For information about Web accessibility, please contact the Webmaster at

Haverford College
Department of English

Senior Conference

The culminating research experience for our majors is Senior Seminar, English 399b.

For their senior projects, students work closely with a faculty consultant over the course of the year in the research and writing of a 25-30 page essay; recent projects have ranged from "Reading the Construction and Performance of Gender Theory in Margaret Fuller's Woman in the Nineteenth Century" to "Charles Mee's redefinition of Authorship in Big Love" to "The Poetics of Cultural Unity in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales" to "Unearthing Memories in the Landscape: Seeing, Dreaming and Digging in William Least Heat-Moon's PrairyErth." Students regularly submit their senior projects as the writing sample for graduate school applications and several have successfully revised their theses for submission to peer-reviewed journals.

Getting Started

It is now time to settle on a topic for your Senior Essay. It is time as well to determine who will act as your faculty consultant for this project. Most of you attended the workshop about preparing to start on your senior thesis conducted last semester by the Writing Center. To continue that conversation, we will hold a meeting for seniors on September 17th at 4:15 P.M. in the Meditation Room where you can exchange tips, clarify doubts, meet faculty consultants, and generally get revved up for senior conference. Review the list of faculty consultants (pdf), with a general indication of the fields in which we specialize. In the next few weeks, please talk to any or all of us about your topic for Senior Essay. Do not hesitate to gather ideas from those whose fields seem outside your chosen topic. After you have consulted with all your faculty choices please fill in the attached form expressing your area of interest and your first, second, and third choice of faculty consultant. Return the completed form to me no later than September 25th. Please do not e-mail your response. Place your completed form in the specially marked “Prof. Stadler“ box in Woodside 100 (i.e. Carol Henry’s office).

The department tries to be flexible in the range of topics undertaken. You should begin by thinking through your own interests and desires; then, in consultation with the professors with whom you discuss your interests, you can identify productive lines of inquiry. Try to be creative and flexible yourself: remember to consider topics and authors from earlier centuries. Please note that your primary text may not be a text in translation. You may do a “creative writing” project only if you already have been admitted to and will be completing the creative writing concentration.

In indicating your topic on the form I am sending you, be as specific as possible. If you have a very definite idea already, let me know (e.g. "Who (or What) Speaks?: Discerning the Subject in Three Stories from La Frontera (Anaya, Anzaldua, Cisneros)." Or you can say something less formal: "I’m interested in looking very closely at images of windows in at least one of Virginia Woolf's novels, maybe Mrs. Dalloway, and I’d also like to talk about her essays." If you only have a vague notion, you may indicate a general area of interest ("I want to work on ghosts in Puritan texts” or "I’d like to write on the Canterbury Tales"), but you should use this opportunity to focus your thinking as sharply as you can. I cannot stress one idea enough: you must talk to the faculty members you wish to work with before you complete the form.

You may not choose a faculty consultant who is not on the list. If, however, you wish to avail yourself of the expertise of someone not on the list--in another department, or teaching a departmental course this semester, or at Bryn Mawr--and if that person is willing, you may of course talk about the project with other faculty. And remember to share your ideas with each other, for perhaps your peers are the most important resource you have. We will need to assign a roughly equivalent number of students to each faculty consultant. I will make the final assignments as soon as the forms are in, and post the list on the office door. As soon as you have been assigned to a faculty consultant, you must arrange a meeting to discuss your project, and begin the work of refining and fine-tuning your topic. By October 8th you need to give me a two-line description of your topic, approved by your faculty consultant (a form for this is attached to this letter). Please email these 2 lines to Carol Henry after you submit the form.

Use our Library

Each senior is required to attend a meeting with Jeremiah Mercurio, the librarian for English and modern languages. You should contact him to schedule this or ex. 2976); he will be available to meet with you between October 31 and November 18. To take full advantage of that meeting, you will want to come with well-formed questions about your topic.

I encourage you to read widely at this stage of your thesis preparation, so that you develop a sense of the issues and approaches being addressed by the larger critical community about your text, author, or topic. You could also take a look at essays previous generations of seniors have written. These can be accessed through the “Research and Resource” page of the library’s website.

By November 13, you must prepare a brief page or two describing your proposed project together with a short bibliography (5-10 titles) of relevant primary and critical sources, and submit it to your faculty consultant. In developing this short bibliography, work closely with your consultant, who will help to steer you away from sources irrelevant to your project or unlikely to prove useful to you, and toward those sources most likely to help you in shaping and sharpening your own reading and thinking. Before the end of the semester (December 19) you must complete a detailed annotated bibliography of relevant critical and theoretical sources for your project, and submit this document to your faculty consultant. Your annotations should take the form of working notes shaping the purpose and direction of your own essay. You may point out how certain sources will help you to locate and to advance your own argument and you may also define positions that are unlike your own, which your work will effectively challenge. You might find it helpful to divide the bibliography into two parts—"likely to be used"/"unlikely to be used," or "important to my argument"/"unimportant to my argument." What's critical here is to make this stage a genuinely helpful one. The annotations should be engaged and productive. We will expect you to keep working on your senior project over the winter break.

Please note these other important deadlines: January 26 for the outline of your entire essay and 4-5 pages of draft, and February 26 for the completed rough draft. The final draft of your senior essay, along with the "library authorization form" is due at 4 p.m., Thursday, April 9th. NO extensions to this final deadline will be given. Any late submissions will be marked down a full grade for each day of tardiness.

The Essay

The essay should be roughly 25-30 pages in length. Your readers are not absolute about such matters; however, this length is normative, and any essay that is significantly shorter or longer ought to be exceptional (in every sense).

