The Undergraduate Program

Writing a Senior Thesis

History majors have the option of writing a senior thesis. This process involves original research, normally with extensive use of primary materials. The department encourages students with a strong interest in a particular historical subject to consider a thesis and strongly advises all students considering an academic career to write one. Many students find the senior thesis the most rewarding academic experience of their undergraduate career.

A thesis is normally written in a yearlong seminar, most commonly the Senior Thesis Seminar (HIST UN3838/UN3839). A thesis written in a yearlong seminar is required (but not sufficient) for a student to receive departmental honors.

Senior Thesis Seminar Pre-requisites

Students who intend to write a thesis must take a history seminar in which they develop a substantial research paper before their junior year ends. During their junior year, students should decide on a thesis topic. While students may begin research before their senior year, the department does not require students to conduct any thesis research prior to the thesis seminar.

Senior Thesis Seminars/Independent Thesis Writing

It is strongly recommended that the thesis be written in one of the yearlong Senior Thesis Seminars (HIST UN3838/UN3839). Students must submit applications for the yearlong Senior Thesis Seminar in the spring semester of their junior year. For the majority of students, the regular Senior Thesis Seminar is the best fit, as the Senior Thesis Seminar is a course in research skills and methodology and does not require a field specific instructor.

In rare circumstances, a student may write their thesis in a yearlong Independent Thesis Seminar (HIST UN3840/1), in which the student works with a faculty member on an individual basis. Independent thesis writers should identify an appropriate advisor in the term before they begin the thesis and should submit a proposal to the Director of Undergraduate Studies and Undergraduate Administrator before the thesis term (August 1st for the fall and December 1st for the spring).

If a student absolutely cannot enroll in a yearlong seminar due to extenuating circumstances, the Director of Undergraduate Studies may permit them to write their thesis in a single semester, as part of a one-term Independent Research Seminar. However, only theses written as part of a yearlong course will be considered for departmental honors and prizes.    

2018-2019 Thesis Seminar Application (Due: March 27th, 2018 at 5:00 PM)

2018-2019 Independent Senior Thesis Application (Due: August 1st for fall, or December 1st for spring)

Role of the Second Reader Info Sheet (second readers can be reached out to and chosen before the thesis term begins but must reported to the department early in the first term)

For more details about the thesis process, see pages 15-17 of the Undergraduate Handbook


Senior Thesis Funding Opportunities

Senior Thesis Fellowship for Research in European Archives (President’s Global Innovation Fund)

Eligibility: Juniors (Columbia College and General Studies) who will be doing senior theses on European history topics or on topics in other fields using sources from European archives  

Award: Grant of approximately $4,500 plus workshops and mentoring

Professor Susan Pedersen and Professor Charly Coleman were awarded a major three-year grant ($75,000 per year) from the President’s Global Innovation Fund for “Enhancing the Research Component of the Columbia/Barnard/GS History Major.”  The program is now also supported by the Dean of Columbia College, the Barnard Provost, and the Board of Visitors of the Columbia History Department.

This program, which Professor Pedersen and Professor Coleman have led since 2014, provides expanded research opportunities for undergraduate History majors doing senior theses on European history topics or on topics in other fields using sources from European archives.  

Each Spring, the department selects eight to ten Juniors to receive a Senior Thesis Fellowship for Research in European Archives. The Fellowship not only includes a grant of approximately $4,500, with which recipients conduct four to six weeks of research in European archives, but also includes supplemental workshops and mentoring activities throughout the year, culminating in a three-day workshop at the Columbia Global Center Europe (CGE) in Paris.  

The program also draws on the resources of Global Center Istanbul as well as an extensive network of contacts and collaborations throughout Europe. Paul LeClerc, Director of the Global Center Europe, and Barbara Rockenbach and John Tofanelli, respectively director of the Humanities and History libraries, and research librarian for the Anglo-American collections at Columbia, have generously agreed to partner with us in developing this program.  

The librarians of the Columbia University Libraries are happy to help you identify sources and plan your research.  A list of librarians available for consultation in different fields can be found  hereIn addition, you may find the Guide to British Archives and the Guide to European Archives useful for research purposes.

Edwin Robbins Summer Research Fellowship

Eligibility: Junior majors (Columbia College ONLY) who intend to write a thesis 

Award: $2,500

The department offers two fellowships of $2,500 each year to support summer research in preparation for writing a senior thesis. Interested students must identify a faculty member willing to supervise the research project and submit a proposal of no more than 1,500 words.

CC/GS Senior Thesis Funding

Eligibility: Seniors (Columbia College and General Studies) who are enrolled in a senior thesis seminar or independent senior thesis section in the fall term                                                                                                                                                                           

Award: Varies

Columbia College and the School of General Studies both offer grants towards writing senior theses. Grant amounts normally range from $50 to $500 and cover expenses like photocopying and traveling. The two schools have different deadlines, but the applications are generally filed during the fall thesis term. The process is explained in detail once students are registered for a senior thesis course.