Senior Capstones in Anthropology

Senior majors are required to write a thesis, essay, or senior seminar paper as part of their capstone experience. 

Option 1: Thesis

The thesis in anthropology is a work of serious scholarly research and analysis, typically consisting of multiple chapters between 90-120 pages long. Most theses are based in ethnographic field research conducted in the summer between the Junior and Senior years. To pursue a thesis, students must submit a thesis proposal, due immediately before spring break, which must be approved by the anthropology faculty. All thesis students are required to complete Anthropology 400, the capstone seminar, in the fall of their senior years, and an individual tutorial (Anthropology 410) in the spring semester.

A thesis is right for me if:

→ I am very seriously engaged with anthropological theory and methods, and am interested in doing a lot of self-directed reading in order to prepare a thesis proposal.

→ I love writing, and want to spend a serious portion of my senior year engaged in extensive analytical writing with firm deadlines.

→ I am comfortable managing large-scale projects with multiple smaller dimensions.

→ I want to do a self-directed ethnographic research project and wrestle with what it means to write about it within the terms of academic knowledge production.

A thesis is not required to be competitive for graduate school. While the experience can be useful in determining whether or not someone would enjoy being a full-time scholar, graduate programs do not require or expect all their admittees to have completed research at this scale.

Option 2: Essay

The essay in anthropology offers an alternative way to incorporate substantive original research and writing into your senior year. It consists of an approximately 30-page paper that is written in the Anthropology 400 seminar during the Fall semester. Like the thesis, the essay is self-directed in that it reflects your own original field and/or library research and analysis; however, the essay has fewer formal demands and requirements, making it a hybrid form allowing for rigor and originality while leaving open space for multiple approaches to anthropological knowledge production.

An essay is right for me if:

→ I enjoy anthropological research and want to do a self-directed project, but do not want the level of time and work commitment that a thesis demands.

→ I want the freedom to try different approaches to my research, including auto-ethnography, experimental methods, creative writing, and/or visual anthropology.

→ I would like to be part of a strong community of writers in the major, but do not want to commit to a two-semester sequence or the level of faculty scrutiny that a thesis involves.

→ I would like to finish my senior year with a focused, thirty-page essay that is ideal, among other things, as a writing sample for future applications.

Option 3: Capstone Paper

The capstone paper is the “lightest” option, in that it does not require you to complete Anthropology 400, our capstone seminar, and does not entail self-directed work. Instead, a capstone paper is written in the context of an elective class in anthropology that requires a research paper, preferably a 300-level seminar. At the beginning of the semester, you should inquire with both your major advisor and your seminar professor as to whether you can use the seminar’s required research paper as your capstone paper. This is ultimately at your professor and advisor’s discretion, but capstone papers are typically fifteen pages or greater and do not demand extra research beyond what is required for the seminar in question. 

A capstone paper is right for me if:

→ I enjoy courses in anthropology, but do not wish to pursue my own, self-directed research project.

→ I do not want extra requirements or demands on my time during my senior year.

Students wishing to write a thesis must submit a proposal to the department and the Goffe Funds Application Page. Students wishing to write a thesis or essay involving fieldwork with human subjects must complete the Ethics Questionnaire (see below) and the Goffe Funds Application Page. All forms are due the Friday before spring break of their junior year.