Senior Thesis & Undergraduate Research

Every year, approximately 45%-55% of senior History concentrators choose to cap their Harvard careers by writing a senior honors thesis.

The senior thesis tutorial is a two-semester sequence  comprising Hist 99a and Hist 99b. While the overwhelming majority of students who start a thesis choose to complete it, our process allows students to drop the thesis at the end of the fall semester after History 99a (in which case they are not eligible for departmental honors).

The senior thesis in History is a year-long project involving considerable primary- and secondary-source research and a good deal of writing; finished theses are expected to be between 60 and 130 pages in length, and to make an original contribution to historical knowledge.

The department’s senior thesis program is one of the strongest in Harvard College. In recent years, one quarter or more of our thesis writers have received Hoopes Prizes, which is well over the College average.

History 99 Syllabus 2016-2017

History 99: Senior Thesis Writers’ Seminar
Wednesdays, 6–7 and 7-8 PM
Robinson Lower Library

Gregory Afinogenov
Robinson 102
Office Hours: Tues. 3-5
Sign up for Greg’s office hours:

Carla Heelan
Office Hours: TBA


The Senior Thesis Writers’ Seminar has a twofold purpose. The first is to provide you with practical guidance and writing advice as you complete a senior thesis in History. We will discuss many of the common hurdles and pitfalls that past students have encountered. Over the course of the year, we will cover a variety of issues from macro-organization to formatting and polishing the final draft. The second purpose of this seminar is to bring you together with other thesis writers to share experiences, interests, successes, and techniques. Writing a senior thesis can be an isolating experience; comparing approaches, exchanging advice, and simply staying current with the work of colleagues helps to dispel the confusion and frustration often encountered by writers at any level. Indeed, collegiality and intellectual exchange are at the heart of any academic seminar, and those can be the most rewarding aspects of History 99.

The senior thesis should be the culmination of your academic experience at Harvard. It will also be the longest and most complex piece of writing that most of you have ever developed, and you will face a number of new challenges along the way. Consequently, we will focus much of our attention on the process of writing an extended, multi-chapter work. Critical thinking and clear writing are inherently linked, and as the seminar progresses we will address matters of style and language.

This seminar will also prepare you for the Senior Thesis Writers Conference, which is attended by History Department faculty, graduate students, and undergraduates. At the conference, each thesis writer will explain his or her thesis project during a 15-minute presentation. The audience will be given 15 minutes to ask questions of and provide feedback to each presenter. This feedback often proves invaluable in sharpening the argument of the thesis.


Attendance at seminars and the Thesis Writers Conference is mandatory. You must have a valid excuse for missing a meeting and notification must be given in advance for any absence not due to health problems. In the event of an absence, be prepared to provide documentation from your Allston Burr Resident Dean or a clinician from Harvard University Health Services. Unexcused absences may prompt an UNSAT for the fall term and/or exclusion from the spring term of History 99; this could jeopardize your ability to complete your degree requirements and effectively move you to the basic program in History.  

In September, you must schedule a consultation with Fred Burchsted, our research librarian, to discuss library resources and research strategies. During the fall Reading Period, you must also meet individually with an instructor to discuss the progress of your thesis.  

In addition to completing written work on schedule, you will also be responsible for completing a peer review of two of your fellow students’ chapters in late January.


Historical scholarship may seem at times to have sprung singlehandedly from sole scholars poring over their sources and perhaps breaking occasionally for some dry crackers. Yet every great work of scholarship results from discussion and the exchange of ideas. Our work would not be as rich without sharing and debating it with our peers, advisers, and faculty members. Indeed, the thesis seminar requires you to share your work with your fellow students for peer review. We encourage you to consult your classmates and fellow students for advice on sources and secondary literature as well as for feedback on your chapters. However, your senior thesis must be the result of your own research and writing. You must also follow historians’ standard citation practices and properly cite any books, articles, lectures, websites, archival sources, etc. that you have quoted or drawn from. Any suspected plagiarism will be taken extremely seriously and may result in disciplinary action. Please consult Greg, Carla, or your thesis adviser if you are uncertain. It is far better to check in advance if you have any doubts and we are very happy to answer any questions.


