ANTHR 499: Senior Thesis

Dr. Jacob R. Hickman

 Winter 2021: Tues / Thurs 12:30pm-1:45pm

Remote Live (via Zoom)

Course Description


The goal of this course is to help students craft a senior thesis based on their ethnographic fieldwork. The scope of this thesis may vary depending on the nature of the project, ranging from preparing a journal-article length piece for publication or something less concise but more comprehensive. Typical theses range from 8,000 to 14,000 words.





Readings will be periodically offered as they contribute to our collective quest to come up with a good argument and articulate it. Reading (at least those assigned in the course) will not dominate majority of time spent toward this course, which will largely be taken up by actual writing, reading your peers’ writing, and re-writing. The majority of reading that you will need to process will be the literature with which you are engaging in your thesis.





Peer Review (15%)


You will spend a good amount of time having your peers critique your writing, as well as critiquing their writing. It is critical that you work hard at this, since critiquing others’ writing really is critical to developing yourself as a writer. It is also the case that one should all expect the same level of critical feedback as that tendered by oneself. To this end, students in the course will anonymously rate the quality of feedback received by the others in the course with whom they exchanged writing. These anonymous ratings on the quality of your feedback will constitute this portion of your grade (sample form), and we will make an effort to have everyone critique everyone else.

Writing Log (10%)

Yes, it is just what it sounds like. Sort of. This assignment is to encourage you to write consistently on your thesis. You will log the number of days in which you spent beyond 20 minutes writing actual prose on your thesis - not reading sources or data, or simply outlining, but actually producing prose—words and complete sentences (assuming you want your thesis to consist of these). The 100% mark for this assignment will be set by the number of days that the instructor logs doing the same for some publications or formal grant proposals that he is working on.

Presentation (15%)

We will hold a departmental symposium for students in this course to present conference-paper versions of their theses. They will have the opportunity to receive feedback on their projects from faculty and students in the department and university. This will tentatively be held March 14th.

The Final Thesis (60%)


A good thesis (or empirical journal article) should include the following elements (note: these are not necessarily sections of the paper, but rather constitutive elements, something like a rubric for bases to cover):


  1. An argument. And a sexy one at that. The argument in the paper should be original, and it should contribute something to our understanding of the human condition. Arguments vary in their scope. The scale of the argument is not necessarily what matters here, but rather the extent to which it contributes to a body of scholarship and pushes a scholarly conversation forward in some interesting way. In other words, you will stake a theoretical claim on something, and preferably do so in a logically consistent manner.

  2. Literature review. In order to place an argument in a body of literature, one ought to read, organize, and cite scholarly contributions that are involved in the conversation where one is situating one’s argument. The literature review is not necessarily a section of a paper, but ought to be a well-crafted weaving of existing scholarship into the thesis in dialogue with one’s own contribution.

  3. Presentation of data (evidence) in conjunction with theory. All hail the THEORY-METHOD-DATA triangle! (I will explain in class). In order to back up an empirically-rooted argument, one needs to first actually have evidence of the trend to be argued, and then to make the logical connections between what is being argued and the evidence on which it is based.

  4. Methods. Not all anthropologists care about “methods.” This one does. All ethnographic observation, experience, data, etc. comes from somewhere. It should be clear where, and the logical justifications that underpin the particular evidence that you wield in favor of your claim are critical here. This does not mean a stoic methods section as exists in a requisite manner in many other disciplinary journals, but it does entail making it clear to the reader both the strengths and limitations of the data you gathered and the means you employed to gather them. This is essential for others to be able to critically assess the empirical basis of one’s argument.

  5. Style. Even if all of the aforementioned elements are present and filled out in the resulting document, if it is communicated poorly, all is for naught. In anthropology, we tend to care about the actual quality of the writing that we produce (despite everything you have read). Crafting a strong narrative is just that - a craft. We will work to help each other develop the skills of ethnographic writing, such that it is not only interesting to consider your data and argument, but a joy to read your thesis as well.

Book to Purchase 

(other readings will be provided as PDFs)


Williams, Joseph M., and Joseph Bizup. 2017. Style: lessons in clarity and grace. Boston: Pearson. (ISBN: 9780134080413)

Reading Schedule

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