Honours in the Department of History

Honours Coordinator
  • Dr John Gagné (2014-15)

    9036 5248
  • NB: Students wishing to enrol in the History Honours programme for 2015 should direct their inquiries to Dr John Gagné.

The coordinator approves students’ entry into the program, maintains student records, liaises with supervisors and the staff teaching seminars, and chairs the committee that oversees the marking of theses. Students having any difficulties with the program at any time should see the coordinator.

The honours year gives students a taste of history as a vocation. In seminar work, students grapple with problems in the theory and practice of history; the thesis gives them the experience of formulating a significant historical problem and writing a substantial piece of original research.

Students who take honours at the University of Sydney study in one of Australia’s leading history departments. They work closely with dedicated teachers and active researchers whose interests span a wide variety of fields and methodological approaches.

The department is proud of its honours program, graduates of which have gone on to a rich variety of rewarding careers. For some people, the honours year is a critical step on the path to further study; some of your teachers will be University of Sydney honours graduates. For others, the fourth year is the culmination of their formal education, an experience that helps them refine their skills in research, analysis and writing; extend their intellectual range; and develop the body of personal and professional skills needed to see a major project though to completion.

What Prerequisites Do I Need?

Please note: The Department of History only accepts applications for the Honours program from students intending to begin studying Honours in the first semester of the academic year. Mid-year entry to the program is not permitted.

To be eligible to undertake Fourth Year Honours you must have completed 48 senior credit points of History (i.e. 8 senior units of study), including HSTY2691, and have an average grade of credit or above in those 8 units of study. Up to 18 credit points (i.e. 3 units) may be cross-listed units.

Important note: Meeting the minimum entry requirements does not guarantee you entry into the Honours programme. Honours places can only be granted where there is supervisory capacity.

From 2015 onwards, applicants will need an average of 70 or above.

If you do not have all the prerequisites but are close, please contact the honours coordinator to discuss your options.

How Do I Apply?

All students wishing to apply for Honours must to apply via the Courses online website. Instructions can be found here.

If you are interested in applying, you should discuss your application with the departmental Honours coordinator who must approve your program before you submit your application.

In the first semester of enrolment, students simply enrol in two 'shell' units, HSTY4011 and HSTY4012 (History Honours A and History Honours B). These codes bear no relation to the actual seminars taken. The Faculty only needs to know that you are doing two 12-credit point units of history honours, which seminars you take is between you and the History Department. (This is why the seminars have no unit codes.) In the second semester, you enrol in another two 'shell' units, HSTY4013 and HSTY4014 (History Honours C and History Honours D), which represent the thesis.

Registration with the Department of History

Students must also apply directly to the Department of History. Each student’s program of seminars and thesis topic must be approved by the honours coordinator. The completed registration form should be emailed as an attachment to the honours coordinator (by Thursday 31 October 2013). It is possible to change your seminar choices before March next year (demand on seminars permitting). Applications for seminar places and supervision made after this date will be processed in the order in which they are received. The later you apply the more difficult it will be for us to give you your preferred choice of seminar and supervisor.
Download Registration Form

The Fourth Year Honours Program for 2014

The fourth-year honours program in history consists of two seminars, which students take in the first semester, and a thesis of 15000-20,000 words, which in 2014 is due early in October (date to be confirmed).

Honours is a single, unified program. While you will receive marks for all pieces of assessment, your academic transcript will record only your final, overall Honours mark. The thesis is worth 60% of the final mark, and each seminar is worth 20%.

Seminars for Honours Students in History

There are two broad categories of seminar.

Field Seminars are grounded in a particular context - be it geography, place or time. They are designed to explore current or emerging debates or research foci in the areas in question.

Approach Seminars cross a diverse array of contexts in order to emphasis a particular approach to history writing and to understand the way in which this approach has developed in the scholarly literature.

Both kinds of seminar provide important and complementary skills that will equip you to deal with problems in the theory and practice of history. We recommend (but do not require) that you pick one seminar from each category.

Honours is designed as an intensive teaching experience. To facilitate this, seminar numbers are capped at a maximum of 15 students. When you complete your History Department application form, be sure to list at least one alternate seminar in case your first choices are over-subscribed. You may list more alternates if you wish.

