CMS Senior Thesis Guidelines


Majors in Classical and Medieval Studies study the ancient worlds of Greece, Rome, and Northern Europe, the antique world of the Mediterranean Basin and the medieval worlds of Eastern and Western Europe, the Mediterranean Basin, and the Near East. The scope of our study is broad chronologically and geographically. For the purposes of your thesis you should choose a topic that pertains to a specific time and place. Themes that concern the reception of antiquity and the middle ages in the modern world may be considered. You are also expected to pick a topic on which you have already had some course work and training.


Since classicists and medievalists study every feature of the ancient and medieval worlds, they use a variety of methods to understand the materials from these worlds, for example, epigraphy to read inscriptions in stone and archaeology to understand urban design and household size. They also employ methods from the fields of history, art history, religion, anthropology, and literary studies to name a few. As you consider what topic to pursue, you should also consider what ancient or medieval material you will study and what methods you will need. Your material may be literary, historical, epigraphic, or may derive from the world or material culture or art and iconography, among other things. You might work on coins, buildings, or archaeological field reports. The field will determine your methods. For example, if you are working on an ancient or medieval text, you should be able to discuss linguistic questions, if you have studied the relevant language. At the very least you should be thoroughly familiar with the text in translation, understand its place in the literary tradition or historical context. Likewise if you are working on vase painting or images in another medium, you must know how scholars have categorized and analyzed those images.


A thesis is a research project that the student designs to address a question of interest, bringing critical analysis to the project. As research progresses, the research questions and shape of the project may change. The thesis is an opportunity for creative thinking, for continuing development of an independent voice, and for taking intellectual risks. The thesis attends critically to scholarly work and research that is relevant to the thesis. The student shapes the project in relation to extant literature, making a distinctive contribution to the relevant field(s) of study. The thesis makes clear how the student enters and contributes to scholarly conversations in progress. The thesis requires students to select appropriate methods and gather evidence to address their research questions.

The thesis requires students to engage in ethical practices and to construct well-organized and effective arguments. Writing should be carefully organized with structural integrity both within and across chapters. The thesis is a collaborative process with the thesis advisor. Students are expected to meet regularly with the advisor, provide and discuss drafts, keep appointments, and meet agreed-upon deadlines. Students should reflect upon comments they have received and should demonstrate initiative and independence during the project. The thesis requires attention to form, grammar, and mechanics as well as to context. Writing should be grammatically correct and carefully edited. Students should attend to the mechanics of the thesis, including style, grammar, citations, formatting, and the documentation of illustrations. Advisors typically suggest using the Modern Language Association’s MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers or K. L. Turabian’s A Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations: Chicago Style for Students and Researchers. Both of these citation styles use footnotes or endnotes, although MLA now recommends parenthetical references. CMS requires the use of footnotes or endnotes. If you choose MLA see the 6th edition of the MLA Handbook. Use the citation style you choose consistently through your project. Elements of editing should be reviewed with the advisor. Nevertheless, students should keep in mind that thesis advisors are not editors. Students should demonstrate respect for their advisors by presenting readable drafts of chapters, rather than sketches of portions of thesis.


Your thesis advisor is likely to be drawn from the faculty of the Program in Classical and Medieval Studies either faculty appointed in the program or associated with it. At times, however, the committee of the program may suggest or you may request another faculty member from the college who has special knowledge of the field in which you are working. In such cases, once the thesis proposal has been accepted or in the process of its review by the committee –see below — the committee may ask that the advisor consult at times with a member of the committee regarding methodology. Your thesis advisor may or may not be your academic advisor. Because Classical and Medieval Studies is an interdisciplinary field, it often makes sense to consult with other members of the faculty, who may have specialized knowledge of aspects of your topic. The best practice is to begin to identify both your general field of study and thereby a likely advisor before the end of the spring semester of your junior year. At that time you should approach the likely advisor and ask whether he or she would be interested and available to work with you. If you are abroad you can contact a faculty member by e-mail. Keep in mind that a faculty member may not be available in your senior year. For example faculty may be on sabbatical or even retiring. Once you have spoken with a likely advisor and he or she has agreed to advise your thesis, you can begin some preliminary research or discussion or even carry research out over the summer before your senior year. During the summer you will receive a prompt from the chair of the program reminding you that thesis is coming in the next academic year, asking who you might be working with (in part so that we can track faculty work-load), and reminding those who are writing in the fall of coming deadlines.


