Choosing a Topic

A thesis topic must spring from your own energies and interests. The first step toward defining a topic, then, is to determine your primary areas of interest. The role of self-examination in this process is critical.


Look over your past work in the Folklore and Mythology program and your special field and attempt to discover a few general areas of interest. What courses have you taken? What have you written about in course papers? Also, think about why you decided to concentrate in Folklore and Mythology. As you consider these and other similar questions, you will begin to discern certain patterns or trends in your work. Contemplation of these issues will allow you to define your general areas of interest.

Finding a topic within an area of interest is more difficult. A topic is best formulated as a question. But the questions cannot be too broad, for a topic must have focus. Nor can it be too narrow since the goal of a good thesis is to express thoughts of general importance through detailed analysis of a specific case or cases.

Because the purpose of this process is to formulate a focused and thought-provoking question, the best way to uncover topics in your area of interest is to begin posing questions. Start with the issues that stand out in your mind. Also, read some scholarly literature on approaches you might take. If your topic seems too broad, this reading will give you some ideas on approaches you might take. If your question is too narrow, a selection of articles and books can lead you to the general concerns that relate to your interest. And remember, an undergraduate thesis need not be an original “contribution to knowledge.” More important is the sustained examination of a topic that engages you.

If you are unsure about the viability of your topic, you might look at past theses in order to find out what types of projects have been the most successful. The best theses of each academic year are submitted to the Harvard University Archive, which is located on the first floor of Pusey Library. A list of selected honors theses from Folklore and Mythology is provided below, and many theses presented to the Committee are to be found in the Folklore and Mythology Library.