Field seminars

Australian History in Transnational Perspective
Assoc Prof Kirsten McKenzie
Wednesday, 9-11 – Teachers College Tutorial Room 440
Australian history and Australian historians have punched above their weight in the so-called 'transnational turn' of recent decades. How have these developments influenced the field and what advantages and pitfalls do they offer us as practitioners? This seminar pursues these questions across a series of themes in nineteenth and twentieth-century Australian history. Topics covered include humanitarian activism and settler-indigenous relations, social status and political activism, life writing and transnational biography, race and national boundaries, and globalisation and popular culture.

Early Modern Europe
Dr John Gagné
Wednesday, 2-4 - Brennan–MacCallum 822 (8th-Floor Common Room)
"Early modernity" is perhaps the historical period least recognized by name outside of academic circles. When was early modernity? What does the name mean? If we take it to be roughly the three centuries between 1400 and 1700, then it denotes the period in which the constituent elements of Western modernity were formulated, debated, and consolidated. How can historians retrace the steps of that process? What united the Italian renaissance, the religious reformations, and the articulation of a new science? This seminar will investigate fundamental historical and historiographical themes in this age of creativity, faith, and skepticism. Weekly topics include: periodization; antiquarianism and humanism; belief and its reformers and critics; culture and art; bodies and anatomies; science, gender and environment; social history and narratives; media and publics.

Inventing Britishness
Dr Cindy McCreery
Monday, 2-4 – Quadrangle Latin 2 S225
For a concept which didn’t really exist before the eighteenth century and which today has lost much of its resonance, 'Britishness' exerted a remarkably powerful hold over people's imagination in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Recent scholarship has demonstrated its wide geographical reach – and its elasticity. African American ex-slaves, German princelings, Irish Protestants and Maori tribes all saw themselves (in different ways) as 'British', while late nineteenth-century residents of Australasia, Canada and Southern Africa believed themselves to be living in 'Greater Britain'. For many others, including British-educated Indian elites, however, Britishness was synonymous with duplicity and oppression. This seminar explores what it meant to be British (or not British) in the two centuries from the American War of Independence to the 1997 return of Hong Kong to China. It considers how rulers, writers, artists and ordinary people in and beyond Britain developed and also challenged definitions of who – and what – counted as British. The seminar integrates study of a wide range of primary sources (including political treatises, newspapers, loyal addresses, paintings and cartoons) with a rich and diverse historiography.

Victorian Culture
Dr Frances Clarke
Monday, 4-6 - Brennan–MacCallum 822 (8th-Floor Common Room)
The Victorians were obsessed with measuring, quantifying, and classifying the world around them. In their search for natural laws and fixed truths, they invented new ways of understanding the boundary between male and female, self and other, healthy and ill, even life and death. At the same time, they evinced a fascination with those aspects of humankind that refused categorization, gawking at freakshows, collecting curiosities, and inventing hybrid creatures. This course places these twin urges side-by-side, analyzing a range of now redundant cultural practices–from phrenology and the water-cure movement to freakshows and spirit photography–in order to distinguish whether there was such a thing as a Victorian worldview.

Approach seminars

The Problem of the Text
Dr Julie Smith
Tuesday 9-11 - Brennan–MacCallum 822 (8th-Floor Common Room)
It is axiomatic that historians of all periods and perspectives must engage with texts. What is more, each text and period presents its own particular challenges in the development of appropriate and proficient reading skills. Seminars will initially focus on readings that explore textual encounters from a variety of theoretical and cultural perspectives (including intellectual, gender, religious, colonial, social histories). Texts are not simply written, and may not necessarily be found in archives or libraries – hence approaches will incorporate the study of a variety of non-written texts (such as bodies and material culture). The skills developed in this seminar are fundamental to historical practice, and allow for a variety of interests and fields of study, and include pragmatic skills (that is, reading difficult hands and unfamiliar or damaged materials). Students choose one of these approaches when developing their own seminar research projects.

Beyond Orientalism
Prof Helen Dunstan
Tuesday 10-12 – Mills Tutorial Room 205
Edward Said sounded a timely warning to Western scholars to reflect critically on the assumptions and geopolitical realities underpinning their attempts to interpret other cultures. Undeterred, many Western historians persist in efforts to understand non-Western pasts–with what results? This seminar explores a diverse range of approaches to acquiring an in-depth understanding of the dynamics of selected non-Western societies, and of changes over time within their worlds. Seminar discussion will focus on four exemplary studies–on China, Japan, Central America and Africa–broadening out from a single-approach oral history of one ethnic group to a magisterial medley of approaches to Asian imperial history all within a single, prize-winning book. Individual project work will offer the opportunity either to become familiar with the historiography of an approved topic in the history of one non-Western country (or culture), or to experiment with relevant primary sources from a non-Western context.

