An honors thesis is an original, independent research project undertaken with the guidance of a faculty mentor and culminating in a significant paper. As a history student, you are familiar with the essays and papers written in our regular courses, and this is at once similar and different. The two are similar in the sense that both are characterized by a persuasive argument, judicious use of evidence, originality of thought, and clarity of expression. But they differ in two important ways—an honors thesis is a very much larger project, and it is based on original research carried out according to the standards of the discipline. Although as an undergraduate you are unlikely to make a truly world-shattering discovery, you should expect your honors thesis to make, in at least a modest way, what scholars call “a contribution to the field.”
You may hear people refer to an honors thesis as a “senior thesis.” In some ways, this phrase is misleading because many students start their theses before the senior year. But if such a phrase denotes a sense of maturity and culmination, then it is not entirely wrong. An honors thesis allows you to use your accumulated skills and knowledge to study an important question, test a hypothesis, or produce something truly creative—and to do so on your own, independently. Thus, an honors thesis is the ultimate, defining accomplishment of your undergraduate education. It is not the same as the paper completed in HIST 480, Senior Thesis, although completing an honors thesis will fulfill the same graduation requirement. The form and length of honors theses vary greatly by topic; recently, most theses have been forty to sixty pages, but some have been longer or shorter.