Proposals are submitted to the chair of the program by the Friday of the second week of the semester in which you are writing. Your proposal is reviewed by the faculty of the Program in Classical and Medieval Studies whose comments and observations are conveyed to you by the close of the next week, either approving the proposal or seeking changes or clarification regarding your project. All theses are one-semester theses except honors theses. A proposal develops, focusses, and formalizes the ideas and questions that emerge as you identify the field in which you want to work. A strong proposal identifies the value of the project as a Classical and Medieval Studies thesis and reflects the program’s guidelines for research in the field. It provides a “road-map” for sustaining your research and writing. What follows are a few specific instructions regarding the context of a thesis proposal:

1. STATEMENT:  A clear statement of the problem proposed for study and the specific research question(s) to be addressed. At this point your question is likely to be tentative and may change when you become more familiar with scholarship in the field. At this point you are engaged in the process of narrowing your area of interest to a pointed question. For example, if you want to write on Roman comedy, you should read a few recent and general books on Roman comedy as well as several plays of Plautus and Terence (in translation). After completing this reading you may decide that slaves play an interesting and important role in comedy. In this case you will want to read scholarship that specifically treats slaves in comedy and you will want to select a few plays in which a slave plays an important role. At this point, you may narrow your focus further.

2. MATERIALS:  Description of the materials to be used in the research (e.g., literary texts, visual material, etc.), as well as their location and/or availability.

3. SCHOLARLY LITERATURE WITH ANNOTATED BIBLIOGRAPHY:  Discussion of relevant scholarly literature. The proposal should demonstrate that you have reviewed the germane scholarship. You should include a brief discussion of the most useful accounts of the issue, major disagreements or outstanding questions and how your questions fit into the existing literature. Attach an annotated bibliography, brief summaries (two to three sentences) regarding your sources including the primary texts themselves (the poems, plays, chronicles, or objects or artifacts) plus the secondary literature, which should include at least five monographs and eight to ten peer-reviewed scholarly articles specifically pertinent to your topic. Give full bibliographic citations for each source in either Chicago or MLA style, arranged alphabetically by groups of primary and secondary sources. Annotations identify the writer’s purpose, central question or problem, and main argument. The following on-line resources may help you as your formulate your list of sources and then prepare your thesis.

4. METHODOLOGY: Detailed discussion of the methodology, explaining the suitability of your methods to your research problem. What analytical approach will you use to examine your topic? How will this approach help you address the research questions and primary material you select?


Following your submission of a proposal you should do the following:

Revise the proposal and the project following suggestions and comments by the CMS faculty. This may involve revising your bibliography. Remember you should be able to explain why each item in the bibliography is pertinent to your thesis. Assembling your bibliography should be your work, not your advisor’s. Spend at least 4-6 hours on Project Muse, JSTOR, and in other resources, and be sure that you have read reviews of the books and monographs, and read all of the articles you cite. Continue to expand your bibliography using the bibliographies and footnotes in the secondary sources with which you are working. You are encouraged to seek the help of the reference librarians of the college in your searches and as you retrieve materials from our library and others. In your bibliographical researches, when you bump up against the same articles and books repeatedly you will know that you have covered the ground adequately.

When you turn in your final product, the bibliography should be in alphabetical order, by surname or institution name where the institution is the cited author. Like the annotated bibliography it should be consistently in either Chicago or MLA form remembering that your citations should be in footnote or endnote, not parenthetical, form. Your final bibliography in your thesis is not an annotated bibliography. It is rather an alphabetical list at the end of the thesis of all the sources used in the project. It is expected to be much longer than the proposal bibliography, for this is a record of the influence brought to bear on the thesis by everything the student has read or consulted. It is essentially a “works cited” list. As lengths of thesis projects vary, so too do the lengths of the accompanying bibliographies. In all cases, students must keep in mind the primary purpose of the thesis bibliography, which is not only to demonstrate academic integrity, but to leave a record, a map, for those who follow to pick up where you left off. Scholarship in CMS is at its heart a reflection of a community of thinkers devoted to the study of the past, a record of a shared mission and shared projects.

