Honors Thesis and Independent Study

The department of Classics and Italian invites majors who have completed coursework in a broad range of subjects related to Italy and who have a strong interest in pursuing a particular topic to undertake independent coursework and to experience the discipline and rewards of preparing an honors thesis. Because an independent course in the fall of the senior year has the potential of leading to an honors thesis in the spring semester, independent work and the honors thesis are fundamentally related.

When a student undertakes an independent study in Italian, the student should already have studied the language necessary for reading and writing at the advanced level. Any student who decides to pursue an independent course should have a genuine interest in a well-defined subject and should be willing and able to work to an agreed upon timetable with faculty supervision. The independent course provides students with the opportunity to expand their horizons in culture, literature, material culture, social history, history, etc., while concentrating on a specific topic. The honors thesis is a true test of intellectual curiosity, originality, and critical thinking. Students and faculty involved in the independent/honors process should be familiar with the College’s Guidelines for honors program and honors thesis, which the Dean of Faculty has prepared.

Theses Procedures

  1. With the department’s approval, a senior who has maintained a minimum cumulative average of 3.0 in the student’s major, and who is well prepared to read primary sources in the languages in which they were composed may extend the four-credit fall independent study course into a full-year eight-credit honors project. The prospective honors student should also have demonstrated that they have the necessary skill and training to communicate clearly and effectively in Italian and English. The student may be asked to submit a writing sample. If the student extends their fall independent study course into a full-year eight-credit honors project, their professor will submit no grade at the end of the first semester. The grades for both semesters will be recorded at the end of the second semester.
  2. By the end of the fall semester (December 5) the student should have 
a) planned a second-semester work schedule with their independent advisor and discussed extensively the goals of their thesis project; at this time the student must also submit to the department chair a refined and clearly defined thesis proposal for departmental approval; and b) completed a draft of the introduction or one chapter of the thesis.
  3. If the department approves the proposal, the independent study advisor then becomes the thesis director. The director’s role is to guide and challenge the student in a constructive manner, but the quest for information and supporting materials is the student’s job.
  4. Students should be prepared to write a thesis of a least fifty pages, although length will vary depending on the topic. Any student beginning an honors project should consult the Williston Library’s copies of previous Mount Holyoke theses in fields that might provide useful models for the project that the student is undertaking.
  5. By the first week of second semester, the student should have selected a thesis committee in consultation with their thesis director. The committee should be composed of at least three faculty members, two or more from the department (including the thesis director and the department chair) and an outside member chosen from another department or another Five College institution. This same committee will evaluate the completed thesis and will conduct the oral examination or thesis defense. On the basis of the oral and written evidence of the quality of the student's work, the committee will determine the degree of honors that the student’s project warrants.
  6. If the examining committee finds the thesis worthy of honors, it can recommend honors, high honors, or summa cum laude. The first category of honors requires the agreement of two-thirds of the committee and a majority of the department; high honors requires unanimous agreement of the committee and concurrence of two-thirds of the department; summa cum laude requires total unanimity of the committee, concurrence of two-thirds of the department, and a 3.75 cumulative average on the student's transcript. The thesis director is responsible for conveying the committee's recommendation in writing to the Academic Administrative Board (via the Registrar) by the date that the College announces (usually 11 or 12 days before Commencement). Recommendation for summa cum laude must be accompanied by a letter detailing the reasons for the recommendation.
  7. Generally speaking, the honors project should be finished and ready for committee reading by the end of April. It is crucial that all committee members be given ample opportunity to view the completed project well before the date of the oral defense so that the student can consider and incorporate their comments and requests for revisions. The thesis student must keep the committee members informed of their progress during the course of the spring semester and ask them to comment on draft versions of the work at earlier stages.
  8. A student can avoid considerable frustration and loss of time by keeping careful record of their source materials from the very beginning of the research process. The student preparing an honors thesis should be aware that there are strict College and departmental regulations for the thesis’ final format. The College’s “Guidelines for the Honors Program and Honors Thesis” details rules governing such things as the kind of paper, the binder, the margins, the type size, the spacing, the location of the footnotes, the nature and placement of the preliminary matter, the thesis’ parts, the number of copies needed, etc. For rules governing the acknowledgment and handling of secondary sources—that is, the style for footnotes, bibliography, and quotations—the Department recommends the MLA style.

The Department of Classics and Italian believes that research for the honors thesis should demonstrate the student's investigative skills, their intellectual curiosity, and their capacity for critical thinking. It will also necessarily demonstrate their ability to plan ahead. The project selected should be one that can realistically be completed to a high standard within the time available. The honors program in Italian is intended to challenge the student’s intellectual capacities to the fullest. Once the student commits to a project, the honors student should always have the quality of their work in mind, since in undertaking that project the student is aspiring to the highest award that Mount Holyoke College has to offer.