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Undergraduate Program

Honors Program & Lasch Fellowship

Honors Program

The department offers history majors the opportunity to conduct an extensive research project of their own choosing through the Honors Program. Students may use the program as a capstone, to further explore a topic covered in a previous seminar or as a first step towards graduate school. Students who have completed the program take great pride in this culminating experience of their undergraduate career. This is a challenging process and is not meant for all history majors. The program is explicitly designed for students interested in researching and writing original theses (typically, 35-45 pages), which they will revise over the course of the fall and spring of their senior year. It also provides students the opportunity of working closely with a faculty advisor who will help navigate them through the research process.

The proposal process for Honors takes place during the spring semester of junior year. The Undergraduate Studies Committee will evaluate proposals on the basis of scholarly merit, viability and the student’s ability to express ideas clearly. Please note that not all proposals will be accepted. Students whose projects have been approved are encouraged to seek research funds in order to advance their research over the summer between junior and senior year. An informational meeting will take place in late January to further explain the program.

Please see the following attachments for the Honors program and its requirements:

Class of 2022 Overview
Faculty Agreement Form for Class of 2022

Class of 2023 Overview

Honors program sample application

For further information please email the director of undergraduate studies at pablo.sierra@rochester.edu.


Class of 2021 Honors Students and Papers

Edward Hock
“Shadows and Delusions: The ‘Indian Burial Ground’ Superstition”

Abstract: A hallmark of horror cinema, campfire ghost stories, and bad omens in general, the “Indian burial ground” superstition emerged in something resembling its modern form during the early 1970s and has been a staple of American suburban folklore ever since. The central idea of the myth is malleable but distinctive: the presence of an “Indian burial ground” beneath white picket fence America holds the power to bring bad luck, produce supernatural phenomena, and/or cause unsuspecting non-Native people to become violent or murderous toward one another. The superstition is fundamentally married to the world of seventies and eighties horror, but it has proven resilient in the decades since, and it engages with powerful questions about place, indigeneity, colonialism, and violence that have been present in the American zeitgeist for centuries. My history honors thesis, Shadows and Delusions: The “Indian Burial Ground” Superstition, evaluates portrayals of indigenous grave sites in film, fiction, and academic literature throughout American history to understand the contemporary burial ground superstition, the issues it raises, and what it is to live on stolen land.

Kaylee Kisselburgh
“The Networks that United a Nation: British Innovation, British Designs, and the Making of Indian Identity, 1847-1947”

Abstract: Popular opinion commonly credits leaders like Jawaharlal Nehru, Mahatma Gandhi, and Muhammad Ali Jinnah with the success of the Indian Nationalist Movement in 1947. However, these men would never have been able to achieve their goals without the construction of British technologies. During the 19th century, Governor-General, Lord Dalhousie, implemented a number of initiatives to improve India’s infrastructure including the creation of India’s railway and telegraph systems. These tools were meant to exert more control over the subcontinent by expanding their economic and military reach. However, the British did not account for how increasing mobility and communication would allow people from all over India to meet and share their ideas. This proved essential for the Indian Independence Movement because it led to the creation of a shared community. Before the British, the Indian subcontinent had never been culturally connected. British colonization and “improvements” gave the people of India a common enemy and tools to fight their oppression. Through the use of newspapers and early nationalist writings, this paper will strive to answer the question: how did the telegraph and railway ultimately unite the Indian people, create a shared Indian identity, and lead to the success of the Indian nationalist movement?

Eleanor Eriko Tsuchiya Lenoe
“The Aum Affair: Censorship, Scholarship, and the Mass Media in Japanese Reactions to Terrorism”

Abstract: Despite the fact that Aum Shinrikyō’s 1995 sarin gas attack occurred in Tokyo, Japan, there are significantly fewer publications on the incident in Japanese than in English. Further, Japanese scholars and mass media treat the Aum Affair much differently than do their English-language counterparts: instead of investigating cultural or societal factors that caused Aum Shinrikyō’s rise and turn to violence, Japanese authors tend to focus on internal explanations, such as Aum’s use of brainwashing techniques, leaving any criticism of the Japanese government’s slow response to Aum out. Japanese scholars’ and journalists’ relative silence regarding the root causes of the Aum Affair points to a greater issue. Through an in-depth analysis of developments in Japanese scholarship and mass media reactions to Aum Shinrikyō, I suggest that the government’s relationship with the Japanese press resulted in news coverage that favorably portrayed the government’s response to the affair while condemning religious studies scholars for failing to warn the public about Aum’s dangers. This resulted in widespread self-censorship within the study of religion and a climate where both mainstream reporters and scholars shied away from deeper discussions about the societal problems that resulted in Aum Shinrikyō’s rise in the first place. These issues include a widespread mental health crisis, the sensationalism of news, and a culture of overwork. The lack of discussion on these issues also meant that journalists and scholars overlooked the ominous signs that trouble may be ahead, including teenage fangirls of Aum Shinrikyō and the rise of Aum’s splinter groups.

