Writing a Thesis

Department Schedule of Thesis Preparation 

The thesis writer and adviser should agree on a working schedule which will adequately conform to the calendar of thesis requirements established by the Senior Honors Adviser. Each of these written requirements should be submitted to the Tutorial Office for review by the Senior Honors Adviser. Paradigms for each of the written requirements are held on file in the Tutorial Office, for consultation.  An updated schedule of departmental dates and deadlines relative to the thesis will be available at the beginning of each Fall Term.  All writers of the senior thesis shall enroll in an HAA 99 for course (and requirement) credit - joint concentrators will enroll in the 99 course of their primary concentration.

Beginning in 2006-07, every concentrator writing a thesis will enroll in the senior thesis seminar in the fall of the senior year. Overseen by the Senior Honors Adviser, the senior thesis seminar will meet several times during the semester for a two-hour session devoted to facilitating the preparation and writing of a thesis. These sessions will cover such topics as compiling a bibliography, using archives, and constructing an effective argument. Late in the semester, each participant will deliver a twenty-minute presentation on his or her thesis topic, illustrated with slides or digitally projected images. All departmental faculty and students will be invited to these presentations. By the end of the semester, each participant in the seminar will submit a complete first draft of the thesis, complete with illustrations.

Application for Pulitzer and Abramson Travel Grants: Early March. See above under Prizes for details on grant and application.

Announcement of Pulitzer and Abramson Grant Awards Mid-March: By letter to the recipients.

Adviser's Review: Early March. Ideally, you should present the full, finished and finalized draft of your text to your adviser for a final review before formal submission to the Department.

Thesis Submission: Mid-March - a week before Spring Break. You must submit your thesis in the afternoon at a Thesis Reception. In exchange for your finely crafted magnum opus you will receive a glass of champagne and our heartiest congratulations. Please do attend this afternoon because a thesis submitted late is usually not accepted.

Reader's Response: after Early May. Senior Honors Theses are read and critiqued by Members of the Faculty and the Museum at the request of the Senior Honors Adviser. Readers' identities no longer remain anonymous.

Faculty Meeting on Honors: Early May. Department Faculty meet to vote on final honors recommendations, after which thesis writers will receive by letter from the Senior Honors Adviser notification of their thesis grade and recommendation for honors. Writers will also receive at this time the written responses of their readers. Students should speak with their Allston Burr Senior Tutor for anticipated final honors decision of the College.




Grading of the Senior Thesis

Theses are read and critiqued by faculty members applying a higher standard than expected for work written in courses or tutorials. Faculty do make use of the full range of grades, and students should consider that any honors grade is a distinction of merit. If you have any questions, please contact the Senior Honors Adviser, the Director of Undergraduate Studies, or the Undergraduate Coordinator at 495-2310.

SUMMA CUM LAUDE: A summa thesis is a work of "highest honor." It is a contribution to knowledge, though it need not be an important contribution. It reveals a promise of high intellectual attainments both in selection of problems and facts for consideration and in the manner in which conclusions are drawn from these facts. A summa thesis includes, potentially at least, the makings of a publishable article. The writer's use of sources and data is judicious. The thesis is well written and proofread. The arguments are concise and logically organized, and the allocation of space appropriate. A summa is not equivalent to just any A, but the sort given by instructors who reserve them for exceptional merit. A summa minus is a near miss at a summa and is also equivalent to an A of unusual quality.

MAGNA CUM LAUDE: A magna level thesis is a work worthy of "great honor." It clearly demonstrates the capacity for a high level of achievement, is carried through carefully, and represents substantial industry. A magna plus thesis achieves a similar level of quality to a summa in some respects, though it falls short in others; it is equivalent to the usual type of A. A magna thesis is equivalent to an A-. For a magna minus, the results achieved may not be quite a successful due to an unhappy choice of topic or approach; it is also equivalent to an A-.

