Honors in the Major
Interested in pursuing original research in Classics and graduating “With Honors”?
Classics majors with a minimum of a 3.200 GPA overall (both FSU and Cumulative, not rounded to the third decimal place), a 3.400 in coursework in the major, 60 hours of college credit, and at least two semesters remaining before graduation are eligible to write an honors thesis and receive honors in the major at FSU. Honors in the Major is open to all major tracks in the Classics Department.
Guidelines for Honors in the Major
An acceptable length for honors theses for all of the majors in the Classics department will be 7000-10,000 words/20-30 pages excluding notes, appendices, maps, images, and bibliography. You should defend your thesis one full month before graduation (note that this is earlier than the University’s deadline), and you must agree in writing to a series of deadlines, in which written work is submitted regularly throughout both terms of course credit. Two missed deadlines will place you on probation, and the third disqualifies you from completing an honors thesis in the department. Theses should be of a high quality, both in terms of the writing and in terms of the argument. It might be helpful to think of your honors thesis as something you would submit as a writing sample to apply to graduate school, or as the expanded version of an article you would submit to The Owl, Florida State’s Undergraduate Research Journal.
In order to write an honors thesis, you will register for two terms of Honors Work with a supervising professor (usually CLA 4909). Before your first of these two terms, you will choose a topic and work out a timeline with an advisor. These deadlines are departmental, and are earlier than the deadlines set by the Honors in the Major program. You are responsible for meeting the University’s deadlines as well.
Supposing a spring graduation, the process would look like this:
- January of junior year: Interested and eligible students begin to think about topics
- February-March of junior year: Student contacts supervisory faculty members and develops topic; student puts together committee, which approves a 300-500-word outline. This corresponds to the HITM “Application Semester” [note required forms and deadlines there]
- April-May of junior year: Faculty supervisor and student create a detailed timeline for research and writing
- Summer after junior year: Student begins preliminary research independently
- Fall of senior year: Student registers for three hours of Honors Work in Classics (CLA 4909), submits formal proposal and begins writing thesis. This corresponds to the HITM “Prospectus Semester” [note requirements and deadlines there]
- Spring of senior year: Student registers for three hours of Honors Work in Classics (CLA 4909), writes, edits and defends thesis. This corresponds to the HITM “Defense Semester” [note requirements and deadlines there]
Choosing a topic
One of the daunting things about working in Classics is that much of the material we study is very old, and this means it has been thought about by a lot of people before you. So the goal is to develop an argument which is original as well as plausible, but that may not be wholly possible in the time you have. As you start thinking of topics, begin with something that interests you. Before you begin the process, do a little preliminary research on the topic you’re interested in (feel free to ask faculty for some reading suggestions). What kind of scholarship is being done on coinage in the colonies or provinces? What do scholars think about the relationship between Seneca’s philosophy and his tragedies? Your very first ideas are likely to be obvious, and probably well-treated, but that doesn’t mean they are unacceptable; it merely means you need to keep thinking about how you might approach the problem or question differently from what has been done before.
It is very likely that your first ideas will also be too big; this is natural because you are probably not familiar with the vast body of scholarship in a particular area. Narrow your topic down, more than you think you should – not “gods in epic” but two or three gods in one epic; not “statues of women” but statues of one dynasty’s empresses, in one geographical area; not “Alexander’s foreign policy” but how Alexander dealt with taxes in two or three regions – the more you learn about a topic, the more you will see that specifics are the way to make your argument persuasive.
Choosing a director
Choose by your Thesis Director not by their reputation or the reputation of their students, but by a close match of your and their research interests, working methods, and/or expertise. If there is a faculty member with whom you wish to work, but you are not sure if your and their areas of experience will overlap, talk to them about it and consider asking them to serve as a committee member, but not as a director. More information is available here.
Soliciting a committee
There is nothing wrong with asking faculty for advice about topics you are considering, especially as you are narrowing them down. But when the time comes to present your final topic and ask a faculty member to be on your committee, remember that faculty have limited time available. Aim to “pitch” your topic in the most complete and sophisticated form you can manage. You might even develop a short oral presentation (but it should under no circumstances be longer than five minutes). Specificity at this point will help faculty to see whether your topic is viable, and if they are suitable for your committee.
