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Grading for Senior Essays and Theses


An ‘A’ quality essay or thesis explores a historical problem or issue of genuine and compelling significance, made evident through a sharp historiographical and/or theoretical sensitivity encompassing both a critical approach to and comprehensive understanding of relevant historical scholarship. It organizes its argument with clarity, contextualizing source materials lucidly and convincingly throughout. It synthesizes a full range of source materials in an original way, making persuasive links between specific examples and general conclusions. There are exceedingly few mechanical, grammatical, or stylistic errors. Citations are complete and correct.


An essay or thesis in the ‘B’ range is still very good, but displays one or more of the following flaws: the significance of its central problem is not as solidly established as in an A paper, due either to lack of clarity in writing, or a less comprehensive or critical approach to relevant historiography. It is organized such that the reader has no problem following the content or structure of the argument, but the connections between its various segments are not always clear or compelling. The body of the essay may be excellent, but lacks adequate framing in introduction or conclusion. The links between specific example and general conclusion are generally persuasive, but in places lack the clarity, forcefulness, or eloquence of an ‘A’ paper. While a ‘B’ paper successfully bases its argument on primary source materials, the contextualization and analysis of such sources is noticeably more limited than in an ‘A’ paper. There may be some mechanical or grammatical errors, and citations may be inconsistent or incorrect.


A ‘C’ essay or thesis accurately reproduces the content of its various sources, but without the creativity or original critical insight that characterizes the ‘A’ or ‘B’ paper. It suffers from one or more of the following problems: the significance of its problem is either not clearly demonstrated, or is a regurgitation of historiography that has been approached uncritically, superficially or with very limited reading. Its argument is based on few primary sources, which are often not contextualized nor treated critically. Links between individual examples and general conclusions are either unconvincing or not clearly established. A ‘C’ paper often makes broad generalizations with little or no supporting evidence. Frequent mechanical, stylistic or grammatical errors demonstrate a lack of attention to detail or even basic proofreading. Citations are often incomplete or incorrect.


The ‘D’ essay or thesis lacks a coherent argument or thesis. Its organization is impenetrable to both casual and dedicated readers alike. It shows no engagement with relevant historiography, which it summarizes incompetently, if at all. Source materials are either misunderstood, uncontextualized, or lacking altogether. A ‘D’ essay or thesis is often incomplete. A grade of D on the senior essay will not earn progress through the major.


An ‘NC’ essay is either handed in late, or is in violation of the honor code.

The paragraphs above describe ranges encompassing both ‘plus’ and ‘minus’ grades. For a given range, a ‘plus’ grade reflects fewer of the described flaws (and more strengths) than a ‘minus’ grade. Since the College does not award A+ block grades, an essay or thesis can not earn an A+