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Haverford College
Department of History

Curriculum: Senior Thesis

Senior Thesis Archive

Check out the archive of History major thesis.

Recognizing the importance of individual research and writing, the history major culminates in a senior thesis for all history students. For a full year students work closely with a faculty advisor on a topic of their own choosing. The 400-level courses are intended to help students develop the skills needed to conduct substantial independent research.

The senior thesis is built around a two-semester seminar designed to guide senior majors through the research, drafting and revising of a substantial, original piece of writing. The seminar offers seniors the opportunity to practice the craft of historical writing through independent research. Over the fall semester, seniors complete a series of assignments that help them conceptualize, research, and write a thesis. The first semester culminates in a 10-12 page prospectus of the thesis, together with a bibliography of primary and secondary sources. During the spring semester, students complete their research and then focus on writing and revising the thesis.

Preparation:
Students typically begin planning their thesis project in the spring semester of their junior year. The best theses are built on successful seminar papers. Consequently, students usually review papers they wrote in their 300-level seminars to see which of these is most interesting and most promising for a thesis. Then, before the summer break students contact faculty with whom they might like to work and compile an initial list of books to read over the summer. In this way, when they return in the fall they are better prepared to begin working on their theses.

When considering your senior project, you should download and read the following document, which provides some preliminary guidelines for selecting a thesis topic: Selecting a Thesis Topic.

Writing:
In order to ensure uniformity and high quality theses, the History Department has adopted a standard set of guidelines for organizing and formatting your thesis: Kate L. Turabian, A Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations. Juniors are encouraged to purchase a copy and to refer to it when writing the thesis in their senior year. Copies are always available in the campus bookstore. Some of the material is available online, such as the Turabian Quick Guide to citation format.

Faculty have compiled a checklist of common formatting conventions, which you can download: Thesis Guidelines.

Defense:
The senior thesis culminates in the thesis defense, an oral examination conducted by your advisor and second reader. Typically, faculty ask you to defend your scholarship &emdash; your sources and use of evidence, the coherence of your argument, your conclusions, and how your work relates to other relevant scholarship. The defense is an opportunity to demonstrate your command the project that you have just finished.

For further guidelines and how to prepare, please see: Thesis Defense.