To receive a BA degree “with honors” from the Department of Art History, a student must engage in independent but supervised research, compose an honors thesis, and present a synopsis of their work at a public forum. The research must represent a significant contribution to a specific field of inquiry within the discipline. The Honors Program enables students to explore particular problems in depth, while working closely with a faculty mentor.

So you think you want to write an Honors Thesis in Art History?

That’s great! In electing to write a thesis in Art History you will be joining a select group of advanced majors who have capped their Dartmouth experience with the exciting, challenging, and ultimately very rewarding undertaking of conducting advanced research on the topic of their choice.

The thesis is part of an Honors Program in the Department of Art History. Students who succeed will graduate with either Honors or, in some cases, High Honors on their diplomas.

Writing a thesis will allow you to apply what you have learned in your coursework to a specific project of your choosing and will bring you into the community of scholars of art history. You will develop expertise in an area of the discipline that most interests you. You will conduct original research, some of which may take you to collections far from Hanover. And you will produce a substantial scholarly document that may form the basis for graduate study.

The experience of writing a thesis will allow you to develop advanced skills in primary and secondary research, visual analysis, and crafting an argument. It will provide you with the opportunity to improve and refine your writing and to cultivate a genuine voice as a scholar. It will also challenge many of the conceptions you have about the discipline, your topic, and even your understanding of research and writing. It is ultimately an opportunity for intellectual growth, creative expression, and professional development.

While the thesis will prepare you for advanced study and employment within the arts, the skills you cultivate along the way—autonomy, perseverance, communication, organization, and above all, the ability to take and benefit from constructive criticism—will be transferable to any kind of future employment.

What is an Honors Thesis, exactly?

An honors thesis in the Department of Art History is a multi-chapter document in which each chapter contributes to a larger argument—or “through-line”—rather than acting as stand-alone essays. A typical chapter runs between 15 and 30 double-spaced pages, including notes. Students should look at honors theses from past years (on file in the Department Administrator’s office) at the beginning of the thesis writing process to get a better understanding of departmental expectations regarding length, formatting, and content. 

What else do I need to know about the Art History Honors Program before I get started?

The Art History Honors Program is comprised of a two-course sequence, ARTH 91 Honors and ARTH 92 Honors, taken in two consecutive terms in your senior year. As part of an Honors curriculum, both courses are rigorous and carry high expectations regarding student performance with regard to writing, deadlines, accountability, and critical reflection. You may complete the sequence in fall/winter or winter/spring.

The department will assess your progress during the first term (ARTH 91). If you and/or your advisor(s) decide that you have not made enough progress on the thesis, you will be dropped from the Honors Program and given a grade for the work completed in the first term as ARTH 89: Independent Study (which cannot be used to fulfill any of the requirements of the Art History major or minor).

In most cases the department's Culminating Experience (ARTH 89.01, 89.02, 89.03, 89.04 and 89.05: Senior Seminar in Art Historical Theory and Method) will help students refine the core arguments of their thesis and improve its quality.

Who is eligible for the Art History Honors Program?

To be eligible for the Honors Program, you must have achieved by the end of your junior year a 3.2 general college average and a 3.4 average in all Art History courses.

How do I apply for admission to the Art History Honors Program?

To apply for admission to the Honors Program you will, in either the spring or summer preceding your senior year, consult with potential faculty adviser(s) to develop an honors thesis project. If you have more than one advisor, you will designate one of them as your primary advisor.

You will work independently with a primary advisor to draft and submit a written proposal:

  • If electing the fall/winter option, your proposal should be submitted to the department no later than the first day of classes in the fall of the senior year.
  • If electing the winter/spring option, your proposal should be submitted no later than the seventh week of the fall term of the senior year.

You will present your thesis proposal to the whole Art History faculty:

  • If electing the fall/winter option, you will present your thesis proposal no later than the second week of the fall term of the senior year.
  • If electing the winter/spring option, you will present your thesis proposal no later than the final week of the fall term.

Your admission or non-admission to the Honors Program will subsequently be determined by a vote of the faculty.

How do I prepare a thesis proposal?

You will work closely with your advisor(s) to draft a thesis proposal. A thesis proposal is a "dry run" for the thesis process insofar as it will require you to work independently to identify and articulate a thesis question, to conduct sufficient preliminary research to successfully argue for the relevance of your project, and to field questions from the Art History faculty during the oral presentation of your topic. Working your way through this process successfully will give both you and your advisor a good sense for your readiness to undertake an honors thesis.

Please note that the faculty fully expects that your thesis will evolve after you have enrolled officially in ARTH 91 and 92. The argument and organization of chapters that you describe at the proposal stage is just a place to start. Do not be concerned when your subsequent research and writing take you in unforeseen directions. This SHOULD happen if you are really developing your topic along the way. 

Successful proposals will include:

  • an introduction to the topic
  • a section that establishes the problem or question that the thesis will address
  • a literature review that situates the thesis within the relevant literature and explains how or in what way the thesis will contribute to the extant scholarship on the topic
  • a discussion of how the subsequent research will unfold (including information on any planned research trips)
  • a tentative survey of the chapters with a brief synopsis of each
  • a working bibliography that includes all of the source material gathered up to the point of submitting the proposal
  • a set of illustrations that correspond with any images discussed in the proposal

How do I prepare for the presentation of my thesis proposal?

You will work with your advisor to draft a succinct oral presentation (circa 10-15 minutes) of your thesis proposal. The presentation should include a PowerPoint presentation of images associated with the proposed thesis. The faculty will have read the proposal before the presentation. They will listen to the oral presentation, and they will ask questions about your project for the purpose of evaluating your readiness and with the intention of helping you to further refine your topic, consider new angles, or develop your bibliography.

Are there departmental resources I can use to offset the costs of researching and completing an honors thesis?

YES! Charlotte and Harold Frank have graciously endowed a research fund in the Department of Art History for student research. Typically the money available from this fund is sufficient to help students pay for all of the costs associated with their theses, including research-related travel within the U.S. and abroad, the purchase of books, museum admissions, and the printing and binding of the completed thesis. Please consult with the Department Administrator and your advisor(s) about how to apply for and use these funds.