Welcome to your senior year in Classics! This year, working under the guidance of a faculty member, you will research and write a senior thesis on a topic of your own choosing.

The senior thesis is your chance to embark on a major project of your own: follow your curiosity and passion for the ancient world and its legacy, and devise a research project that captures your interest and imagination. 

Writing a thesis is a big undertaking, and you will draw upon all the skills of research, analysis and writing that you have been building over your first three years at Princeton. Start early! You will need to meet several deadlines over the course of the year for your thesis proposal, proposal defense, first chapter, and final copy. Before beginning your work, please consult the Independent Work Guide for full guidelines and advice about the thesis-writing process, including advice about how to choose a topic, how to conduct research in Classics, how to develop a good working relationship with your adviser, and how to go about writing the paper. The IWG also contains information about grading standards and deadlines. The list of deadlines can also be found here.

Independent Work in Classics 2019–2020

Thesis Information

Timing and organization are key factors in completing a successful senior thesis. Start at the beginning of your senior year, working regularly and in an organized fashion. Get your books early, keep track of your bibliography throughout your period of research, and – ideally – plan to have a complete draft ready for spring break (i.e. by around the Ides of March). That will give you plenty of time to revise the whole and make sure that your overall argument makes sense. You will also need to take time to proofread your final manuscript carefully.

You should remain in regular contact with your faculty adviser at every stage of the process. Do not hesitate to ask questions, if you are ever unsure about a source or an argument. Remember, too, that you have access to a wide range of people and resources you can go to for help. For bibliographic help in particular, and for assistance in thinking through your project, don’t hesitate to get in touch with our bibliographer for Classics in Firestone library, David Jenkins, and check out his page on Library Resources for Classicists. Make an appointment to see a peer tutor in the Writing Center at any time during the writing process, and plan to join the Department’s senior thesis workshop – a weekly meeting run by Classics graduate students to help seniors share and get feedback on their thesis work-in-progress.

Past copies of senior thesis can be found in East Pyne 161, the Classics Seminar Room, when that room is not being used for classes. A list of past senior thesis titles, and bibliography recommendations are posted below in PDF format.

Please be aware of the deadlines over the course of your senior year.

Past Thesis Titles
Bibliography Recommendations

Senior Comprehensive Exam

ὁ δὲ ἀνεξέταστος βίος οὐ βιωτὸς ἀνθρώπῳ…
“The unexamined life is not worth living for a human being.”
Plato Apology 38a5

Classics Track: One three hour exam in Greek literature, history, culture and Roman literature, history, and culture is required. See Dates & Deadlines for exam date.

Classical Studies and Ancient History Track: A three hour examination designed by the thesis adviser, but intended to cover the entirety of the student’s program of study. If the thesis adviser is not a member of the Classics Department, another Classics faculty member will be appointed to set the examination. See Dates & Deadlines for exam date.

The breadth of knowledge across disciplinary boundaries is a necessary and defining aspect of the intellectual profile of classics as a field of study. For this reason comprehensive examinations form an essential part of our curriculum, balancing the specialized research of the senior thesis and Junior paper. Of course no one can know everything, and any definition of comprehensive must be relative, especially in a program that is also designed to accommodate and encourage the development of particular interests. Therefore we do not expect students to demonstrate mastery of every facet of classical studies. However “comps” do provide a valuable opportunity to bring together what has been learned in individual courses and research projects, to reflect on larger issues within the fields that you have worked in, and to fill any important gaps in your basic knowledge of those fields. 

These general expectations about what comprehensive exams should accomplish apply to all the tracks of the concentration, but the format of the exam will vary for students in classics, ancient history, and in classical studies, though in all cases it will consist of a three hour written exam. 

The course requirements for the Classics track insure that students have taken five upper level classes in at least one of the classical literatures as well as at least one survey course in history, whether Greek or Roman. This should provide the basis for each student’s preparation as it does for our expectations of the exam. Thus the comprehensive examination for classics students will offer them three general essay topics in each of the four major fields of the discipline, Greek Literature, Greek History, Latin Literature, and Roman History. Students will be invited to write on three topics drawn from at least two areas. That means students with a very strong background in Greek literature may write two essays on that subject, but must write at least one essay from another field, which will generally be the subject of the history course they have taken. Students who have worked in both literatures, and have knowledge of both Greek and Roman history may draw on any of these fields in their exam, but may also write up to two essays on any one subject. There is no requirement for students to declare in advance which subjects they will write about; this can be decided according to the appeal and interest of the individual questions asked. 

The best way to prepare for comprehensive examinations will be to review the material from the courses you have taken, including the majors seminar, refreshing your knowledge of the facts about what you read and learned and reflecting on their larger significance and the most important issues of the subject. If you realize that there is some important aspect of the field that you have not studied in class, for example, if you have worked extensively in Greek literature but not had the opportunity to study tragedy, you should try to bridge that gap by acquiring a basic knowledge of the field such as you would find in a handbook to Greek literature or a reference work like the Oxford Classical Dictionary and to read at least one tragedy in translation. It is also an excellent idea to consult past exams on file in the Department and to write your own practice essays. This is an especially valuable means of preparation if you find it difficult to write timed essays.

Classical Studies students will take an exam designed to cover the field identified as their interest when they entered the program. They will be offered five questions on this field, of which they will again be asked to answer three. These questions will allow the student to draw on the methods and comparative material acquired in the courses taken outside of the department. Shortly after the submission of the thesis in April, students should consult with their thesis adviser, who will also be responsible for making up and grading the examination, to review the parameters of their interests and expertise and to discuss preparation strategies.  Note that this is still a comprehensive exam and not to be based on the specific subject of the thesis. As in the case of classics students, classical studies students will be expected to learn basic information about their field that they have not had the opportunity to study in their course work or research. Thus, for example, students who have identified their field of expertise as ancient slavery but have worked exclusively on Roman material, should acquire a general understanding of Greek slavery.

For students in the Ancient History track, the comprehensive examination provides an opportunity to demonstrate knowledge within the core fields of Greek and Roman history and to apply the understanding they have gained of methods of historical analysis and the use of material evidence. Students will be offered six essay topics, three in Greek history and three in Roman history, and must write on three questions in total, selecting at least one Greek topic and one Roman topic. In addition to the criteria for grading discussed below, an A exam must incorporate either evidence based on material remains or a comparative argument based on the analysis of another pre-modern non-classical culture in at least one answer.

A satisfactory answer for comprehensive exams in any track will demonstrate that the student possesses sufficient knowledge of the subject of the essay to make a convincing argument about it. This will be the criterion for a good (i.e. B) essay; arguments that demonstrate particular originality or breadth of knowledge will receive higher grades. Excessive repetition of material among the different essays will be penalized.

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