Honors at Graduation


Honors in Historic Preservation are awarded at commencement to students who compile exceptional academic records in the major at Mary Washington College. To qualify for admission to honors consideration a student must have achieved a cumulative grade point average of 3.0 overall, and at least 3.25 in Historic Preservation at the end of his/her junior year. Advancement to honors requires a senior thesis that is accepted by the Historic Preservation faculty, and the honors award at graduation is a decision made by the entire preservation faculty.

The honors thesis will be a significant research paper on an aspect of preservation that involves original research and writing. It may be in any area of preservation, including archaeology, architectural conservation or history, folk culture, landscape, museums, preservation law, and preservation planning. The honors thesis is a two semester process in which the applicant may enroll for three hours of Senior Research Project (HISP 490). The grade given in the Senior Research Project is determined by the thesis advisor. Honors candidates who elect to enroll in HISP 490 in the first semester of the thesis process, will be given a grade for the research done in that semester.


  • The honors thesis is intended as an exercise in critical thinking and writing in which the honors candidate advances a focused hypothesis and a method of analysis in relation to a particular topic or issue of historic preservation.
  • This study must include a plan for compiling, organizing, and examining information that marks a discovery and interpretation process that leads to logical conclusions, rather than simply summarizing the topic’s relevant literature and current thinking.
  • The thesis should advance the student’s and the faculty’s knowledge concerning the particular issue and its application within either scholarly discussions or modern preservation practice.

In undertaking the thesis the honors candidate should satisfy two objectives.

  • One, the candidate should demonstrate competence in understanding and applying the literature and current thinking of American historic preservation related to the thesis topic.
  • Two, the candidate should demonstrate competence in implementing the standards and methods of scholarship, that is, those of establishing a research design, determining and evaluating relevant sources, conducting a focused analysis, and using proper formats for production and citation (see Standard Sections of Scholarly Works ).


The agreement between the honors candidate and the faculty advisor is course-like and contractual in nature, and includes scheduled deadlines and required submissions.

1. Each student defines a thesis topic in consultation with a faculty member who he/she selects as their advisor. Once the applicant and advisor have agreed on a suitable project, the applicant will present the thesis topic and proposal to the faculty for comment, necessary revisions, and approval. Application is normally made in the spring semester of the junior year, that is, at the end of the semester prior to initiating the honors thesis process.

2. By October 1st of the fall semester, the candidate must have a thesis proposal approved by the entire faculty. Any change in the topic will require approval from the faculty. This proposal includes a succinct statement of the research hypothesis; a brief description of the research design and its intended sources; a statement of anticipated analytical results; and, a preliminary bibliography of relevant primary and secondary sources.

A hypothesis is a working idea or explanation about the nature and system of a particular phenomenon that often takes the form of an if-then statement. Thus, if certain assumptions and conditions are accepted as true within a particular context, then we can predict certain outcomes, behaviors, or results as activities occur within that context. For instance, given preservationists beliefs about the value of protecting and interpreting historic resources, we can predict rather accurately in what ways they ll react and what values they ll project when these resources are threatened by development.

3. The faculty advisor and student candidate will agree to a schedule of regular meetings, such as every two weeks. Failure to attend such meetings may be a cause for terminating the honors thesis process.

4. The candidate will agree to a schedule for submitting drafts of logical sections of the thesis to the faculty advisor for commentary and revisions. The candidate must submit two or more draft sections of the thesis by the end of the first semester. During the first semester candidates are encouraged to submit their sections that review relevant literature, discuss the research design, and/or describe the research context or case studies.

Candidates who do not submit these sections or whose draft submissions do not meet with the approval of the faculty advisor and/or the entire faculty, may be asked to terminate the honors thesis process.

5. Candidates must submit a final draft of the thesis by the end of the first full week of April. The candidate must provide each faculty member with a copy of the thesis, and in return, the faculty agree to a full reading and review of the thesis.

6. The faculty will announce a date and time for the thesis defense during the mid-to-late April period. If more than one thesis is presented for defense in a single semester, then the faculty will announce a detailed schedule that will include time periods for individual candidate’s presentation, discussion, and review.


a. The Department chair describes the honors thesis defense proceedings and introduces the candidate.

b. The candidate’s faculty advisor describes the thesis and may identify pertinent points regarding the thesis contributions or results.

c. The candidate has 5-15 minutes to present the thesis and describe its major aspects and results.

d. In a question and answer format, each faculty member will comment upon the thesis in the spirit of collegial discussion and constructive criticism. This commentary is aimed at improving the thesis quality.

e. The candidate will be requested to leave the room while the faculty decides its evaluation of the thesis. If successfully defended, the thesis will be approved for honors, although the faculty may request minor or major revisions as a pre-condition for final approval.


Candidates will submit a hard copy and a disk version of the revised thesis. This submission will be printed on one hundred percent rag paper and bound at the Department’s expense, and then will be placed within the holdings of Simpson Library. The revised thesis will include both changes of the most necessary nature, such as corrections involving spelling and typographic errors, and then changes considered by the faculty as essential for the purposes of clarity and veracity. The due date for the revised version will be set by the Department chair immediately after the defense proceedings.


The following sections are common to theses, dissertations, and published texts, and reference manuals provide specifications for common formats. These sections are not intended as strict guidelines, since some sections could be combined effectively.

1. Title page (standard format, with lines for faculty signatures).
2. Abstract (optional).
3. Acknowledgments.
4. Table of contents.
5. Introduction: concisely cover thesis topic (hypothesis clearly stated); sources considered; analytical approach and methods (research design); major results and contributions (place within historic preservation). Include brief description of sections (chapters ) contents at end.
6. Topical review: relevant literature, topic’s historiography.
7. Research design and methods (analytical approach).
8. Contextual statement: data base presentation, nature of case study.
9. Analysis and results (interpretation).
10. Conclusions:contributions (to topic, associated methods, historic preservation), recommendations for application and future research.
11. Endnotes (if not footnoted).
12. Bibliography.