The Art History Thesis
Writing a senior thesis can be one of the most gratifying aspects of a student's undergraduate career. It is also time-consuming and requires dedication to research and writing beginning in the summer of the senior year. The process gives students the opportunity to work closely with a member of the art history faculty to define a topic, develop a proposal, create a bibliography, conduct primary and secondary research, and write the paper. All projects are different, and depending on your topic, theses will range from 30 to 50 pages of text.
The sections below provide the following information for students who opt to write an art history thesis in the senior year:
- How to register to write an art history thesis.
- Thesis proposal overview
- Thesis proposal guidelines
- Thesis proposal evaluation
- Thesis timeline
- Guidelines for formatting your final thesis
How to Register for the Thesis in Art History
- FALL of the Senior Year: All thesis writers register for ARTH473. Co-requisite: ARTH 395 in fall term. An art history thesis. Application to write a thesis must be made by May 1 of the junior year. A thesis abstract with a written statement of the objective must be presented at this time. The Art History faculty will evaluate all thesis proposals within three weeks to determine the student's preparedness and the project's validity, designating each as a 'Pass,' 'Provisional Pass' (requiring resubmission of proposal), or 'Re-direction' (to a 300-level seminar or independent study). Accepted students may begin their research over the summer and should plan to submit an updated proposal on September 20 of fall term. Honors will be determined based on the quality of writing and inquiry in March of the senior year. Students writing a thesis will be recognized at the baccalaureate department awards ceremony. Credits: 3 (fall). All art history thesis writers should enroll in this section during the fall. Later in the year, if honors candidacy has been determined by the art history faculty, the registrar will replace this course with ARTH493 (honors thesis).
- WINTER of the Senior Year: All thesis students register for ARTH483. Prerequisite: ARTH 473 in the fall. Prerequisite: senior standing. An art history thesis. Continuation of ARTH 473, Students continue to research, write, and revise the senior thesis project. All students will present their work to faculty, students, and other members of the community in March. Honors will be determined based on the quality of writing and inquiry in March of the senior year. Students writing a thesis will be recognized at the baccalaureate department awards ceremony. Credits: 3 (fall). All art history thesis writers should enroll in this section during the winter. Later in the term, if honors candidacy has been determined by the art history faculty, the registrar will replace this course with ARTH493 (honors thesis).
- If awarded honors by the faculty in the WINTER of the senior year, some students register for ARTH493. Co-requisite: ARTH 395 in fall term. Prerequisites: honors candidacy and senior standing. An art history thesis. Students should enroll in ARTH 493 only after honors candidacy has been determined by the Art History faculty. The culmination is an oral defense of the thesis project. Students achieving honors will be recognized at the baccalaureate department awards ceremony and in the university graduation program. Credits: 3 (fall) - 3 (winter).
Art History Thesis Proposal Information and Guidelines
- Due Date: May 1 of the junior year
- Eligibility: Senior Standing and enrollment in ARTH 395 in the fall of the senior year
Work with a member of the art history faculty to develop your thesis topic, proposal, and preliminary bibliography. Please feel free to contact any art history professor to discuss any questions you have.
- Minimum of 500 words;
- Digital reproductions of relevant art objects/sites
- Working bibliography and research index. Provide at least seven resources you have already consulted, such as published books, peer-reviewed articles and essays, as well as archives, and/or objects, architectural sites, or the like.
A proposal for a thesis should demonstrate a student's preparedness to take on a demanding year-long research project. To do this effectively, your proposal should include four parts:
- Define your subject matter and articulate research question/s
- Highlight the significance of your project.
- Identify (if possible) your methodology
- Discuss your qualifications for carrying out this project
1. Subject matter and questions
The first stage of the proposal is to explain your research topic and primary question/s related to an artist (or artists), architectural site (e.g. temple, church etc), painting program, painting genre, etc. We do not expect that you will have a thesis statement at this point. We do expect that you will have a specific set of art objects (please include digital reproductions of the art or architectural sites that will form the focus of your inquiry) and a clear line of questioning. Remember to provide the socio-historical and cultural contexts relevant to the material you are examining.
2. Significance of the Project
Discussing the "significance" of your project will demand a certain amount of forethought. We weigh this part of your proposal heavily as it quickly reveals the breadth and scope of your understanding of your chosen topic. At the thesis level, art history faculty will want to see that you come to your project well informed and fully engaged. The following are questions that may help you identify and highlight the significance of your project. We would expect that you could answer these questions in a preliminary way in your proposal.
- How might your thesis contribute to a larger discourse on the subject?
- Does your thesis challenge previous assumptions?
- Could your thesis serve to alter old understandings about a certain artist, site, idea, or scholar?
- Might your work build upon another scholar's work? If so, how and why?
- Will you include any original fieldwork, archival research, or interviews?
While we do not expect a full description of your methodological approach, we hope that you might be able to discuss how you anticipate investigating this topic. It's fine if you do not know at this point (that's what the Senior Seminar: Approaches to Art History ARTH 395 course will help you with in the fall). It may be a good idea, though, to take an early look at one of our primary textbooks on methodology, such as:
- Laurie Schneider Adams, The Methodologies of Art (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 2010).
- Michael Hatt and Charlotte Klonk, Art History, A Critical Introduction to its Methods (New York: Manchester University Press, 2006).
- Anne D'Alleva, Methods and Theories of Art History (London: Laurence King Publishing, 2012).
