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Director: Margaret Bruzelius

Frequently Asked Questions


Who qualifies for honors?

To qualify for honors, you need a GPA of 3.5 in the comparative literature major by your junior year. Only Smith College (including Picker and Smithsonian), Five College and Smith College Junior Year Abroad courses are counted. You must also have a strong academic background in general and be able to work independently. In March or April, the director of honors verifies grades of all juniors and invites qualified students to apply for honors.

What does an honors student do?

Honors students write a thesis over the course of two semesters and meet regularly with their thesis advisers to discuss progress and read drafts.

A first draft of at least one substantial section of the thesis (20-30 pp.) is due by the last day of the fall semester. A student who is unable to meet this deadline should meet with the senior class dean to convert the thesis to a special studies.

A full draft of the thesis is due on the first Friday of March. This deadline ensures adequate time for comments and revisions in conjunction with the adviser and the second reader before the college deadline for the final draft, due by the second week of April. (The date for uploading a PDF of the thesis on the library web page allows only for copy editing of the draft submitted in April.)

At the end of the spring semester, each honors student makes an informal presentation of her thesis to a group of other honors students, faculty and friends.

Who should write a thesis?

If you wish to write a thesis, the program expects that you will have thought long and hard about your topic, normally in the context of prior coursework about that author, genre, or general area. Proposals for theses must already be clearly, fully and specifically developed by the due date for applications to the honors program (early each fall). If you are interested in applying to the honors program, you should spend part of the summer reading, thinking and clarifying your topic.

The 8 credits for the thesis are taken in addition to the regular requirements of the major, so in thinking about whether or not to apply for honors, consider how you will finish the major itself. In fact, this is one reason why many good students choose not to do honors; they find they just have too many other things they want to learn. The worst reason to do a thesis is simply for the honors of it; the best is that you want strongly to do extensive independent work on a sharply defined topic.

When can I apply for honors?

You may apply to enter the program at the earliest during the second semester of your junior year. Your application will then be discussed at the last board meeting of the spring semester, usually before May 1. At the latest, you may apply by the beginning of the first semester of your senior year. Your application will then be discussed at the first board meeting of the fall semester, usually before September 10.

What is a comparative literature thesis?

A comparative literature thesis is a comparative study of literary texts from two or more different cultures. Some theses have concentrated on theory; others have been a translation. Reading proficiency in all languages involved is a requirement, even if you work with or write about texts translated into English. Theses range from 60 to 100 pages in length and usually employ a clearly defined theoretical framework.

How do I apply for honors?

In March or early April, you should request an initial interview with the program's director of honors to explain your interest and discuss procedures. If you are on a junior year abroad, you should email the director. It is your responsibility to interest a faculty member in your project so that he or she can volunteer to become your thesis adviser. Once your project is approved, the Comparative Literature Board will appoint a second reader specialized in one of the literatures of your study.

The guidelines for departmental honors and the preliminary application form may be obtained from the comparative literature director of honors or the Office of the Class Deans, College Hall 23. You must submit a signed pink "Request for a Calculation of GPA Requirements Form" to the Senior Class Dean's administrative assistant in College Hall 23 to obtain the blue "Application to Enter Departmental Honors" form. You must complete both sides of the application, starting with the calculation of your GPA, which you should do with your major adviser. A two-page description of your purposes and the texts you plan to study is required as part of the application process.

After obtaining your thesis adviser's signature, you present the application to the director of honors for consideration by the program. Applications are discussed by the Comparative Literature Board at their last meeting in the spring semester and again at the first meeting of the fall semester. In some cases, the board may request clarification or require certain changes before accepting the proposal.

The director of honors will forward the application, with the program's recommendation, to the chair of the Subcommittee on Honors and Independent Programs, College Hall 23. The final decision regarding admission to the honors program rests with the Subcommittee on Honors and Independent Programs.

How do I register for honors?

A prospective honors student need not register for the fall semester of the honors course. If she is admitted to the honors program, the honors course will be added automatically to her registration. However, students do need to register for the second half of the year-long course when submitting registration for the second semester. The student is responsible for making all other changes (i.e., drops and adds) to her program before the appropriate deadlines.

Honors candidates must carry a minimum course load (12 credits) in each semester of the senior year. (An Ada Comstock Scholar must see the director of the Ada Comstock Program regarding credit load).

What kind of financial help is available?

The Tomlinson Memorial Fund offers up to $500 in financial assistance, but only a limited number of these grants are available. Your request for Tomlinson funds should accompany your honors applications.

What should I write in my application?

In two to three pages, summarize all the information that will allow the Comparative Literature Board to decide on the feasibility of your project.

Essential information provides answers to three key questions: what? why? how?

  1. What do I want to write about? (Topic)
  2. Why do I want to write about this topic? (Relevance, previous preparation)
  3. How do I want to write about it? (Method, tentative outline of chapters)

The board is willing to examine a limited amount of additional material—for instance, a select bibliography of primary and secondary sources, or a paper you have already written on one of the texts in your proposal. The Subcommittee on Honors and Independent Programs (SHIP), however, will look only at your thesis application, so it should be complete in itself.


