SYE Independent Studies and Honors Theses

In lieu of the required senior seminar for the History major or minor, students with strong motivation and the requisite GPA may fulfill the History SYE requirement with a one-semester independent study project (HIST 489/490), or with a two-semester honors thesis (HIST 498 & 499) . To undertake a one-semester independent study SYE, a student is normally expected to have a 3.2 GPA in History.  To pursue an honors thesis, a student is normally expected to have a 3.5 GPA in History.

Independent-study SYE procedures (one semester)

Students hoping to undertake a one-semester independent study SYE must find a prospective advisor by early in the semester before the project will take place. In consultation with the prospective advisor, the student must plan a project that meets the same goals as the SYE course: development of a set of research questions on a topic (ideally one on which the student has some preparation from prior coursework), engagement with the relevant scholarly literature (usually culminating in a historiography or literature review), and exploration of the research question(s) through original analysis of primary sources, leading to the writing of an original research paper of approximately 25-30 pages. The details of how the independent study project is structured will be worked out between the student and the prospective advisor.

Potential candidates for a one-semester independent study SYE must submit to the department chair the independent study application and accompanying written proposal no later than the Friday before registration for the semester in which the project will take place. After departmental approval of the proposal, the student will be registered in History 489 (Fall) or 490 (Spring). The student must meet regularly with the advisor during the independent study semester.

Honors Thesis procedures

Majors may earn the citation of Honors in History by successfully completing a two-semester honors thesis under the direction of an advisor. A history grade point average of 3.5 is normally required to be eligible to undertake an honors thesis. The completion of the year-long honors thesis earns two credits towards the major and fulfills the department’s SYE requirement.


Qualified students intending to pursue honors should consult with their prospective thesis advisors by the spring of their junior year. Potential candidates for honors must submit the honors thesis application form and accompanying written proposal no later than May 1 of their junior year. After departmental approval of the proposal, honors candidates will be registered in History 498 for the fall semester and must establish with their advisor any necessary background reading and/or research to be done during the summer in preparation for the honors thesis.

Applications for student research funds available through the History department (Vilas and Carlisle funds) are also due May 1 and may be submitted along with the honors thesis application.  Information on additional funding through the Office of Academic Affairs may be found here.

Fall semester

During the fall semester, honors students should meet regularly with their thesis advisor. No later than the Wednesday of the final week of classes, the following materials must be submitted by e-mail to the department chair for distribution to the entire department:

• a historiographical essay on their topic’s sources (minimum 10 pages)

• a full project plan that includes research questions and findings to date, a working thesis, a working bibliography, and a detailed outline of the work to be undertaken in the spring semester.

During exam week of the fall semester honors students will deliver a 10-15 minute oral report on their progress to the full History Department. In consultation with the thesis advisor, the department will determine whether the work submitted warrants continuation to a completed thesis in the spring semester. Students’ advisors will communicate the department’s decision to them within 24 hours of their oral reports.

If it is determined that the quality of the work will not likely merit honors, or if the work is not being completed in a timely fashion, the student will be given a grade for the work done under a 300-level Independent Study designation and will need to complete the departmental SYE requirement in the spring semester.

Spring semester

Students whose projects are approved for continuation will be registered for History 499 for the spring semester, and will complete their theses in consultation with their advisors. No later than the third Friday in April, students must provide to the department chair by e-mail a submission draft of the thesis for distribution to the entire department. During the final exam week, students will give an oral defense of the thesis (a 10-15 minute presentation, followed by a question and answer period) that is open to the public. After the defense, the department will meet to assess the thesis.

Under normal circumstances, the department will make one of three determinations:

• Honors granted and submission draft accepted as the final draft without revisions

• Honors granted, conditional on specified revisions being incorporated into the final draft due no later than the Monday following the end of the final exam week

• Honors not granted but a grade awarded for the work completed under the Independent Study SYE designation (History 490)

Once an honors thesis has been completed, two copies and the original are sent to Owen D. Young Library for binding. The original is kept in the library, one copy is returned to the History Department where it is maintained, and the third copy is sent to the student. All departmental copies of honors theses are available for perusal on the bookshelf in the History Department office (Piskor 114).