Seminar: Wednesdays, 6–7/7-8 PM, Robinson Lower Library

NB: Assignments (in bold) marked with an asterisk (*) are due to the Undergraduate Office, unless in-class submission is noted in parentheses. All other assignments are due to your adviser.


Fall Semester


Sept. 7             Embarking on a Thesis (NB: All students meet together at 6 PM))

How to begin your project.

*Thesis Prospectus due (in class)

                        Zotero Workshop (7pm, same room)


Sep. 14            Managing Your Research

How to make the most of library resources and organizational techniques.


Sep. 21             Critiquing a Sample Thesis

Discussion of Elizabeth David’s “History for a Changed World.”


Sep. 28            Staking Out Your Turf

How to position your project in the relevant historiography.             

Annotated Bibliography due to your thesis adviser in the week of Oct. 3


Oct. 12             Explaining Your Thesis

                        How to structure your conference presentation.

                        *Title of conference presentation due (in class), Oct. 12

                        Outline of conference presentation due to adviser in the week of Oct. 17


Oct. 26             Preparing for the Thesis Conference

                        How to give an effective oral presentation and invite helpful feedback.


Nov. 3-4          Senior Thesis Writers Conference

                        Presentation of works-in-progress.


Nov. 9             Taking the Next Step

                        How to write your first chapter.

                        First draft chapter due to adviser and History 99 tutors by Nov. 23


Nov. 28-          One-on-One Meeting with Seminar Leader

Dec. 2              Discussion of progress in fall and agenda for spring.

*25-35-page paper due Dec. 8 (students dividing History 99 for half credit)




Jan. 4-24          Write, Write, Write!

Second draft chapter due to adviser in the week of Jan. 9, 2017

*Draft of peer-review chapter due Jan. 23 [NB: Submit two copies to Robinson 100 by 5 PM on Mon., Jan. 23. Drafts will be available on Tues., Jan. 25 at noon.]



Spring Semester


Jan. 25             Chapter Workshop

Peer review of a body chapter (see note at Jan. 4-24, above).


Draft of third chapter due to adviser in the week of Jan. 30


Feb. 1              Revision Workshop

Refining your argument, writing your introduction, and packaging your thesis

* Finalized thesis title due (in class)

 *Draft of introduction due Feb. 12

[NB: Submit two copies of your introduction draft to the Undergraduate Office by 5PM on Mon., Feb. 13. Drafts will be available for pickup on Tues., Feb. 14 at noon.]


Feb. 15            Finishing Touches

Review, check, and double-check requirements, peer-review of introduction (see note at Feb. 1, above).


Mar. 9              Theses due to Robinson 101 and uploaded to 99 dropbox **BEFORE** 5 PM

A Sampling of Past History Thesis Titles

A sampling of past History thesis titles:


  • The Power and Prejudice of the Fourth Estate:  Kenyan, British, and American Reporting on Kenyan Post-Election Violence, 2007-08
  • A Precarious State:  Slavery in Zanzibar, 1873-1909
  • Tilling Imagined Land:  Student Protest and Generational Conflict in Twentieth-century Ethiopia


