Students with a minimum GPA of 3.5 in the major at the end of the junior year are encouraged to write an honors thesis. 

Students who choose to write a thesis must meet with the Undergraduate Chair in spring of their junior year to discuss their topic. Research will begin in summer and continue into fall of their senior year, concluding with a paper in the spring term. (See Thesis Schedule). Students will be registered for ARTH 4980 (previously ARTH 398) in the Fall and Spring semesters of their senior year.

All thesis writers are encouraged to apply for research and travel grants through the Center for Undergraduate Research and Fellowships to support their work.

Departmental honors are awarded to students whose thesis receives a grade of A- or higher. Students may also submit their theses in the annual competition for the College Alumni Society David M. Robb Thesis Prize in the History of Art.


Junior majors wishing to pursue an undergraduate honors thesis project must apply to do so, according to the guidelines given below. Students must have at least a 3.5 GPA in the major at the end of junior year.

All applications must be submitted to the Undergraduate Chair. Please limit your application to one page (250 words).

Please include the following information in your application:

  • Your name and contact information: please include your Penn email address.
  • Proposed topic area: describe your topic as clearly as possible, keeping your discussion to one paragraph. Here, you want to provide answers to the following kinds of questions: What are you considering as your main subject? What art historical materials will be under consideration? What do you see as your main points of interest? What do you hope to achieve in this project?
  • Preparation for this project: describe your preparation as clearly as possible, keeping your discussion to one paragraph. As above, please provide answers to these kinds of questions: What courses have you taken that relate to this project? Have you done previous work, such as a term paper, on this subject? (If so, please include the paper title and the course information.) What other experiences (travel, museum experience, and the like) have you had that might pertain to this project?
  • Faculty affiliation: In advance of submitting your proposal, be sure to consult with the Undergraduate Chair about your topic and your possible faculty advisor. Please nominate two faculty members for consideration of your proposal.

All thesis projects must be concluded in fall semester with a grade of Satisfactory (S) and in spring semester with an A-level grade in order to qualify for acceptance as an honors thesis. Those projects that do not achieve these grades will be credited as independent studies courses.

Seniors writing an honors thesis are required to take a total of 14 CUs in the major.

The Undergraduate Chair will notify students of the deadline for proposal submission in the Spring semester (usually in April).