In Search of a Thesis


by Diego Luis 14C

            Writing an honors thesis is a daunting task, to say the least. To do so is to simultaneously commit to a nocturnal lifestyle, carpal tunnel, and a taste for cheap wine. How does one prepare for such an endeavor? Besides going to the Woodpec exclusively for wrist exercises, one should first begin with an idea of what to write about.

            I decided to write an honors thesis in history somewhat later than my peers, at the end of last year’s spring semester. When I made this realization, I had just emerged from a time machine that had taken me back to Alexander’s conquests. I had tragically fallen in love with the movements and rhythms of a world that no longer existed. I felt like William Prescott, who once wrote in a letter to his parents, “When I look into a Greek or Latin book…I experience much the same sensation one does who looks on the face of a dead friend, and the tears not infrequently steal into my eyes.” Okay, maybe not quite like that, but you get the idea. Like Prescott, I aim to turn my passion for the material into knowledge for my peers.

            It began with how. How were Alexander’s victories possible? This simple question directed me towards accounts of his battles in literature. Eventually, I came across historian Brian Bosworth’s comparative study of these literary sources and texts on Cortés, and so I discovered Francisco López de Gómara. The man was essentially a 16th century classicist who paralleled Cortés’s conquests with Alexander’s in subtle ways that had only been gestured at in the historiography. I read López de Gómara’s Historia de la conquista and felt like I had found the conquest of New Spain through the interpretation of a classical mind. It felt new and exciting. I had my thesis.

            The reality was neither as simple nor as romantic as the previous paragraph suggests. I read until my eyes turned the color of the setting sun. I had flailed about like a fish baking in the sun on a hot pier. All the same, I had no regrets. At that moment, I knew I was only at base camp, staring up at a high peak with storm clouds gathering on the horizon, but I knew in my heart and my soul the trail to the top of the mountain.

            The prospect of writing a thesis may be initially daunting, but a clear direction drives away doubt. It took me about eight months to chew on the idea before I could begin to express myself on paper. For those of you considering a long research project, I hope this post reminds you that it is a process. It will be long, grueling, painful, and tragic, but ultimately, fulfilling. I chose history because I believe the past shapes identities and builds knowledge about humanity, about ourselves.

            Regardless of academic field, the thesis is an opportunity to share learning and wisdom with one’s peers. Knowledge makes the world a better place, and that’s what we do, one thesis at a time.

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