  • Americans At Bat:  Gender, Race, and Baseball on the Home Front during World War II
  • Energy Evangelists:  The Struggle for a Comprehensive American Energy Policy, 1977-1978
  • Leading In The Shadows:  Lobbyists and the Shaping of Civil Rights Legislation, 1950-1964
  • Erecting Manhattan's Twin Towers:  The Limits of Civic Participation and the Origins of New York City's World Trade Center
  • Preserving the American Home Front:  The Austin-Wadsworth Bill, 1943-1944
  • It All Started With A Stocking:  Patriotism, Consumerism, and Nylon Hosiery in 1940s America
  • Lee-Jackson-King Day:  Race, Commemoration, and the Politics of Public Power in Virginia, 1970-2000
  • No Fortunate Sons:  Vietnam Veterans Against the War and the Transformation of American Civic Culture, 1967-Present
  • Prohibition Or Publicity:  The Origins of American Campaign Finance Law and the Making of Modern Elections, 1904-1925
  • Schooling The Wilderness:  Modernizing the American Summer Camp, 1880-2012
  • The Stock Boy, Salesman, and Merchant Prince:  Men's Work in American Department Stores, 1890-1930
  • Free Vermont!  Vermont Separatism at the Turn of the Millennium, 1987-2008
  • Harvard Holds Court:  Cambridge Intellectuals and the Career of Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, 1875-1941
  • Letters Of A Woman Homesteader:  Representation, Reality, and the Myth of the American West
  • Sudden War:  The Yosemite Miwok Indians and the California Gold Rush
  • Watershed Moment:  Water and Government in the American Southwest, 1870-1922
  • The Social Gospel Network:  The Interconnectedness of Protestant Social Reform in Boston, 1870-1920
  • Edith Culver's Love Story: Dating and Heterosocial Life at Radcliffe College, 1918-1922
  • Facts and Artifacts:  The Archaeological Expedition of the Harvard Irish Survey, 1931-1937
  • The Crowded Nation:  US Population Politics, The Rockefeller Commission, and the Rise of the Right, 1967-1973
  • Tailored Regulations:  Apparel Price Control during World War II


  • Gourmet, Glutton, Guide:  Marcus Gavius Apicius in the Late Roman Republic and Beyond
  • Cui Bono:  Gang Violence in the Politics of the Late Roman Republic
  • The Lion in the Forum:  The Roman Soldier in Republican Politics, 201-129 BCE
  • Memories of Good Men Bring Praise with Them:  Models of Sanctity in Late Antique Gaul
  • From Infamis To Imperator:  The Changing Role of the Actor in Late Republican and Early Imperial Rome
  • Power In Word And Deed:  Realities of Contact, Control and Memory in Viking Orkney
  • Literacy and Social Anxiety in the Second-Century Roman Empire

 East Asian

  • From Lineage Organization to Lineage Net:  The Post-Cultural Revolution Re-Imaging of Chinese Lineage Community
  • Medicine On Trial:  Professional Expertise and Medical Malpractice in Republican China, 1912-1937
  • A Reversal of Influence:  The Rising power of Korea:  The Introduction of Christianity into Korea and Its Outward Reaction in Relation to the Americas
  • Praying For A Just Cause:  The Role of International Christian Social Networks in the South Korean Human Rights Movement, 1974-1987
  • Melodies Without Mao:  Music, Youth Culture, and China's Rustication Movement, 1968-1976
  • A Hong Kong Effort:  The British Army Aid Group in South China, 1942-1945
  • Between The Court And The Locality:  Imperial Rule, Local Interests, and the Governors of Guangdong Province, 1793-1838
  • Constructing Modernity:  Images of the Female Body in Shanghai, 1919-1939

 Latin American

  • Nature's Southern Metropolis:  Buenos Aires Railroads, British Capital and the Making of Modern Argentina
  • The Bolivar Archive:  Politicizing the Past in Venezuela, 1962-2010
  • A New Light On the Incas:  Depictions of History and Civilization in Inca Garcilaso, 1609-1617
  • The End Of A Dream:  Percival Farguhar and the Brazil Railway Company, 1906-1914
  • Chiapas and Independence: 1821-1824
  • A Friendship Tested:  Causes of the Mexico-Cuba Diplomatic Crisis of 2000-2003