Intellectual History
Assoc Prof Andrew Fitzmaurice
Monday 10-12 – Quadrangle Latin 2 S225
We cannot do anything without first conceiving of it and this means we have an idea of what we do. Ideas shape the scope of human action. They define what is legitimate and is not. They motivate and they explain. But ideas do not live an independent life, separate from human experience. They are deeply embedded in the social world. They shape that world and are shaped by it. This seminar will examine the history of ideas paying close attention to the contexts through which they are shaped. It will explore ways in which ideas can be used to understand history and in this sense it will introduce the history of ideas as an historical methodology. But the seminar will also pursue these aims through looking at the history of particular ideas, for example ideas of freedom and rights, and in this way it will range broadly through historical time, examining ideas in Classical, Medieval, Renaissance and Modern contexts.

The Middle Ground
Dr Blanca Tovias
Tuesday 2-4 - Brennan–MacCallum 822 (8th-Floor Common Room)
In the two decades since Richard White’s The Middle Ground made its appearance, the explanatory power of this concept has been appropriated in myriad circumstances. White grounded his metaphor of the colonial encounter in a substantial study of a specific place and time. Other historians have used this concept in ways not envisaged by its creator. This seminar employs the middle ground as a point of departure for an exploration of processes of cultural transformation that transcend it with the onset of colonial domination. It will focus on texts that complicate familiar approaches, asking for example, who conquers whom? How does colonial society incorporate (or not) its other? What is the difference between acculturation and transculturation? The seminar will incorporate anthropological approaches in its exploration of ideas of race and ethnicity, intercultural communication, religious conversion, cultural hybridity, and disease, violence and genocide.

The Thesis

  • Examples of Honours theses
    This link takes you to the Sydney eScholarship Repository, where electronic copies of History honours theses will be available, beginning with those completed in 2006

Ethics Clearance

The Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences administers an Honours Ethics Committee that processes all Disciplinary Honours-level ethics applications on behalf of the University Ethics Office.

What type of research needs ethics approval?
As a general principle, any research involving human subjects requires ethics approval, including projects involving the following kinds of methodologies (note: the list is not exhaustive): questionnaires; surveys or interviews (including oral history); telephone interviewing; recording by audio- or video-tape; observations of behaviour (including ethnographic fieldwork).

Please note that a key part of the approval process involves ensuring that the University complies with its duty of care to students. Safety protocols must be prepared for all students conducting any research off-campus, whether in Australia or overseas.

For further information and application procedures please see the Faculty's Ethics requirements.

Thesis Supervision

There is a single supervisor for a fourth-year student in the preparation of his or her Honours thesis, although students are encouraged to draw on the experience and expertise of other members of the department as appropriate.

In exceptional circumstances, however, the Chair or the Honours Coordinator may authorize co-supervision. These cases would include, in particular, circumstances in which all of the specialists in a particular area of study are unavailable for part of the year. In such a situation, two members of staff would supervise a thesis, one in each semester. This arrangement must be agreeable to the student and the department. All students seeking co-supervision must complete a co-supervision application form.

Academic Staff Research Fields and Availability

Not available in 2014 Semester 1: James Curran, Marco Duranti, Nicholas Eckstein, Judith Keene, Michael McDonnell