When you include a quotation of an ancient writer, do not rely on what a secondary source says about a passage. Look up what Thucydides, Herodotus, or Plutarch is saying in context. Make sure that you understand the context. If you can read the relevant passage in Greek, Latin, Old English, or Hebrew do so. This is your best judgment on the subject. So deal as directly with the source material as you can. Similarly, if you find a major modern historian quoted in another secondary source, whenever possible consult the original publication. You will have a better sense of what he or she has said and you might also find additional material.

Begin work on the first chapter, unless directed otherwise by your advisor. As you progress, remember that in the natural sciences, 12 hours per week in the lab is expected for theses. This does not include the actual writing.

By week 3 you and your advisor should have worked out a timetable for the project’s chapters. This will help you budget your time. Your timetable should include time for editing and re-writing as you go along. As you develop your outline, length, and number of chapters be sure to consider your own writing history and your need for additional editing. You may find that you will want to consult the various aspects of writing support provided by the college and attend special meetings offered to address the needs of thesis writers.

Arrange with your advisor the time for a weekly meeting. As the semester progresses you may have additional meetings. Your written work should appear in his or her e-mail ahead of the meeting time by at least a day so that your advisor has time to read your text. If you advisor prefers that you provide a hard copy, provide one.

Show up for the meeting on time, ready to discuss your work both writing and research.

Your grade will reflect not only your first efforts, but also the degree to which you attend to and respond to the comments of your advisor, and the degree to which you attend to the process of the thesis.

Proof-reading is your job and it is important. If your advisor has to correct punctuation, spelling, and fundamental grammar in your drafts repeatedly, it may affect your final grade. Punctuation, spelling, and grammatical errors in the final version will impact your grade.

It is OK and at times necessary to adjust the direction and scope of your project as it progresses. Talk this through with your advisor.

Submit your thesis on time which is by college rules the last day of classes in the semester in which you are writing. Submit it in both hard copy and digital copy. Please provide permission for the thesis to be stored electronically by the college or note that you do not wish it to be stored in that manner if that is the case.


Receipt of Honors in Classical and Medieval Studies is a special distinction reserved for those students who have completed a thesis project with certain distinguishing characteristics and features. The student must demonstrate a high level of self-motivation, independence, and continuous engagement in the project over the entire two semesters, and the thesis project should be exemplary in its design, methodological rigor, and creativity. The thesis and oral examination should use scholarship within, and as relevant outside, the study of our field to advance our understanding of an important topic. The final thesis must develop the necessary background, theories and/or methods for the project and the thesis should include a thorough discussion and citation of the relevant, published literature. Students must exhibit comprehension of the debates related to their topics and successfully articulate how their work contributes to the scholarly conversation. Approach, process, thesis product, and oral examination are all important factors in a decision of whether to award Honors. The oral examination panel members, who may consult with the advisor, have final authority for judging whether the student has satisfactorily met the criteria for receipt of Honors.

Students seeking candidacy for honors in the major should indicate their intention to pursue Honors when submitting their thesis proposals in the fall semester following the proposal guidelines outlined above. It is expected that students will have discussed this intention with their major advisors and likely thesis advisors in advance. Nominations for candidacy for Honors remain at the discretion of the faculty of the program, based on students’ proposals and their previous academic work in the field. Students must have made considerable progress on the thesis in the fall semester to be put forward for Honors in January. Thesis advisors, in consultation with other members of the CMS faculty, have the authority to withdraw students from the Honors program at any time prior to the submission deadline for the written thesis.

These guidelines have been adapted in part from those of the Program in Women and Gender Studies and the Department of Art and Visual Culture.