 Modern European

  • Punic Wars:  Images of Carthage in Eighteenth-Century France
  • Morality, Moblization, and Message:  The Role of Publicity in Gandhian Politics, 1907-1947
  • Artifacts and Empire:  The British Museum and its Associates in Egypt, 1801-1835
  • Literary Cargo:  The French Books that Shaped American Democracy, 1783-1789
  • On the Cutting Edge:  Prussian Battlefield Medicine and the Wars of German Unification, 1864-1871
  • The Morality of Violence:  Politicizing Folk Ethics in the Bosnian Serb Literary Tradition, 1885-1914
  • Against the Peace of the World:  Soviet Influence in the Creation of the Nuremberg Trial and the German Response
  • Back By Popular Demand?  Historical Representations of Stalin in Post-Communist Russia

 Near Eastern

  • From The Ashes Of Smyrna:  Urban Reconstruction, the Ismir International Fair, and National Identity in the Turkish Republic, 1923-1955
  • Governing A Chimera:  Ottoman Legacy and Colonial Management in French Algeria, 1830-1901


  • The Printer, The Shoemaker, and the Independence Takers:  Benjamin Edes, George Robert Twelves Hewes, and the Transformed Perception of the Common Man in the Early American Republic
  • Building Temples To Virtue:  Freemasonry in Eighteenth-Century France, 1725-1750
  • Crown and Consumption:  A History of Swans in Late Medieval England
  • A Study in Versatile Queenship:  Family Roles, Gender, and Politics in the Reign of Urraca of Castile, 1080-1126
  • Rethinking The Black Death:  The Manor of Wakefield and its Court Rolls, 1331-1352
  • Adorned By Insults:  Violence toward Women in the Middle Byzantine Period
  • From Norway to Iceland:  Migration, Religion, and Law in  a North Atlantic Society, 870-1050 A.D.
  • Society and Politics in the English Tournament, 11th-13th Century
  • The Politics of Religion:  Nobles, Divines, Charles I and the War started by the Scottish Prayer Book, 1637-1639
  • A Vision Applied:  The Bedford Congregation's Response to Religious Persecution in Restoration England, 1660-1688

Senior Thesis Conference

This year the History Department's annual Senior Thesis Writer's Conference will be held Thursday and Friday, November 3-4, 2015. View the 2015 Conference Itinerary.

Thesis writers will present their projects as members of three-to-four person panels moderated by a faculty member or advanced graduate student, to an audience of other faculty and graduate students. Their aim is to get the critical and constructive feedback they need to clarify their arguments, refine their methods, and ultimately transform their research projects into theses.

Like our faculty, our student presenters are conscious of their reliance on other disciplines in almost every aspect of their work. This conference supplies opportunities to engage in cross-disciplinary dialogues. Audience members also learn from these dedicated and talented young scholars even as they teach them new ways of conceiving and pursuing their projects.

For more information about the conference or the Department's thesis program as a whole, please write to the Assistant Director of Undergraduate Studies in History, or visit the Senior Thesis Writers Conference and History 99a website.


All seniors writing theses receive as part of the History 99a and 99b seminar materials a Timetable for Thesis Writers which lists approximate deadlines for staying current with work on this large-scale project. (For current copies of these documents, please click here.) Many thesis writers will submit work in advance of the deadlines listed on the timetable, following schedules worked out with their individual advisers. Several of the deadlines listed on the timetable must be met:

  • Students who wish to enroll in History 99 must attend the first meeting of the seminar on Wednesday, September 7th at 6:00 pm in the Robinson Lower Library.
  • By the beginning of the fall reading period, students must submit substantial proof of research to both their adviser and the 99 History instructors. This usually takes the form of a chapter or two of the thesis (20–30 pages).
  • Theses are due to the History Undergraduate Office (Robinson 101) on Thursday, March 9, 2017 before 5:00 pm. Theses that are handed in late will be penalized.

