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Honors Program in History

Honors Thesis in History

The honors thesis program provides an opportunity for capable and highly motivated history majors to develop their interest in historical research through the writing of an honors thesis in the senior year.

What is a honors thesis and why would I want to write one?

All students in the History major are required to take a 407 senior seminar, in which they will write a major research paper. However, those who are particularly motivated to pursue an original research topic may want to devote themselves to writing a senior honors thesis, which is longer and more in-depth than a 407 seminar paper; some theses build on a successful 407 paper while others take on a new or related topic. A senior thesis provides the opportunity to work one-on-one with a faculty advisor. This may be a particularly exciting option for those who are considering a career in historical research. At the same time, the thesis-writing process enhances intellectual skills that are applicable to virtually any career path. Some of these multi-purpose skills include researching, organizing an over-abundance of information, problem-solving, analysis of complex and contradictory data, pattern recognition, working with supervisors, communicating complex ideas, and scheduling a multi-step project.

Who is eligible to write a honors thesis?

  1. To be eligible to write a senior honors thesis, students must have completed at least 28 credits in history of which at least 16 upper-division credits have been taken at the University of Oregon.
  2. The grade point average in history must be 3.5 or above.

What are the requirements for the thesis itself?

  1. The standard length for an honors thesis is 40-50 pages double-spaced (including footnotes but not bibliography), with a 12-point font and 1-inch margins.
  2. An honors thesis must pose a significant research question and articulate an independent argument in relation to both existing historical scholarship and an appropriate body of primary sources. The thesis must also be a polished work with the standard scholarly apparatus of footnotes and bibliography.
  3. While students are encouraged to select topics for which they have relevant language skills, in fields where linguistic and other barriers limit primary source availability, students and their advisers should use creative means (eg. citing primary sources translated within secondary sources) to construct significant original research papers.
  4. If approved by the advisor, students may build on a paper they have already written for 407 or another class. They may also combine their History honors thesis with another requirement, such as an Honors College thesis or a thesis in another department. However, academic honesty demands that this arrangement be openly discussed with the advisor, and that the final product be more substantial than a usual thesis. Typically, this means at least 60 pages double-spaced in 12-point font and 1-inch margins (including footnotes but not bibliography), but the final decision will be made by the primary advisor. Special regulations apply to joint thesis projects, and are available online.

How and when do I plan for a honors thesis?

While the timeline below is not set in stone, this or a similar pattern is most conducive to success. This plan should be adjusted accordingly for students who intend to graduate in quarters other than Spring.

Junior year: This is the time to start planning your honors thesis and cultivating relationships with professors who may advise you. Think about what topics could interest you. Look for upper-division classes on related subjects. While seniors get priority enrollment for the 407 seminar, if you see one that appeals to you junior year, you can write the professor for permission to enroll. Explain that you are considering writing an honors thesis on a related topic.

With or without a 407, junior year is the best time to begin conversations with the faculty member whom you hope will advise the thesis. Your 407 seminar professor may also become your thesis adviser, but it is also OK to ask someone else, usually someone with whom you have already taken a course. Be aware that faculty sabbaticals and other commitments can affect availability for thesis advising, so starting to identify your adviser early is the best way to make sure you end up working with a faculty member whose expertise suits your interests.

Junior year is also the time to start thinking about applying for funding from the Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program. Such funding could be used, for example, to travel to archives over the summer.

Early in Fall term of Senior Year: Meet with your selected advisor, finalize the composition of your committee, and set a series of deadlines to keep you moving forward in your project throughout senior year. The committee must include at least two faculty members in addition to the advisor. While these are usually History faculty, you may discuss with your advisor the possibility of substituting one faculty member from another department if that would be most appropriate for your research topic. List the advisor, committee members, and tentative title of the thesis on the “Declaration of Intent to Graduate with Honors,” bring it to the Undergraduate Advisor for approval and signature, and then submit to the Undergraduate Coordinator in the History front office.

Throughout Senior Year: Advisers and students are encouraged to consult with one another at least once a month during the period of time in which the project is carried out. Depending on their individual situations, students may enroll in HIST 405 (Reading and Conference) for credit, but are not required to do so. You should discuss this with the thesis advisor. Note that no more than 8 credits of HIST 405 may be used to fulfill major requirements. You and your advisor can also discuss the best ways to include your other committee members in your process during this time.

The term of the thesis defense (usually but not necessarily Spring of senior year): Enroll in HIST 403, honors thesis (usually for 2 credits, but you can discuss this with your advisor). While your oral thesis defense will usually not be until the end of the term, given busy faculty schedules, you should contact all three members of your committee to schedule the defense early in the term –Week 1 or 2 is not too early to reach out. It is also your responsibility to contact the Undergraduate Coordinator in the History office to schedule a room for your oral defense. Again, do this as early as possible.

Be sure to notify the Undergraduate Advisor of your intent to submit your thesis that term, by filling and out and bringing him this form if you have not done so already. The finished thesis must be in the hands of the examining committee at least 10 days before the oral defense.

Finding a Faculty Advisor

In almost all cases, the faculty advisor is someone with whom you have taken a class before, and who has expertise relevant to your thesis research interests. Visit this person’s posted office hours, or if you can’t make them, email to set up an appointment. If possible, bring copies of papers you wrote in the professor’s class to jog their memory, particularly if the class was a large one. You can then discuss your thesis research interests as well as the professor’s availability and timeline to determine whether they will be the right advisor for you. Advising senior theses is outside professors’ usual workload; while most are delighted to do so, be aware that they might decline for various reasons. Asking early maximizes your chance of getting a positive response, and/or moving on another advisor if needed.

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What can I expect at the oral defense?

10 days before the defense, be sure to submit a copy of your thesis to each committee member and to submit this form to the History office Undergraduate Coordinator.

The oral defense usually lasts 60-90 minutes. Your faculty committee will be there, but you may also invite other friends and family members to observe if you wish. Typically, the defense begins with a short (10-minute) presentation in which you share the results of your research and perhaps a few words about what interested you in the topic in the first place. Then, your committee members will ask you questions and request clarifications regarding your thesis. At the end of the defense, the committee will ask you and any guests to leave the room. They will then decide whether the thesis receives a passing grade, and if so, whether that will be “Pass with Honors” or “Pass with Distinction,” and/or if they will request any revisions from you before the final submission. They will then invite you back into the room to share the results of their decision and the revisions they may be requesting before the final submission. If they are requesting revisions, they will set a final date for the final version to be turned in.

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Honors Designation

Students whose theses are approved by the committee, pass the oral defense, satisfy the history major requirements, maintain a GPA of 3.5 or above in courses in the major, and have deposited a copy of the thesis with the director of undergraduate studies, will receive a baccalaureate degree with honors in history.

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Presenting your research to the wider community and/or receiving a cash award for it!

Students writing honors theses are strongly encouraged, though not required, to present their research in the form of a poster at the Undergraduate Research Symposium and/or the History Department’s annual History Showcase.  Both events take place in May, and both units sponsor workshops to assist students in the creation and production of a poster on the basis of a research project.  For more information, contact the Undergraduate Coordinator in the History Department front office.

Students are also encouraged to submit their theses to the UO Libraries’ Undergraduate Research Award competition, which usually has a deadline shortly after graduation.

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