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 Friday 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

New in 2015! Honours Fellowship Opportunities

Beginning in 2015, the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences will be awarding up to 9 Honours Research Fellowships to outstanding candidates to support their Honours study with an esteemed USYD mentor in specific areas of study. Find out more about the opportunities available here.

The Fourth Year Honours Program for 2015

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, 2015

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: Passion and Compassion
Thursdays, 3-5 pm, Brennan-MacCallum 822
Professor Penny Russell
Is there a place for passion in history? Does emotive writing invariably fail the test of scholarly rigour and balance? Should historians strive to cultivate or to avoid empathy with their historical subjects? Traversing recent scholarship in Australian history, this unit considers the ways historians have written about such subjects as faith, honour, liberty, love, sexuality, humanity, greed, grief and revolutionary zeal. It asks whether it is right, or even possible, for historians to write ‘dispassionately’ about the violence or injustices of the past.

Tuesdays, 10 am-Noon, Brennan-MacCallum 822
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.

New Approaches to Modern European History
Tuesdays, 2-4 pm, Brennan-MacCallum 814
Dr. Marco Duranti
Historians of Modern Europe have long been at the forefront of innovations in our discipline, from their pioneering archival histories of diplomacy and politics to their more recent work on social and cultural history. This seminar will expose students to the latest developments in this field, including new studies of Europe in comparative, global, imperial and transnational perspective; history and literature; history and memory; the history of gender and sexuality; and intellectual and legal history. Students will be encouraged to consider how they might make use of these new approaches to interpreting and narrating the past in their own research and writing.

The End of Empire and the Decolonization of Asia
Tuesdays, 2-4 pm, Brennan-MacCallum 822
Dr. Andres Rodriguez
Decolonization was a powerful force that reshaped geographical boundaries and political hierarchies around the world. The dissolution of asymmetrical relations between nations and within society that characterized decolonization was undoubtedly a complex process with global ramifications. The end of empire in Asia ushered in by the end of World War Two was no exception. Embracing Wilsonian and Leninist ideals of self-determination, Asian elites around the region sought to carve out new national identities that defied the workings of the international system put in place by the Western powers.

How did Asian elites envisage a new regional order in their attempts to overthrow asymmetrical relationships of the past? In what ways did Asian nationalisms contribute to the building of a global ‘Third World’ identity? How did former colonial powers attempt to rebuild relationships with their former colonies? This seminar will address these questions through a series of inter-related topics that draw upon Asian nations in particular and the region as a whole.

Topics to be covered: anticolonial movements and their transnational dimensions; anticolonial leaders and biographical writing; the impact of World War Two and interpretations of the Atlantic Charter; the Cold War; Pan-Asian regionalism and the Non-Alignment movement; the United Nations and internationalism in an Asian context; legacies of empire: migration, diaspora and the dilemma of national unity.

Approach seminars

Global History
Wednesdays, 9-11 am, Brennan-MacCallum 847
Dr. Tamson Pietsch
In the last twenty years Global History has burst upon the scholarly scene. References to the ‘global' are now common in book and dissertations titles, and new journals, conferences and chairs signal its arrival as a key field within the discipline. Examining history from a ‘global’ perspective, global historians seek to trace the processes of connection, divergence and convergence that transcend local and national contexts, linking developments in Africa, Asia and the Pacific to those in Europe and the Americas. Yet the field has not been without its critics, many of whom suggest it is in danger of becoming a new meta-narrative that rides rough shod over the particularities of local context and appropriates the longer standing historiographic transitions of national, imperial and postcolonial history. This seminar explores the methods, approaches and recent historiographical developments within the field of Global History. We examine the field’s key texts and approaches, reading books such as Kenneth Pomeranz’s The Great Divergence and Jorgen Österhammel’s The Transformation of the World. We also explore recent scholarship on the processes which have spurred global connections since the 18th century: the consumption and circulation of goods, revolution and political thought, technology and connectivity, migrations and cultures, environment and disease, and urban culture.

Reading Travellers’ Tales
Tuesdays 12-2 pm, Brennan-MacCallum 814
Dr. Hélène Sirantoine
Whether they were ambassadors, explorers, soldiers, pilgrims, missionaries, tourists, etc., travellers from around the world and all periods of time have felt the need to relate their experience of alterity in written form. In doing so, they provided historians with a genre abundantly convoked in historical inquiry. But how do we make History out of tales? This seminar intends to answer this question by examining a series of narratives written from Antiquity to the early 20th century by travellers coming from different cultures, and how reading their outsider descriptions and individual impressions enriches particular fields of historical practice. Topics studied weekly include: what is travelling; trans-chronological and -geographical approaches of cross-cultural contacts; travellers’ accounts and their audience; travel and gender; individuality vs. community; travel and faith; facts and fiction, etc. Individual project will give students the opportunity to explore a traveller’s account of their choice in relation with their thesis.

The Problem of Race in History
Wednesdays, 11 am-1 pm, Carslaw Tutorial Room 352
Dr. Sarah Walsh
How does race matter? At its most basic, this seminar will explore the variety of responses historians have given to this question. On the one hand, race has been used as a signifier of social, cultural, and political difference. Using a variety of case studies, this course will demonstrate the myriad ways that race facilitated the making of difference. It will also illuminate how the creation of difference was imbricated in a variety of historical processes, such as the creation of racial ideologies in the early modern period, the colonization of Africa, Latin America, and the Pacific, and the development of scientific racism in the nineteenth century, to name a few. The course will cover a wide breadth of locations and historical time periods to better understand how historians approach the difficult histories of race.

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 2015 Semester 1: Julie-Ann Smith, Barbara Caine, Chris Hilliard

Not available in 2015 Semester 2: Cindy McCreery, Andrew Fitzmaurice, Kirsten McKenzie, Robert Aldrich

  • Dr Thomas Adams
    (Department of History and United States Studies Centre)
    Political Economy, Labor, Urban Culture, Gender and Sexuality, African-American, U.S. South, U.S. West, Social Movements and Contentious Politics
  • Professor Robert Aldrich
    Modern European and colonial history, especially France; gay history
  • Professor Warwick H. Anderson
    History of science; medicine; racial thought; Pacific world
  • 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 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
  • 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
  • Sebastián Gil-Riaño
    Transnational history of science; History of race and ethnicity; History of the human sciences; Science and Technology Studies; Latin American History; French history; Biopolitics
  • Philippa Hetherington
    Russia and Eastern Europe in transnational perspective, Gender and Sexuality, Feminist and Queer Theory, Migration and Mobility, Cultural and Intellectual history of the fin-de-siècle’
  • 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
  • Chin Jou
    Twentieth-century US history; history of food and history of medicine
  • Associate Professor Judith Keene
    Twentieth century European History, film and history
  • Sophie Loy-Wilson
    Twentieth century Australian History (social and cultural), global and transnational history, colonial histories of East Asia (especially treaty port history), histories of migration, race relations 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
    British and imperial history in the 19th & 20th centuries, global and transnational history, history of universities, history of the sea
  • Andres Rodriguez
    Modern Chinese History, Republican China, Southwest China borderlands, internationalism, wartime China, history of anthropology
  • 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
  • Hélène Sirantoine
    Medieval history, political and cultural history of Christian Spain, history of powers and their supportive ideologies, written practices of power
  • 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'.

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.