Thesis Readings

Each History thesis is read by at least two impartial members of the Board of Tutors, assigned by the Department. The Board of Tutors consists of (1) all department faculty in residence and (2) all graduate students teaching History 97 and/or a Research Seminar, as well as those advising senior theses. If History is the secondary field of a joint concentration, there is only one History reader. Each reader assigns an evaluation to the thesis (highest honors, highest honors minus, high honors plus, high honors, high honors minus, honors plus, honors, or no distinction), and writes a report detailing the special strengths and weaknesses of the thesis. Theses by students with a highest honors-level GPA will automatically be assigned three readers. Additionally, a thesis by any student may be sent to a third reader when the first two evaluations are three or more distinctions apart (e.g., one high honors plus and one honors plus).

Department Standards for the Thesis Program

Seniors who wish to write a thesis must meet certain prerequisites:

  • a ‘B+’ average in the concentration;
  • a ‘B+’ average on research seminar paper
  • the recommendation of their Research Seminar tutor(s).

Students who do not meet the above standards may petition the History Undergraduate Office for admission to the senior thesis; successful petitions must include a detailed thesis proposal, and will be evaluated at the discretion of the Assistant Director of Undergraduate Studies (Asst. DUS).

The Awarding of Departmental Honors in History


 Nominations for departmental honors are made by the Board of Examiners at the degree meeting each spring.  In making its nominations, the Board first takes two elements into account:  the average of course grades in History and thesis readings.  All students who may be eligible for a recommendation of highest honors will then be given an oral examination by the Board of Examiners; performance on this exam will be considered in determining the final recommendation.  The standing of those students at the border of two different degrees may also be determined through an oral examination administered by the Board of Examiners.

To be considered eligible for highest honors in history, a student will ordinarily have a grade point average greater than or equal to 3.85 in courses taken for departmental credit, and have received at least two highest-level thesis readings.  In addition, the student must convince the Board of Examiners of their qualifications for the highest recommendation through their performance on the oral examination.  Whether any particular student falling into this numerical range receives highest honors in history will be determined in part by the performance on the oral examination. 

To be considered eligible for high honors in history, a student will ordinarily have a grade point average greater than or equal to 3.7, and will ordinarily have received two high-level readings on the thesis. 

To be considered eligible for honors in history, a student will ordinarily have a grade point average greater than or equal to 3.3, and will ordinarily have received two honors-level readings on the thesis. 

Please note that the Department recommends students’ English honors (highest, high, honors, no honors) and sends these recommendations to the College which determines students’ Latin honors based on total GPA.  Please visit the link for more information on how the College awards Latin honors (summa cum laude, magna cum laude, cum laude, no honors).  In addition, you should consult with your Resident Dean.  Any degree candidate who does not receive the A.B. degree with honors in History will be considered by the FAS for the degree of cum laude.  

Departmental Support

Students who do decide to enter the thesis program benefit from a great deal of departmental support. The Department encourages its thesis writers to consider the possibility of devoting the summer prior to their senior year to thesis research, whether on campus or around the world. Each year a large number of rising seniors find funding for summer thesis research. The Undergraduate Office holds a meeting to advise students on how to write a successful fellowship proposal. In addition, we maintain a listing of organizations that have supported concentrators’ thesis research.

The Department also supports its senior thesis writers through two semesters of a Senior Thesis Seminar, History 99a and 99b, which provide a useful framework for thesis writers as they work through the intermittent difficulties that all thesis students inevitably encounter. For many seniors, their thesis will turn out to be the best piece of writing done while at Harvard. It will also be the longest and most complicated. Consequently, the seminars will focus much attention on the unique challenges of writing an extended, multi-chapter work. History 99a and 99b also provide a common forum in which seniors can share with thesis-writing colleagues their feedback, successes, frustrations, interests, and techniques. This kind of collegiality and exchange of ideas is at the heart of the academic seminar, and it can be the most rewarding aspect of the seminar series.

Students must enroll in the Thesis Seminars in order to write a thesis by obtaining approval from the Asst. DUS on their study cards.