An example of an application:

"Readings of fiction written in and about modern South Africa and China remain incomplete without taking into account the overpowering legacies of colonialism and domestic political traumas. During and following the long period of apartheid (1948–1994) in South Africa and, in China, the Cultural Revolution (1966–76) and the 1989 Tiananmen Incident, what roles could the writer take in (re)defining these modern nations? Specifically, what does the presence of Euro-North American thought and art in narratives about the quest for identity suggest about the possibilities for an autonomous national literature within these nations?

"To address this question, I intend to examine how two authors, Nadine Gordimer (b.1923) and Hong Ying (b.1962), appropriate Euro-North American influences to serve specific socio-political functions in narrating their countries' respective political traumas. The thesis will be grounded in close readings of allusions to Western culture in four novels: Gordimer's Burger's Daughter (1979), a novel of apartheid, and her first post-apartheid novel, The House Gun (1998), Hong's autobiographical Daughter of the River (1997) and her earlier Summer of Betrayal (1992), a novel on the Tiananmen Massacre and its aftermath.

A further paragraph relating relevant history to the texts to be studied, another summarizing contrasts between them and a preliminary list of historical and theoretical sources would conclude this proposal.

Titles of recent theses:

"Strategies of Transculturation in U.S. Latina Lesbian Prose and Performance"

"Esperpento and the Grotesque in the Carnival Works of Valle-Inclan and Synge"

"Modulated Voices: Four Tales of Women Changed by the Modern City"

"A translation of Part I of Vincent Ravalec's Wendy"

What is the second reader's role?

Because a comparative literature thesis involves at least two different fields of competence, you should seek advice and feedback from both your advisor and your second reader. For the same reason, the director of honors should be sure that the adviser and second reader consult with each other early in the process to make sure they agree on procedures and method.

Are there any other requirements once my application has been approved?

A student accepted into the honors program must make an appointment for "bibliographic assistance" with a reference librarian at the libraries relevant to the project, for a personalized session geared specifically to her thesis project. This meeting must take place before mid-October at the latest. It will take about an hour and will be scheduled at the mutual convenience of the reference librarian and the student. After the library meeting, the appropriate librarian should sign and date the yellow "Required Library Instruction Form" and forward it to the chair of the Subcommittee on Honors and Independent Programs, College Hall 101.

How do I withdraw from the program?

To withdraw from writing a thesis, you need permission from the director of honors, who, after consultation with your thesis adviser, relays your request to the chair of the Subcommittee on Honors and Independent Programs. If you've made good progress and produced some revised writing, the thesis project may be converted into a Special Studies of one or two semesters. After receiving approval from the chair of the subcommittee, you must submit a Special Studies form to the registrar.

How do I prepare the manuscript?

Guidelines for preparing an honors thesis are available in the Office of the Class Deans, College Hall 101. Support staff in the Technology Commons in the basement of Seelye and the Center for Foreign Languages and Culture (CFLAC) in Wright Hall are available for consultation and can provide equipment, some materials and guided assistance for the mounting of visual materials. You must submit two copies of your thesis to the college. One copy is given to the program's director of honors. The other copy (on acid-free paper) is turned in to the Senior Class Dean, College Hall 101, for later submission to the library.

Can I get an extension?

An extension of up to five days from the initial due date may be granted at the discretion of the program's director of honors. A further extension of no longer than two weeks from the initial due date may be granted only by the chair of the Subcommittee on Honors and Independent Programs, upon written application from the program's director of honors.

What happens during the thesis presentation?

At the thesis presentation, you will have ten minutes to explain your project to an audience that includes your thesis adviser and readers, comparative literature faculty members and students; you may also invite family and friends. (Ten minutes is time enough to read, at the most, five double-spaced typed pages.) The idea is to communicate some of what you've found out, give some useful advice to future thesis-writers, and receive public recognition for the honors work you've done. Somewhere in the presentation, give a summary of your purpose and your conclusions. You may want to read a paragraph from your introduction or ending. Handing out a page or two from the texts you studied may also be a good idea. Before the presentation, schedule a practice session for your presentation with your thesis adviser, to be sure you're observing the time limit and explaining not only what you did in the thesis but why your work is significant.

Your presentation will be followed by ten minutes of questions from the audience. This is a friendly audience; no one is out to make you look bad. Remember, too, that this oral presentation counts for only 10% of your overall thesis grade. Your thesis counts for 60% and your grades in the comparative literature major count for 30%.

Who will evaluate my thesis?

Your thesis adviser and second reader each provide an honors designation (highest honors, high honors, honors, pass, or fail). If they substantially disagree, the program board will name a third reader. The final honors designation, submitted for recommendation to the Subcommittee on Honors and Independent Programs, is based on your thesis, your presentation and your grades in the major.