion, including how to construct a thesis, a list of suggested research databases, how to use InterLibrary Loan, simplifying citations with RefWorks, helpful advice and tips to keep you unstuck, uploading to the archives and publishing choices.


To be eligible for honors in AAAS, students must have a GPA of 3.5 or higher in courses applied to the major. Exceptions will be made only under exceptional circumstances. They must also have completed six courses of the nine that are required for all majors to graduate.

Note: Students with a 3.8 grade point average can graduate with summa cum lLaude only if they have received departmental honors, i.e., an accepted senior honors thesis.