Honors in Anthropology

An honors thesis is required to graduate with honors in anthropology.

The opportunity to pursue honors in anthropology is a privilege. Students are selected to become honors candidates based on a number of criteria, including standing and grades in the concentration, a viable research project, the support of a faculty advisor, and submission and approval of the proposed project. An honors thesis is required for graduating with honors in anthropology. Writing an honors thesis, however, does not guarantee graduation with honors. If a student pursues an honors thesis that is not conferred honors status, the student's record will show that s/he successfully completed a Senior Thesis (described below).

Students must apply to become an honors candidate by the end of the semester before they begin their thesis work, ordinarily at the end of the sixth semester.

A mother's club celebrates their inscription in the public registry with a municipal Formalization Ceremony in Callao, Peru 2009
A mother's club celebrates their inscription in the public registry with a municipal Formalization Ceremony in Callao, Peru 2009. Photo by Kristin Skrabut.

    To be eligible to apply for honors, students must:

    • Be in good standing
    • Have completed at least two thirds of the concentration requirements by the end of the sixth semester.
    • Have earned a majority of "A" grades in the concentration. Classes taken S/NC will count as qualifying towards that majority if they are marked “S* with distinction” indicating that had the student taken the course for a grade, the grade would have been an "A."

    Both your primary thesis advisor and secondary reader for your honors thesis in Anthropology must be anthropologists. Additional readers from outside of anthropology are welcome to participate.

    Your primary thesis advisor must be a core (permanent) faculty member in the department. It is a good idea to have taken a class with the proposed thesis advisor, so that s/he has an idea of the student's interests and abilities and so that the student has a good idea of the faculty advisor’s approach to research. Adjunct and visiting faculty in the department may also serve as the primary thesis advisor, in special circumstances and with approval of the DUS, but typically serve as secondary readers.

    Students interested in pursuing honors should have an idea for a thesis project by the spring semester of the junior year. Many faculty advisors limit the number of theses they advise per year, so it is good to approach a faculty member early. The Director of Undergraduate Research (DUR) is available to assist prospective thesis writers as they develop their projects.

    Prepare a thesis proposal of 2-3 pages, describing the major research questions and methods to be used. The proposal should have a primary research question and will define what you are doing for your research (and why). The proposal must have a working bibliography attached. Candidates will prepare their proposals in close consultation with their primary advisor. Submit the thesis proposal, with the proposed faculty member’s approval, to the Director of Undergraduate Research in anthropology by the end of the spring semester of your junior year (specific dates are specified each year).

    En la iglesia - Tarapaca, Chile
    En la iglesia - La Tirana, Tarapacá, Chile. Photo by Lauren Deal.

    Some of the issues to be addressed in the proposal are:

    • What is the primary research question?
    • How does the proposed study articulate with prior anthropological research?
    • What is novel/new/different about the proposed research?
    • What is the theoretical grounding of the research?
    • What methods/samples/study area will be used in the research?

    As students proceed with the honors project, the direction taken may differ than that originally outlined in the proposal. In consultation with the primary faculty advisor, the student will identify a second reader, who will sign on to the project by the second week of the student's senior year (or seventh semester).

    Once accepted as honors candidates, students will pursue a course of study that goes beyond what is expected of a regular concentrator. This includes:

