Department of History

History Honors Rubric

From purpose, to scope, to argument — you may have many questions when writing or considering your thesis. For optimum clarity, please review the following metrics. 

Original Research

To what degree does the thesis qualify as original research?

The purpose of thesis research is to add to the existing scholarship—to an ongoing conversation and debate about a particular historical event, persona, society, or transformation. History undergraduates normally do this by coming up with a new interpretation or insight about a well-studied topic or by finding and analyzing a collection of primary sources that had not been previously translated and/or analyzed. The thesis must be based on close work with primary sources. These need not be strictly archival, but they must be generated by experiences in the period under study. The engagement with a topic should not be entirely dependent on the work of previous historians.

Appropriate Scope

To what degree does the scope qualify as appropriate?

Since the thesis is not a dissertation or book, and since students roughly have just one year to research and write the thesis, the research scope should not be too broad. Yet, the Honors process should be more than equivalent to two semesters' work in Department courses. The scope of the project should be manageable yet substantial. Normally, a History Honors thesis is between  35,000 and 55,000 words long. One factor affecting length is the difficulty of the source material; close work in foreign language may legitimately result in a shorter thesis.


To what degree does the thesis sustain an analytic argument throughout?

The thesis must analyze rather than merely narrate or summarize. A strong argument requires consideration of counterarguments and should make a case for its significance, discussing implications and probing ambiguities. Even if the student's focus is on new materials, the task is still to analyze rather than merely describe. Finally, a good argument should demonstrate a capacity for historical thinking (i.e., avoid anachronism, but instead attempts to engage the past on its own terms).

Engagement with Pertinent Historiography

To what degree is the thesis rooted in an engagement with pertinent historiography?

A discussion of what historians have already said about the research subject should make the case that the chosen question or topic fills an historiographic gap, however small. Undergraduate theses cannot be responsible for an entire field, but should not overlook important works on the subject as defined. A discussion of secondary literature should be prominent in the introduction and references to the historiographic framework should continue

throughout the thesis. A thesis should evaluate as well as make reference to other historians' work.

Critical Reflection on Topic, Method, and Process

To what degree does the thesis successfully reflect critically on its method and process?

The introduction to the thesis should include a short section on its method and process that details an explicit research strategy and a rigorous execution. If the work involves translation from another language, the process should be explained. A student may choose to use the first person singular for the thesis, but the work should not assume that readers share any intrinsic interest in the subject or understanding of the method.


To what degree is the organization adequate to the subject and scope?

A thesis should be organized into several separate and clearly defined chapters. The reader should be able to follow the line of reasoning easily. Ideas should be arranged logically to support the purpose via chapters, chapter sections, and paragraphs, which must flow smoothly from one to another through transitions and topic sentences. Summaries of the argument should be offered at regular intervals. The thesis should have a useful introduction that lays out the scope and argument and a substantive conclusion that reinforces the argument without merely repeating it. The thesis title should be well considered.

Writing Quality

To what degree is writing free of errors of grammar, tone, and organization?

The writing quality should be solid. Grammar must qualify as standard without excessive errors of spelling and punctuation. Use of tense should be consistent. The style should be free of jargon and sustain interest. The tone should be consistently professional and appropriate for an academic research paper. Sentences should be well phrased and varied in length and structure. Word choice should be consistently precise and accurate.

Historical Method

To what degree is the thesis rooted in the common conventions of the discipline?

The work must be rooted in the discipline of History. Conventions of the discipline differ between periods and approaches, but the work must be recognizable by members of the discipline according to the following parameters:

  • Attention to matters of time, change, and continuity.
  • Attention to specific context.
  • Appropriate and substantiated generalizations.
  • Differentiation between cause and correlation.
  • Close reliance on sources to support argument.
  • Use of sources informed by understanding of their bias.
  • Awareness of author's own bias.
  • Judicious use of quotation, paraphrasing when possible.
  • Sources interpreted, not merely presented. (Paragraphs should not end with a block quote since the block quote must be analyzed.)
  • Proper documentation of sources, using the Chicago Style, including a bibliography separated into primary and secondary sources.