The Department of History offers a thesis route to the degree with Honors in History. This involves a ten-course major that includes HIST 493 (Senior Honors Thesis Research Seminar) and HIST 494 (Senior Honors Theses Writing Seminar), along with the connecting Winter Study thesis course. Students wishing to undertake a serious and extensive independent research project (of roughly one hundred pages in length) or who are considering graduate study are encouraged to participate in the thesis program and honors seminar. Honors students regularly report that the thesis experience was the most rewarding aspect of their education at Williams.
The current Chair of the Honors Committee is Professor Thomas Kohut.
Application and Admission
Students interested in pursuing the degree with Honors in History should start thinking about a formal thesis topic as early as possible and discuss their topics with the appropriate Department faculty member as soon as possible. Approaches to faculty members ought to be made no later than the end of the fall semester of the junior year; no faculty member is expected to advise more than one thesis and as acceptance of a student as an advisee is often made on a first-come, first-served basis it is crucial to approach a faculty member about writing a thesis as early as possible. It is always the responsibility of the individual student to procure the agreement of a member of the Department to act as his or her thesis advisor. A student who is uncertain of which member of the Department might be an appropriate advisor, or who otherwise is unable to find an advisor, should contact the Chair of the Department’s Honors Committee. Students should also check the Department website to see which potential advisors might be on leave during the year in which they wish to write a thesis. Finally, students who are studying abroad in their junior year should approach faculty members about writing a thesis before they leave or, while away, via e-mail.
Students must formally apply to the Honors Program no later than the registration period during the spring semester of their junior year, submitting an Honors application form, available from the Department office, and spelling out in some detail the thesis topic to be pursued (the nature and scope of the project, its significance, the questions that will be asked, the general sources that will be examined, etc). The Honors application form must be signed by the faculty member who has agreed to serve as the student’s thesis advisor.
Admission to the Honors Program is based on the student’s demonstration of a solid record of work of honors caliber, normally defined as at least a B+ average in courses taken for the major, a serious project proposal that is acceptable to, and approved by, the entire Department, based on the formal recommendation of the Department’s Honors Committee, and the agreement of an advisor (a faculty member, normally in the Department) to work with the student during his or her senior year as the formal thesis supervisor.
Registration and Summer Research
Once the student has been formally notified of admission to the Department’s Honors Program, he or she should register for HIST 493 (Senior Honors Thesis Research Seminar), HIST 494 (Senior Honors Theses Writing Seminar), and HIST 31, the connecting Winter Study course.
While summer reading and research prior to the senior year is not an absolute prerequisite for writing a good thesis, it is strongly advised that all thesis students start early and have a good amount of work done before the start of their senior year. Students admitted to the Honors Program are eligible to apply for research funds from the Department to help facilitate research during the summer. Financial Aid students can also receive up to $125 in additional assistance for expenses incurred during their senior year in the preparation of a thesis.
The Honors Seminar
During the fall and spring semesters, students will participate in a seminar intended to help with the writing of the thesis and with the preparation for the spring Honors Colloquium, at which the student will defend his or her thesis. The seminar, taught by the chair of the Honors Committee, will bring thesis students and faculty members of the Department’s Honors Committee together to work through the issues of historical research and writing. The year will begin with general discussions of various strategies for collecting data and turning it into a history thesis. This will be followed by a formal presentation and discussion of students’ revised thesis proposals. Before Thanksgiving students will be expected to produce a draft introduction to their thesis, which will be presented to the Honors Seminar and critiqued by another student and a faculty member of the Honors Committee. By the end of Winter Study, students will be required to have completed at least one draft chapter of their thesis, which will be discussed in the Honors Seminar at the beginning of the spring semester. Performance in the Honors Seminar in the fall and during winter study will be evaluated (at the end of January) on the basis of participation in the seminar and the quality of completed written work; the evaluation will determine whether or not a student will be permitted to continue in the Honors Program. For students proceeding to HIST 494 in the spring, performance in the fall semester will figure into the thesis grade calculated at the end of the year.
The ultimate goal for students admitted to the Honors Program is to submit a substantial piece of original scholarly work of roughly one hundred pages in length, which will be due two weeks after the end of spring break. Students will submit four copies of his or her thesis at this time, one for the thesis advisor, one for the student critic, and two for the faculty evaluators who will assess the work at the Honors Colloquium. Following the Honors Colloquium, a final, corrected copy of the thesis must be submitted to the Technical Services Department of Sawyer Library by 4:00 PM on the last day of the final examination period.
The Honors Colloquium
The culminating event of the academic year for thesis students will be the Honors Colloquium, which will take place in the Williams Faculty Club in early May. Students will be asked to speak briefly about their theses. A student critic will then comment on the work and ask questions about it. This will be followed by questions from two faculty readers, and from other community members present.
Class of 1960s Scholars
All Honors students are designated ‘Class of 1960 Scholars.’ As part of this program historians from other institutions will visit Williams to discuss their work with Honors Seminar members; dates, times, and locations of those meetings will be announced in advance.
In order to qualify for Honors, the Department must agree that students have earned two semester grades of B+ or higher, based on their thesis, their Colloquium presentations, and their participation in the Honors Seminar. Students whose thesis and presentations are deemed by the Department to be of exceptional merit will be awarded Highest Honors. A letter from the Chair of the Department will inform students of these decisions and of any thesis prizes awarded.