Thesis and Capstone

As one way to complete the signature learning experiences, our students will complete the senior capstone course, along with the option to complete a senior thesis.

Capstone Course

Capstones are one of the five options students have for completing one of their two Signature Learning Experiences. The Department of History has a Capstone course that all History majors take in their senior year. The capstone course covers a specific topic within the department and is described below in detail.

HI 450 - Topics in Historiography

This course provides students with the opportunity to think critically about how historians interpret the past. Rather than simply reading for content, he or she will analyze the cultural assumptions, biases, and interpretive approaches that shape historical writing. In short, we will focus not on the "what" of history but on the "why" and "how." Each year the History Department awards the Joe Zaccano Prize to the student who writes the best paper or project in HI 450. Recent students who have won the Zaccano Prize include:

  • “Academics vs. Popularizers: Who Tells Our Story", Gwen Fries
  • “What is the Value of Numbers? The Use of Quantitative Methods in History", Chris Panetta
  • “The Measure of the Man: A Historiographical Exploration of Chiang Kai-Shek", Shanise Marshall

Senior Thesis

Completing a Senior Thesis is another option for participating in a Signature Learning Experience. A thesis is an significant research project completed under the supervision of a faculty advisor. These projects vary in topic and focus, but address a specific research question and entail in-depth analysis. In the past, History majors have covered topics such as:

Senior Thesis for Honors

Sarah Thomas

Sarah Thomas '15

Thesis: "The Futurists: Futurism, Fascism, and Feminism"

"Presenting my research at conferences forced me to look at my research and decide which aspects were most important to convincingly make my argument."

My senior thesis provided a strong finish to my academic career at Elizabethtown College. It was the largest project I have yet had to tackle, and it put my abilities to the test. I was able to synthesize all of the skills that I have learned as a history major.

My thesis, "The Futurists: Futurism, Fascism, and Feminism," focused on the female members of Futurism, an Italian avant-garde art movement that lasted from 1909 to 1944. I explored how these women adapted and adopted the ideas of a misogynistic movement to fit their own needs and ideologies.

The historiographical skills I learned from my capstone course enabled me to select the best sources on my subject, while my upper-level history courses taught me the analytical skills that I would need to evaluate the roles of women in the Futurist movement.

When the project was finished, I was able to present it at two professional conferences: the Phi Alpha Theta Regional Conference at Ursinus College and Scholarship and Creative Arts Days at Elizabethtown College. Presenting my research at conferences forced me to look at my research and decide which aspects were most important to convincingly make my argument.

At the end of the semester, I formally defended my thesis before the members of the History Department. Though the defense was a novel experience, I am glad to have been presented with the opportunity; it made me think more critically about my research and how I would defend it against challenging questions.

Senior Thesis for Honors

Emily Vasas

Emily Vasas '15

Thesis: "Subverting the Strangulation of Creativity: The Influence of Hungarian Fiction Writers under Communism"

"I had refined research and writing skills in past courses and put those skills to use for my senior thesis."

The senior thesis in history offers students the opportunity to build their experiences with independent research and to earn honors in the discipline.

My thesis, entitled "Subverting the Strangulation of Creativity: The Influence of Hungarian Fiction Writers under Communism," explored the complicated relationship of Hungarian intellectuals with Hungary's communist government during the 1950s and 1960s.

The senior thesis program provided a meaningful conclusion to my study of history at Elizabethtown College. In my sophomore and junior years, I had conducted smaller independent research projects on Hungarian intellectuals, but the senior thesis provided the occasion for a more in-depth investigation.

Since was my final project for history here at E-town, I had refined research and writing skills in past courses and put those skills to use for my senior thesis. I was much more critical in choosing my research materials and in examining different approaches, interpretations, and biases than I would have been at the start of my college career. These skills were especially useful since my thesis focused on works of fiction and the lives of the authors who wrote them.

Presenting my thesis for Scholarship and Creative Arts Day and subsequently defending it before the history faculty helped me refine my public speaking skills and prepared me for presentations in graduate school. The senior thesis program is a great opportunity to conduct original research and to present findings in preparation for future academic and career paths.

The thesis option allows students to more deeply explore topics of interest with a faculty-mentor. Senior theses are generally completed for Honors in the Discipline (HID) credit and are initiated by a departmental invitation.