Alyssa Nelson
“Atonement and Reconciliation: Germany’s Path in Moving Forward with its Past”

Abstract: As Germany reunified in 1990, a new, national identity was established in reaction to their chaotic twentieth century past. Part of this identity was national memorial projects for citizens and tourists to learn about this appalling past. In my research, I focus on two of these national projects in the Memorial of the Murdered Jews of Europe and the Berlin Wall Bernauer Straβe Memorial. Both memorials are in Berlin and continue to be important monuments for the German people. I argue that Germany needed to acknowledge its horrific Nazi past to become a responsible, respected country. The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe stands as the central Holocaust memorial, and it serves as an impactful example of striving to atone. In another German remembrance theme, reconciliation is at the forefront of the Berlin Wall Bernauer Straße Memorial. The creators of this memorial fought for reconciliation by always striving for an agreement in design and collective identity. Memorialization was at the forefront of these conversations, and the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe and the Berlin Wall Bernauer Straße Memorial are powerful symbols of a nation atoning for its horrifying past while reconciling its future. My methods to this research project included studying abroad in Berlin during the summer of 2019, researching newspaper articles reacting to the memorials, reading several historical books and journals about the Holocaust and the Divided Berlin Era, and examining photographs and videos of the memorials.

Alma Petras
“The Economic and Social Impact of HIV/AIDS on Female Sex Workers in Kenya”

Abstract: My history honors thesis addresses the question of how HIV/AIDS affected the lives of female sex workers in Kenya. To understand this impact, it is necessary to first understand the history of Kenyan women within the economy, the history of female sex workers as a marginalized and criminalized community, and, finally, the entire HIV/AIDS epidemic in Africa. A discussion of these three topics reveals that, by 1984, when HIV/AIDS was officially announced as an epidemic in Kenya, female sex workers were perfectly poised to take-on the brunt of HIV/AIDS discrimination, blame, and economic loss. However, the virus also gave rise to a new generation of sex worker advocates whose human rights organizations have become internationally recognized. My thesis relies on both primary (such as interviews, HIV/AIDS posters, and Kenyan laws) and secondary sources authored by specialists in African history and sociology. Ultimately, with these sources, I hope to provide historical agency to a community that is underappreciated for the phenomenal accomplishments it has made despite a history of abuse and discrimination. 

Samantha Torrellas
“Elizabeth Bentley and Judith Coplon: The Effects of Cold War Gender Roles on the Perception of Women Spies”

Abstract: The Cold War created an atmosphere of fear and distrust amongst United States citizens. However, despite this overwhelming fear, women spies in the United States were rarely legally prosecuted. This research project will focus on women spies during the Cold War considering the time's gender expectations. There are a plethora of women spies on both sides of the conflict during the Cold War that receive less attention than their male counterparts. Notable female spies that will receive deserved focus include Elizabeth Bentley, an American spy who defected from the Communist Party to work with the FBI. Her childhood under rigid education to be a chaste and virtuous woman pushed her towards espionage. Judith Coplon was a female spy that was intercepted during her time working for the US Department of Justice. Despite the overwhelming evidence against her, she overturned a conviction due to misuse of wiretaps. The media was enthralled by her trial and her story due to her gender. Both women created a media frenzy and helped define the conversation around women spies. A large amount of literature exists concerning each woman, however, they have yet to be considered in the larger context of gender expectations in the Cold War. Focusing on the American landscape, my thesis will consider the narrative surrounding women’s actions and their trials through the Cold War societal lens. The research I am conducting is looking at the language in trial transcripts, periodicals, and FBI documents, connecting this to the larger Cold War gender conversation. My overall sources consist mainly of biographies for each woman and discussions of women’s expectations during the period.


Lasch Fellowship

Lasch Fellows are invited to complete HIST 500: Problems in Historical Analysis, a course designed to introduce graduate students to the history of the historical profession, styles of writing, historical methods, and the functions of history as criticism and as social memory.

This course can be a capstone to your history major and, if you are considering graduate school, will introduce you to professional historical study. Those who successfully complete HIST 500 will be recognized at graduation as Christopher Lasch Fellows in History—named for a distinguished historian and social critic who worked in our department from 1970-1994.


Requirements for Distinction in History

To graduate with distinction in history, students must have a GPA of 3.7 in the major. To receive highest distinction in history, students must have a GPA of 3.8 in the major.