Last week, all seniors received an email from the library staff encouraging students to sign up for a senior thesis carrel. A thesis carrel is a small desk on the upper or lower levels of the library which senior thesis writers can reserve for the semester.
This sign-up email made me realize that I was about to embark on an academic project I had been anticipating almost since the start of my time at Middlebury. During this fall semester and Winter Term, I will be writing a History thesis. For some reason, as I read through this email, it struck me how near I am to finishing my majors (History and Political Science), and how much academic work I’ve progressed through at Middlebury. At Middlebury, some majors require a thesis, some majors require it only if a student wants to receive departmental honors, but almost all departments require some form of senior work or capstone project.
There is a typical life cycle to a thesis carrel throughout the year. Invariably, while writing a thesis, students acquire a stack of books and papers that pile on the carrel. Printed out rough drafts with edits marked in pen cover the desk. Post-it notes with encouraging messages from friends appear on the carrel’s upper shelf. Empty coffee mugs dot the rows of carrels.
I took a course designed to prepare History majors for the thesis during the fall of my junior year, when I wrote a 30-page research paper on 1890s Malawi. This junior thesis was a great way to get experience in finding primary sources. It also introduced me to the fantastic staff in our library and the College Archives. The librarians can help you find information on seemingly every topic under the sun. Even History topics that seem very far removed from Vermont and the United States (like Malawi or the Ottoman Empire) are accessible thanks to the help of the library staff.
Getting to claim a carrel for my senior thesis makes it feel like I am graduating from an introductory thesis to the real deal. As a History and Political Science double major, I have been thinking about how I can craft a thesis that has a focus on an international relations or political institutions theme. I returned relatively recently from Turkey, where I spent the spring semester of my junior year abroad in Istanbul. The courses I took at a university there have influenced my thinking on a thesis topic, and as I write this I hope to research a topic that has to do with the 19th-century Ottoman Empire.
It is an extraordinary thing to be an undergraduate and have the opportunity to work closely with a professor to do original research on a topic. I am grateful for my adviser’s assistance and will no doubt rely on his expertise in historical inquiry as I begin the marathon that is a senior thesis.
A typical History thesis is between 60-70 pages, and the scale of the project can seem daunting. But when I think ahead to the books and research, I am not so much nervous as I am excited. I can’t wait to get started.