      • Enrolling in two ANTH 1930, Anthropology Thesis Workshops (half-credit courses that meet in the fall and spring semesters)
      • Enrolling in 1 independent study course with your thesis advisor: ANTH 1970. This course is normally taken in the student’s final semester and supervised by the student’s thesis advisor. Students may opt to take two semesters of ANTH 1970 (fall and spring) alongside ANTH 1930, especially if recommended by their advisor. These courses may be taken for a grade or S/NC. In cases in which the student has begun early research, there is the option of taking ANTH 1970 in the spring of the junior year. These courses are in addition to the nine courses in ANTH required for the concentration.
      • Regular meetings with the faculty advisor & drafts turned in at established intervals during the year.
      • If your research involves ethnographic fieldwork, determine whether your project needs IRB approval. For more information, see Undergraduate Work Involving Human Subjects Research.
      • Consulting with the primary thesis advisor to identify a second reader. The second reader should complement the advisor in some way. For example, if the advisor’s specialty covers the subfield (medical anthropology, linguistic anthropology, archaeology, political anthropology, feminist anthropology), the second reader’s specialty may cover the geographical region of your interest, or vice versa. The second reader should be selected at the start of the seventh semester.
      • Submission of final thesis to the thesis advisor, second reader, and Director of Undergraduate Studies no later than April 15 for May graduates and November 15 for December graduates.
      • Presentation of the thesis in the Honors Theses Symposium in the Anthropology department. Generally, the student prepares a fifteen-minute presentation that summarizes the topic, sources, methods, and conclusions of the thesis. After the presentation there is time for questions and comments from the audience.

    Research team crossing waterfalls at Lacanja Tzeltal, Mexico. Photo by Andrew Scherer.
    Research team crossing waterfalls at Lacanja Tzeltal, Mexico. Photo by Andrew Scherer.

    All honors theses must be based on original research and advance an argument. The thesis must be more than a report on existing scholarship. It must advance an original argument or analysis, either by presenting new sources or data or by bringing a new interpretation to bear on known sources.

    That research might involve:

      • Ethnographic fieldwork.
      • Archaeological or biological anthropological laboratory work.
      • Critical analysis of data and arguments presented in published sources.

    The thesis may take a variety of forms. The candidate and primary advisor should decide on the format at least two semesters in advance of the thesis completion (typically September of the candidate’s graduating year). Once the candidate and primary advisor settle on a format, the Director of Undergraduate Research should be contacted for final approval.

    Possible thesis formats include:

      • A traditional thesis format, approximately 12,000 – 17,000 words (50-70 pages) in length.
      • A paper prepared in the format of a journal article, approximately 40 pages in length.
      • A policy report (aimed at a particular organization) based on original research (e.g. a report for a university committee addressing sexual assault on campuses after substantial research devoted to understanding and analyzing the phenomenon).
      • A public facing exhibition based on original research (to be evaluated based on content and curation).
      • A website based on original research that seeks to make such research publicly available (to be evaluated based on content and success of design).
      • Audio-visual material or film (best for those with prior film experience, to be evaluated based on content, analysis, and success of film execution).

    All written material should adhere to the following format and citation requirements, unless an article is being prepared for submission to a journal, in which case that journal’s format may be used:

      • Deliver a complete draft of the thesis to the primary advisor and secondary reader at least one month in advance of the deadline (generally, immediately before or after spring break).
      • Deliver a final draft of the thesis to the primary advisor, secondary reader, and DUR by the appointed deadline.
      • The primary advisor will determine the grades for ANTH 1970. The final determination of Honors will be made by the faculty committee in consultation with the DUR.

    All students who satisfactorily complete ANTH 1970 will receive course credit for their thesis work. In order to receive Honors in anthropology, however, several additional criteria must be met. Upon submission of the thesis, the student must:

      • Have remained in good academic standing throughout the academic year.
      • Have had no violations of the academic code of conduct during honors candidacy.
      • Have completed all requirements for the concentration.
      • Have produced a thesis that meets the expectations for honors work established by the anthropology department.

    Two honors students from the Class of 2021 share some advice on thesis writing here 

    saddle blanket

    If a student has a viable research project and the support of a faculty member, but does not meet the eligibility for pursuing honors, the student may write a senior thesis in anthropology, with the approval of two faculty members. A senior thesis writer will also be expected to take the thesis workshop and independent study and has the option to present his or her work at the end of year symposium. Senior Theses generally follow all of the requirements and guidelines of the Honors Thesis, although with a later deadline for the thesis proposal (start of the seventh semester).

    As with an Honors Thesis, the Senior Thesis must be more than a synthesis of or report on existing scholarship. It must advance an original argument or analysis, either by presenting new sources or data or by bringing a new interpretation to bear on known sources.