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Senior Thesis

This course, taken in the senior year, guides students through the process of writing a thesis of roughly 20 pages. This course allows students to review their previous studies while presenting an argument relating their previous studies to an aspect of modern American culture.

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.

TOPIC. All senior theses respond to the question: “Of the primary source works you have read for your previous Scriptorium courses, what passages are most important for modern Americans to study? Why? What can modern Americans learn from those passages?”

PROCESS. The senior thesis is not an abstract academic piece. It requires students to carefully examine their own culture as well as the cultures of previous historical eras. Students choose a set of primary sources that they have read for their previous Scriptorium courses. After re-reading those works, students identify an area or multiple areas of modern American culture that could be addressed by the works they have studied. Students choose key passages from those works, explicate the passages, and write an argument demonstrating how and why modern Americans can learn from those passages. Students conclude by addressing objections from potential opponents.

THESIS PROJECT. In addition to writing the thesis, students create a project to accompany their paper. Further details will be added in the future.

SKILLS DEVELOPED. Students will practice:

  • organizing and scheduling work for a complex year-long project;
  • finding reliable sources;
  • evaluating bias in sources;
  • reviewing, reflecting on, and explicating primary sources from past historical eras;
  • making connections between the past and the present while avoiding logical fallacies such as presentism and the sweeping generalization;
  • addressing potential opponents;
  • citation and documentation;
  • handcraft skills.

REQUIRED TEXTS. The core writing text for the course is the Lost Tools of Writing Level III program; the core primary sources for the course are primary sources the student has read for previous Scriptorium courses. In addition, students need to be able to access a wide variety of sources related to their topic, primarily via the internet but optionally through libraries and bookstores.

WORKLOAD AND STUDENT CHARACTER. Thesis work is completed in addition to the student’s senior year coursework. 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, and for the Michelangelo Prize, awarded to the student who has created the best semester project (a second Michelangelo Prize is awarded only for students completing the Senior Thesis project).

RECOMMENDED PRELIMINARY WORK. Students undertaking Senior Thesis are strongly encouraged to choose their topic and primary sources to re-read in the summer before their senior year. After students have been registered for the course, they may contact the tutor with questions and confirm their primary sources and passages before the school year begins.

EXAMPLES. What can modern Americans learn from:

  • …passages from Shakespeare’s Henry V on heroism? courage? justice? grace? law? taking counsel?
  • …passages from Homer’s Odyssey on leadership? loyalty? honesty? obedience? family?
  • …passages from Dostoyevsky’s Brothers Karamazov on love? responsibility? beauty? self-government? unintended consequences? family?
  • …passages from Franklin’s Autobiography on language? community? diligence? perseverance?
  • …passages from Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian Wars on justice? manipulation of words? truth? heroism? piety?
  • …passages from Froissart’s Chronicle on taking counsel? heroism? loyalty? piety? justice? family?
  • …passages from Lewis’ That Hideous Strength on education? truth? beauty? piety? family?

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