Honours in the Department of History
- Dr Nicholas Eckstein
+61 2 9351 2155
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.
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 are encouraged to discuss your application with the departmental Honours coordinator before submitting 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 Wednesday 31 October 2012). 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 in history consists of two seminars, which students take in the first semester, and a thesis of 15000-20,000 words, which in 2013 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%.
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.
Dr Claire Lowrie
This seminar seeks to provide a broad grounding in Australian historiography, ranging across the radical nationalist tradition, identity politics, the cultural turn, the transnational moment, the new political history and northern revisionist history as well as various forms of popular history. At the same time it attempts a social and cultural history of historical effort in Australia, questions the assumptions of national history and considers the institutional structures that promote it. Forms of assessment will be negotiated in the first meeting of the seminar within the parameters of 6000-8000 words of written work and seminar participation.
Dr Nick Eckstein
No-one disagrees that in the two centuries or so between 1350 and 1550, European society, politics and culture changed in extraordinary ways. This period - we call it the Renaissance - transformed European life in following centuries, and it exerts a profound influence on our twenty-first century world. Strange, then, that the word itself, “Renaissance”, meaning ‘rebirth’, only came into general use in the nineteenth century, that modern scholars argue constantly over what is was, how long it lasted, whom it involved, whether in fact it was a historical ‘period’ at all. This seminar examines many of the ways that scholars have characterised and investigated the European Renaissance between the middle of the nineteenth century and today. We shed light on this fundamentally important period(?!) by studying a range of approaches including: the cultural history of the Renaissance, the history of social relations, art, class, gender, performance, religion, urban culture and historical memory. In addition to learning about the significance (both historical and historiographical) of the Renaissance itself, students will learn how to apply these approaches more widely in their own historical writing.
Modern Europe: Inventing Britishness
Dr Cindy McCreery
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.
Assoc Prof Michael A. McDonnell
Who created 'America'? Traditional histories of the United States usually focus on the European settler societies planted along the eastern seaboard in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries to explain the origin and rise of the new nation. More recently, historians have drawn on the insights of the new 'Atlantic history' to put these developments into a richer trans-national context, while others have utilised innovative methodologies to access the histories of non-Europeans during this period. This seminar will explore these new approaches and give students the opportunity to examine the multi-faceted ways in which indigenous and 'subaltern' peoples around the Atlantic basin confronted, challenged, and ultimately shaped the contours of empires in the early modern period, and the rise of the United States itself.
Approaches to Indigenous History
Dr Miranda Johnson
At the end of the twentieth century, indigenous peoples around the world and especially in the Anglophone settler states made prominent claims for the recognition of their rights from national governments and at international forums like the United Nations. They demonstrated that indigenous people were modern people whose political, economic and cultural lives were both distinct from and enmeshed with the wider world. This was an “unexpected” phenomenon, as American Studies scholar Philip Deloria has argued, since at the end of the nineteenth century many colonial elites thought that “native” people would die out. In this seminar, we will explore the resurgence of indigenous peoples in the twentieth century and how that resurgence has prompted new approaches to histories of indigeneity particularly in Australia, New Zealand and the Americas. We will discuss conceptual and practical questions concerning the doing of indigenous history and visit a number of important sites around Sydney where indigenous history is produced and debated. Assessment will consist of short reflection and definitional assignments, leading up to a longer research essay at the end of the class. Some class time will be devoted to discussing and presenting your own research.
Sex in History
Prof Robert Aldrich
Sex happens in diverse ways, in both history and history-writing. This seminar will examine various scholarly positions on sex and sexuality, such as the approaches of historians of society, culture and law, as well as biographers. With a particular orientation to the history of homosexuality, we will explore selected themes, times and places, from ancient Europe to modern Asia. Colonialism and sexuality will be given particular attention. We will consider not only the history of sex and sexuality, but ask how important sexual themes are or ought to be in other areas of the discipline.
Assoc Prof Stephen Robertson
New technologies are transforming the work of historians, and the ways in which we interpret the past and communicate our ideas with others. This seminar will critically examine the digital tools and resources that are becoming central to historical research, from databases to archives, and their implications for how topics, questions and standards for evidence are framed. We will also explore how digital tools, including visualizations, animations, and mapping, have been used to interpret the past, and the new forms of historical writing that have emerged, such as blogs and wikis, and the questions they raise about the creators of historical work, the nature of historical arguments and the processes by which digital history is distributed and evaluated.
Prof Helen Dunstan
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 pastswith 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 studieson China, Japan, Central America and Africabroadening 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 to experiment with relevant primary sources from a non-Western context.
The Problem of The Text
Dr Julie Smith
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.
- 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
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.
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 2013: Frances Clarke, James Curran, Andrew Fitzmaurice, John Gagne, Glenda Sluga
- Professor Robert Aldrich
Modern European and colonial history, especially France; gay history
- Professor Warwick H. Anderson
History of tropical medicine and international health; medical history and anthropology; biomedical sciences and racial thought; disease ecology
- Professor Alison Bashford
History of medicine, history and gender, late modern European and British history
- Dr Kit Candlin
Empire and imperialism, Atlantic World, Early Modern and modern Europe, the UK and United States
- Dr Emma Christopher
Atlantic history; transatlantic slave trade; convict transportation
- Professor Ann Curthoys
Australian history, Aboriginal-European relations, historical theory
- Dr Michael Davis
Indigenous/European histories and encounters; the 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 Chris Hilliard
Modern British history, history and literature, New Zealand history
- Dr Julia Horne
Nineteenth and twentieth century history with emphases on Australia, history of university life, students, travel and landscape
- Associate Professor Judith Keene
Twentieth century European History, film and history
- 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 Kirsten McKenzie
Australian history, colonialism, gender history, comparative colonial history
- Professor Cassandra Pybus
Australian history; American history; Transatlantic history
- Professor Peter Read
Aboriginal Australia; place; oral history
- Associate Professor Stephen Robertson (Only available for co-supervision)
Twentieth-century United States History, history of sexuality, legal history
- Associate Professor Penny Russell (Only available for co-supervision)
Australian history, women’s history, gender history, colonialism and biography and autobiography
- Dr Julie Ann Smith
Medieval history, religious history and women’s history
- Professor Shane White
United States history; African American history; the history of New York City
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.
Honours not awarded.
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.