History Honors Program

The Department of History offers you an opportunity to highlight your undergraduate work by conducting original research and writing a thesis under the one-on-one guidance of a faculty adviser.

Photo of History Honors celebration

The Department of History invites all history majors who are juniors and have a grade-point average (GPA) of at least 3.5 in history courses taken at UC Davis to apply to the History Honors Program. This program has proved especially effective for students who plan to teach history, or study history at the graduate level. It is also an excellent opportunity to develop research and writing skills for work in a wide variety of fields and careers, from business and politics, to law and journalism.

The main purpose of the History Honors Program is to give you an opportunity to carry out original research and writing on a topic of your own choosing, with close faculty supervision, over the course of one academic year.

Three levels of honors

The committee awards honors at three levels: Honors, High Honors, and Highest Honors.  The criteria for determining whether a thesis merits honors, and if so, which rank, are:

  • HONORS are awarded to students who have demonstrated an ability to bring together multiple primary and secondary sources into a coherent, fluid essay, with a strong and concise argument, supported by evidence. Students must show that they have worked with primary sources directly, rather than merely reworking or restating arguments already published in secondary sources.
  • HIGH HONORS are awarded to students who — in addition to meeting the above basic criteria — write a thesis that is distinctively impressive in one (though not necessarily all) of the following areas: lucidity, thoroughness, originality or ambitiousness. These theses stand out as being carefully and competently argued and executed.
  • HIGHEST HONORS represents truly outstanding work in terms of creativity, argument, writing and organization, as well as the use and analysis of diverse primary and secondary sources. A thesis of this kind resembles graduate-level work in its sophistication and clarity.

Preparations before applying

Find a topic that interests you. To get some ideas, review your lecture notes, papers, exams and readings from classes you liked. What story, issue, question or problem excited you, and why? What would you like to know more about? Even if a particular topic doesn't jump right out at you, think about an era and a place that captured your imagination. What is it about this time and place that you find most interesting? Is it a particular group of people (women, soldiers, children, workers, artists, intellectuals)? Or is it something that seems to change the world (an epidemic, battle, election, publication, riot, law)? Allow yourself to be curious. Think about what holds your interest and why.

Once you've isolated an area of interest, find an adviser among the Department of History faculty who is willing to endorse your project and serve as your mentor. The professor you choose must be available to serve as a mentor. Choose a professor whose own research and teaching interests overlap with your own, and visit during office hours to discuss your project. You would be more likely to win the professor over to your cause if you come in with some concrete ideas that show you've been thinking about a topic. Even if you have not yet settled on a topic to explore, or the sources you will use, at least try to suggest a particular time period, place, and a particular problem or issue or set of questions.

Once a faculty member has agreed to work with you, write a proposal describing your project. It should be approximately two to three double-spaced pages. It should lay out the issue or problem, and the approach you plan to take. The definition of your topic may change considerably over the next few months, as you get into the material. Nonetheless, it is important to start out with a clear plan that both you and your faculty adviser agree is feasible. This statement will form a key part of your application, and will set you on the path of research.


To be accepted into the program, you must have a 3.5 grade-point average (GPA) in history. If you do, then:

• download the honors application packet, and follow the directions indicated

• download the honors faculty letter of recommendation form, and with it obtain a recommendation from a faculty member, as the application packet describes.

If you have any questions, please contact:

•   the Undergraduate Advising Center; or

•   Professor Edward Dickinson, who is the 2017-2018 honors supervisor; or

•   Professor Kathryn Olmsted, who chairs the honors committee.

The deadline for submitting honors applications is Friday, May 31st 2019. Email your completed application to your undergraduate adviser in the Undergraduate Advising Center or submit it in person to the Department of History office, 2216 Social Science and Humanities building.

Professor Manfred P. Fleischer Undergraduate Honors Research Award

This prize is presented to selected honors students to help fund travel associated with conducting their research.