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AAACS Thesis Guidelines

The senior thesis is the capstone of a student’s college career at Bates. All majors in African American or American Cultural Studies are required to write a semester-long thesis. Thesis students register for AAS/ACS 457 during the fall semester or AAS/ACS 458 in the winter semester. The Committee may invite some students to apply for a two semester honor’s thesis.

The nature of any thesis is independent, original, and creative scholarly research, analysis, and writing. As an interdisciplinary studies major, you will draw upon scholarship from a diversity of disciplines and methods. The following guidelines are designed to help you navigate this process and we urge you to read them carefully. You are also encouraged to consult early and often with the Program Chair and/or relevant Program faculty for future assistance.

Schedule and Important Dates

(Students writing an honor’s thesis should refer to the dates on the Honors’ Committee web page.)

For students writing a one-term or honor’s thesis: during the term preceding your thesis work, and after conducting preliminary research, develop a proposal in consultation with an advisor. (Guidelines for the proposal are described below.)  Submit this proposal by May 1st for fall term or honors theses, and by November 1st for winter term theses. Email the proposal to Denise Begin and to the Chair of your program. The AAACS committee will review the proposals at their next meeting.

It is important to note that failure to submit a proposal will affect the thesis grade. The thesis is a process, and a well-thought-out proposal is the first step of that process.

Instructions for Beginning your Thesis

Choose a topic that you can be passionate about. A good topic should be narrow enough for you to research and write about in a limited period of time and broad enough to connect with wider questions and spheres of inquiry.

We recommend that you choose a topic familiar to you. Consider the research you have written in AAS or ACS courses and the questions and issues you raised in that work. Review the syllabi of courses you liked and consider the texts, novels, stories, films and other analytic and creative work you encountered.  All of these could help you formulate a topic for your thesis.

Choosing an Advisor

Students should meet with a prospective advisor from the AAACS faculty (listed on the website and catalog) during the term before you plan to start your thesis. Although faculty do not want to limit your thesis choices, it may make sense to choose an area of study related to your coursework, or a research area or methodology with which a faculty member is familiar. This allows us to better direct your reading and critique your contributions to the literature.

We are aware that there may be times when a student will want or need to choose an advisor who is not a member of the program. In this case, the student should petition the AAACS Committee through their program chair, stating clearly the rationale for choosing an external advisor.

The AAACS committee reserves the final decision on assigning an advisor.  In addition to student preferences, advisor selection is based on faculty expertise in a student’s topic and equal distribution of theses.

Honors

Students interested in writing and defending an honors thesis should be able to meet three requirements:  first, they must have earned a 3.0 average in all college classes (not simply the major); second, they must demonstrate writing ability. To this end, they should submit a paper to the AAACS committee from a recent writing-intensive course; third, they should have the recommendation and sponsorship of a member of the AAACS faculty.

Students seeking honors candidacy should confer with their advisor as they put together their thesis proposals, described below.  They should submit their thesis proposal, along with their writing sample, by the May first deadline.

After reviewing the proposal and the writing sample, and conferring with the potential advisor, the AAACS Committee will make a decision in May regarding honors. A candidate may be rejected, may be asked to revise and resubmit a proposal, or may be accepted provisionally. At the end of the fall term, the Committee will review the work of an accepted candidate (usually a first chapter) before it makes a final decision about moving forward.

The Thesis Proposal

A strong proposal, between two and four pages in length, provides a blueprint for your thesis. It must reflect an understanding of the central issues and questions of the major.  Take another look at the major descriptions on the website or in the catalog.  African American Studies and American Cultural Studies proposals should show an understanding of how social constructs (e.g., race, gender, sexuality, class, (dis-)ability, region, ethnicity, political identity, religion) inform human experience. The proposal should also be interdisciplinary in focus and methodology.

All students planning to involve human beings as subjects of participants must submit their work to the Bates College Institutional Review Board. There are studies that are exempt, and it is important to check out the criteria for exemption on the Bates IRB website.

Finally, a thesis proposal should include:

  1. A clear statement of the topic proposed for study and an indication of the question or problem to be addressed.
  2. A review of scholarly literature on your topic.
  3. A discussion of your proposed methodology.
  4. A description of the text(s) and other materials that will be the object of your research, such as historical texts and documents, films and other visual images, works of literature, interviews, or empirical data.
  5. A preliminary annotated bibliography (five to seven works).
  6. A list of your top three choices for a thesis advisor. If you have already spoken to a member of the AAACS faculty about your thesis, and have secured an advisor, please indicate this.

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