In your essay, we expect evidence of some serious engagement with secondary materials, whether critical or theoretical. As I have said, you will begin to develop a bibliography of appropriate critical readings with your faculty consultant early on. While you needn't overtly fashion your essay as a response to this material, it is expected that you will be writing with an awareness of your relationship to a critical community that both predates and parallels your own interpretive performance.

Those of you doing a creative writing project will be asked to produce a critical introduction to your work of around 10-12 pages, for which a bibliography will also be required. The English department has on file a packet of materials related to this requirement (contemporary writers on writing, etc.). Contact Carol Henry in Woodside Cottage for the material.

Your completed essay will be read by two faculty members, your consultant and one other department member. They will agree on a grade for the essay. Your final grade for senior conference is based on the essay grade and the oral examination.

Remember the Writing Center

The faculty affiliated with the Writing Center are available to help seniors with every phase of their project. If you are anxious about writing, consider setting up a regular appointment with one of the fellows or faculty affiliates early in the year.

Oral Comprehensive Exams

At the end of the year, you will take a one-hour oral exam covering your experience of the major. I tell you about this now not to alarm you but to help you build toward that experience throughout the year. The first half hour of the exam will concern your essay; the second half hour will concern your course work in the major. To refine the latter part of the exam, we will ask you to produce a list of works for which you will be responsible. This will happen toward the close of second semester, but it might be useful to begin thinking about this now. (Ideally you began this process over the summer after receiving Professor McInerney's letter in the spring.) The following criteria apply: two works from each of seven courses taken for credit in the major, two literary works and two critical works from each term of Junior Seminar. This amounts to 22 works, at least four of which will be critical texts. Sounds like a lot at first, but you will discover as you begin to look over your course work how many more works you might be able to choose.

By "works" we mean a novel, play or long poem (e.g. Paradise Lost); or, if you are assembling material of a small scale, we suggest you include at least three short stories or four reasonably complex lyric poems as the equivalent of one “work.” A film course would be represented by two films, each paired with a relevant piece of film theory or criticism. If you are choosing material from a creative writing course, you should be able to include literary material in the public domain that was the basis for class discussion of craft, style, etc. Preparing the list should be fun. Remember to ask yourself why you have selected the particular works in question (or better yet, why have they chosen you?). Try to group titles under two or three topics, or themes. Your examination is likely to be a more rewarding experience for all concerned if you--and we with your help--have thought in these terms. The list is to be typed and 3 copies turned in to Carol Henry by April 23. In addition to grouping the texts together under three thematic/theoretical classifications, please also include a list of which courses you’ve taken and which texts from those courses you are including on your exam (this is a new requirement).

In addition to your exam list you are required to produce an abstract of your essay (250 words) and a reflective statement (350 words) about your experience working your way through the process to finish your essay.  Your thesis consultant and the writing center will be able to give you pointers on what goes into an abstract.  The reflective statement can be freer in form and you can choose to focus on any aspect of the essay or the thesis process that is significant for you.  As starting points we offer the following questions:  How or why did you choose your topic?  What did you bring to the essay by way of previous reading, exposure to the topic or author, or knowledge of the period?  Now that you’ve finished the essay, what new questions fall into focus for you about your topic?  Beyond the argument and analysis you presented in the essay, what did you learn about conducting research, crafting an argument, and managing an independent project?  Above all, we hope that the reflective statement gives you an opportunity to convey your honest self-assessment and candid thoughts about the process in general.   You will submit the abstract and reflective statement to your thesis consultant on April 16.  A revised version of the abstract and statement will eventually be required of you by the College Publications office during the exam period. 

You will be examined by three faculty members: your faculty consultant, your second reader, and one other member of the department. These exams are not designed to trick or to intimidate you, but to help you to realize how much you have learned. Often the most exciting exams are really conversations that help you to see the creative power you can generate through the knowledge you already have.

This letter lays out the entire year-long process so that you know every detail of what lies ahead. While you should start planning for every aspect of this process, it is not yet time to start worrying about the exam. Your faculty consultants and other members of the Department will be able to answer any questions you have about this part next term.

English 399B: 2014-2015 Calendar

Sept. 17 , 4:15 PM in the Meditation Room--Senior Thesis meeting

Sept. 25—Deadline for submission of essay topic and preferences for faculty consultant to Gus Stadler. Deposit form in box marked "Stadler" in Woodside 100.

October 8—Two-line description of project, approved by faculty consultant, submitted to Gus Stadler. Deposit TYPED or NEATLY PRINTED form in box marked "Stadler" in Woodside 100. Please also e-mail this two line description directly to Carole Henry. Use subject heading "Sr. Project" for the mailing and remember to give your full name.

October 31 - November 18—Required meetings with Jeremiah Mercurio, reference librarian; schedule an appointment by emailing him.

November 13—1-2 page description of topic and thesis statement due, with short bibliography (5-10 titles) of relevant primary and critical sources. Note: This bibliography goes directly to your faculty consultant.

December 19 (or before, if you are leaving campus early) --Detailed annotated bibliography due. (Directly to your faculty consultant)

January 26—Full outline and 4-5 draft pages of essay due.

February 26—deadline for completed rough draft. The more polished you can make this, the better, but in any case you should expect to spend a great deal of the next month revising, rewriting, perfecting your essay.

April 9—Final draft of essay due, 4 p.m. Please Note: this date is an absolute deadline.

April 16—Abstracts and reflective statements to be submitted to faculty consultant

April 23—Oral Exam lists due – Woodside 100 - 3 copies

April 29-30—Senior presentations.

May 4, 5, 6—Oral Comprehensive Examinations.