Conceptualizing an Honors Project

Admitted Distinction students use the honors seminars to complete a substantial study relevant to the transnational or global content of the ICS major. It is easiest to sustain the commitment required of yearlong independent research when the study focus engages and excites you.

Transnational "Nodes" of Conceptualization

In conceptualizing your research project, review the criteria for global courses. The various "nodes" listed suggest approaches you might take toward material of interest:

  • you might consider a specific cultural phenomenon—say, rap music—and how, through a comparative focus on identity and lived experience, the meaning of such a practice might differ in Muslim communities in Algeria and France, or Paris and London;
  • a focus on institutions and organizations might lead to a transnational study of the usefulness of international human rights and refugee law in addressing the situation of North Korean refugees in China;
  • you might employ a transnational focus on cultural production to investigate transformational exchange between soccer clubs in Madrid and Buenos Aires.

Regional "Nodes" of Conceptualization

Think about how your regional specialization in ICS might contribute to your project. You might use an honors project to deepen your knowledge of communities within a single country or region by:

  • looking at the experience of migrants in two Chinese cities to study the implications of differential citizenship;
  • comparing two different countries or cities in a single region on some important dimension, e.g. bi-lingual policies in Hong Kong and Singapore or right-wing political movements in Austria and France.

Courses as Sources of Methodological Inspiration

Think back over the courses you have taken where the kinds of materials studied and the approaches and methods appealed to you, and design your project to incorporate similar materials, approaches, and methods. Each methodological approach to studying a topic will tell some truth about it, and each will dictate certain kinds of primary source materials:

  • if you find historical analysis intriguing, think about framing your topic so you can incorporate historical methods and materials, such as archival analysis;
  • if you gravitate toward literary or artistic interpretation, consider writing a proposal that includes primary sources such as novels, films, or works of art or architecture;
  • if you are most convinced by arguments that include large data sets, you might want to work with government reports, surveys, or other sociological data in your project;
  • you are encouraged as well to combine source materials typically used by different disciplines to add to your project’s interdisciplinary nature.

Scholarly Literature Review

Once you have your topic, plan on embedding it in an intellectual conversation beyond your own work. Chiefly you can accomplish this by reviewing secondary scholarship surrounding your topic to see the kinds of arguments made by scholars working in related areas. Doing this level of research can help shape your argument in relation to and against those of experts. We ask you to start building this argument at the proposal stage, by consulting relevant secondary scholarly sources and including them in your proposed bibliography. Aim to incorporate a number of disciplinary approaches in your secondary source materials so that your project is interdisciplinary, like the ICS Program itself.

Considering Other Mediums

You may pursue an honors project in documentary form, in writing, or in other media. If you have interest in pursuing this option, you should schedule a meeting with Jessica Namakkal (jessica.namakkal@duke.edu) to discuss your plans before submitting your application. Past examples of such projects include:

  • a filmed examination of the preparation of Israeli youth for army service;
  • a written comparative look at Palestinian identities through the perspectives of refugees in the Middle East that included a photographic component.

Original Research is Crucial

No matter the final form, approach, or focus, the honors project should be grounded in original research. We strongly recommend that you think of the thesis project as an opportunity to explore something that confounds or puzzles you, something that you find fascinating and that you don’t already understand.