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Senior Thesis Option

This course, taken in the senior year, guides students through the process of writing a thesis of roughly 20 pages. The purpose of this course is to allow students the opportunity to explore an aspect of their current course in depth by conducting their own research and presenting their own argument.

Senior Thesis is not required for all seniors but is required for all seniors graduating from the Humane Letters Diploma Program. *Please see Tuition, Terms & Conditions for information about tuition for Senior Thesis.

SKILLS DEVELOPED. To complete the course, students will analyze primary sources, find and evaluate secondary sources, determine bias of all types of sources, and respond to discipline-specific questions commonly encountered in college. The senior thesis option may be added to either a history or a literature course.

TOPIC. All senior theses respond to the question: “Should people of the twenty-first century adopt the views of the people of [time period X] about the topic [ABC]?” For example: “Should people of the twenty-first century adopt the views of the ancient Greeks about heroism?” or “Should people of the twenty-first century adopt the views of medieval Europeans about love?” (Please see the list of example topics below.)

PROCESS. The senior thesis is not an abstract academic piece. It requires students to carefully examine their own culture as well as the culture of the time period they are studying. Students evaluate what both cultures have said on their chosen topic, identifying both beneficial and harmful ideas. Students then collect evidence to present a case either for or against the adoption of the older culture’s ideas by twenty-first century Americans. Students conclude by addressing objections from potential opponents.

WORKLOAD AND STUDENT CHARACTER. While thesis work largely replaces much of the written work students are assigned for their course, the research and writing required for the thesis mean that adding the thesis option to a course will add significantly to the student’s workload. Because of this, students considering undertaking the senior thesis need a great deal of self-discipline, diligence, and determination. They must already have developed habits of thoughtfulness as well as strong writing skills.

DEFENSE DAY. Students undertaking the senior thesis present on their thesis work during Defense Day in both semesters. They summarize their research, explain how they evaluated their sources, and describe the things they have learned during their studies. By taking questions from the audience during the fall semester Defense Day, students gain new perspectives about aspects of their work they may consider addressing before completing their theses.

PRIZE OPPORTUNITY. Completed theses are considered for the King Alfred the Great Prize, awarded to the student who has composed the best senior thesis.

RECOMMENDED PRELIMINARY WORK. Students undertaking Senior Thesis are strongly encouraged to read ahead and choose their topic in the summer before their senior year. Book lists are available on each course’s webpage. After students have been registered for the course, they may contact the tutor with questions and to confirm their topic before the school year begins.

EXAMPLE TOPICS. Should people of the twenty-first century adopt:

  • …the ancient Greeks’ views on heroism? on liberty? on family?
  • …the ancient Romans’ views on government? on sports? on war? on children?
  • …the medieval Europeans’ views on love? on government? on honor?
  • …the Renaissance Europeans’ views on the value of human beings? on art? on power?
  • …the early modern Europeans’ views on religion? on freedom? on discovery?
  • …the Founding Fathers’ views on government? on money? on education?
  • …nineteenth-century views on family? on art? on liberty? on country?
  • …twentieth-century views on war? on liberty? on family?

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Page Image (c) 2015 Grace Hughbanks: Colonnade at Santa Croce, Florence, Italy.