Writing the thesis
The earlier you begin writing, the better: revision is absolutely central to the process of engaging in scholarly research. But honesty is also necessary – do yourself the courtesy of evaluating your arguments as objectively as you can, and be ready to remove those which are not persuasive. This part of the process will develop through communication with your advisor and your committee; be sure to consult the Department’s Best Practices for an Honors Thesis in Classics below for more information.
Click here to download a PDF version this guide.
HITM Best Practices for an Honors Thesis
The writing of an undergraduate honors thesis is invariably a collaborative, but also an individual process, one which evolves over the course of a full year. Here are some hints and suggestions which have proved useful over the years.
Communicate with your advisor often, both when things are going well and when they are not; together, you are a team working towards the same goal. What seems like an insurmountable problem might be easy to fix with some advice. Or, if it is insurmountable, it is better to know that as soon as possible and adjust accordingly.
Schedule regular meetings (ideally, once every two weeks). Prepare for those meetings, but do not cancel them even if you have not met your goals for those weeks.
Be honest with yourself. Set a schedule you can keep, and be sure to allow yourself some flexibility. Do not tackle a topic that is too big, and be prepared to narrow your focus in consultation with your advisor. Your advisor will be honest with you, too – so don’t take it personally if you hear that your topic won’t work for any number of reasons, or that you haven’t left yourself enough time to do it properly.
Be patient with yourself, and also acknowledge that writing an honors thesis involves many steps, some of which you may not be very good at yet. This is all the more reason to start working early, especially if you have had trouble meeting deadlines or writing in the past. This is probably the most difficult thing you have done to date.
Be ambitious, but be practical. As you select a topic, you’ll want to focus on what interests you, since you will be the one doing the research. Also pay attention to how feasible your topic is (consult with your advisor, but bear in mind that faculty might not always know the limits you may confront – this is one of the exciting and frightening things about doing original research).
Know the deadlines and procedures established by the Honors in the Major Program. It is your responsibility to know the various deadlines for submission and the requirements for the different stages of your project.
Your thesis will follow these general steps (but keep in mind that this is not a blueprint – you might choose to write throughout the process, or a final topic might not develop until you are in your second term):
Selection of a topic and outline of schedule
Preliminary research and refining of the topic
Outline of proposed thesis
Writing of first chapter
Editing of first chapter
Approval of first chapter
Writing of further chapters
Editing of further chapters
Approval of further chapters
Final research, if necessary
Final conclusions; preparation for defense
Plan to produce something written every two weeks, even if it is just notes or an outline. This keeps both you and your advisor on track, and avoids surprises (not to mention, it keeps you working throughout the term!). You and your advisor will decide together how involved other members of the committee ought to be; it is usually best to solicit their feedback only after you and your advisor agree that you have a topic you can do well, and after you have a substantial sample of writing to show to them.
Revision is an integral part of this process. You and your advisor should consult over multiple drafts, as this is how writing and thinking improve. Ideally, you should give your advisor at least a week to read a draft before meeting to discuss it, but it is a good idea to agree together about a workable timeline for receiving comments, since some times in the semester are busier than others (for students and for faculty). Expect to rewrite over and over again, and be willing to edit brutally; constructive feedback can be critical, but remember that criticism is of the work, not you, and reflects your advisor’s investment in guiding that work towards its best form. Be committed to your writing and your arguments, but not so attached that you cannot “select all” and delete if need be.
Finally, keep in mind that this is your accomplishment, and thus you are the one ultimately responsible for monitoring and meeting deadlines set by the Honors in the Major program. If you encounter any difficulties, the Classics HITM liaison, Dr. Jessica Clark, is available to help.
Click here to download a PDF version of this section.
Consult https://honors.fsu.edu/honors-major for the most up-to-date and complete information about the Honors in the Major program.
For more information about Honors in the Major in the Classics Department, review these Guidelines and Best Practices, or contact the Classics Faculty Liaison to the program, Dr. Jessica Clark (firstname.lastname@example.org; 850-644-1535).
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