As the semester winds to a close, a group of hard-working history majors are putting the finishing touches on their honors theses. For most of them, this has been a year-long research and writing effort. Last spring, they applied to the History Department’s honors program and, with the acceptance of their proposals, began work on a thesis project over the summer. Through the support of the department and the University Scholars Program, some even had the opportunity to conduct research outside Florida. One spent part of the semester in San Francisco while another worked in the British Library in London.
In the fall, students continued researching and participated in an honors seminar led by program director, Professor of History Howard Louthan, and Erin Zavitz, an advanced graduate student in Latin American History. A new addition to the honors process, the seminar includes sessions where students learn to evaluate critically primary and secondary sources, improve their presentation skills and develop outlines of their respective thesis. Students also meet individually with librarians who help them identify and access sources. Three years ago, Dr. Louthan introduced this class component to help create a more rigorous honors program and better assist students who want to complete an honors thesis. In the spring semester, the students strike out on their own and learn to balance class work with writing thesis chapters.
To celebrate their work and accomplishments, the History Department holds a conference and awards luncheon at the Matheson Museum in downtown Gainesville. The conference is the final component of the history honors program which provides select history majors with the opportunity to spend their senior year researching and writing an honors thesis. This year’s group was the largest thus far, with a total of twenty-three students completing theses on a diverse array of topics ranging from an analysis of Crusader castles to Chinese activities in West Africa, from the experiences of Peace Corps workers to the contributions of Booker T. Washington.
At the conference, students presented their research to peers, family members, and faculty members. A critical element in the presentation is reducing a year’s worth of research into a 10 minute talk with a Power Point presentation. For students whose topics were more obscure, the work involved not only researching and writing the thesis but also doing a good deal of translation. Students who can read and research in a foreign language are encouraged to do so to supplement their source base.
Beyond the presentations, students also celebrated each others accomplishments at the awards luncheon. Graduating honors students Caitlin Nelson, Sarah Kleinman, and Gregory Leighton received the Research Seminar Book Award. Caitlin is also the 2012 recipient of the Michael Hauptman Medal for an outstanding graduating history major. The department recognized upcoming honors students such as Natalie Brown, the winner of the Bridget Phillips award, who will be completing a thesis with Dr. Sean Adams next year. Two students, John Quinn and Liz McNeill, won university awards that will support their summer research in France and German respectively. The luncheon concluded by thanking generous contributors for helping to support the honors program, which runs completely on donations. We thank you for your contributions and look forward to another year of exciting student research in the History Honors Program.