Departmental Honors

If you are a good student majoring in anthropology, archaeology, or biological anthropology who would like to undertake an independent research project, you may be eligible for the degree of Bachelor of Arts (or Bachelor of Science) with special honors.  For details, see below.

To see what theses have already received honors, click here.

Preliminary Requirements

  • At least 50% of your coursework must be completed at GW.
  • You must have a grade of A or B in at least 50% of all coursework at GW.
  • You must have a Grade Point Average of 3.5 or better in courses required for the major program. This includes required courses in other departments, such as biology courses necessary for the Biological Anthropology major and language courses necessary for the Anthropology and Archaeology majors.

If you meet these conditions, you may begin work on your honors thesis research.

Becoming a Candidate for Honors and Planning Your Work

You must submit a request to be a candidate for special honors and a brief outline of an approved research project not later than the beginning of your senior year. For example, if you plan to graduate in May, your research director must have this in hand not later than the end of the third week of the fall semester. If you plan to graduate in January, we need the request before the start of the fall semester. The request must include:

  • The title of your project
  • A brief plan of what research you will do
  • The name of the faculty member supervising your research (the "director")
  • Any special resources you will need
  • Your director's signature indicating his or her agreement on the scope and nature of the research. Directors may have full-time, part-time, or research appointments in Anthropology. They may also be based off campus; however, all research projects with off-campus personnel must also have an on-campus director, or the undergraduate advisor, to ensure that deadlines are met and the research scope is appropriate.

Besides the thesis director, a second person must evaluate the thesis. This person, called the "reader," need not be named on the form when you begin your research. There is more on readers below.

To submit your request, use the Undergraduate Research Proposal Form.

Nature of a Senior Honors Thesis

The department expects a senior honors thesis to be a significant research contribution on a topic of your choice. It can be based on lab work, fieldwork, or library, museum, or archival research. We expect you to

  • define an interesting problem, using appropriate references from the literature to show what other scholars have done to address this problem;
  • set out hypotheses if appropriate,
  • discuss the research necessary to test the hypotheses or make significant progress toward investigating the problem,
  • carry out the research, and
  • write up your results, showing how they contribute to solving or understanding your research questions.

Click here for a list of successful honors theses.

Senior honors papers often represent more than one semester of research, so they may range in length from about 30 to over 75 pages of text, data, and illustrations. For information on formatting, see below under Final Steps.

Thesis Organization

It is helpful to break the paper down into sections or chapters. A typical organization is:

  1. Abstract. Abstracts are an essential part of professional writing in anthropology. Although an honors thesis is not the same as a journal article or monograph, like them it should include a concise and informative abstract. Remember that there will be a link to your abstract on the Anthropology Department website, so this one paragraph will be what summarizes your work for interested readers throughout the world. It should be a factual summary of the contents and conclusions of the paper, refer to new information that is being presented, and indicate its relevance. It should not be an introduction to the paper or an outline of it with each section being reduced into a sentence. Avoid the passive voice. Abstracts of honors papers typically run from 75-150 words.
  2. Table of contents, if appropriate (optional)
  3. Introduction to the problem, statement of hypotheses if appropriate
  4. Prior research on and setting of the problem (why did you pick this aspect to investigate?)
  5. Methods used to research the problem
  6. Summary of the data collected
  7. Results, or analysis of the data
  8. Conclusions
  9. References cited (should be substantial in most cases). The number of references varies greatly with the nature of the research, but averages around 30-35.
  10. Appendices — could be photos, data, and tables too long for the text, etc. (optional)

Each section should begin with an introductory paragraph and end with a summary paragraph tying the section to the whole.

This sample format need not be followed slavishly. But, in every case, by the beginning of your senior year you should obtain your advisor's permission to embark on your project, and you should submit the research proposal form to the undergraduate advisor. Students typically register for 3 to 6 hours of Anth 3995 (Undergraduate Research) to reserve time for the Senior Honors Project.

