Guide to History Thesis Preparation
This outline clarifies expectations that accompany writing a history thesis. Special attention is given to developing a research proposal, to the importance of working with a faculty advisor, and to the various stages of writing the thesis during the senior year. Individual members of the faculty may suggest variations on these guidelines. Students should consult with their faculty advisor early in this process to reach a mutual understanding on the appropriate form for a thesis.
- The first step in the preparation of a thesis is to develop an interesting question and think about how to answer it. The topic should be sufficiently focused so that the thesis can be completed in one or two semesters. The topic may be part of a larger issue or it could be entirely self-contained. Ideally, the topic should be related to the interests and skills of a member of the history department.
- A history thesis should involve original primary research whenever possible. It might deal with a new or refined interpretation of a historical problem. You might seek to fill a gap in our knowledge, although you would need to demonstrate that filling that gap is worthwhile. There may be other ways to make original contributions, including combinations of the above.
- A thesis should build on knowledge you have already acquired and wish to take to higher levels of understanding and sophistication. If you have one or two ideas for a thesis in mind, meet with an appropriate history department faculty member to explore them in the Spring semester of your junior year. Students are encouraged to begin discussing the possibility of doing a thesis with their advisors as early as the sophomore year.
Approval Process and Deadlines
- Spring semester of your junior year:
- Register to take HS 493 and, if appropriate, HS 496 in your senior year.
- Contact an appropriate member of the department who is willing to act as your Thesis Advisor. Talk about possible topics and a suggested course of readings for the summer.
- Fall Semester of your senior year:
- Submit a 2-3-page thesis proposal to the Thesis Coordinator who is teaching HS 493 stating the aims, scope, and method of their project and the types of sources to be used. This proposal should be developed in consultation with your Thesis Advisor. Your Thesis Advisor signs the proposal, thereby indicating to the department that he or she is willing to supervise it. The grade for the thesis will be assigned by the Thesis Advisor with the approval of the Thesis Coordinator.
- Two semester thesis proposals are due by the third week of the Fall semester of the senior year.
- One semester fall proposals are due by the second week of the Fall semester.
- One semester spring proposals are due by the tenth week of the Fall semester.
- Consider applying to NCUR for a spring presentation.
- Public presentation by one semester thesis writers sometime in November.
- Spring semester of your senior year:
- One semester thesis writers should develop a timetable with their advisor in first week.
- Two semester writers should plan on attending thesis workshops throughout the semester.
- Two semester writers must meet with their Thesis Advisor in the first two weeks of the semester to determine a schedule of meetings over the semester. These meetings will constitute part of the thesis evaluation.
- Draft of thesis proposal due in late March.
- Final copy due in late April.
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
The following guidelines are intended to help students with the senior thesis requirements. Please submit any questions to your thesis advisor or to Belle Tuten.
Title Page: Every thesis should have a title page stating the title; the student’s name; the advising professor’s name; and the date of final submission.
On the first page following the title page, the student should write a 150-word abstract of the thesis. Abstracts should state the overall argument of the work.
One and Two Semester Theses: Students who complete a one-semester senior thesis should submit a final length (excluding notes and bibliography) of 25-30 pages. Students who submit a two-semester thesis should complete 40-50 pages.
- One-semester thesis students are encouraged to develop an argument around a topic with which they are already somewhat familiar. This might be a topic from a previous research paper, or a matter of specific personal interest.
- One-semester theses in general are expected to be more historiographical in focus; that is, the student should spend the bulk of the semester getting to know the literature on the topic, and may not have as much time as a two-semester student to work up a detailed analysis of a primary source.
- Two-semester theses should be more explicitly focused on a primary source or sources. It is expected that students will use the fall semester to become acquainted with the historiography, and the spring semester analyzing and writing up the primary research. A historiographical essay of 10-15 pages will constitute satisfactory progress for the first semester.
- All students are strongly encouraged to identify a single primary source, or perhaps a small group of primary sources, that can be placed in a larger historical context. The sources must be readily accessible and limited enough in scope to be covered in a thesis.
- Students who have registered for a two semester thesis must be doing C level work or better in order to be allowed to continue on to the second semester. If a one-semester student wants to continue into a second semester, he or she must have the permission of the advisor and the thesis coordinator.
Copies: Submit two complete copies: one to your thesis advisor and one to the thesis coordinator, Belle Tuten, by the date specified in class.
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, 15th edition, 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.
A thesis is slightly different from an ordinary research paper in that a thesis must place the topic within the context of the larger world of scholarship. Every thesis should have a section that summarizes the current scholarship on the topic. There are several ways to do this, but this is the most straightforward:
I. Introduction, with thesis statement
II. Summary of scholarship
III. Body of analysis
IV. Conclusion integrating sections II and III together.
The outline for your thesis should be finalized in consultation with your thesis advisor.