Honors in English
The English Honors program allows outstanding students to undertake an intensive, year-long project in the study and/or practice of literature under the supervision of a faculty advisor. English Honors involves five phases of work, which begin in the fall of your junior year:
Application to the Honors Program
Due December 1 of junior year, the online application consists of a short form asking you to outline possible topics for study, and a copy of your transcript. The applications will be read by the English Department’s Honors Committee. We will also solicit a few words of feedback from departmental faculty about your work in their classes.
You can find a link to the application here: http://forms.wm.edu/29406
Send a PDF of your transcript (the student view is acceptable), via email to the Honors Director, Melanie Dawson, at firstname.lastname@example.org, with the subject line “Honors Application Transcript.”
Enrollment in the Honors Thesis Proposal Writing Workshop
This one-credit class takes place during the spring of your junior year. Working with the Honors Director in conjunction with a faculty member who agrees to advise your thesis project, you will prepare your Thesis Proposal, which is a multi-faceted document that covers the goals, sources, and methods of your project. At this point, you will also develop a rough timeline for your project’s development, which will be further refined during the fall of your senior year. You may choose to apply for Charles Center summer research funding near the middle of the spring term. The submission of a more extended proposal will be due to the Honors Program in April. The departmental submission of all honors materials will be April 1.
Applications for Charles Center Honors Fellowships and support for summer research are due in mid-February and can be found here. All proposals for Charles Center funding need to be vetted by the English Honors Committee first. Usually the committee provides feedback to students before approving the funding application. This process helps streamline the submission of the Honors Proposal to the departmental committee in April.
Submission of the Proposal
The Thesis Proposal is a document that outlines the materials, methods, and scholarly preparation for your project. Proposals often include an explanation of the overarching issues framing the inquiry, textual details, and even sample analyses. Both simple and annotated bibliographies are required. All proposals must be vetted by both your thesis advisor and the Honors Director prior to submission.
Proposals in Creative Writing should demonstrate a clear understanding of the formal and topical elements of your prospective project. A creative writing thesis proposal will also ask for an “Artist’s Statement,” or a short discussion of the writers and works that have influenced you and to which you can compare your proposed project.
Writing the Senior Thesis
While the groundwork for your thesis will take place over the summer before your senior year, the drafting of the project usually begins in the fall of your senior year, while spring allows for the finalizing and polishing of your project. Realize that writing the thesis is an incremental process that involves researching, drafting, revising, and reorganizing your writing in consultation with your thesis advisor. Expect that you may spend as much time on revision and reorganization as on the initial writing, so that quantity of writing (the production of pages) will matter less than the polished quality of your final thesis.
You will receive credit for your Honors work when you register for ENGL 495 (fall) and 496 (spring), each of which is a 3-credit class. You and your advisor will construct a work plan, or syllabus, that you register with the departmental Honors Director during the fall term. Your adherence to this plan is in part what helps your thesis advisor determine your grade for the fall. In the spring, you will complete the 40-70 page thesis, which is turned in to your examination committee members on or around April 15 (see the Charles Center or the English Honors Director for the official completion date, which changes slightly with the calendar.)
The Oral Defense
At the conclusion of the spring term, you will defend your thesis to an examination committee, which is composed of two faculty members from the English department and one from another department or program. Examinations will be held during the last week of classes or the first week of exams, depending upon faculty schedules.
The composition of the examining committee is determined by the Honors Director and the thesis advisor, in conjunction with student input. You will be responsible for arranging a time for the oral defense and will coordinate the room scheduling with Jeanne Smith, administrator in the English Department, once committee members have confirmed their availability.
Taking into account the quality of the written thesis and the oral defense, the examining committee determines whether the thesis receives Honors and assigns a grade for ENGL 496. The thesis advisor assigns a grade for ENGL 495. If the thesis does not receive the Honors designation, the student’s transcript will show two sections of ENGL 480, Independent Study, in lieu of ENGL 495 and ENGL 496, or the two semesters of Honors work. A student who receives Honors must deposit a digital copy of the final version of the thesis, prepared and formatted in accordance with standards established by the Charles Center, in the William and Mary Digital Archive.
How to Begin
Successful Honors projects build upon a foundation of knowledge, methodology, and critical insight acquired in one or more college-level classes or in an independent study course. You may want to pursue more deeply ideas you have encountered, expand your study of a text or author, or trace a pattern across multiple texts. Whatever your interest, your project should demonstrate the kind of scholarly sophistication with method and textual interpretation that your college education has provided you. Projects that are based on favorite childhood books or texts you have never studied may be less likely to yield a strong project.
Creative writers may choose to extend a project begun in a class, or they may build upon genres and techniques they have previously studied; as creative writers formulate projects, we encourage them to build on their knowledge of craft in order to produce a sophisticated and polished final product. Thus, it is important that creative applicants have begun to hone a craft and develop a voice.
As you consider the Honors program, it is a good idea to begin by reaching out to faculty whose courses interested you, or where you encountered the works that are the most likely candidates for an extended project.