Guidelines for Honors Projects in History

An Honors Paper in History provides students with an opportunity to engage in historical analysis by carrying out extensive research. The process of completing a major research project that culminates in an analytical essay involves many steps, although the order in which a student accomplishes these tasks will depend on the subject, sources, and methodology. Students will design a focused research project, articulating a problem or question(s) about a particular subject. They will locate their study in the historiographical literature of the field, broadly defined, in order to show that their problem is worth exploring in relation to the secondary literature and that it will advance the understanding of the subject. In order to work toward a thesis, they will propose a preliminary hypothesis (a potential answer to their problem). They will design a research methodology that enables them to explore the subject in depth through the extensive analysis of available sources, both primary and secondary. Students will present their thesis and analysis in a technically proficient persuasive essay. 


1.  The History Department expects that honors projects require more than one semester of research and writing. Most projects will be two semester projects (History 451-452). In those cases where a student pursues a one-semester project (History 451), the project should represent a continuation of extensive research done in a History Department Seminar (200 or 300 level) or in an Advanced Independent Study in History (History 401 or 402). 

2.  The History Department recommends that students design a project that will culminate in a 50-75 page essay. Although the early, exploratory drafts of some sections of the project might be quite lengthy, students should expect to tighten their writing as their analysis gains clarity and focus. 

3.  Students should come to the first semester of the project with a focused subject and a preliminary articulation of a problem or question(s) about the subject. Early in the first semester of the Honors Project, honors students will submit a prospectus (or abstract) to their advisor, and to the Department Coordinator for distribution to the entire Department faculty. 

4.  Based on recommendations from the advisor and honors student, and on interest generated by the prospectuses, the departmental Honors Director will assign subcommittees for each of the honors projects. Along with the advisor as first reader, each student will have a second and a third reader whose geographic and thematic interests provide a complement to that of the advisor. The subcommittees will meet with the student each time the student submits new work. Advisors or subcommittees may tailor some components of the honors process individually.

5.  When a student hands in a complete draft of the project after spring break, a fourth reader will be assigned to the committee. This reader will read only the final draft of the honors project and will participate in the evaluation of the project.

6.  Students must meet all deadlines for submitted work. Individual honors project advisors reserve the right to terminate projects at any time if they and the advisory committee determine that students are making insufficient progress or have failed to meet established deadlines.

7.  The advisory subcommittee will be responsible for providing ongoing feedback to students on their project. Students are responsible for submitting copies of each of their drafts, including the initial prospectus and the 6-8 page historiographical overview to all three readers. All readers will comment on each of the student’s drafts. After students revise these drafts, revised chapters should be submitted to the first reader only.

8. In early May, the subcommittee and the additional reader will read the final project, prepare questions and a preliminary evaluation of the essay for the student, and then engage in a discussion with the student, commonly referred to as the “Honors Defense.”  After the discussion, the subcommittee will complete the evaluation for the student, submit the evaluation to the Department and recommend grades. The committees will also recommend essays for prizes. The Department awards one level of honors for successful projects. Based on the subcommittee recommendations, the Department will award grades as well as prizes in history. When more than one essay is recommended for a prize, the Department will decide whether to award the prize to one or more students.

9.  After the subcommittee discussions are completed, and after grades and prizes have been determined, students will present their research and analysis to the entire department, other honors students, and invited guests.


A successful honors project in history must include: 

  • a clearly articulated thesis that advances the understanding of the subject in the context of the secondary literature
  • a careful mining of and grappling with primary sources or a critical reading of secondary sources (for topics in fields where primary sources are especially elusive)
  • a clear methodology and theoretical framework that the student has used to analyze the evidence that the essay presents
  • a well-argued, well-written essay
  • scholarly standards of presentation (includes table of contents, proper footnoting, bibliography; no typographical errors)
  • have met all deadlines as established by the History Department and the advisory subcommittee