Uncovering the Past: Senior Seminar

HS 493, Uncovering the Past: the Historian's Craft

The History department requires all senior students with history or history-related POEs to complete a senior experience either in our department or in another department. Most students will elect to complete their senior project in the history department's senior thesis courses.

The fall, seminar-style course called "Uncovering the Past" is designed to guide seniors through the process of producing the Senior History Thesis. It explores historical theories, techniques, and historiography, and also allows students to get into the "nuts and bolts" of historical analysis. During the course of the semester, we have two goals: first, to participate together in the writing of senior theses (or, if students plan a six-hour thesis, the beginning of the thesis); second, to explore ways of understanding and analyzing the past.

Students who wish to continue the thesis into a second semester should take HS 496 in the Spring, which provides three additional hours of credit for senior theses.

Among our topics are:

  • the "history of History," and the development of historiography
  • How personal and national situations influence the way history is written
  • How history as a profession has evolved and is still evolving

During the semester we:

  • Explore the difference between primary and secondary sources
  • Look at some ways to use primary sources
  • Look at some of the major schools of historiographical writing
  • Talk about the mechanics of historiographical writing and bibliographic writing

Thesis Preparation

History students and their faculty advisors should determine thesis topics based on the student’s previous coursework. The student must select a topic on which s/he has had college-level coursework; no student will be allowed to work on a topic s/he has never studied before.

The length and method of the thesis should fall into one of the following three categories:

1. Faculty advisors may advise a student to write a one-semester thesis based on a paper previously written for a history course (usually a 300-level course or the mock thesis completed in Sophomore Colloquium). This type of thesis is the most common and is usually the best fit for most students.

2. Faculty advisors may allow a student to write a one semester thesis on a topic that is new to the student, but which is based on the student’s previous coursework.

3. Students may also ask to write a two-semester thesis on a topic developed with a member of the department. This topic should be based in earlier coursework.

Students who are interested in earning departmental honors should consult the handbook and discuss it with their department advisors.


During spring registration of the junior year, students who are anticipating writing a senior thesis must meet with their chosen thesis advisor and agree on a topic. Please be aware that no faculty member will advise more than three theses in a given school year. The advisor may assign work to be done over the summer.

Students submit a form with the thesis advisor’s signature to Dr. Belle Tuten before being given permission to register for HS 493.

During the Fall semester, thesis writers take HS 493. One-semester thesis writers must complete the entire thesis (at around 25 pages). Two semester thesis writers must complete sections I and II (at around 15-20 pages, heading to a final thesis of around 40 pages). 

Thesis advisors will assess the draft outline and draft introduction (due in late October) with instructions to the student. If two-semester writers are in any jeopardy of not passing to the second semester, this assessment should provide some warning.

Drafts are due the Monday after Thanksgiving.  A final decision will be made based on the draft turned in after Thanksgiving. Two-semester students MUST complete B work or better on the thesis in order to be allowed to continue to the second semester.  In the event that the thesis advisor and thesis coordinator decide not to allow the student to continue, the student must submit an updated draft for a final grade at the end of the Fall semester.

The Thesis Proposal

The proposal should be 2-3 pages, double-spaced and typed, with appropriate formatting and citation. It should have space at the end for the signature of both the submitting student and the Thesis Advisor. The department suggests that proposals cover the following topics:

I. The Question

State as succinctly as possible the question you are addressing. It is often helpful to state a "hypothesis" in your proposal. One source of interesting historical questions comes from debates between scholars -- see where each scholar emphasizes different factors, conditions, or causes. Your subsequent research may shed light on a particular area of disagreement.

II. The Significance of the Question

Explain why the question is important. If related issues are controversial among scholars or practitioners, what are the competing views? If you are approaching a topic in a new or innovative manner, how have others approached it and what contributions might your approach make? If you are exploring a new topic, what is the gap in the literature and why is it significant?

III. The Research

Your thesis should be based on primary sources either in the original language or in translation. You need to explain what sources you plan to use, where they are located, and what methodologies you are considering using to analyze your information.

Thesis Submission Guidelines

All senior theses that are submitted in the History Department should conform to the following structure. This is intended to allow faculty to judge progress across a consistent timeline.

I: introduction

            a. significance of the question

            b. methodology of the study

            c. argument of the study

II: survey of secondary literature

III: evidence and analysis

IV: conclusion: restatement of the argument and final remarks


Your introduction should include (at least) the following components:

·         Significance: A key component of any introduction is to answer the question “Who cares?” as clearly and succinctly as possible. Set out the problem, and explain why your reader should be interested in it.

·         Methodology: What sources did you choose for the project and why? Why are these particular sources appropriate for the particular question you are asking? Are there any sources that you decided not to use?

·         Argument: Your argument is the thesis statement. State clearly what you will argue and why. Your reader needs to know this up front, stated simply and clearly.

Secondary literature survey:

You should demonstrate in this section that you have read the major secondary writers on  your topic and that you understand what they have argued. You should show whether there are gaps in the historiography that you plan to fill, major disagreements or conversations that you plan to take part in, or any other significant intellectual development that is relevant to your overall argument.

Evidence and analysis:

This section is where you will set out your evidence for your central argument, including any primary sources, referring back when necessary to your secondary sources.  This section can be organized in many different ways. You and your advisor will decide the best course based on your sources.


This section should wrap up the thesis by re-stating the primary argument.


Finished theses should include:

  • A cover page with the student’s name, advisor’s name, title and date
  • A 100 to 200 word abstract, on the second page, summarizing the argument
  • Footnotes and bibliography. The bibliography should have primary and secondary sources in separate sections.

Copies: Submit one copy to your thesis advisor. Submit a .pdf copy to Dr. Belle Tuten via email.

Format: pages should be on 8.5” by 11” paper, double spaced, with margins as follows: 1.5 inches on the left, 1 inch on all other sides. Pages should be numbered in the upper right corner, except for the title page. All text should be in a 12 point font, double spaced except for block quotes, which should be single spaced and indented ½ inch. Footnotes and endnotes should be single spaced.

Style: use the Chicago Manual of Style for all citations. A copy of the Chicago Manual is available in the History Department lounge. Simple Chicago style guidelines can also be found at the IA web site: http://ia.juniata.edu/citation/.

Notes: You may either use footnotes or endnotes.

Bibliography: a list of works consulted should appear at the end of the thesis. Separate your sources into primary and secondary categories. For articles that appear in JSTOR or other online databases, do not include URLs. URLs should be provided ONLY for those sources that do not otherwise appear in print.