The History Honors Program

The honors program is an academic challenge designed mainly for majors who intend to pursue graduate work. It offers excellent training in independent research, academic writing, and public speaking, which serves as helpful preparation either for graduate study in the humanities or for other professional programs such as law or medical school. Although some students are accepted into the honors program before they enter Calvin, other qualified students may still apply for admission to the program during their first three years of study.

The heart of the honors program in History is the two-semester (6-hour) independent study sequence in the senior year. (Honors students take History 390H - 391H instead of the history research seminar HIST 394. This means that in order to fulfill the departmental major requirements, they must take a least ONE other 300-level course in addition to 390 and 391.) This culminates in the writing of an honors thesis, approximately 40-50 pages in length. In the spring, while nearing completion of the thesis, honors students present their research to faculty and students at a public colloquium.

For more details about admission to the honors program, consult the honors program website. The History honors coordinator is Prof. Kate van Liere.

Graduating with Honors in History

To graduate with honors in History, you must meet the following requirements:

  1. A minimum cumulative GPA of 3.5 and a total of 6 honors courses (18 hours minimum) overall, including the 2 independent study courses listed below (390H & 391H) and at least 2 honors courses outside your History major.

  2. Minimum GPA of 3.5 in your major.

  3. Completion of two History honors courses with a minimum grade of B in each (in addition to 390H and 391H).

  4. Completion of HIST 390H (independent study) with a minimum grade of B, normally in the fall semester of your senior year.

  5. Completion of HIST 391H (independent study) with a minimum grade of B, normally completed in the spring of your senior year.

  6. Presentation of your senior honors thesis at a History department colloquium.

  7. Oral defense of your senior honors thesis before a committee of three readers.

Honors Senior Year

You should meet with the History honors coordinator and with a thesis advisor no later than the spring semester of your junior year to plan your reading and thesis program. Your thesis advisor should be a professor who specializes in your area of interest, preferably someone with whom you have taken at least one course by your junior year. You will also need to identify two secondary readers, who will participate in advising you and evaluating your work. It is crucial to identify these advisors and readers during your junior year and secure their agreement to work with you on this project.

Honors Reading Course (HIST 390H)

This three-credit independent study course will be tailored to your needs for intensified study in your area of special interest. You will use this study as research for your honors thesis (HIST 391H). There are no fixed writing requirements for the reading course. But your advisor may, for example, have you write a series of critical essays on the literature you are reading or a bibliographical essay that can be revised as an introductory chapter for your honors thesis. You will meet with your advisor about twice a month and produce approximately 30 pages of written work.

HIST 390H is normally taken in the fall semester of your senior year. But if you have other obligations (such as student teaching) in the spring of your senior year, you may elect to begin the 390H-391H sequence early, in the spring or summer of you junior year.

Honors Thesis (HIST 391H)

Also a three-credit independent study course, 391H is really a continuation of your reading course and is normally undertaken in the spring of your senior year. Your thesis will be on a topic closely related to the field of your reading course. By the time you begin writing your thesis, you will be substantially acquainted with the literature, sources, and historiographical problems associated with your thesis topic. Your honors thesis will be approximately 40-50 pages, which is about twice the length of the research paper required of students who are not in the honors program.

Presentation at History Colloquium

Toward the end of the spring semester, senior Honor students present their honors thesis research orally at a History department colloquium. The History colloquium is a public forum for presenting scholarly work to which the entire Calvin community is invited. Your presentation of your work will be 20 to 30 minutes long, followed by questions from and discussion with the audience. You can present before your thesis has been fully completed, making this a presentation of a work in progress.

Oral Examination

When your honors thesis is completed, your advisor and two other professors, usually members of the History department, will read it. When these readers have made their assessments, they will meet with you for an oral defense of your thesis. This discussion will last approximately an hour and will not be open to the public. You will be asked to explain the research methods you used and the conclusions you reached in the thesis as well as other questions from the examiners.

If you do not distinguish yourself in the exam, you will still receive credit for the 390-391 sequence but will not be eligible for the “Honors in History” designation on your diploma.