My Independent Archival Research Experience: The Senior Thesis

January 25, 2023
Patrice McGivney

If you’re a prospective student, you may have heard of the (in)famous senior thesis—a year-long independent project that incorporates original research, relating to your field of study. In my department, that often means a research paper on a form of literature, but there is a lot of freedom and seniors often choose creative and fun themes. 

I still have several months to go on my own thesis, but I’ve just returned from my research trip and would like to share my experience. I went to Czech Republic, visited the central depository for the National Literary Archives, and viewed original manuscripts and other writings.  

A large building with letters of the Czech alphabet on the side -- the central depository of the Czech National Literary Archives.
The central depository.

The first step in the process was to find an adviser—and a topic. From the beginning, I knew I wanted to focus on an author from Eastern Europe. Back in high school, I had applied to Princeton specifically because the Slavic Languages & Literatures department here offered more than just Russian language. During my time here, I’ve taken three different Slavic languages (Russian, Czech and Bosnian-Croatian-Serbian). With the help of my adviser, I decided on Czech author Ladislav Fuks.  

Next, I had to apply for funding for my research. Using the University’s funding engine, I described my topic and proposed research. The University granted me the money to pay for my plane tickets, lodging, local transportation and meals. 

Several boxes of archival materials labeled "Fuks Ladislav" on tables.
The research room, with my boxes.

Then, of course, came the trip! I flew from Denver International Airport in my home state of Colorado to Prague. I then traveled to the city of Litoměřice in north Czechia, where the central depository was located. I stayed in a small apartment I rented over Airbnb that was close enough to walk to my work site. Each day, I walked to the depository and signed in. The amazing director of the Litoměřice archives spoke with me about my research and brought me boxes of material from the depository. In the research room, I sorted through hundreds of folios in the boxes to find papers and writings that would be useful to my research. I scanned and saved those that I could use, and repeated the process over the two weeks of my stay until I had gone through all of the material. 

I’m now back on campus, and am excited to start writing my thesis. I feel lucky to have a real, independent archival research experience as an undergrad. The senior thesis might seem scary, but when you hit upon a topic you’re passionate about, the process can actually be a lot of fun!