Independent Study / Senior Thesis

Independent Study in Art History

You may request to undertake independent work in your Junior or Senior year, either as ARTH 295, ARTH295p, or ARTH 395. A maximum of eight credits of such work can be elected during your career at Mount Holyoke. A 3.5 GPA in Art History is required for 395.

A 295 project is equivalent to one of the Department’s 200-level courses that are explorations of some aspect of Art History. A 295p project, usually for 2 credits, is an elected follow-up to a practicum. A 395 project is equivalent to one of the Department’s advanced seminars and requires significant research and a lengthy term project. A 395 project must be preceded by or take place at the same time as a 300-level seminar in Art History; it must be in addition to the two 300-level seminars required for the major.

To initiate a 295 or 395 Independent Study, you should contact a faculty member with whom you wish to work. This optimally needs to be done during the advising/registration period of the semester before the intended independent study. You will need to secure a faculty member’s permission to proceed. If it is a 395 course, a proposal must be vetted by the department.

The Art History Thesis

Highly motivated students may propose an independent study project on a concentrated topic in their senior year, if they have an adequate background, a viable topic, at least a 3.0 GPA overall, and a 3.5 GPA in Art History. If the research project results in a cohesive and substantive exposition that is informed by rigorous research and that offers original conclusions, it may be submitted, with the approval of the department, as a thesis for defense by an examining committee. If successfully defended, the thesis is awarded the appropriate level of Honors.

Every thesis begins as independent study; it is a demanding, long-term research project. It should be at a higher critical standard than a seminar paper. It is not a track within Art History; it is not a requirement of the major; and it is not a prerequisite for graduate study.

The faculty supervisor’s job is to aid in the study, not to teach the subject. A supervisor will discuss readings and help strategize the development of ideas, the direction of research, and the improvement of argument. A supervisor will read and comment critically—sometimes very critically—on chapter drafts. But remember, this is your project, and it will be your responsibility to direct yourself. Only your own initiative, motivation, and hard work will lead to success.


An independent study with thesis potential is shaped in conversation with a faculty member in Art History. This conversation should begin during the advising period of the previous Spring semester. The topic should focus upon a question or an issue that can be adequately addressed over the nine months of an academic year. It should be a subject that you care about, that will sustain your interest, that will take you on numerous paths of inquiry, including into primary and secondary literature, and that will allow for an argument to be mounted and defended. Merely exploring a topic is not sufficient.

  1. Students should plan to enroll in ARTH 395f (Independent Study) or an equivalent capstone course in the Fall semester.
  2. Within one week of the first day of Fall classes, a two-to-three page project proposal (both electronically and on paper) is submitted to the instructor of ARTH 395f or the capstone seminar. The proposal should include a working title, description of the project, the questions that will be addressed, the methods to be used in addressing them, and a descriptive bibliography. A transcript should be attached to the paper copy. The prospectus will be circulated among the Department faculty. If the Department gives the project the green light, it will be necessary to develop a research timetable and begin meeting individually with your supervisor. If the Department does not approve the project, consult with your academic advisor about an alternative course.
  3. In mid-November, students will be asked to present the project to the faculty. By the week after Thanksgiving break, a self-assessment needs to be submitted. It should detail the project and its importance, the status of the research to date, a comprehensive outline of the argument, and the timeline for the Spring semester. After evaluating the presentation and self-assessment, the Department will decide by the end of the Examination Period whether it will be possible to proceed for a second semester. There are many reasons a project may end: the topic was not viable, research materials were too difficult to locate, issues were too broad or narrow to allow a reasonable thesis, ideas were not cohering, prospects of excellence were in doubt, interest in the project waned, etc. If the project is not approved for a second semester, a grade will be entered for ARTH395f.
  4. Should the project be approved for a second semester, students would sign up for ARTH 395s. A decision is made after Spring break on whether the year-long project will be advanced as a thesis. To receive the designation “Honors,” the final result of the project must be a sustained and original argument, and be recognized by the supervisor, the examining committee, and the Art History department as of thesis quality. Until that point, it should be understood that it is an independent study, with the intention of being considered eventually for Honors.
  5. If it is determined that it will be considered for Honors, an examining committee of at least three faculty will be formed, in consultation with the student and supervisor. At least one faculty member must come from another department. The student will deliver the completed thesis to all members of the committee two weeks before the end of classes and schedule a “defense” with the committee during the exam period. Rules for margins, footnotes, paper, fonts, etc. are available from the College (see guidelines). Immediately following the meeting, the committee evaluates the thesis project to determine whether the thesis is worthy of Honors. If it is, the committee recommends the level of Honors to the College’s Academic Advisory Board and awards a grade for both ARTH395f and ARTH 395s. If it is not, then a grade for the two independent studies will be submitted.