Lastly, please provide your qualifications for carrying out this project. While this can be a place to list your credentials (please include: relevant course work, language study, internships, and programs abroad), it's also an opportunity for you to share with us how you first were exposed to or became passionate about the material or issues you will investigate in your thesis.
The Art History faculty will evaluate all thesis proposals within three weeks to determine the student's preparedness and the project's validity, designating each as a 'Pass,' 'Provisional Pass' (requiring resubmission of proposal), or 'Re-direction' (to a 300-level seminar or independent study).
- Pass: If the student's proposal has met the standards of the department, s/he will be accepted for an art history thesis. After reading the proposal, the faculty will provide feedback and bibliography ideas. Students will also be appointed an advisor with whom the student will work over the course of the year.
- Provisional Pass: Should the art history faculty have significant questions about a proposal and a student's ability to carry out a year-long research project, the department will suggest that the student take the summer to reassess and reexamine the critical underpinnings of his/her project. Faculty feedback will pointedly ask that you redirect and/or refine several issues in your thesis, as well as develop a strong bibliography. With the advantage of more time and substantive feedback from professors, a student will have the opportunity to resubmit the proposal for review September 1st. If questions or concerns arise over the summer, students should always feel free to communicate with faculty.
- Re-direction: If a resubmitted proposal does not demonstrate significant headway (based on the feedback the faculty gave in May), a student may be asked instead to enroll in upper-level course work (a 300-level seminar) or an independent study (ARTH 403).
Registration: By the beginning of spring term junior year, students will have already registered for the 3-credit section of ARTH 473 for the following fall. No action need be taken to alter this unless so notified by the faculty. If accepted to write a thesis, the student should also enroll in a section of ARTH 483 during the winter term. In the event that the student has been re-directed to work on an independent study or 300-level seminar 473, s/he may either drop the 3-credit ARTH 473 listing from the fall term course list (and add in a new course) or convert the ARTH 473 to ARTH 403 in order to pursue independent work under the direction of a faculty member.
- The thesis is not required, but if you wish to write a thesis, see the information above about the proposal submission process. After you are paired with an advisor, it is your responsibility to contact him/her to set up an appointment to discuss and refine your topic.
Senior Year, Fall Term:
- Late September: Submit revised thesis proposal. The proposal should:
- articulate your primary research question/material
- highlight the significance of your project,
- identify (if possible) your methodology,
- discuss your interest and background in this topic. You will receive feedback from the faculty.
- Mid-October: Submit your refined proposal, written in collaboration with your advisor. As you focus your argument with your advisor, pay attention to Booth, The Craft of Research chapter 8 ("Making Claims") and chapter 10 ("Acknowledgments and Responses"). Second readers will be assigned at this time.
- Weekly meeting with your advisor throughout fall term for thesis students: Attend weekly meetings with your thesis advisors. These interactions will count as a significant part of your fall term grade, so make sure that you meet with your thesis director on a regular basis. Meet with your second reader at least once during the term.
- October through December: In collaboration with your advisor, construct a clear outline for your thesis project. Work together to build your bibliography. Your advisor may require that you write a literature review to assess previous research on your topic.
- End of the fall term. While you'll have the rest of the year to refine your work, you should submit a rough draft of at least two thesis chapters to your advisor by the end of fall term.
Senior Year, Winter Term:
- Weekly meeting with your advisor throughout winter term: Attend weekly meetings with your thesis advisors. These interactions will count as a significant part of your winter term grade, so make sure that you meet with your thesis director on a regular basis. Meet with your second reader twice during the term.
- Mid- to late-March: In mid- to late-March, you will present your research to the art department (faculty, students, and members of the wider university community). These presentations will be polished since you will have nearly completely your theses by this point. Questions will follow presentations.
- Two weeks before the last day of classes: Full thesis due to first and second readers. Include properly formatted footnotes, bibliography, and illustrations. Your readers will provide feedback that you will incorporate into your final draft.
- Last two weeks of the term: Final editing. Address reader comments and incorporate changes. Polish text, footnotes, bibliography, and illustrations.
- Monday of Exam Week: Your final thesis is due on the Monday of exam week. At this time, you should submit a finished paper with properly formatted footnotes, bibliography, and images. You do not need to bind the thesis yet-that happens later. Include title page, table of contents (with page numbers), list of figures, acknowledgments, introduction, chapters, appendix (if necessary), bibliography. When faculty sign approve your project, bind and submit the thesis.
- Exam Week Thesis Defense: Once the thesis is completed, each student will have the opportunity to sit with the Art History faculty, and other invited W&L faculty members, for approximately 30-45 minutes to discuss thesis work.
Formatting Your Final Thesis
The following information will provide a general guide to format your thesis. Every project is different however, so feel welcome to reach out to your advisor for additional formatting guidance.
- Page 1. Cover page with title, name, date, honor pledge
- Page 2. Thesis abstract
- Page 3. Acknowledgements if desired
- Page 4. Table of Contents
- Page 5. List of Illustrations
- Body of the thesis:
- Continuous pagination
- Same font used throughout
- one-inch margins
- Each chapter or part (with title) begins on a new page
- Includes a conclusion
- Artworks indicated with figure numbers. (fig. 1)
- Footnotes or endnotes formatted according to the Chicago Manual of Style
- Appendix: Illustrations:
- Each artwork/illustration included as a figure and fully labeled
- All artworks/illustrations referenced in body of thesis included
- Bibliography of Works Cited:
- Formatted according to the Chicago Manual of Style
- Each source mentioned in body of thesis included
- Does not include references consulted but not cited in body of thesis
- Annotations not necessary