The Reader

Besides the research director, every thesis is submitted to a second person who will serve as reader. With your director's assistance, you should select this reader before doing a majority of the work on the thesis. Readers may or may not be GW faculty members but will have expertise in the topic. Both the director and reader will make comments on the draft, and both must approve the thesis before the Department can recommend to the dean's office that the student receive special honors. The reader, therefore, must be allowed enough time to thoroughly review the thesis.


The final version of a thesis, ready for binding, may be submitted to the department at any time before May 15 for spring graduation, January 15 for winter graduation. Your home college has to review your final semester's grades before agreeing that you meet the requirements for honors, and the notation on your permanent record is not made until after graduation. However, if your research director wishes to nominate your thesis for a Jane B. Hart Award, he or she must receive a substantially complete version by May 1 (or the following Monday if May 1 is on a weekend). This is true whether you are graduating in January or May, since the awards committee considers theses from the entire year.

Final Steps in the Process

Final acceptance of the thesis is recorded on the Undergraduate Honors Thesis Approval Form, available online or from the Anthropology office. Two paper copies of the final work should be submitted to the department, one for your research director and one for the department. If your work contains photos, include prints in both copies. The department binds its copy and keeps it in our library, and will bind additional copies for the author at cost.

Thesis formatting details

1. The thesis text should be in 12-point serif type (e.g., Times Roman, Century Schoolbook, Cambria, Georgia); do not use sans-serif type (e.g., Arial, Calibri, Verdana). Picture captions, map legends, etc., may be in other faces and sizes. All text must be double-spaced, but long quotations, picture captions, footnotes and endnotes, bibliographic entries, and lists in appendices may be more tightly spaced.

2. Print the document single-sided, using 1.25-inch margins on the left to allow for binding.  The right margins may be 1.25 or 1.0 inch (for master's theses, both need to be 1.25).  The top and bottom margins should be one inch.

3. Title page. Title pages for GW theses, whether graduate or undergraduate, have a specific format, and you should refer to our sample title page for guidance. Notice (1) this page is not numbered; (2) it is not in boldface or oversize type; (3) it bears the student's official date of graduation, not the date the thesis was submitted; (4) it contains the full name and official academic title of the thesis director(s), but not of the reader.

4. Preliminary pages after the title page (table of contents, list of illustrations, etc.) are numbered in lowercase Roman numerals (e.g., ii, iii, etc.) at the center of the text at the bottom of the page, resting on the bottom margin. The title page is counted as the first page, but does not carry a number. The copyright page, if used, is also not numbered. The first page of front matter carrying a number is numbered "ii."

5. All other pages are numbered sequentially using arabic numbers at the bottom of the page.

Thesis binding

All our honors theses are given library bindings, with undergraduate theses in light blue with white lettering on the spine. If you visit the department's seminar room, you can see copies on the shelves. Students may also obtain additional copies for themselves, their family, advisors, etc., at cost (roughly $16 per thesis), but need not limit themselves to light blue with white ink.  There are 15 colors of buckram available from our bindery and three colors of ink (white, black, gold). Bound theses may not be available for several weeks after graduation; if you need yours sent to you, we will ask that you reimburse us for Priority Mail shipping.

Hart Award for Outstanding Thesis

Every year, the Anthropology faculty select some (usually two or three) particularly outstanding senior honors theses for a Jane B. Hart Outstanding Undergraduate ThesisAward. To be considered, theses must be nominated by the faculty advisor, with a copy submitted to the Hart Committee by early May (exact dates vary year to year). Nominated theses are reviewed by the Hart Committee, which selects the winners. For details, visit the Hart Awards page.

Research Grants

Students are encouraged to think about their research project before the beginning of their senior year. The department has an endowment, the Lewis N. Cotlow Fund, to support student fieldwork. Undergraduates who plan special honors projects are encouraged to apply. If you plan to submit a proposal, consult the Cotlow description and application sheets for further information, and speak to a member of the faculty. Proposals are due the first Friday in March. Funding from the Rogers Excavation Scholarship and the William Warren Endowment is available for students investigating problems in archaeology and paleontology. Department faculty hold grant-writing workshops at least once a year to help students prepare proposals.