Not available in 2014 Semester 2: Cindy McCreery, Julie Smith

  • Professor Robert Aldrich
    Modern European and colonial history, especially France; gay history
  • Professor Warwick H. Anderson
    History of science; medicine; racial thought; Pacific world
  • Professor Alison Bashford
    History of medicine; history and gender; late modern European; British history
  • Dr David Brophy
    History of Qing and Republican China, post-Mongol Eurasia; colonialism and national movements; Islam
  • Professor Barbara Caine
    Nineteenth and twentieth-century cultural history, emphases on Europe and Australia; women's history; biography and history; life-story writing
  • Dr Kit Candlin
    European, particularly British Colonial History; The Atlantic ‘World’ 1600-1850; Imperialism, especially transcolonial and transcultural history and the history of frontiers; British and European History; The history of the Colonial Americas; Slavery.
  • Dr Emma Christopher
    Atlantic history; transatlantic slave trade; convict transportation
  • Dr Frances Clarke
    Nineteenth century United States history; women's and gender history; memorialization of warfare
  • Associate Professor Ivan Crozier
    History of psychiatry; History of the body; History of sexuality
  • Associate Professor James Curran
    Australian political, cultural, intellectual and diplomatic history
  • Dr Michael Davis
    Indigenous/European histories and encounters; relationships between Indigenous and other knowledge systems; Indigenous knowledge; ecology and place; ethical research and protocols for Indigenous studies.
  • Professor Helen Dunstan
    Premodern Chinese history, economic thought and economic policy
  • Dr Marco Duranti
    History of Modern Europe, particularly Western Europe in the twentieth century; Transnational history; History of human rights; humanitarianism; development and genocide; History and memory
  • Dr Nicholas Eckstein
    Early Modern European history, late medieval and renaissance Italy, popular religion, urban history
  • Associate Professor Andrew Fitzmaurice
    Early Modern European history, intellectual history, colonization and expansion
  • Dr John Gagné
    Early modern Europe, print news, collecting, and war, local-global connections in premodernity, gender, consumerism, consumption, and food
  • Professor Stephen Garton
    Australian history, history of psychiatry and mental illness, eugenics, crime and punishment
  • Associate Professor Chris Hilliard
    Modern British cultural and intellectual history, New Zealand history
  • Peter Hobbins
    Animals as historical actors; History of Australasian science and medicine; Intersections between quarantine and defence; Integration of archaeology and history; Digital humanities and cliodynamics.
  • Dr Julia Horne
    Nineteenth and twentieth century history with emphases on Australia, history of university life, students, travel and landscape
  • Dr Miranda Johnson
    Comparative indigenous history; settler colonial history; Australian and New Zealand history; postcolonial theory and race; legal history
  • Associate Professor Judith Keene
    Twentieth century European History, film and history
  • Dr Claire Lowrie
    Australian history, Southeast Asian history, comparative and transnational history, British colonialism in the tropics and the history of domestic service
  • Professor Iain McCalman
    Eighteenth-century and early-nineteenth British and European history; Popular culture and low life; uses of media for history
  • Dr Cindy McCreery
    Modern European History, British and Irish History, maritime history, visual representations
  • Associate Professor Michael McDonnell
    History of the Atlantic World, Colonial and Revolutionary United States history, Native Americans
  • Associate Professor Mark McKenna
    Australian history, particularly political and cultural history and Aboriginal history
  • Associate Professor Kirsten McKenzie
    Australian history, colonialism, gender history, comparative colonial history
  • Associate Professor Dirk Moses
    Modern European history, German history, the Holocaust, comparative genocide
    From 2011-2015 Dirk Moses will be based in the Department of History and Civilization at the European University Institute in Florence
  • Dr Tamson Pietsch
  • Professor Peter Read
    Aboriginal Australia, place, oral history
  • Professor Penny Russell
    Australian history, women's history, gender history, colonialism and biography and autobiography
  • Professor Glenda Sluga
    Modern European History, nationalism and gender history; international history
  • Dr Julie Ann Smith
    Medieval history, religious history and women's history
  • Dr Blanca Tovias de Plaisted
    History and Literature of the First Nations of the Great Plains (United States and Canada); Imperialism and Colonialism throughout The Americas;The History of Exploration and Colonization of the Pacific, 19th Century; The History and Literature of Revitalization Movements in the Americas.
  • Dr Sarah Walsh
    Latin America; Women and Gender; Public Health; History of Science; History of Medicine; History of Religion
  • Professor Shane White
    United States history; African American history; the history of New York City
  • Dr Christine Winter
    German Mixed-Race Diasporas in Southern Hemisphere Mandated Territories: Scientific theories, politics and identity transformation; 19th and 20th Century transnational European and Pacific History; German Diaspora Studies; National Socialism; Colonialism and its legacies; Scientific theories and politics of 'race'.
  • Professor John Y. Wong
    Nineteenth and twentieth century Chinese History, international relations and nationalism; Hong Kong

Marking Scale for Fourth Year Honours

The department and the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences regard the honours year as a single, unified program. Consequently, while honours students receive marks on the assignments they write in their seminars, they receive only one overall grade for honours on their academic transcript. At the first semester, students will receive an ‘R’ mark (indicating satisfactory performance) on their academic record. Their final, overall honours mark will be for the Honours D course code.

The marking scale for honours is as follows:

Above 90%: Eligible for medal
80%-100%: First Class
75%-79%: Second Class, Division One
70%-74%: Second Class, Division Two
65%-69%: Third Class
64% and below: Honours not awarded

As you can see, honours coursework and theses are marked on a different scale from undergraduate work. Eighty percent, the threshold for first-class honours, is equivalent to a High Distinction at undergraduate level. A mark of 79 in fourth-year thus indicates a higher achievement than a 79 in a third-year course.

