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American Studies Senior Honors Thesis

The goal of an American Studies senior thesis is to write a paper that, with revision, could potentially be submitted for publication in an academic journal. This means, at a minimum, that the paper makes an original contribution to the existing scholarship in an area and uses primary sources. While such manuscripts are usually 30-50 pages long, depending on the field, one should not focus on length. (Indeed, a scholar usually finds that good papers have to be shortened and shortened again before they can be published). Rather, you should focus on doing enough primary research to provide a compelling answer to a well-defined research question that gains its importance through contributing to the field of “American Studies,” broadly defined. It should make an original argument.

This means, among other things, that you will need to find a model for the type of paper you are trying to write. A model paper does not have to be on the topic you are studying. The most useful models are in one’s field, use a methodology similar to the one’s own, and illustrate what it means to have a good introduction, literature review, and analysis. It is particularly important to find a model when writing in an interdisciplinary field like American Studies, because historians, literary scholars, and social scientists all organize these sections of their papers differently.

Undergraduates learn over the years to write “one draft wonders.” In such an endeavor, one keeps a paper in one’s head and writes it shortly before it is due. Step One is to realize that you will be writing at least three “drafts” of your honors thesis. This is because in a major research project you typically learn the point of your argument as you write, meaning as you explore the nuances of your data. 

Before you leave for summer vacation you will need to be well started on your thesis. This means that by the end of the sixth week of the spring quarter of junior year you should submit to the program director a thesis topic that outlines the area you want to study and revise potential research questions in this area. You should include a preliminary bibliography that reflects a fairly thorough search of books and journal articles in your topic area. You should outline a methodology for studying your research question. In order to complete this assignment you will need, most importantly, an ADVISOR. You need to start that courtship process early.

Finally, the advisor should be prepared to provide the program director with an evaluation of a students' request for research funds.

Previous American Studies Thesis Topics






Ayres Alexander 2016 Reinterpreting Regionalism: The Case of Chicago Metropolis 2020 Henry Binford
Blumberg Lucy 2016

Reconceiving Reproduction: Health Activism in Radical Chicago, 1969-1975

Amy Partridge

Cooper Arielle 2016 Setting the Table: Roots of the 20th Century Ethnic Revival in American Cookbooks, 1960-1964 Anthony Chen
Elvove Zachary 2016 Arrested Development: The Purgatory of Adolescence at Northwestern University, Since 1971 William Haarlow
Goldstein Lily 2016 Justice, Justice, Shall You Pursue: Jewish Criticism of Isreal, 1967-Present Robert Orsi
Henderson Molly 2016 Rebuilding Dream Images: Nostalgia for the Home, the Family, and the Housewife in the Suburban Sitcom Nick Davis
Kahn Russell 2016 Coming of Age in Contemporary American Cinema, and the New Nostalgia Mode Mimi White
Kenney Ryan 2016 Community Conditions and Federal Ambitions: How Uptown Addressed Mental Health and Poverty, 1968-1975 Henry Binford
Kouimelis Anastasia 2016 Reassigning Responsibility: How End Demand Illinois Discount Female Agency in Prostitution Heather Schoenfeld
Lombard Eilis 2016 Finding Democracy in the American Underground: The Influence of Dostoevsky on Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man Ivy Wilson
Metzger Scott 2016 Syringe Exchange Programs in the United States: Uncertainty Discourse and the Federal Funding Ban, 1988- Present Aaron Norton
Na Emily 2016 True Complexions: Constructions of Black Female Beauty before 1865 Julia Stern
Rotter-Laitman Natalie 2016 Race Traitor or Planned Parenthood Puppet: Making Sense of Obama in Pro-Life Black Genocide Argumentation Nicola Beisel
Swartz Suzanne 2016 We Still Have to Talk about Hot Guys: A Feminist Defense of Twilight Moms and Women's Media Maria Mastronardi
Warzyn Tess 2016 Gender Conflict as Narrative Strategy: How House Hunters Survived the 2007 Mortgage Crisis Helen Thompson


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Frequently Asked Questions

What are the requirements of the American Studies thesis?

During the two-quarter Senior Project Seminar, each student is responsible for producing a 30-50 page thesis based in original primary and secondary source research that makes an original argument and is grounded in relevant scholarship. Students choose their own topics in consultation with the instructor as well as the program director.

May I combine the American Studies thesis with a thesis in another major?

In certain cases, students who are combining a major in American Studies with a major in another field that also requires a senior research seminar may arrange to fulfill their Senior Project  Seminar requirement in a combined, but expanded, project. To be eligible for WCAS Honors with a dual, or interdisciplinary thesis, there are a few extra steps to take. For more information, consult the Weinberg guidelines.

Are there research funds to support travel or other research expenses for the thesis?

Yes! Check out the following link for both WCAS and university-wide sources of research funding
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