Honors and Senior Theses

An honors thesis is required for graduating with honors in anthropology.

Writing an honors thesis, however, does not guarantee graduation with honors.  If a student pursues an honors thesis that is not conferred honors status, the student's record will show that s/he successfully completed a senior thesis.

Radio Libertad, Petén, GuatemalaRadio Libertad, Petén, Guatemala


Becoming a Candidate for Honors:

The opportunity to pursue honors in anthropology is a privilege. Students are selected to become honors candidates based on a number of criteria, including: standing and grades in the concentration; a viable research project; the support of a faculty advisor; submission and approval of the proposed project.

Students must apply to become an honors candidate by the end of the semester before they begin their thesis work, ordinarily at the end of the sixth semester. Students who are abroad in their sixth semester may apply by the end of the second week of the seventh semester instead

To be eligible to apply for honors, students must:

  • Be in good standing
  • • Have completed at least two thirds of the concentration requirements by the application deadline
  • Have earned a majority of “A” grades in the concentration. Classes taken S/NC will count as qualifying towards that majority if they are marked “S* with distinction” indicating that had the student taken the course for a grade, the grade would have been an “A.”


  • Both your primary thesis advisor and secondary reader for your honors thesis in Anthropology should be anthropologists.
  •   Your primary thesis advisor must be a regular faculty member in the department.
  • It is a good idea to have taken a class with the proposed thesis advisor, so that s/he has an idea of the student's interests and abilities, and so that the student has a good idea of the faculty advisor’s approach to research.
  • By the spring semester of your junior year, you should have an idea for a proposed thesis project, which will be guided and further refined through discussions with a faculty advisor.
  • Many faculty advisors limit the number of theses they advise per year, so it is good to approach a faculty member early.
  • Prepare a thesis proposal of 2-3 pages, describing the major research questions and methods to be used. The proposal should also have a working bibliography attached. 
  • Submit the thesis proposal, with the proposed faculty member’s approval, to the Director of Undergraduate Studies in anthropology by the end of the spring semester of your junior year. 

Developing, Completing, and Submitting the Honors Project

Once accepted as honors candidates, students will pursue a course of study that goes beyond what is expected of a regular concentrator. This includes:

  • Enrolling in 2 independent study courses with your thesis advisor: ANTH 1970.  These may be taken for a grade or S/NC. In cases in which the student has begun early research, there is the option of taking ANTH 1970 in the spring of the junior year.
  • Regular meetings with the faculty advisor & drafts turned in at established intervals during the year.
  • Consulting with the primary thesis advisor to identify a second reader. The second reader should complement the advisor in some way. For example, if the advisor’s specialty covers the subfield (medical anthropology, linguistic anthropology, archaeology, political anthropology, feminist anthropology), the second reader’s specialty may cover the geographical region of your interest, or vice versa.
  • Submission of final thesis—in physical form and as a pdf—to the thesis advisor, second reader, and Director of Undergraduate Studies no later than April 15 for May graduates and November 15 for December graduates.
  • Presentation of the thesis in the Honors Theses Symposium in the Anthropology department. Generally, the student prepares a fifteen to twenty-minute power point presentation that summarizes the topic, sources, methods, and conclusions of the thesis. After the presentation there is time for questions and comments from the audience.
Evaluating the Submitted Work of Honors Candidates

All students who satisfactorily complete ANTH 1970 will receive course credit for their thesis work. In order to receive Honors in anthropology, however, several additional criteria must be met. Upon submission of the thesis, the student must:

  • Have remained in good academic standing throughout the academic year.
  • Have had no violations of the academic code of conduct during honors candidacy.
  • Have completed all requirements for the concentration.
  • Have produced a thesis that meets the expectations for honors work established by the anthropology department

The thesis make take a variety of forms, including: 

  • Advancing an argument written based on anthropological fieldwork,  based on primary research, that engages with existing related anthropological scholarshipThe thesis must be more than a synthesis of or report on existing scholarship. It must advance an original argument or analysis, either by presenting new sources or data or by bringing a new interpretation to bear on known sources.
  • Advancing  a new argument or analysis by bringing a new interpretation to bear on known sources
  • A paper, based on original research, modeled on a journal article (suggested length of 15-40 pages, depending on the sub-discipline or journal selected as model)
  • A policy report (aimed at a particular organization) based on original research (e.g. a report aimed to a university committee on addressing sexual assault on campuses after substantial research devoted to understanding and analyzing the phenomenon)
  • A website based on original research, that seeks to make such research publicly available (to be evaluated on both content and success of design).
  • Audio-visual material, or film (best for those with prior film experience, to be evaluated both on original content, analysis, and success of film execution)
  • Regardless of format (to be approved by the Director of Undergraduate Studies and your primary faculty reader), we expect high quality execution of the writing or creative work and consistent and complete documentation of sources, following AAA style. http://www.aaanet.org/publications/style_guide.pdf (hyperlink on website)
  • Deliver the thesis to the advisor, second reader, and director of undergraduate studies by the established deadlines.

While the primary advisor will determine the grades for ANTH 1970, the final determination of Honors will be made by the Faculty committee in consultation with the Director of Undergraduate Studies

Guidelines for Honors Proposals:

The honors proposal will be due before the end of your junior year (or sixth semester). A proposal of approximately 3 pages crafted in consultation with your thesis advisor will help you define what you are doing (and why).

Some of the issues it should address are:

  1. The topic/question you want to pursue and why it is interesting/important
  2. Existing scholarship: who else has written about this topic and what is the 'state of the question'?
  3. The student's approach: how is the proposed project different from existing scholarship? Is the student examining/collecting new material? Reinterpreting known material by asking new questions?
  4. Methodology: how will the proposed project answer this question (in less than one year while the student is in residence at Brown!)? What theoretical frameworks, research methodologies, etc., will the student use to answer the proposed questions?
  5. Sources: what materials/evidence will be used in answering your question
  6. Working bibliography

As students proceed with the honors project, the direction taken may differ than that originally outlined in the proposal. In consultation with the primary faculty advisor, the student will identify a second reader, who will sign on to the project by the second week of the student's senior year (or seventh semester).

Flooded construction site, Venice, LousianaFlooded construction site, Venice, Lousiana


If a student has a viable research project and the support of a faculty member, but does not meet the eligibility for pursuing honors, the student may write a senior thesis in anthropology, with the approval of two faculty members.  A senior thesis writer will also be expected to take the thesis writing courses (ANTH 1970) and has the option to present his or her work at the honors thesis symposium.

  • The thesis must be more than a synthesis of or report on existing scholarship. It must advance an original argument or analysis, either by presenting new sources or data or by bringing a new interpretation to bear on known sources.