CUM LAUDE: As is appropriate for a grade "with honors," a cum level thesis shows serious thought and effort in its general approach, if not in every detail. A cum plus is equivalent to a B+, a cum to a B, and a cum minus to a B-. The cum thesis does not merely represent the satisfactory completion of a task. It is, however, to be differentiated from the magna in the difficulty of the subject handled, the substantial nature of the project, and the success with which the subject is digested. Recall that, as students putting extraordinary effort into a thesis most frequently receive a magna, theses of a solid but not exceptional quality deserve a grade in the cum range. When expressed in numerical equivalents, the interval between a magna minus and a cum minus is double that between the other intervals on the grading scale.

NO DISTINCTION: Not all theses automatically deserve honors. Nevertheless, a grade of no distinction (C, D, or E) should be reserved only for those circumstances when the thesis is hastily constructed, a mere summary of existing material, or is poorly thought through. The high standards which are applied in critique of theses must clearly be violated for a thesis to merit a grade of no distinction.


Examples of Past Theses 

Senior Honors Theses which are written by students who graduate Summa or Magna are deposited in the University Archives in Pusey Library. Copies of theses which are awarded the Hoopes Prize are held in Lamont. Students are urged to consult past theses as much can be gained in exploring precedent or seeking inspiration.


Discontinuance of a Thesis 

The process of writing the thesis is a serious commitment of time and energy for both the writer and the adviser. In some cases, however, it might be agreed that the thesis should be discontinued at mid-year. The Senior Tutorial HAA 99 may be divided with credit through a procedure in which the student must submit a written paper presenting the project and research to that point.


Guidelines for Writers and Advisers of Senior Theses 

Senior Concentrators wishing to graduate with honors in the Department must write a senior thesis and carry academic standing of Group II or better, with a minimum GPA of 3.00 in concentration grades. In deciding whether one wishes to fulfill the honors requirements the student should consider his/her academic interests, commitment to independent research and other deadlines and obligations during the thesis year. Many students find the task of researching and writing a substantial piece of critical scholarship interesting and rewarding, but others find the senior thesis can become a frustrating and unwieldy burden. Some students prefer the freedom to savor extra-curricular pursuits during their last year at the College unhampered by the encroaching demands of thesis preparation. In general, it may be remarked that students are unlikely to do well in the honors program who are not already committed to this process of scholarship, and proven practiced writers; the senior thesis is not the place to acquire basic skills in writing and research. In considering the Department's honors requirements, it should be remembered that students with honors grades overall may graduate with University Honors (Cum Laude) even if they do not receive Honors in History of Art and Architecture.


Academic Requirements 

The writing and evaluation of the thesis is a year long process, during which the writer meets at scheduled intervals with his/her adviser, to formulate, develop, and ultimately refine their thesis work. The Department has also instituted a "thesis writing seminar" which writers will participate in through the fall term. The thesis is due just before spring break, and is then sent to its readers for their judgment and critique. The final thesis grade and recommendation for honors is determined at a faculty meeting in mid-May. Students working towards a March degree will follow a schedule to finish the thesis in early December.

The Department encourages seniors to think broadly and explore a problem of interest. The thesis topic does not necessarily have to be within the writer's declared major field, except when required for a joint concentration, in which case, the topic must address an issue shared by both concentrations. The thesis should demonstrate an ability to pose a meaningful question, present a well-reasoned and structured argument, and marshal appropriate evidence. The student should apply a clear methodology and be aware of the assumptions behind the argument, the possible deficiencies of the sources and data used, and the implications of the conclusions. The various parts of the thesis should cohere in an integrated argument; the thesis should not be a series of loosely connected short essays. A primary expectation of the thesis is that it is a work of independent scholarship, directed and crafted by the student, with the thesis adviser serving in a capacity of "indirect overseeing of the project".

