Senior Honors Thesis
Since students often ask for advice about the senior honors thesis, the department has summarized some of the basic information in this section. In an interdisciplinary program such as African and African American Studies, however, concentrators should bear in mind that many students (especially joint concentrators) will want to use the guidelines of the major discipline in which their thesis falls. If students have any questions, they should ask their advisor or the Director of Undergraduate Studies.
The Senior Thesis
The senior thesis is intended to be an essay that explores in depth a topic of interest to the student. Acceptable topics include exploring aspects of African or African American history, literature, culture, music, economics, politics, or sociology and any analysis in which an African or African American subject matter is a significant item of comparison. Possible topics should be discussed early with thesis advisors (or the Director of Undergraduate Studies). It is a good idea to prepare the prospectus well before deadlines.
A thesis, by definition, is a proposition, an assertion, supported by arguments, not a mere collection of data. This does not mean that students must start their research with a definite theme or statement. It means that when students have finished their research, they should systematically try to arrange their material in such a way that the reader will be aware of their purpose and direction.
Therefore, students should define in the thesis introduction the problems with which they are going to deal and explain in what way and in what order they plan to discuss those issues. Every part of the body of the thesis should be part of an argument. Just as the reader should never be in doubt about what the writer is trying to prove, so the thesis writer should never be in doubt about how a particular fact or point fits into the development of the thesis. Finally, in the thesis conclusion, students should restate the main points they have made in the course of the thesis and briefly summarize the developments leading to these main points or lessons.
Students should address themselves to a well-informed reader. Facts or ideas likely to be familiar to such a reader need not be fully written out. In addition, try to avoid repetitions and irrelevancies, both in your arguments and in your selection of facts.
Students also have the option to write a social engagement thesis. The Social Engagement thesis encourages students to think “outside the box” and incorporate academic work with social entrepreneurship. For more information about the Social Engagement Thesis, please visit the Social Engagement Thesis page.
Text should be printed on only one side of the sheet, and except for quotations of more than about 50 words and footnotes, should be double-spaced. Recommended margins are as follows:
- top and bottom margins - one inch
- left margin - two inches
- right margin - one inch
If footnotes are typed at the bottom of the page, a continuous line should be drawn from the left margin to the right margin, separating the text from the footnotes. All text pages should be numbered.
A senior thesis in African and African American Studies should be roughly 70-100 pages (12 point font) in length (approximately 20,000-30,000 words). This number does not include the bibliography, notes, or any appendices. Theses that are deemed too short to examine the topic thoroughly or excessive in length will be graded down accordingly.
There should be no reference or dedication to a student's thesis advisor. If the thesis is of High Honors quality, students may add such a dedication after the beginning of Spring Reading Period if they so desire. At this time, they may also acknowledge professors, family members, friends, and significant others.
Footnotes and Bibliography
Footnoting presents problems of judgment and mechanics. Practices of when and where to use footnotes can vary. In general, students should note any statement of fact that varies from what the reader might expect or from standard chronologies (students need not footnote every quote, close paraphrase, or conclusion derived from another author, so long as the source is cited in the essay or its bibliography and the student's dependence on it is clear). Students may use a footnote to amplify a disagreement with another author or to provide some bibliographical orientation. If it remains clear what parts in a paragraph are attributable to their respective sources, students may use a note with multiple references at the end of a paragraph. It is often easier, however, to put the note number right after the relevant material.
In matters of form, the department counsels following either Kate L. Turbian's A Manual for Writers of Term Papers, Theses and Dissertations (University of Chicago Press) or Joseph Gibaldi and Walter S. Achtert's MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers, Theses and Dissertations (Modern Language Association). Students may find standard social science citations or the MLA guidelines best suited for a thesis which uses a small number of sources repeatedly. The new MLA guidelines permit you to distinguish indications of sources from argumentative footnotes and make the composition of the bibliography easier.
Students should be consistent no matter what format they choose. Notes may be placed at the bottom of each page or at the end of the thesis. Under no circumstances should footnotes be listed at the end of chapters. Footnotes should be single-spaced and be numbered consecutively by page or by chapter.
Senior theses are due by 5pm on the Wednesday before spring break. One copy of the thesis must be laser printed and additional copies may be photocopied. All copies must be on opaque bond paper (cotton content is not necessary) and bound in spring-back binders. In addition to hard copies, students must submit an electronic version (.pdf format) to Professor Jean Comaroff through Harvard Secure File Transfer: https://fta.fas.harvard.edu/courier/web/1000@/wmLogin.html
Submission guidelines are as follows:
- African and African American Studies Concentrators should submit TWO COPIES of their thesis to the African an African American Studies Department
- Primary African and African American Studies joint concentrators are required to submit THREE COPIES to the African and African American Studies Department. Our department will then arrange for a copy to be delivered to the department of the joint concentrators' secondary field
- Secondary African and African American Studies joint concentrators should submit ONE COPY to the African and African American Studies Department.
All theses must be submitted to the Department of African and African American Studies. Extensions may be granted by the advisor only in cases of dire emergency, such as illness, over which the student could have no control. The Director of Undergraduate Studies (Professor Jean Comaroff) should be informed as soon as possible. The burden of proof is on the student.
Professor Jean Comaroff, Director of Undergraduate Studies
Theses will be read and commented upon by faculty members using a higher standard than would be appropriate for term papers written for courses or tutorials. They will be graded on an English honors scale ranging from Honors Minus to Highest Honors. Since each thesis is read by two or more readers who may grant it different grades, the final grade for the thesis is determined by vote of the African and African American Studies faculty based on the thesis readers' evaluations. If a student is a joint concentrator, then the Department of African and African American Studies consults with the department of the joint concentration in reaching a final honors grade. The thesis grading scale is as follows:
As indicated before, whether a student graduates with Latin honors is determined on an individual basis and depends not only on a student's thesis grade but also on his/her overall grade point average for all courses taken at the College. (Concentrators are encouraged to discuss their individual cases with the Director of Undergraduate Studies). If the average grade of the thesis is High Honors or better, a laser-printed copy will be sent to the Archives and only the second copy will be returned to the author. Theses and copies of reader evaluations will be available for students to pick up on or before May 15. Please contact the Undergraduate Officer for updates on the return of theses and reader evaluations. A copy of theses not called for by students will either be kept in the Raines Library in the Department of African and African American Studies or destroyed.
The Department of African and African American Studies offers a thesis workshop (AAAS 99) for senior concentrators who would like extra guidance and the opportunity to discuss their thesis topic and research methodology with other concentrators involved in the thesis process. One year of AAAS 99 Senior Thesis Workshop is required if African and African American Studies is the primary concentration. This course is letter-graded. If African and African American Studies is the secondary concentration, the student should register for the thesis tutorial in the primary concentration.