Information for Black Studies Majors

Black Studies provides an interdisciplinary exploration of the histories and cultures of Black people in Africa and around the world. Students interested in majoring in Black Studies should aim to take BLST 111, 200 and 300—the three core Black Studies courses—normally before the end of their sophomore year. Majors must complete the core courses before the final semester of their senior year.

The major in Black Studies consists of eight courses: three core courses, three distribution courses, and two electives. The three core courses are Black Studies 111 (normally taken by the end of the sophomore year), Black Studies 200 (normally taken in the sophomore year), and Black Studies 300 (normally taken in the sophomore year) but before the final semester of the senior year. The three distribution courses consist of one course in three of four geographic areas: Africa; the United States; Latin America and the Caribbean; and Africa and its Diaspora. The student may choose the two electives from the department’s offerings, from cross-listed courses, or from other courses at the Five Colleges. Majors fulfill the department's comprehensive requirement by successfully completing Black Studies 300.

The Department of Black Studies requires BLST 300, Research in Black Studies, for all majors.  The course is typically offered every spring semester.  The course prepares students for the kinds of research expected of an honors thesis at the College.  In addition to being a required course, for the major, students hoping to write a senior honors thesis in the department are strongly encouraged to take BLST 300 in their sophomore year whenever possible, especially if the student plans to study abroad in their junior year.

Key for required core and distribution requirements for the major: R (Required); A (Africa); US (United States); CLA (Caribbean/Latin America); D (Africa and its Diaspora). 

Learning Goals

By the time students complete the Black Studies major, they should be able to:

  • demonstrate broad familiarity with several regions in Africa, and the African Diaspora;
  • read books and articles across the range of genres and disciplines in which scholars have written about race-related topics;
  • recognize and utilize the elements of sound argument in their reading and writing;
  • focus their work within the major on a particular field or a specific research question;
  • prepare and complete an extended research project.

Departmental Honors Program

All candidates for honors must write a senior thesis. Candidates for honors will, with departmental permission, take Black Studies 498-499 during their senior year. The departmental recommendation for Latin honors will be determined by the student's level of performance on their thesis.

  • A student who wishes to write a thesis in the Black Studies Department should consult with their advisor about a topic in the spring semester of junior year. Each candidate must then submit a five page prospectus, similar to that written in Black Studies 300, and a brief bibliography to the department office no later than noon of the first Friday in April of their junior year.
  • Black Studies faculty will consider thesis proposals at the first department meeting of the academic year.
    • If a proposal is approved, a faculty member will be assigned to work with the student. 
    • Students whose proposals show promise but do not meet the standard for approval, will have an opportunity to revise their proposals over the summer and resubmit them at the beginning of the fall semester.
    • Students are encouraged to start work on their senior thesis during the summer between junior and senior year.  Funding may be available for up to eight weeks to students who need to stay on campus to get started on their research.  See https://www.amherst.edu/academiclife/dean_faculty/studentfunds for more details.
    • The thesis student and faculty advisor will determine a structured timetable within which the student will make satisfactory progress in the first semester of thesis work.
    • The first chapter of the thesis is due to the thesis advisor on the last day of classes in the fall semester.
  • Thesis advisors will evaluate the student's progress and recommend to the department as a whole no later than January 15th if the student should be allowed to continue their thesis work.
    • The department will vote to allow the student to continue or not and will notify the student of their decision by the first day of classes in the spring semester. Continuation into the second semester of thesis work does not guarantee that a student will receive departmental honors.
  • Students should submit a paper copy of their thesis to the department office and submit an electronic copy to the department email address (blackstudies@amherst.edu) by the second Friday in April at 3:00 p.m.  Submission of a final thesis does not guarantee that a student will receive departmental honors.

Students should review the college policy on Thesis Guidelines found on the Registrar's website.

Thesis Proposal: Guidelines

Students planning to write a senior thesis in the Black Studies Department must submit a five page prospectus, similar to that written in Black Studies 300, and a brief bibliography.  Broadly speaking, the proposal should contain a description of the questions, materials, and methods that students will use in their respective research.  It should also convey with great precision the rationale for the topic selected, the feasibility of the project, and the overall relevance of the thesis to the intellectual field of Black Studies.

The central elements of a proposal:

  • a clear and concise introduction to your research topic
  • presentation of the main research question(s)
  • summary of your basic argument
  • a brief literature review (What is the relevance of your work in relation to the academic studies already conducted and published in the field?)
  • a commentary on the basis research materials (the primary sources)
  • a focused bibliography formatted according to The Chicago Manual of Style (Please list the most relevant journal articles and books surrounding  your topic, in addition to a well-selected list of primary sources.)
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