The History Distinguished Majors Program
March 21, 2014
The purpose of the History Department’s Distinguished Majors Program (DMP) is to provide selected undergraduates with the opportunity to design and carry out a research project of greater depth than is possible within the confines of the department’s standard fourth year research seminars. Participants will engage in intensive readings on historiography, historical theory and selected monographs presented by members of the History Department. The end result and centerpiece of the program, however, is the completion of a DMP thesis, an original and significant work of historical scholarship of between sixty to ninety pages.
The DMP is not for everyone, It is very challenging and demanding in terms of the time, energy, and effort necessary to succeed. Yet it is also a richly rewarding and fulfilling experience. Aside from the satisfaction of completing what will likely be the largest project you have undertaken, there are the more intangible benefits that come with pushing yourself beyond your normal limits, handling stress, working independently and, above all, writing well and thinking historically.
DMP students must fulfill all of the requirements for the history major, including credits, area requirements, electives, and course-level requirements. The DMP provides three of the eleven courses required for the major: HIST 4890 counts as one course, and HIST 4990 counts as two courses. Every DMP student will arrange to have a history faculty adviser who will work with them over the course of the program.
The DMP begins in the fall semester of your third year with HIST 4890 (Distinguished Majors Colloquium). This intensive reading, writing, and discussion course is intended to familiarize students with the conceptual and methodological approaches that historians commonly employ and to develop analytical and writing skills. Class meets for 2.5 hours each week. Reading amounts to about a book a week with regular writing assignments.
In the spring semester of the third year, DMP students take one of the Major Seminars (HIXX 4501/4502) or Major Colloquia (4511/4512). The goal of the Major Seminar/Colloquium, which is required of all majors, is to produce a 20 to 25-page research paper or several shorter historiographical papers. Ideally, DMP students will use the Major Seminar/Colloquium to explore a potential topic for their thesis that is related to the topic of their thesis, although this is certainly not always the case. The major seminar also initiates students in the art of finding and use of primary materials to construct an historical argument.
There are no formal requirements over the summer between the third and fourth years. Nevertheless, it is highly recommended that students use this time to make progress on their thesis. This would be the time for background reading, refining a topic, bibliographical exploration, and even archival research. Whatever you do, it is expected that you will have one or several concrete ideas for a research project by the beginning of fall semester.
The fourth-year program consists of HIST 4990, the year-long Distinguished Majors Seminar, which provides a total of six credits for researching and writing the thesis. In the fall semester, the class meets from four to six times to provide support and assistance in refining your topic and beginning research. By early December you will be required to turn in a formal, eight to ten page prospectus of your project. Participants should expect to devote most of their energy in the spring semester to the completion of the thesis. The class will again meet occasionally, but for the most part you will be working independently. The first draft of the completed thesis will be due in mid-March, with the final revised draft due by mid-April.
Grading and Levels of Distinction
As a rule, theses are evaluated by the student’s advisor, the director of the DMP and the Director of Undergraduate Studies. The grade on the thesis (usually B to A+) becomes the grade for the year-long DMP seminar (HIST 4990). In addition to assigning grades, the director of the DMP along with the director of Undergraduate Studies assigns levels of distinction (e.g., Distinction, High Distinction, Highest Distinction). The levels are determined, above all, by the quality of the thesis but also by performance in all aspects of the program. Applicants should realize that there is the option of denying Distinction if the quality of the thesis is below the department’s standards. In this (fortunately, rare) case, the student will graduate as a regular history major.
Prizes and Awards
DMP students are eligible for certain prizes and awards that are typically given at the department's spring graduation ceremony.
Admission to the DMP is competitive. There are sixteen openings, and we usually receive over thirty applications. The program is a good deal more challenging than the regular major. Excellent analytical skills, the ability to write well, independence, and a commitment to undertake serious research are the qualities that a successful DMP student should possess.
DMP students should also be resourceful, persistent, and motivated. They must be the kind of individuals who will work steadily and methodically toward a long-term goal. They have to be able to learn from the inevitable missteps and find their own way to solutions. They should be prepared to sacrifice some of their other commitments – and even winter or spring break -- to the goal of producing a thesis.
Since the College of Arts and Sciences requires a 3.4 overall GPA for a degree with Distinction, applicants should have at least this. Most admitted students have a GPA of 3.6 or above as well as top grades in their history courses. We also look for meaningful research experience when admitting students.
Applicants need not have a specific research interest when they apply, but they should be individuals who will, over time, develop a passion for a particular historical topic. After all, work on the thesis will consume much of the DMP student’s attention during the fourth year.
Students apply in the spring of their second year. Application forms are available on the department’s web site (history.virginia.edu). The deadline for applying will be stated on the application, and usually falls in late March. You are advised to prepare the personal statement carefully since it provides a sense of your writing, your thinking, and your relation to the work required in the program.
Although they are not encouraged to do so, students in the DMP may, of course, choose to study abroad. The optimal time is spring of the third year. DMP students who choose this option, however, are still required to complete the fourth year seminar/colloquium requirement.
If you have further questions about the program and its requirements, please contact the director of the program,Christian W. McMillen, cwm6w [at] virginia [dot] edu.