What is the Reading List?
The reading list is a unique aspect of our thesis process. We believe it distinguishes the Honors College at the University of Maine from other Honors programs and colleges. It also differentiates our defenses from master’s or doctoral defenses. It is our view that Honors students should not only excel in their classes and produce independent scholarship in their chosen disciplines, but, as we are awarding an undergraduate Honors degree, they should have a strong foundation across the breadth of the academic spectrum. Therefore, while the reading list is not a part of the written thesis it is an important and required aspect of the thesis defense.
Your reading list should be made up of some twelve to fifteen titles that have played a significant role in your intellectual development. One or two films, musical compositions, or works of art can be included. Your reading list should include titles that are reflective of your undergraduate years: from Honors courses, from other courses, or from your private experience. It is important for you to be able to discuss and draw connections between texts. As a former Honors College Associate put it, “Your reading list should draw a picture of you as an undergraduate.” If you need help thinking about your reading list, the Honors College representative on your thesis committee can be an excellent resource!
Your reading list must be annotated. In addition to the title of the work and the name of its creator, you should provide a short text briefly describing the work and some discussion of its importance to you. Alternatively a several page essay describing the works through a narrative would serve the same purpose and allow you to integrate the works more completely. Regardless of format, the annotation should provide an entrée into the works for your committee. Think of it as an “intellectual portfolio.”
What sort of things should go on the reading list?
Choose books and other texts about which you are passionate and which truly were important to your intellectual development. Do not try to impress your thesis committee with a long list of “classics” or “great books.” What is most important is that you are connected to these texts, positively or negatively. We certainly hope for more of the former. An authentic conversation about “your” texts will be more engaging than a lecture on the merit of great works.
It should also be noted that in the case of the reading list, having too much of a good thing is possible. In general, you should only have a few texts of any particular type on your reading list. Remember, the reading list is intended to be a survey of your intellectual breadth – having a significant portion of your reading list composed mostly of texts you’re your major, or mostly of music and art, or mostly of books from Honors does not demonstrate breadth!
Should I choose books that I used in my Honors thesis?
In general, no. Your reading list should not include works directly related to your thesis. Certainly there might be a text or two that piqued your curiosity or prompted you to study in your chosen field. The idea behind the reading list is to provide an opportunity to explore the breadth of your education, rather than the depth demonstrated with your thesis.
Can I include texts I read (or heard or …) before college?
Yes, but such works should not dominate, nor even compose a large percentage of, your reading list. However, there is likely to be a text or two that contributed greatly to your intellectual development that you read before coming to the University of Maine.
Must there be works from Honors on the list?
No. However, if there are no texts from the Honors Civilizations sequence you should expect to be asked “why not?” You may have a very good reason, and that is fine. On the other hand, your list should NOT be composed primarily of Honors texts either.
Can you give me an example of a reading list?
Students often ask for examples of past reading lists. Even though they are very idiosyncratic, we’ve decided to post some here. We have provided an example of both the narrative and annotated list format. These examples should be regarded as indicative of the substance and thoughtfulness committees will be expecting. They should not be viewed as models to be imitated.
Who should I talk to about my reading list?
You should work directly with your thesis advisor on your reading list, since they will be the ones ultimately approving it. Additionally, many thesis students choose to work closely on their reading list with the Honors member of their committee. Click here to view a video of one professor’s take on the reading list, from Dr. Jordan LaBouff. However, please keep in mind that you should plan to work directly with your specific advisor and Honors committee member when you start work on your reading list.