Thesis Advice

The German Studies thesis is the culmination of your work in the German Studies program at Whitman College. In it, you need to demonstrate your ability to read and interpret original documents from German culture with sophistication and critical acumen. In the program, we define those documents broadly - they could be philosophical texts, musical or artistic works, essays, medical or legal documents, as well as film and literary texts. The documents that are the basis of your thesis must be in German and you should return to them frequently in your analysis. A significant portion of the secondary research materials you're using should also be in German. Your analysis should be grounded in cultural studies, including the kinds of literary criticism and critical reading that you have learned in your German Studies courses at Whitman College. Methodologically, we as a department cannot provide you with the guidance that you would need to do a quantitative project with a social science approach, so your methodology will need to be humanities-based.

Although you must work with German-language materials, the thesis is written in English because, in this exercise, we are more interested in your analytic and critical abilities than in your German-language abilities. Don't worry - we feel that our regular coursework, the thesis requirement that you work with German-language materials, and the short German oral section of the major exam adequately test your German abilities!

Generally, you will work closely with one adviser for your thesis. You may certainly express a preference for an adviser, but the faculty will make the final decision about who works with whom. Besides the adviser, there will be at least two other readers for your thesis - the other faculty in German, plus one reader from outside the department. The outside reader is especially necessary given the interdisciplinary nature of our theses.

Although you get four credits for the thesis in the spring, there is considerable preliminary work that you need to do in the fall. You will receive the exact timeline, but here are some guidelines for the individual assignments:

Proposal: The proposal should be about a page long. In the proposal, try to go beyond an indication of a general area of interest by formulating an actual thesis statement. Very probably your thesis will change as your research continues, but it's good to begin with a hypothesis. In addition, indicate the body of original material that you would like to work with (e.g., a novel, an essay by a psychoanalyst or a philosopher, a film, certain medical articles from a specific period, a specific law, etc.). Also give some thought to the methodology that you will be using - will you be focusing exclusively on the written text, will you be trying to put it in its historical context, will you be trying to look at it psychoanalytically or in a postmodern way, will you be be looking at the reception of the document, etc.?

Note that at the end of the fall semester, we will ask you to submit a revised version of your thesis proposal that, we hope, will have evolved over the course of the semester.

As a rule of thumb, successful theses usually have ambitious, bold and broad topics, but a narrow focus and a closely defined thesis statement. So you might be interested in the rise of Nazism or the origins of German xenophobia or the essence of German romanticism, but your thesis will probably end up focusing on a much more specific problem within those topics.

The length of the thesis will vary considerably depending on the topic, but a good rule of thumb would be that a non-honors thesis would be at least 20 pages of double-spaced prose and an honors thesis would be at least 50 pages, reflective of a broader scope and greater depth. The German Studies faculty may recommend your topic for honors, but you must then submit the appropriate form to the Registrar, signed by your thesis adviser, by the early October deadline. In order to be approved for honors candidacy you must also have a cumulative GPA of at least 3.3 and a GPA in your major of at least 3.5. In order to receive honors in major study you must then receive a grade of at least A- on your thesis and pass your oral evaluation "with distinction."