There is no set pattern for an acceptable thesis. The writer should demonstrate familiarity with scholarly methods in the use of sources, but this should not be the sole criterion for evaluation. Of equal if not greater importance is the development of the central argument and the significance of the interpretation. A thesis may be research on a little-studied problem or a perceptive reassessment of a familiar question. A well-pondered and well-presented interpretive essay may be as good a thesis as a miniature dissertation.

Skill in exposition is a primary objective, and pristine editing is expected.  The department encourages writers to keep to a very short page count, so as to craft a clear, concise paper, and further edit it to an exemplary presentation. In general, a History of Art and Architecture thesis will have a text ranging from 40 to 80 pages, dependent upon the topic. Students are encouraged to explore the resources available to thesis writers at the Writing Center and the Bureau of Study Counsel.

The writer must indicate the source of material drawn from others' work, whether quoted or summarized. Violations of this rule are considered serious and should be brought to the attention of the Director of Undergraduate Studies immediately.


Senior Honors Adviser 

The process of taking honors and writing the thesis in this Department is overseen for all concentrators by the Senior Honors Adviser. The Senior Honors Adviser leads the Fall Term thesis-writing seminar, and directs the meetings for departmental approval once theses have been submitted.  The department Tutorial Office holds examples of the written requirements (Thesis proposal and prospectus) and of the Pulitzer, and Abramson Grant application which students might wish to consult as paradigms.


Thesis Adviser 

Students must seek a thesis adviser who is a full faculty member of the History of Art and Architecture Department or museum curator holding a teaching appointment in this department. The adviser ought to serve as a critic of your synthesized ideas and writings, rather than as a director of your work. The adviser should be chosen with consideration more to compatibility in overseeing the process of the work than to being an expert in the field. Prospective advisers should be approached as soon as you have identified a thesis topic. You should be prepared to show examples of your written work to your prospective adviser. Your verbal agreement with your adviser should be communicated promptly to the Senior Honors Adviser. If you have trouble identifying an appropriate adviser, please consult with the Senior Honors Adviser before the deadline for the Thesis Proposal.

Graduate students in the Department of History of Art and Architecture do not advise Senior Theses.


Thesis Readers 

As voted by majority consensus of department faculty, a new procedure for the reading and grading of senior theses will go into effect. Each thesis will have two readers chosen by the Department, ideally, but not exclusively,one from within the student's area of interest, and the thesis adviser. All readers will be asked to submit written comments and grades, which will be factored equally to produce the final grade of the thesis. Individual grades are not released and the readers no longer remain anonymous, and there exists a procedure by which a writer may request, via the Senior Adviser, to speak with a reader provided that reader is willing to discuss the work in further detail or expound on the written critique.


Grade Report and Honors Recommendation 

At the end of each term, Fall and Spring, the student's progress in the Senior Tutorial (HAA 99) will be graded SAT or UNSAT. At the end of the Department's Honors Review process the Senior Honors Adviser calculates a recommendation for Honors based on the factored grades of the thesis and the student's grades in concentration coursework. This recommendation is presented to the faculty at their meeting in May for review. A faculty vote is taken and this decision is passed as an honors recommendation to the Registrar of the College. The decision of Final Honors to be granted on the degree is made by the Registrar based on departmental recommendation and grades. Students should consult with their Allston Burr Senior Tutor to determine what final honors might be anticipated at Commencement.

The needs of the Department for fair deliberation dictate that there may be no report of decisions regarding the thesis until after the Faculty has considered and voted upon each recommendation for honors. After honors recommendations have been voted by the faculty, students will be notified of the department's recommendation to the College and will receive an ungraded copy of each evaluation of their thesis (the needs of the Department for fair deliberation dictates that there may be no report of decisions regarding the thesis until after the Departmental Honors Meeting). The comments in these evaluations should provide the student with a clear explanation of the strengths and weaknesses of the thesis, bearing in mind the difficulties of the field and the type of thesis submitted, and evaluating what was accomplished in terms of what was undertaken, given the student's limitation of time and experience.