The following criteria may help to explain the marking scale:

80-100: First Class (I)

Work demonstrating the highest levels of accomplishment and intellectual autonomy that can be expected from an undergraduate student. An overall Honours mark of 90 or higher is a requirement for the award of a University Medal, though Medals are not automatically awarded to students with overall results of 90 or more.

In many fields of the humanities and social sciences, a mark in this range indicates substantial and innovative research; wide and deep reading in the scholarly literature; sophisticated, perceptive, and original interpretations of data, documentary evidence, fieldwork, literary texts, or works of art; and a very high level of independent thought and argument.

In work written in a language other than English, a mark in this range indicates an excellent level of grammatical accuracy, syntactical sophistication, and nuance in use of vocabulary and register.

Work that demonstrates a very high level of proficiency in the methodologies, subject matter, and modes of expression and argumentation appropriate to the field or fields studied. Work in this range shows strong promise for doctoral study.

In many fields of the humanities and social sciences, a mark in this range indicates substantial original research; wide and deep reading in the scholarly literature; a very high level of skill in interpreting data, documentary evidence, fieldwork, literary texts, or works of art; and a high level of independent thought.

In work written in a language other than English, a mark in this range indicates a very high level of grammatical accuracy with only some mistakes, as well as syntactical sophistication, and nuance in use of vocabulary and register.

Work that demonstrates a high level of proficiency in the methodologies, subject matter, and modes of expression and argumentation appropriate to the field or fields studied, and shows potential for doctoral study.

In many fields of the humanities and social sciences, a mark in this range can indicate thorough research; a firm grasp of the relevant scholarly literature; and a high level of skill in interpreting data, documentary evidence, fieldwork, literary texts, or works of art.

In work written in a language other than English, a mark in this range indicates a very high level of grammatical accuracy with few mistakes and only very rare basic errors, with vocabulary and syntax varied and expression highly coherent and well structured.

75-79: Second Class, First Division (II.1)
Work that demonstrates a generally sound knowledge of the methodologies, subject matter, and modes of expression and argumentation appropriate to the field or fields studied.

In many fields of the humanities and social sciences, a mark in this range can indicate solid research; a firm grasp of the relevant scholarly literature; and competent interpretations of data, documentary evidence, fieldwork, literary texts, or works of art. However, work in this range may also show evidence of a higher level of independent thought combined with some significant lapses in research or expression.

In work written in a language other than English, a mark in this range indicates a high standard of grammatical accuracy with few mistakes and only very rare basic errors, with vocabulary and syntax varied and expression highly coherent and well structured.

70-74: Second Class, Second Division (II.2)
Work that demonstrates an adequate but limited performance in the methodologies, subjects, and/or languages studied.

In many fields of the humanities and social sciences, a mark in this range can indicate an adequate general knowledge of the subject from the reading of both primary material and secondary literature, straightforward argumentation, and clear expression. A mark in this range may also reflect a superior performance in one or more of these areas combined with serious lapses in others.

In work written in a language other than English, a mark in this range indicates a good standard of grammatical accuracy, albeit with some mistakes, including occasional basic ones; the work shows a good grasp of complex sentence structures and an appropriately varied vocabulary.

65-69: Third Class (III)
Work only barely above the standard of pass-degree work in the field studied. A mark in this range indicates a basic but limited understanding of the methodologies and subject matter of the field or fields studied, and skills in argument and expression that are only just adequate for Honours-level study and research.

Below 65%
Honours not awarded.

Late Work

Requests for extension of time for late work must be made in writing (email) to the honours coordinator at the earliest possible date and before the relevant submission dates. Extensions will be granted only for serious illness or misadventure. For theses, the bar for an extension is much higher than it is for undergraduate assessments. A thesis is a long-distance event, not a sprint, and an illness that prevents you from pulling all-nighters in the last week is highly unlikely to be grounds for an extension.

Late work should be handed in at the SOPHI office and may not be marked if submitted without an extension. A record will be kept of work which is late without extension and presented to the final history honours meeting, which will take notice of this in its final assessment and ranking of students.


The University of Sydney offers scholarships for Honours. These are awarded on the basis of academic merit and personal attributes such as leadership and creativity.

Students currently enrolled at the University of Sydney or other universities intending to undertake an additional Honours year at the University of Sydney are eligible to apply.

Application forms can be obtained from the Scholarships Unit, Mackie Building K01, University of Sydney NSW 2006.